America's lost identity. Interview to Paul Beatty

«We used to ask ourselves often: how do we have to act? Now question is just: who are we?». The American writer Paul Beatty, winner in 2016 of «National Book Critics Circle Award» and «Man Booker Prize» for his novel The sellout – in Italy his books are published by Fazi Editore – is speaking about identity crisis of an America today ruled by President Donald Trump.

Paul Beatty attends the 2016 Man Booker Prize at The Guildhall. REUTERS/John Phillips/Pool
Paul Beatty attends the 2016 Man Booker Prize at The Guildhall. REUTERS/John Phillips/Pool

Paul Beatty, in the prologue of The sellout, published on 2015, narrator says, in a similitude with upholstery of a seat, that America isn't comfortable as it looks like. Is it true even now?

It took me five years to write that book; idea what's inside, about the United States, tells of a permanent flexure and, at some level, it's always been so and maybe it will continue to be so. I think that the application of question if Trump made this seat even less comfortable is yes, cyclically even less comfortable. This seat is today even less comfortable than when there was Obama. It's just for me, I can't speak for others; it's too early to know the long-term impact of his policies. Things he's done concern mainly minorities: most of the people don't really care very much.

After Muslim Ban and other policies adopted, do you think that America now has identity problems?

Not more than always. America is still feeling like a colony, in a weird way. It's often said that Trump is the face of the country, Obama is the face of the country, whereby if changes president changes the country: it obviously doesn't. As I see it, the president is like a figure at the head of the ship, but the country is headed by other people. It's certainly a country which struggles to give a voice to new minorities and social groups. Recently, I'd seen a Republican politician who said, after neo-nazi protests of Charleston: «America is not a place for nazi». For me it was very interesting, because we grow up in rhetoric that America is the place for everybody, including nazi. Another thing interesting is that we have basically two partists that suppose they're speaking to America, but kind of type to they're addressing – white proletarian of 50's – doesn't exist or it's really disappearing.

Is Republican's language very different from Democrat's language? 

There are differences but I think those differences are individual. Many people thought – I disagree – that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in their election campaigns, used same kind of language, same tone. One of interesting thing is that so many young people are responding to all politiciens like Bernie Sanders, because he uses a sort of romantic rhetoric from the 60's, from a more idealistic period, whereas Trump uses a rethorique from the 50s, a puritanical, nationalist kind, same of the Brexit. Sometimes it depends on the issues, that are different, but I think that key worlds are barely the same for both.

Are you convinced by Trump's condemnation of racisme, expressed two days after facts of Charlottesville?

A day Trump said one thing, the day after he said another thing. The answer is no. Who says Trump is proto-fascist is got a point. I'm convinced he doesn't really care much.

Do you think that with Trump there is a regression about civil and social rights?

It depends. If you're a transgender person in the army, with Trump situation worsened. If you're a student who cames from one of the countries including in the Travel Ban, you'll have more difficult to came to United States. Trump is gradually eroding rights that seemed acquired. These things are having an impact. Just for me, my freedom of expression isn't attacked, it's the same as before. It depends very much on person that you're talking about, the same surveys are checkered.

Your prose is very brilliant: what are your reference points?  

My models are Hannah Arendt, Kurt Vonnegut, Hegel – reading Phenomenology of the spirit I learnt so much about how to relate with the other. More recently, I much appreciated a book of W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz. I remember a quote from Kafka that sounds like: «What I have in common with Jewish when I have nothing in common with myself?».

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