André Aciman on Call Me by Your Name, love, and life

 
 Melbourne, Thursday 3 May, 2018  Returning from my lunchtime run, I refreshed my inbox to find a message from Andre Aciman, the author of  Call Me by Your Name  and  Out of  Egypt. I had emailed him earlier in the week, requesting 30 minutes of his time for a podcast while he was in Melbourne headlining a writers’ festival hosted by the Wheeler Centre. His response was brief, indicating that yes, he would be delighted to meet, and could I make it happen this afternoon?  Here was my chance to converse and ask questions of one of my favourite authors, who had also written the love story behind my favourite film. Aciman exists in that personal pantheon of authors who have deeply moved and shaped me as a person. This would be like talking to Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, or Ernest Hemingway, and being able to ask them about the deepest truths of their texts and inquire about all my unresolved questions .  Was this really happening? The whole afternoon suddenly had a frisson of the fantastical to it. I felt like Owen Wilson in  Midnight in Paris , only this would be Afternoon in the Paris End of Collins St, Melbourne.  Sitting in the foyer of the Sofitel Hotel, Andre quietly approached me and thanked me for coming, before leading me over to a table in the foyer. He had a gentle and respectful demeanour, and his Sephardic olive eyes had a Dumbledore-like warmth and twinkle to them. The qualities of his cosmopolitan voice hinted at the extraordinary life he has led: the Arabic purr from his childhood in Egypt; the expressive musical Italian cadences from his youth and education in Italy; and the intellectualism and texture of the Jewish diaspora from a lifetime in New York.  What followed was a thirty-minute interview, which turned out to be one of the most pleasurable conversations of my life. You can read the full transcript below. It helped illuminate  Call Me by Your Name  as a canonical book and a filmic work of art, but also it helped me to understand Andre Aciman as the wellspring beneath the global phenomenon of  Call Me by Your Name , which has touched the lives of so many people across continents, genders, sexualities and class barriers. I’ve never agreed with Roland Barthes’ concept of ‘The Death of the Author’, which asserts that the text and the creator are not connected and should be analysed separately. While the author’s experiences should probably never constitute a definitive explanation of the text, I think that they can certainly help us understand the contours and composition of a literary work in meaningful ways.  --   Interview with André Aciman, Melbourne, Thursday 3 May 2018    Nick Fabbri interview with André Aciman      00:01  Nick: I'm very fortunate to be here today with André Aciman, Professor of Comparative Literature at City University of New York and author of the hit novel, 'Call Me by Your Name'. So, thank you very, very much for joining us here in Melbourne. It's a great privilege and an honour to be speaking with you here today.   00:16 André: For me as well, it's a great pleasure.  00:17  Nick: Thank you. Perhaps you could begin, Professor, by giving us a brief overview of your life and story, and how it was that you came to be here in Melbourne on this Autumn evening for your first time, I believe.   00:29 André: Very first time, yes. I think that my whole life begins in Egypt and there is a moment of - it was a bit of a shock because I was kicked out of Egypt which is a place that I didn't want to be in to begin with.  00:44 So, I was born there. I didn't like it. I couldn't wait to get out and then eventually I was forced out because of political situation.  00:53 And essentially, I never got over that. I think it reappears in almost everything I write, the absence of a homeland or of a home. They're not necessarily synonymous but they mean the same thing in the end. In other words, a home cannot be a homeland but it's still where you long to be and where you were made to expect to be.  01:14 So, you always have this expectation of something that occurred in the past. I mean, no, let me rephrase this. You are taught that you will be in a place, even though you're also understanding that you will never be in that place.  01:28 So, that kind of bickering that occurs inside of you and in the family as well, that we belong here but we don't belong here, has stayed with me forever and so I take it everywhere I go.  01:40 I write about exile, about displacement, about ambivalence, ambivalent sexuality. Everything that I write is essentially at loggerheads with itself. I hate to use the word 'contradiction', it's too simple.  01:59 And eventually I wrote a book called 'Out of Egypt' which is about my life in Egypt, growing up in Egypt. It was successful and I kept writing about exile, exile, exile after that all the time; until I got sick and tired of exile and I decided to write about something else and I wrote this book about a gay love affair.  02:17 And 'Out of Egypt' had done very well. I didn't need to write another book if I wanted to be known but this has basically exploded and, once the film comes out, everybody talks about it. Everybody writes to me and it's there.  