Dal tempo governato dal più, mi sono congedato allo scadere dei cinquant’anni, per la ragionevole ipotesi che non se ne sarebbero aggiunti altrettanti.
Once upon a time, I came across the following scene: A small child wishes his grandmother happy birthday, and then says, “Cheer up, Grandma, most of it is done.” This comment inspired the title of my last book to be published in Italy: The Most and the Least.
Most is a life counted out, as it happened; least is what has yet to happen—it corresponds to that interim adverb for time, ancora (a word in Italian that can mean both “still” or “again,” and, more to the point, “yet”). By its very nature, ancora has no fixed expiration. For me it’s an adverb that advises—that I should still keep at it a bit longer, write a bit more, keep meddling with the world, climb. Even now: ancora is the most affectionate exhortation not to put things off. At my age, ancora is the best possible greeting to give people of my generation, or myself. I took leave of the time governed by most when fifty years went by, reasonably supposing that there wouldn’t be a second fifty.
A year earlier, in 1999, I took leave of my century in Belgrade, in the noisiest spring of its history. I didn’t write anything during that sojourn among the ruins, I kept up my usual morning reading, and then I would alternate between the pages of Holderlin or Dylan Thomas, carried around throughout the day. During those hours, the pages had the force of voices, and they rose above the drone of civil defense sirens. I am beholden to voices. Writer is the title I exploit, but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a second-level application compared to the activity of listener. I listen to voices even when there are none. I extract them from the pages I read.
A funny business, that of a writer—a merchant selling pages from just one author. The telling of stories is an ancient form of amusement. There ought to be storytellers in every square, their voices keeping passersby company, just like street musicians, jugglers, and caricaturists. They’d make a fair wage, on money earned from gratitude, not charity. Instead, due to some misunderstanding, they stand on a soapbox they take for a pulpit, when it’s really a parrot’s perch. A writer pulls the ticket with a winning phrase out of a box.
Misunderstandings are a classic device, common to tragedies and comedies, but also very much a part of the way life happens. I’ll conclude these digressions, at the close of business for 2015, with an unfortunate misunderstanding that happened to Mikhail Bakunin, the most celebrated revolutionary in the anarchist movement. He died an exile in Switzerland, and, in order for the death to be recorded officially, he had to be given a title. The most dogged enemy, along with Marx, of private property was irreparably misinterpreted at the end of his life—as a “landowner.”
Happy ancora to everyone, with some exceptions.