An Interview with Alfonso Lentini: words, world and the “bite of things”

Naked Truths has interviewed  Alfonso Lentini, an Italian writer and artist, about his vision of the body and his latest book “Luminosa signora, lettera veneziana di amore ed eresia” (Bright Lady, venetian letter of love and heresy) (Pagliai, 2011). In his expositions and art-installations he exposes “objectual poems”, art-book and artworks based on increase value of the material and gestural dimensions of the word. He is the author, in collaboration with Aurelio Fort, of the international artistic project “Resistere per Ri\esistere” (Resist to Re\exist) culminated April 25, 2013 with a large urban installation in Belluno during the national Liberation Day. He published “Piccolo inventario degli specchi” and “Un bellunese di Patagonia” (Ed. Stampa Alternativa). His book “Cento madri” (Foschi, 2009) won the prize “Città di Forlì”.

What does it mean for you the word “body”?

I imagine the body as a system of sensors through which we perceive the world and send signals so that other people may perceive us. Through the body we seek the other and the other seeks us. I consider it as a complex vehicle that consists of input and output voltages: eroticism, passion, joy, violence, suffering…  I see it as an interface, a boundary that allows us to “come out” from ourselves and communicate.
However, the body is not a guarantee of truth. Perceiving the world, we deform and “domesticate” it. Reducing it to our image and likeness, we give human, alphabetic or geometric form to the world. And in our turn through the body we tell only a part of ourselves, the one external, that is the more changeable and elusive.
The body, as constitutive of our nature, looks like a dress, a mask, a disguise. It is therefore sower of perceptive and communicative deceptions. So it is easily exploitable or maniputable. All in all it is a weak membrane, exposed to risks, a charming rag flying in bad weather. This is even more evident in times when the bodies travel more and more frequently online, in a dimension where the virtual world and the real world are quickly and chaotically interwoven and where the tricks of perception are a very high risk.
This frenetic and fascinating journey is a risk, of course, but at the same time it is a challenge that is worth accepting, while still maintaining active the antennas of the critical spirit. There are a thousand explorative possibilities that signs and body globalization may open!
Moreover, the boundary between fiction and reality has always been very unstable. The exchange of roles, the versatility of the bodies and their ambiguity existed well before our time, just think about the theater, a place of disguise par excellence, it is the oldest form of art invented by man. The globalization of media has only dramatically amplified these issues bringing them to the most extreme levels.

Alfonso Lentini - Lake of Words

Alfonso Lentini – Lake of Words

Your opinion on the concept of “body-object.”

More than an opinion I can express an observation. If we talk about the human body, then it is assumed that it is not an object like any other, but something alive and therefore much more complex. When the mass-media or other cultural influences tend to present it as an “object”, like the commodification of the female nude, they operate a terrible simplification from which we must stay away. But not all representations of the nude can be traced to the “reduction to an object” of the body. There is a discriminant but, in my opinion, it is not the conventional one that tends to separate eroticism from pornography. The real criterion goes through awareness, complexity and valence of the messages you want to convey.
The nude can be both a form of disguise of revelation.

What is the “meaning” of the female character in your novel “Bright lady. Venetian Letter of love and heresy”?

The book is a relentless and tormented “love letter” addressed to a female figure whose identity is never completely revealed. The situation I describe is paradoxical: the main character – that writes the letter – is deeply fascinated by a woman that he sees floating around his house, but she seems to live in a sort of parallel world of absolute otherness. She does not communicate, she does not interact with him with the exception of a few elusive gesture , however she is a corporal presence, strong, determined, almost overpowering.
The letter is a mad declaration of love, but also an attempt to establish a contact, a request for help. The main character thinks that maybe the mysterious woman is able to answer some of the many questions that haunt him, as she belongs to the dimension of the absolute otherness. And for this reason he writes to her.
This fictional situation is therefore a pretext to develop a series of considerations on the mystery, the inexplicability of things, and the elusive “liquidity” of the world that seems progressive crumbling.
The woman does not answer any of his questions, she remains distant and unattainable (as far as physically close), all wrapped up in her phantasmal dimension. But the “Bright Lady” is also a beautiful and sensual woman. Her body, which appears impalpable, is at the same time very carnal and physical. She is not an angel-like woman, nor a “Madonna”: her presence generates both erotic desires and metaphysical anxieties. Her “brightness” is lunar.