02:33 So, I get invited to places and eventually I got invited to Australia, to come to Melbourne.  02:43  Nick: We're very lucky to have you here. So, you are a Professor of Comparative Literature. You teach the classics and English style, with a particular interest in Marcel Proust. I hope I got the name right.   02:54 André: You did.  02:50  Nick: Could you please reflect on Proust's influence on your style and perhaps also on the broader themes that he seems to be concerned out? Namely memory, the passing of time and nostalgia for things that we've lost.   03:07 André: Yes. I think that the nostalgia comes naturally to me, so finding it in Proust was an easy thing. Proust is a nostalgist. He longs for the past or at least he claims to long for the past. It's an easy gesture. It's an easy move for him and I immediately connected with that when I read Proust. I was very young when I read Proust.  03:31 But there's also many other things in Proust. Proust was interested in people and he wants to examine or let's say 'excavate' their personalities, their motivations, what it is that they're hiding from you and what it is that you're hiding and what your motivations are when you're dealing with others. He's very interested in that. I don't think there's another author who has done it as well as he has. Even psychologists are not able to penetrate the mind as he has.  03:58 I was interested in that too because I don't trust people and I always assume they are out to get me or to hurt me, so I'm always analysing, "What does he want? Why? Why? What do they want?"  04:07 So, with that I connected as well but the third item is the most important. There was a particular kind of cadence in the rhythm that Proust has invented for us. And once you allow yourself to be trapped and caught and basically carried away by that rhythm, you begin to see life differently.  04:28 And what I wanted for people to do when they read me is to like the rhythm that I gave them, to accept the fact that they will be carried away by it. And once they do that, they can no longer tell whether it is they themselves they are reading or me. And the fact that there's a confusion is a Proustian move. When you read Proust, you think you're reading yourself, you're not reading Marcel. And I wanted that to be - or maybe I didn't even want it, it just happens.  05:00  Nick: It did happen in 'Call me by your name'. I was reading it and I felt myself slipping into the grooves of Elio's consciousness. I actually almost felt sort of headachy at a point because of this obsessiveness about Oliver. It actually was so empathetic in the way that I was able to be absorbed into his mind.   05:18 André: Well, a lot of people get absorbed into it and they start crying because they see the trauma that they've experienced. But there are a lot of straight men who read my book and begin to question what their sexuality really is because they're seduced by it. And there are girls who are twelve or thirteen years old who start crying for days. So, they write to me and their mothers tell me, "She's been crying for days. I want to know what you've done." I, of course, say, "I didn't want to do that."  05:47  Nick: Yes, I know.   05:49 André: But it's something that's totally unintentional.  05:51  Nick: And beyond Proust, I think what I really loved about your work is how it's sort of suffused with classical and other literary references. Like, I remember Elio's father speaking and quoting Dante and Dante's 'Inferno' and Virgil as well, particularly the image of reaching out to the further bank from book six [of  The Aeneid, VI, 313] . You see these subtle references all the way through and, of course when they go to lake and they literally dredge up a classical monument - I mean, this is quite a potent symbol of I think what your book does, it actually brings the classics back into our consciousness. So, can you reflect on what moves and influences you, about the classics, as a writer?   06:30 André: The classics are, for me, very - they're the best books that have ever been written. I mean, let's go with that. They also are the safest books. In other words, they're always established. They are there.  06:44 When I was reading the classics as a child, I was in Egypt and there was something about the classics that made me feel I belonged to this tradition even though I'm out there in this outback of the world which has no connection with the rest of the universe - because it was really secluded. And yet, when I think of the classics, it sort of tells me, "No, no, you belong to a long tradition."  07:08  Nick: Which you can communicate with...   07:09 André: Yes.  07:10  Nick: ... and become part of.   07:12 André: Exactly, so in many ways the classics for me represented a connection with history and with the rest of Europe and also with the very best of Europe, and I wanted that.  07:24 But at the same time, the classics are so profound. So, when Elio masturbates with the peach, he's also thinking of the peach as a character from Ovid that has been transformed into poor peach and she's suffering.  