The tsunami broke out in the middle of the night. As membership in the Black Swans Club requires, the event was catastrophic and unpredictable, although inevitable. It was caused by a crumpled sheet of paper, thrown behind him by the Writer seated at a Castiglioni beech desk - with a gesture worthy of Stephen Curry or some other basketball God. The bullet hit the Cosmic Egg basket leaning against the wall. The ovoid urn, already full, overflowed and overturned. The big “bang!” of the container rang in the dark depths of the loft. A foam of paper spilled onto the parquet until it submerged his feet.
How the hell could it, a single crumpled sheet, knock over a basket, no matter how full? Only then did the Writer realize that he had wrapped the paper, before throwing it, lost in thought, around the piece of black onyx that served as a paperweight.
He feared he had done some more damage than simply overturning the garbage can. For a moment he thought of getting off the seat and inspecting the neighborhood. But he didn't. He knew what would happen if he left that post. He could already see himself picking up the paper bullets under the table, on all fours, in an animal-like position: rereading scraps of words and phrases that recalled him peeking out from the crumpled globes of the sheets, like Sirens among the rocks of Scilla and Cariddi; who tempted him, pretending to be fruits rich in literary pleasures, to stain himself with the most unforgivable sin, to give life to abortions of writing; who finally begged him to be taken into consideration, to have a renewed possibility of finding a place in the text - even in a secondary paragraph, in a parenthesis or in a footnote. He imagined them humiliating themselves without any shame, making themselves available for any modification, integration or sadistic violence he wanted to inflict on them, in order to return to the lost Paradise of the novel in gestation.
He held out. He remained where he was, staring into the void of the open notebook, more motionless than Rodin's Thinker. What if the flaming Aphrodite of inspiration had arisen from the ashes of the parchment ocean? He had to be ready to seize that fleeting moment of creative destruction. He knew that calamities reveal the world essence: the flood shows the reality of water, the earthquake the Truth of the earth, the blackout the dark side of electricity and the sudden overheating of a nuclear power plant the strength of atom fission. The disastrous spill of intellectual waste materialized in those tattered sketches could have revealed the meaning of the novel he had been trying to put together for months. Despite having published a dozen powerful essays on philosophical, sociological and managerial topics, not counting the hundreds of articles for magazines of all kinds and the weekly blog posts of the most prestigious national economic newspaper, he was realizing that literature was, strictly speaking, quite another story.
He spent a few minutes still, immersed in the cone of light of the suspended Frisbi lamp. Then he grabbed the Montblanc with his right. He raised his arm, which remained up in midair for a while. Finally, the Writer lowered the fountain pen on the Moleskine to write the words: “On that branch of the Ariminum beach that turns towards the coast of Pollock, Jay and Daisy, hand in hand, advance lashed by gusts of cold air”. He stopped to evaluate the effect they had, returning to crystallize in a Zen monk's pose.
«Are you sure she isn't a Space Vampire in disguise?» snapped her Shadow.
«I mean, it's a very boring start!».
«This also?» sighed the Writer.
A ball of paper joined the pile.
«Don't be mad: the pace is still too slow. The text, banal. From the very beginning it is necessary to arouse wonder, laughter, fear, primordial desires. Otherwise you lose the attention of the reader».
Don't be mad. As if it were easy. But he knew that when the Shadow attacked with criticism it was better to go along with it. The boundary between the suggestion of a schoolteacher and the devastating insult was blurred, better to avoid giving her that little push that would have induced her to cross it.
«So what?» he just answered.
«You are spoiled for choice. You can opt for a confidential and whispered Frank Sinatra-like approach as “Call me Ishmael, baby”; or, on the contrary, a Homeric, in medias res, dramatic and shocking one: “Your name is Arthur Gordon Pym - or even “Walter Arthur White”. If you are watching this video, you are most likely dead”. Again, you can focus on a conjectural, hypothetical and transitory opening: “If a dreamer one midsummer night ...”».
The Writer sensed that he had to stop her, otherwise the Shadow would have produced an endless list of alternative possibilities, from which he would not have been able to choose. His literary ambition would have led to the miserable end of Buridan's ass.
«This looks complicated» he said, trying to parry the blow and avoid defeat.
«Then stick to the classic. A beginning thought of as the opening sequence of a film?».
«Nice, that's what I was trying to do!». Finally a good idea.
«You have to work on it. But don't bring up Manzoni and “That branch of Lake Como”, please».
«Why not? It is the perfect opening! The world seen, or imagined, by God… ».
«… or filmed by Kubrick, or Fellini. I know that the ultimate goal of knowledge, already in Aristotle's opinion, is to look at the world with the eyes of divinity. However - wanting to have a more contemporary term of comparison, without going to Google Earth - it would be better if you were inspired by Wislawa Szymborska's View with a grain of sand».
There she is again pontificating. But she had trapped him. That suggestion had won him over. Indeed, it was then that began to germinate in him the idea of conceiving the whole novel as if it were a film. Better, a television series. But he was aware of all this only later. At that moment he just asked: «Why that poem? To remain in a lake context?».
«No, of course not. For the cinematic way in which the poet passes from the particular to the universal, encouraging the reader to reflect on Berkeley's esse est percipi. Theme also touched upon in Interview with a child:
“The Master rejects in disgust the absurd thought
that a table lost from sight has to remain a table
or that the basket behind his back stays within the bounderies of a basket
without even try to take advantage of the situation”».
«The Bishop of Cloyne never had too much faith in the duration of the matter».
«The Bishop? Ah, Berkeley. To be precise, he does not believe at all in the existence of matter. The theory according to which “to be is to be perceived” expresses the conviction that reality is resolved not in a series of concrete objects, but in ideas. These ideas, in order to exist, need to be conceived by someone. Therefore, they last as long as that someone has them in mind».
