Chiara Valerio and Fabio Stassi on appropriating classical characters to make sense of present day reality
Stories are a tool for the creation of meaning in one’s life, and characters are the channel through which this connection between literature and reality happens. But what is a character? And who does a character belong to? To the author? The reader? To a specific time period or to a set of thoughts and feelings? Authors Chiara Valerio and Fabio Stassi, in conversation with cultural curator Simonetta Bitasi, explored how retellings of stories from the past can be used connect with other perspectives on life and to find new meaning in the present day.
In reusing characters from the past, the big question the two authors encountered is: who is telling who’s story? In a beautiful exchange of complex thoughts, quotes, and quick wit, it became clear how characters are a lens that can be used to understand both ourselves and the world.
This “exchange” where the character is a tool that helps the reader shape meaning, and the reader in turn becomes an author which helps the character develop new layers of significance, is particularly possible with the classics, since their very nature and role in collective narratives comes from the overlapping of interpretations and retellings.
The core nature of storytelling is flesh and blood: stories come from bodies that lived experiences and translated them into words, so that they may be experienced again by other bodies. In this sense, reimagining classical characters does not violate some sort of literary sacredness. It is an essential part of humanity’s attempt to understand itself.