07:45 Or there's a scene - there's a big scene in the third chapter. It occurs in Rome and they're having this dinner together. Everybody's getting drunk and suddenly this guy arrives very late because he got lost on the way. He's drunk too and he starts talking gibberish. And that is all a pastiche of 'The Symposium' by Plato - very few people know this.  08:06  Nick: Yes, okay.   08:07 André: And so, basically there is, "What is love? What is the theory of love?." They're basically playing on Plato and I love that because I think the classics are what - in one way or another, they are what unifies us among ourselves because it's a common language we have and it also unifies us with the past.  08:26 And so, it's something I consider essential and very safe. They're always going to be there. As long as we have books, we will have the classics. They are never going away.  08:37  Nick: Yes, that's very beautiful. What I mentioned before, I think it is a classical work or a book that pays homage to the classics...   08:44 André: I think the attitude is classical.  08:46  Nick: A classical attitude, yes.   08:47 André: Yes, the style is not - I mean, we can use the work 'fuck' a few times but it doesn't mean that we're not aware that - basically, the language is polished. The writing is, I think, pretty decent. It doesn't - the standards are high, I think. I shouldn't be saying this, but I'm conscious I mean, if my sentences are sort of awkward, I fix them. I don't want them to be awkward.  09:14 And so, I'm writing - if I can claim this, which is very arrogant - I'm writing for the great works. I'm writing to them. I want them to hear me. I'm not writing for people who read magazines.  09:28  Nick: But I think through the film and the book as well, you've inducted many people into that tradition as a result of how accessible it has been, in terms of the love story.   09:38 André: I hope so. I would love to think that. The funny thing is that people may not have read my book before. Now they read it.  09:39  Nick: Exactly, yes.   09:40 André: And these are people who would normally not want to read that kind of a book because it's a difficult book. It's not easy-easy. I mean, the writing is sometimes even precious.  09:56  Nick: Yes, but it's like when you work through Proust. It's a labour. It's an effort sometimes. I'm not saying it's difficult to read your book, I read it in a day, but...   10:03 André: At first, you have to accept the rhythm. Once you're in it, it's easy.  10:07  Nick: So, do you think in the modern world - I mean, because of this sort of nodding and gesture towards the classics and how you apotheosise it in some ways - do you think there's something deficient or something in our modern world in terms of our considerations of Love and our consideration of Beauty and the sublime?   10:25 André: No, I don't think there's something deficient. I think that the art is deficient. The standards of high art. I'm not talking about middle-brow art, I'm talking high art - are totally lacking.  10:39 We want things to be simple and easy and quick. And there's a sense of - and I was speaking about this a couple of days ago in Sydney when I was making fun of Strunk and White, I don't know if you know who they are.  10:51  Nick: No.   10:52 André: Strunk and White are two individuals who wrote a book called 'The Elements of Style'.  10:52  Nick: Oh, yes. I - yes [My enemies - Ed.]   10:5 André: Okay, but that's exactly what people think what good writing is - simple, declarative, indicative mood. Never the subjunctive - never. Never the conditional mood.  11:07  Nick: No long subordinates, no.   11:08 André: Yes, I spoke about subordinature forever and basically people don't like that. So, I don't think our appreciation of love is any different. The Greeks didn't have a good idea what love was either, but they knew how to speak about it and they knew how to elaborate as opposed to simplify it.  11:28  Nick: Which we don't in short declarative academic writing in many ways.    11:29 André: You can't.  11:30  Nick: You can't, no.   11:32 André: It destroys it.  11:33  Nick: You only get a credit or a pass on your assignment, you know?   11:35 André: [laughing]  11:37  Nick: Okay, so moving along. In terms of the impact that the book has had on attitudes towards sexuality and gender, particularly people's attitudes towards gay or bi-sexual or even bi-curious men and women - people reading the book can interrogate their own sexuality. What kind of impact do you think that your work has had and the film as well, in terms of making people feel that it's okay to be authentic in themselves and in their sexual identities?   12:11 André: I think that at this point in time, most people are not fighting their sexuality any longer. I mean, people are coming out all the time.  12:22 It's older people who basically regret not having come out to their parents because their father's long dead, that sort of thing, and they write to me about that.  12:32 In many ways, I think that the book sanctions the absence of repression and it's an encouragement, particularly to parents, to heed what their children are saying and to accept. There's no choice but to accept.  