Alfonso Lentini - "Luminosa signora, lettera veneziana di amore ed eresia" (Bright Lady, venetian letter of love and heresy) - Book Cover

Alfonso Lentini – “Luminosa signora, lettera veneziana di amore ed eresia” (Bright Lady, venetian letter of love and heresy) – Painting on the Book Cover by Lorenzo Bonamassa

“We all are nothing but unsuccessful impressions, tests, attempts of an unfinished creation” is a phrase taken from your novel. Can you explain this concept?

“Bright Lady” opens with a quote from the “Letter on immortality” by Gino De Dominicis, a great Italian artist, in which he challenges the idea that “things” can really “exist”. My book, as written in the form of a love letter, is in fact a reflection on the friability, the precariousness and the enigma of existence.
The phrase that you ask me of is an allusive sentence that refers to hypothetical heretical theologies or eccentric viewpoints: and if, ironically, some deity had created our universe (with all its tragic trail of pain flowing through it) only as a whimsical experiment in preparation for a subsequent most perfect creation?
The author of the letter expresses chaotically fragments and fluttering thoughts in his anxiety, asking to the “Bright Lady” about the meaninglessness from which he feels surrounded and threatened.
The evocation of the ideal certainties is opposed to these discourses as a kind of countermelody that the main character has glimpsed through her father, a granitic 68th’s revolutionary, certainties to which he now looks from a large temporal distance with a hint of regret or envy.
Even the writing style that I have adopted is open and fragmented. The unsaid, the ellipses and the eclipses would like to assume a material consistence, they would like to say that basically the everyday life is much more holey, confused and inexplicable than it appears. I think the writing, if it wants to maintain its strength, must satisfy all of this, it must “reflect” reality, but through a glass full of non-Euclidean curvature. It must be “liquid” such as Venice, the water city par excellence, where the story is set.

Alfonso Lentini - Book (objectual poems)

Alfonso Lentini – Book (objectual poem)

One of your main areas of research is the objectualization of the word. What kind of bond exists between words and objects in your works?

The title of my most recent solo exhibition, “The bite of things” clearly expresses the search path that I’m developing as an artist and as a writer: to investigate how the words and objects can interweave in a tangle in a much more complex way than one might think.
Things “bite” the words, they hound behind the writing and we humans perceive them attributing to them an alphabetical substance.
In particular, as far as my artistic research, I work with the intent to give “physical body” to the word, exploring the material, gestural, objectual, nature and bringing out the strength of the “signifier” (the form of the word) sometimes even at the expense of the “meaning” (the object that is the word), in the belief that the word, in its many potential semantic openings, is ante rem, so that it comes before the thing to which it refers.
My experiments tend to unbalance, they seek a different balance between the word and the bodies and they intend to represent the word as an object among objects.
The works that I have produced since the early nineties and that I have called “objectual poems” are linked to the idea of writing that resembles the pattern laid down in the fields by the farmers during the physical action of plowing (which is why some solo shows that I set up in those years were entitled “Alba Pratalia”, with obvious allusion to the “white fields” of the page that is mentioned in the famous “Riddle of Verona” of the twelfth century).
But this insistence on writing as a physical action, even if it shifts the focus from the signified to the signifier, never wanted to be, in my case, a pure exaltation of the shape or external rind of the word.
On the contrary, I wanted to start a reflection about the “force”, but also on the “weakness” of the word, without losing sight of its centrality.

Alfonso Lentini - objectual poems

Alfonso Lentini – Objectual Poem

Human beings are able to demonstrate the complexity of their thought through the word, but at the same time they discover the limits of their nature, as the words are not able to give verbal form to certain areas of life, like the dark sides, the unconscious impulses, the conceptual hazards to which the human instinct leads us. In this sense, the word is the element that reveals the human condition in all its drama, because through word boundary we become aware of the limits of our nature.
If even in the highest forms of poetry, sooner or later, we come up against with something that, as Dante says, “significar per verba / non si poria” (you cannot explain in words), if there is a semantic barrier beyond which the human nature is not able to go, if the language can be falsified and becomes “harmless” from his serial use, if the mass-mediated language follows the language of power, then we must come to the conclusion that the communication and consequently the writing are double-edged weapons, problematic elements.
The act of writing, which takes place with the fingers caressing the keyboard of a tablet or dipping a quill in the inkwell, it is still a risk, a perilous action, a challenge.

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