The young are strangers to their own past.
This interview with Giulio Einaudi, doctor, author and founder of the Italian publishing house he built into a European wellspring of fine literature, intellectual thought and political theory, was made in February 1998.
During his long career, Mr. Einaudi was a leading publisher on the political left and a cultural figure whose stable of authors included Carlo Levi, Antonio Gramsci, Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Italo Calvino, Norberto Bobbio and Primo Levi. Einaudi’s offering of foreign fiction remains second-to-none in Italy for literary quality. He published an Italian translation of À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust and the works of luminaries such as Bertolt Brecht, Jean Paul Sartre, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges and Robert Musil.
Giulio Einaudi was born January 2nd 1912 and died April 5th 1999.
Where does Giulio Einaudi spend his Sundays?
In Rome, at my house. I take care of my library, I look at the catalogues of old books that arrive and mark the ones that I still need. If I have the time, on Mondays I make calls in order to get the books, but usually they’re out of stock. On one hand it bothers me, but on the other hand it’s better that way; otherwise I would spend well beyond my means.
However, you have been seen several times reading the newspapers in Piazza Navona…
Usually, when I’m in Rome, I work during the morning up to half past one and then I go take a walk. If it’s sunny, I sit in a café and read the news. I like to breathe good air, but not so much at Piazza Navona. I prefer the Tiberian island. There’s a little bar there that unfortunately is closed during the winter, despite the fact that the weather is better than at Piazza Navona.
Mr. Einaudi, is your city Rome or Turin?
That’s a question that I wouldn’t know how to answer. Turin for me is, above all, the workplace that is closely related to my interests. It represents a time of greater responsibility in my life, that today has a more discreet presence, but perhaps is still useful.
It’s the city where I concentrate, whether reading books or manuscripts that might later be useful, because sometimes I take them to the publishing house in order to suggest their publication. Or I prepare the small talks that every day are more and more frequently requested of me, for book presentations, debates, etcetera. In Rome I also go to the movies, which is something that I never do in Turin. I see my friends during the nights.
And the nights in Turin?
They are continuations of my work. I keep on thinking about the editorial program, the books that come out, the reverberation that they create in the media. I meet authors occassionally, but they rarely stay in Turin for the night.
Did you once travel a lot?
Yes; now I mostly travel around Italy. I go abroad a maximum of two times a year. In January I was in Florence, Bologna, Pisa and Naples. By now I have realized that making a commute between Turin and Rome and presenting a book in another city is enough to fill my life.
Has your life changed?
No, not at all. Perhaps, there was a time when my continuous work prevented me from moving around so frequently. Doing it with ease gives me energy instead of tiring me. It’s bad when you stay put and don’t think of the future. If you think only about the past and not the future you have practically already consumed your life, even if it’s necessary to think about the past, in order to act more consciously in the present and project yourself towards the future.
Does your life consist only of work?
Work, thoughts and friends.
And many loves?
That’s what you say. The few loves I’ve had have transformed into long-lasting friendships. Without those life would be very arid.
Do you spend time with young people?
I really like to be around the young. Lately I have been frequently invited to speak to students between 18 and 20 years old, that are interested in the 20th century, which I’ve lived through almost in its entirety.
How are the young of today?
In general, I’ve realized that they’re interested in the past, but they’re strangers to what fascism, war or resistance were. In their schools they have learned little, and from their families, perhaps affected from a feeling of guilt, they have learned even less.
What have you taught your children?
I would say that I as well, in my family, am guilty of not having explained my past in a sufficient way. Perhaps because of a certain shame, because I imagined that I would become boring, or would say things that are not interesting. So I have suggested to them that they pose these questions to their history teachers, or the fathers and grandfathers of their friends.
It is said that you have a particularly affectionate relationship with your grandson Malcolm. Is that true?
Yes, it is true because my children are adults by now, and I have few occasions to see them. Now, besides my grandchildren, I have great-grandchildren, which makes my brother Roberto, who is older than me and has no great-grandchildren, very jealous. I would like to have more time for grandchildren and great-grandchildren, because I find that childhood is a magical moment of life, similar to old age in its impulses and desires.
What does it mean to be called ‘Einaudi’?
I wouldn’t know. I have never thought about it. It bothers me when they say, “You’re the son of Einaudi”. I have always wanted to be known because of what I do as a person, be it little or much. My father’s great value is beyond discussion and it belongs to all Italians. I don’t feel that I grew up under his shadow, under his protective umbrella. I have always been autonomous, free, as I figure that he wanted me to be.
Do you want the same for your children?
I have had the same kind of relationship with my children, one of whom is making a name for himself in the field of music, to which I am a total stranger.
What is an editor?
Today the classical figure of the editor is disappearing. In Italy I consider myself the dean of editors, perhaps one of the last in the classical sense.
And that means?
The one person that assumes the intellectual responsibility for the business, the relationships with the writers and the image of the publishing house.
What is the image of Einaudi as a publishing house?
Today, after half a century, it is consolidated in terms of the management responsibilities, of the internal program and of the relationships with its writers, and I’m happy to say that the new generation is both respecting our tradition and looking ahead, towards the future.
Are Italians ignorant?
Italians are always the same. It’s hard to say that they have the habit of reading. Culture for them is represented mainly by television and, sometimes, the third pages of newspapers. They read books by known authors because they were talked about on T.V. or because they were written by sport stars. Very few, most of them young, show an active curiosity for literature, history and social problems. These young people are active clients of bookstores and the book sections of supermarkets, and they are great consumers of pocket editions.
Your houses are always white, equipped with books and many modern paintings. Is that your style?
It’s not a ‘style’. The eye reposes on paintings or drawings that have managed to capture something poetic. In front of that shadow by Melotti, or that photo by Fontana, that I have in front of my desk, I feel that, not only my eyes are satisfied, but my thoughts become clearer. Fantasy develops, even if with a little difficulty.
What is the secret of your health?
Perhaps DNA. My parents lived a long life. My father lived for 87 years and was lucid up to his last moment. He used to say: “I have so many things to do, and I have to die”, and I would answer, “You have already done so many; be content”. But you’re never content, you always would like to do something else. In these last days, for example, I’ve thought about moving, particularly because I would like to change the way in which my books are organized. I should move and reorder my library. I don’t dare say how, because it’s a crazy idea that I will never realize.
February 8th, 1998