«The Bishop is not the only one to believe that we are made of the Shakespearean stuff of dreams: think of the circular ruins of Borges. Or the labyrinths and mirrors of Lewis Carroll and P.K. Dick».
«Returning to us, you must not forget the importance of the names. Jay and Daisy? Why not Romeo and Juliet or Paolo and Francesca, while you are at it?».
«Brad and Janet? It's very “Space Vampires”, don't you think?».
«Do not kidd. The name is decisive in keeping the reader glued to the written page».
«It must evoke a personality: mysterious, perhaps, but well defined. In some cases it can accompany if not coincide with a role: like Szymborska's Master. If you try your hand at an adventure genre, it could be The Captain. The Keeper is perfect for a fantasy».
«So The Fishmonger or The Tobacconist is fine, in a more common setting - the Romagna province, to say».
«Very good. The effect is even stronger when the character is mentioned for the first time with a phrase that connotes him memorably. The beginning of Alice in Wonderland is exemplary: “what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversations?”. The little girl introduces herself to the Reader with a thought; and all mental are her adventures. A dream, even here: a curious dream of images and conversations, similar to the thread of a social network, or a film».
«Speaking of movies: you're missing out, Shadow. We were talking about the cinematic incipit». It did not seem true to the Writer that he had caught her out. She felt the blow. «You're right» she had to admit. But she immediately returned to the charge: «A view with a grain of sand starts from a detail, which ignites the philosophical discussion precisely on the relationship between objects and the names we attribute to them:
“We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand”».
«Who knows where that ideal grain comes from» the Writer asked idly, trying to distract her. But she was smart. She wouldn't let herself get shot a second time.
«That it comes from the Hyperuranian Beach discovered by Plato's prisoner after escaping from the cave in which, since birth, men have witnessed a deceptive shadow show?».
«It could be. What is certain is that, when I read that myth, I have the impression of having the first draft of The Matrix script at hand».
«And what about Szymborska, the lines in The Joy of Writing, written in 1967:
“The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight?”
Pure bullet time, the special effect also used in video games, made famous by The Matrix, decades in advance!».
The two had an incoercible tendency to digress. They were worthy of each other. Some matches are made in heaven. Both could not resist a dialectical dispute that had intellectual supremacy as its goal. The Shadow was definitely in shape that evening, and took over.
«In any case, from the micro detail the shot widens and takes on different angles. First in the medium field, with a plumb angle, the window sill on which the grain is placed; then, passing in the long shot, the lake that can be seen from that window; then, a zoomed in on the shores of the lake. Finally, the waves that reflect the sky: a slow opening in a very long field, with a progressively supine angle».
«Not even the Coen brothers could have done better!». Was there an ironic note in the Writer's voice? Even if it had been, the Shadow didn't catch her.
«Thus grows in the Reader-spectator, who uses the mind's eye, the doubt about the consistency of the naive realism to which we have been adhering without knowing it since we were born ... ».
«Stop, I don't understand: do you mean that the prisoner who came out of the cave observes his surroundings as through a video camera - who has gone from one fiction to another? Here we are also beyond the hallucinations of Plato and the Wachowskis». The Writer was losing his thread. Once again, the Shadow ignored him.
«… coming to assume cosmic dimensions. The poet's questioning gaze finally transits from physical space to the metaphysical enigma of time - of human time:
“A second passes.
A third second.
Three seconds, however, only ours”.
Beautiful, don't you think?».
The glimmering fragment of an Asian film appeared and fell through the spaces of memory like a shooting star. In the mood for love? 2046? Who knows. The memory faded. The Writer shook his head. «I'm afraid I'm more confused than before». Tempting him with quotes and references, without giving him time to think, the Shadow won that challenge hands down.
«Okay, let's simplify everything» she snorted, almost annoyed at having closed the game so easily.
Then she tried to be less harsh. Sergeant Hartman in her returned to the dorm and the Shadow sought a softer approach. «Try an urban weird style».
«Urban .. what?».
«Forget it. I mean something like this: “The JubJub had been the Roc's favorite drinking companion ever since the two anthropomorphic headed birds learned to fly. They were inseparable: not unlike Bouvard and Pécuchet, Laurel and Hardy, Vladimir and Estragon, Jagger and Richards. The citizens of Ariminum called them Muninn and Huginn - ways to indicate Memory and Thought, in the dialect, or rather in the cosmopolitan and multiethnic slang of Ariminum, among the many available: Mnemosùne and Logos, Clio and Verbum, Storage and Thinking, Ricùrd and Pinsìr ...”».
«I got it» interrupted the Writer, reassured. For some reason, the Shadow's last words had activated unsuspected synapses, opening up new perspectives for him. To solve the problem he had to tear the rhino to pieces, as they say, and then reassemble it.
«A good opening is built on an original image that places the Reader within a verisimilar narrative world, however unrealistic it may be. It also suggests a point of view, the omniscient one of the narrating voice or the subjective one of a character. It must also stimulate him to formulate hypotheses on the order underlying the fictional Universe disclosed by that first representation, or idea, or metaphor, which he can verify at the end of the reading».
The Shadow did not reply, as if satisfied with the result achieved. Or she just got tired of arguing. She happened to her often. She was combative, but erratic and moody.
The opening words of my novel, the Writer thought, could be an inexplicable fact, like the transformation of the protagonist into a cloud of forty-two white bats. Or the appearance of a Great Alien Gig spinning in the sky. And why not the description of an algorithm capable of generating one-way tickets for the Eternal Return train? More: a patchwork of all these things together.
He set aside his notebook and fountain pen, turned on the MacBook Air, and started all over again.