The Arts in a Time of Crisis

Italy: A New Publishing Environment

Inge Feltrinelli is president of the distinguished Italian publishing house Feltrinelli. Two weeks after the tragic events of Sept. 11, WPR correspondent Beatrice Cassina interviewed her in her office in Milan.

What do you think the reaction of intellectuals and scholars will be to such a new and unexpected situation?
I am convinced that the best answer is hope. I am not losing my faith in the future....My hope is that people will not ignore these changes and will be willing to understand and broaden their cultural horizons. Unfortunately, Italy is a country in which people do not read much at all.

Will that change, after these events?

I cannot be 100-percent sure about it, but I definitely hope so. Italians are not very open to anything different from their own culture. Now perhaps the time has come up our minds to other people’s views and perspectives. Today in our country there live many different ethnic groups with religions, traditions, and customs very different from each other. This is an element of great richness that should not be overlooked, and—quite to the contrary—should be taken into consideration and appreciated.

Which books published by Feltrinelli do you think have a special validity or importance now?
I think all our books still have their meaning. But it’s true that today we have to reconsider and rethink our objectives as publishers, especially as far as essays are concerned. Today readers need books that are very current; to put something like that on the market will require some time....When I meet my colleagues at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, we’ll deal with books that, even though they are brand-new, will already be useless and obsolete. Only after a year will we be able to pick the fruits of the new sensitivity that will emerge from this tragedy.

Who do you think is an authoritative literary figure, able to give answers to these new necessities?
I have a lot of faith in [Polish journalist] Ryszard Kapuscinski, many of whose books we have published. I believe he has the capability and the sensitivity to report on the present situation and the events of the last few months....What we need is someone who knows the world, someone who has traveled a lot and has lived in different cultures according to different values and perspectives.

Which kinds of books are scarce in Italy?

We do not have books about Islam, or Asian culture in general. Our knowledge and our interests are too limited and poor. In Italy another big problem is media....There is no time and no willingness to deepen news and concepts, and there is no interest in thorough analysis. We hope that what happened on Sept. 11 is going to teach us how to look at things from a different point of view and with more depth.