“Light Boxes” is a fairy tale for adults and mature children. There is disorder but optimistic expectation, therefore hope. There is an atmosphere of magic and stall. I think it’s the stalemate we are experiencing now, in these unfortunate days. The stall of not being able to go home or not being able to go out for a walk. The need to stop, to reflect, not to make risky moves, missteps. I read “Light Boxes” with great interest and I immediately became passionate about that text and now I can say that I feel in difficulty and expectation like the characters that populate that world free from pre-built geographical coordinates. I feel somehow orphaned by the sun, spring and happiness. And I will tell you more: I am also an orphan of your book that I left at my parents’ house, while I am now blocked by the pandemic 450 km from the place where I grew up and from that text. Therefore, everything I write to you is only the result of my memories, of what I have left. I think it’s somehow a sign. A sign to make us reflect on what literature leaves us, on how literature changes us. I am left with the difficult lightness of your novel, the dispassionate amazement, the magical melancholy.
You managed to speak of death with a refined but not trivial lightness. I believe that the lesson of “Light Boxes” must be taught in schools, so that every man knows it, because it has something to do with life, as if it provided instructions for existence. The type of writing, the way of placing the text, with graphic artifacts and minimal drawings, lyrical parts that are installed naturally among those in prose, is also proposed in “Daniel Fights a Hurricane”. This too is a story of almost ancestral resistance, it is to face and overcome our fears. What is behind the mysterious beauty of these texts, what is inside their deep naturalness?
I’m not sure what’s behind the mysterious beauty of these texts, but I’m glad it is there. Mostly I’m trying to create a mood and tone with novels, an atmosphere to enter and then exit. I write what excites me.
One question that I would like to ask you about the way in which the use of literature is changing with the ever-wider diffusion of audiobooks. I honestly don’t love them, I can’t say I hate them for the simple fact that they don’t exist for me. But taking the case of your books it can be said that they are almost impossible to reproduce in such a format, just as they are written, in a writing that is words but sign and vision, which must be looked at with your eyes. In this also lies the uniqueness of your texts, they will never fall into oblivion of a word read by some stranger. I consider the audiobook a wrong way of relating to literature and whoever puts us in a position to commit this unfortunate mistake is our society, our individualistic world that leaves us a few dead times to read
and reflect. Certainly someone could tell me that this new book format – a book that if you think about it in its more contemporary evolution has become increasingly evanescent, less and less present in its physicality, going from paper to digital and now to sound – is actually a child of an ancestral past, prior to 1450, a more or less forgotten time, the magical one of the aoidos, the singers, the storytellers and the jesters, the one in which literature was a collective moment of listening to the myths that explained the universe and the meaning of life. This long and perhaps boring reasoning allows me to introduce you a new question: what is literature for you and what is the best method, in your opinion, for its use?
The greatest technology is the physical object of the printed book. Nothing will ever be more powerful. It hasn’t changed in hundreds of years for the most part, and it doesn’t need to. I’ve never listened to an audio book because it doesn’t interest me. I need to see sentences on the page. There’s a texture there. I think an argument can be made for spoken stories, a kind of “around the campfire” storytelling that is important and vital, but listening to a book off your phone is a twisted path from that. What is literature for me? I really don’t know besides I want to live in the worlds of literature and not the real one.
Within your texts there is a reality that goes beyond reality, perceived by the reader as a writer’s creation, therefore the result of imagination, but at the same time considers it authentic, possible. Even characters with bizarre non-names are perceived as existing, somewhere. It’s all strange, but all strangely true. You have traced a new way of making literature, covering old models of ironic depth, you have distorted the pavements traveled by most to draw a new world where you can get lost and find yourself without hesitation and stay there to live. Where tigers tell stories and sleep on beds of leaves, where lanterns take the place of electric street lamps and deserts whisper strange
echoes to men and the text suddenly becomes bigger, just like a hurricane, or gets smaller by touching the evanescence of an end. The fusion of man with nature is the daughter of your particular way of relating to reality, is it the daughter of the place where you live, of defined literary models, of dreamlike fragments?
Your words are kind, but I’m not doing anything new. Calvino blended reality and the strange along with thousands of others. I’m just adding to the style in my own way, I hope. If you watch the films of David Lynch he blends the strange and the real in the best possible way. I think for some readers this feeling is a gate to a new world that they also see in reality and feel. It’s hard to explain. Maybe there’s another dimension that in reality we can’t see, but when it comes to writing this world opens up.
It is a fusion mixed with terror, which somehow follows the concept of sublime outlined by Edmund Burke. This majestic nature is a post-romantic nature and you may be the last of the romantics, but that’s just my opinion. What do you think about it? What is the role that the writer plays in our industrialized societies?
The role of the writer in industrialized society is to destroy industrialized society with language and imagination.
More than dealing specifically with your work, I would like to ask you some questions about what literature is for you: a place of solitude and silence or a context of chaotic creativity?
I don’t really know what it is but I know it’s important and I want to spend time in literature. It feels, spiritually, religiously, like a place we all need to live in and work out from. Writing for me is the most comfortable place. Most of my life feels like a lie, or like I am acting – as a father, as a husband, at my day job, as a son, all these roles. I struggle to be authentic, if it’s even possible, in what reality is. But in fiction, inside the novel, I can breath a little. I’m acting there too, but it feels more alive to me.
What are the writers who inspire you?
Too many to name. Marquez and Calvino were very important to me before I started Light Boxes (I Am February). Right now I’m reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy’s early novels.
When and how do you write, on which medium, at what time of the day? Are you like those writers who write in the silence of their homes or are you more in the circle of those who finish writing the novel of their life on a table in a cafe?
Whenever I can find time on a laptop. I could never write in a cafe but I have done editing, close to when a book is finished in a library or cafe. I like silence. Finding this time is harder and more difficult as I get older.
What advice would you give to a young writer and what books are you reading in this period? For more than a year I have had John Cheever’s Diaries that keep me company, from time to time they have other texts, essays, novels, poetic collections. For example, Cheever is now with Roth and Goleman. I read slowly, probing the weight of each word. The sentence segments with the glimpses of the unsaid blow against me like the freezing wind of a storm.
Don’t give up, be prepared for people outside the world of writing and reading to not understand you. Besides the Cormac McCarthy I mentioned in your previous question, I’m interested in any novels published outside of America. I too read slowly, sometimes only a few pages at night. Sometimes I’ll get hung up on a sentence and read it over and over again.
A film, a poem, a song.
Film: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Dreyer)
Poem: Anything by Anne Sexton from Love Poems
Song: Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) by The Beach Boys
Shane Jones is an American writer and poet, he lives in New York. Author of several novels and short stories published in the New York Tyrant and Typo magazines. In Italy his novels have been published by the Isbn Edizioni publishing house.