The turbulence of the dawn of a Cold War shook the world as its tenants knew it in 1954. It was not a time to take risks. But Giangiacomo Feltrinelli , who was already combining his business ventures with political activism that would take him to Cuba to meet Fidel and organize an armed struggle group years later, used the family’s money to found a publishing house.
None of the above distracted him from getting the world premiere of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Gatopardo .
A huge nose. And maybe they were good times after all. “The golden age”Of the edition, his son Carlo points out 70 years later on the other side of the video call.
Today the publishing house he presides over is a huge business group with 118 bookstores, an extraordinary catalog, a foundation dedicated to the social sciences and the ownership of Anagrama for 10 years.
And it is true that the pandemic engulfs everything. But there is light in the background. “The great traumas have always generated good literature.” It’s something.\
The life expectancy of the Feltrinelli was never particularly high. Carlo, the grandfather, businessman and banker, died at the age of 54. His son, Giangiacomo, the publisher’s founder, died at 45 when he theoretically manipulated a bomb (the circumstances were never fully clarified) destined for an electrical sabotage on the outskirts of Milan.
The interviewee told it all in the exhaustive Senior Service (Anagrama, 2016), the biography of a hectic and traumatic time for Italy. And especially for your family. His only book.
Carlo Feltrinelli (Milan, 58 years old), a man little given to interviews (this one is escorted by two collaborators), has been in charge of the project today since his mother, the photographer and editor Inge Schönthal, passed away two years ago. Times are not the best this time, either. But the storm rages.
The pandemic will modify many schemes, he admits. Also positive. “People have read again because they had more time. The book returns as a relevant element, and that is important considering the huge digital pacifier that we are all hooked on and that is stunting our ability to face many issues, ”he says.
The violent reading crisis and the slow decline of paper have not been fulfilled according to the steps announced by the digital prophecy of these years. Amazon, although it contributes a good part of the billing, is today the main problem.
“There is a monopolistic instance behind that all publishers and booksellers observe with concern.” But the old does not finish dying and the new, still does not appear in full.
And in that chiaroscuro, Feltrinelli has opted for new projects, such as his new line of continuous training or a new type of bookstore, and has seen threatened formats re-emerge. The market responds. “The paper book comes out of the pandemic strengthened.
The results are similar or a little better than last year. In Spain there is talk of something close to a tie, -4%. And as we were in March April, it is good news. Latin America is different, the blow there has been hard ”. Just the place on the world map where the company set some of its goals just 10 years ago.
Feltrinelli began the purchase of Anagrama in December 2010. And the journey made since then by Jorge Herralde, its founder and former owner, has been smoothly accompanied by an expansion of the catalog and the incorporation of a new editorial director, Silvia Sesé.
“The reasons that led us there are two. Feltrinelli has a long tradition with the Spanish-speaking world. We brought the famous Latin American wave to Europe. But, in addition, there was a great friendship with Jorge Herralde.
I have a devoted admiration for his work and I can never thank him enough for choosing us as partners to continue this adventure ”.
The manuscripts that are already on both tables anticipate the world to come. A place, says Feltrinelli, that will require “important voices”, preferably away from the fads of editorial marketing. “All moments of trauma are accompanied by a will to rebuild.
And that happens through a greater awareness of how we are living. We are experiencing a triple crisis: climate, economic and health. And individuals will have more questions than a year ago, also more need for answers.
People don’t want to live in a world of deliberate ignorance, caused in part by this social media binge that stunts our thinking. In this technological context, based on dependency and manipulation, the book is still a strong antidote. The works that we will look for will go in the direction of facing this crisis ”.
Populism and the literary canon, however, have not been impervious to the dictatorship of the like. The publisher’s work, can be seen in many new releases, often indiscriminately takes into account the author’s popularity in networks.
The old Gutenberg galaxy against the Zuckerberg galaxy, Feltrinelli tends to ironically. Would it be possible to discover Pasternak today or find a Gatopardo with those shortcuts?
“Editorial mediation continues to be fundamental and the research carried out by an editor cannot be immediate or linked to factors such as the followers an author has. And it may be fair, I don’t want to judge him. But a certain number of followers does not mean having a good novel.
Italy has been the epicenter of the populist and sovereign storm that swept through Europe in recent years. When Matteo Salvini reached the vice-presidency of the Government and the Ministry of the Interior began a campaign of harassment and demolition against dissident thinking.
There was silence. Very few intellectuals raised their voices. “All of this has distant roots. We are a country that spent 20 years with Silvio Berlusconi. The emptying of the intellectual body is a certain populism that we have invented: an Italian-style Peronism. And this has had a very clear effect.
And the historical Italian left has had a serious responsibility, it has lacked as a point of reference. I’m not surprised by the situation. But we try to be a dam to all this. Although who knows, we may not have succeeded ”, he laments.
Feltrinelli has never hidden his position in the world. Editing, in short, is doing politics. And his editor also does not hide his concern about the situation the country is going through. “I am very scared that we will lose the authentic rebuilding spirit after this trauma of the pandemic.
I see signs of impazzita mayonnaise [mayonnaise cut] in Italian politics. It would be the moment of assumption of responsibilities by the ruling class of this country to open a new chapter after having been hit by Covid-19.
I see a typically Italian situation of great fragility of the political system in a country that risks coming out of this crisis very traumatized. It is not at all out of the question that those sovereign forces that seemed to have lost their tone in recent times, may return ”.