With Disco Sour, winner of second prize for the ‘Altiero Spinelli Prize for Outreach: Spreading Knowledge about Europe’, being launched this week, EuropeanPublicAffairs had a chat with the author, Giuseppe Porcaro about his perspectives on being a European writer, and the power of writing to engage people with the European project, amongst other topics.
You have proudly defined yourself as a European writer – what does this mean to you?
For me there are two dimensions to be taken in consideration. The first the fact that as a citizen, I feel quintessentially European, as the continental scale forged what I am now, through the experiences I’ve done, the places I lived in, and the people I’ve met. So, when I approach writing fiction, I do so naturally from a European perspective, as I’m inspired by my personal experiences. Secondly, I also consider myself a “European writer”, because I consider writing as an act of political activism, and an attempt to create an alternative thinking about Europe, through a leap of imagination. It is not a case that DISCO SOUR, my upcoming novel, directly addresses themes linked to the current political situation in Europe, from Brexit, to the mounting Euroscepticism, and the claims to discard representative democracy.
Something we are quite aware of at EPA is language and having received this question over the years, we will pose it to you. Knowing multiple languages -why and how did you choose the language that you would write your new book in?
When I first had the story that then became DISCO SOUR in my mind, it got stuck there in English. And I couldn’t think about any other language to write it, because of its nature. It was a difficult choice because it’s not my native language, and additionally, this was my first novel. What I’ve learned out of this experience is the flexibility of being able to write in multiple language gives it the status of one of the devices that are chosen to set the tone and the atmosphere of the story. If I think about future stories that I might want to write, I like to think that some will be conceived to be in Italian, other again in English, and perhaps one in French. My approach is a bit like film-making, movie directors chose sometimes the best language fits the story, not necessarily which language(s) they have born with.
Since you lived in Brussels, the capital of Europe, throughout the writing of the book – do you think this impacts the way you approach the topics at hand?
Brussels is part of the writing process, it’s a city that encompasses in its microcosm the rest of the continent. From this point of view, living here is like being immersed daily in a socio-political laboratory. The fact of living outside one’s country or the city of origin, changes perspectives, but it’s not a nostalgic approach, rather the awareness that I belong to multiple places at the same time.
As someone who has been engaged in European Affairs through your career, as well as an author releasing your book Disco Sour – how do you see the future of Europe or the European project?
I don’t have one single vision of how the future of Europe can be, I think we are at a crossroads where everything could be possible, from repeating some of the worse mistakes of the past, to solve the challenges with new and constructive process. What I firmly think is that it would neither be a dystopia nor a utopia. The scenario presented in my novel, DISCO SOUR, follows a bit this pattern of thought. There are elements that are negative, like a war, but also the hope for a new governance that would create new political entities, as well as the threat of populism. I think the future will be more and more decided upon the balance between contradicting elements. I believe that creating fictional futures allow us to provide the test ground to regain the power of imagination in the realm of politics, not necessarily to predict what will happen next.
How does exploring potential scenarios for the future of European politics impact how people interact with Europe both today and in the future?
I like to think that through opening the possibility of multiple fictional futures, or realities, about Europe, readers could reach a deeper level of awareness about the European project. And, I like to think that through reading my stories, they would be able to imagine even more possibilities for the future, to avoid being locked-in into one single thought. This exercise should also help preventing “worse-case scenarios” to happen. My story, for example, exposes the nature of the EU as a peace project within a war-like scenario close to us in time and space. It also debunks some of the most common and appalling populist rhetoric. For example, through the description of European citizens locked in a refugee camp in the Middle East, appeal emotionally to reverse the images of the current refugee and migrants’ crisis.
Giuseppe Porcaro is the head of communications of the Bruegel Think Tank and the author of DISCO SOUR, a novel set in a parallel timeline where, after the financial crisis, a civil war ravaged Europe and nation-states collapsed, leaving the EU as the only entity preventing anarchy. It’s the story of a heartsick politician that fights to save democracy against the attempt to replace elections with an algorithm-based autocracy. The book is available on amazon and many best bookshops. Find out more at: www.discosour.net.