12:49  Nick: But this is like - I come back to Plato again. You know, the father - I can't remember his name this is horrible - but he represents, in many ways, a Platonic form of what a father should be in terms of being loving and accepting...   13:02 André: Yes, oh God, yes.  13:03  Nick: ... and in listening as well. And almost encouraging his son to feel the pain rather than to just sort of 'stiff upper lip' and carry on...   13:10 André: Oh yes, ‘it’s gonna go away’.  13:12  Nick: Yes, I thought that was a remarkable...   13:14 André: Well, but I think - I believe it. I think everybody accepts that, we fight many times and we suffer, especially with love. We fight it. We try to hate the other person and get rid of them. And what the father's saying, "No, no, don't fight it. It's good to suffer." Then he makes the other declarative statement that is, "I could have had what you have, but I never did." And so, there was even this touch of nostalgia on the part of the father.  13:42  Nick: Yes, precisely.   13:43 André: And what kind of father would tell that to his son? It's not just the son coming out to the father, it's the father coming out to the son.  13:50  Nick: Precisely and it's remarkable.   13:53 André: And I think that's very moving.  13:55  Nick: Yes, deeply so. Beyond the idea of reconciling one's self with that Greek concept of 'Gnothi Seauton' (  γνῶθι σεαυτόν)   - that's not the right pronunciation, but it means 'become who you are' [Know Thyself – Ed] essentially...   14:06 André: Oh, yes.  14:07  Nick: There's a sense in which the book and the film is about sexual awakening; a coming into one's sexuality, the act of making love as well. But I think what hasn't been discussed as much insofar as the things that I've read is the idea of the book being a religious awakening as well. There's that beautiful line about when Elio and Oliver are together and Elio has had the blood nose, and they speak about the Star of David that they're wearing on the chest. He says, "You’re not a Jew of discretion" or something to that effect. Oh no, Elio says that, "Mum says we're Jews of discretion." But then after that, the next scene is him coming out of the water - almost a baptismal sort of image - and he's wearing the Star of David.   14:48 André: Very well said. I had never planned for this, but it's in the film. He comes out of the water and he is baptised. Very well said.  14:56 I think that he's accepted his religion and he's open. I think the religion motif - I wasn't really interested about the Jewishness per se, but they are the two Jews in the town and so it automatically binds them somehow. They have something in common. They may have nothing else in common, but they do have that in common and it sort of solidifies their relationship.  15:17 And the fact that Elio accepts to wear the star of David, for me, is clearly a symbolic acceptance of his own sexuality.  15:28  Nick: Absolutely.   15:28 André: Which he's accepted from page one in the book and, from page one, there's no, "I am not gay, I am not gay." I mean, he - from the very beginning, he's saying, "I know what I want. I want to sleep with this guy. Period."  15:40  Nick: I think it also taps into that almost Kafka-esque, as a writer, sense of him - there's like that outsider complex, being gay and being away from what is hetero-normative, but also being Jewish in a village which isn't Jewish. And the same as Oliver being - he's in New Hampshire or something, he's the only Jew in that particular locale. So, how do you - going back to that idea of exile and outsided and alienation - is this something that's been pertinent for you as a writer?   16:08 André: It is totally pertinent to me because I remember when I was in Egypt - I was ten years old, even perhaps younger - and there was another boy and he must have been sixteen/seventeen. He wore a Star of David or actually not even a Star of David, he wore a Mezuzah which I don't know if you know...  16:23  Nick: No, I don't know.   16:24 André: It's another symbol the Jews have. And I saw this and said, "What is he, crazy? This is Egypt and he's walking around with this thing?"  16:31  Nick: And this is after the Egyptian nationalism where they expelled the Jews and...?   16:35 André: Yes, yes. In fact, he ended up pretty badly; years later, I found out. But, I mean, he was so totally okay with being Jewish, whereas I was not ever going to wear one. And I envied him and I became interested in him because he was a Jew who was not afraid of being Jewish.  16:52 Of course, I thought I wanted to have a friendship with him. He wasn't interested because he was much older but I'm sure that if I had known about sex back then, maybe I would have thought that there was some kind of attraction, but I'm not sure. I couldn't say.  17:07  Nick: For you, as a writer and a human -  you obviously live in New York now and, in some academic writing, that's been called the 'Global Capital for the Jewish Diaspora'.   17:19 André: Yes.  17:19  Nick: Versus that idea of having to be rooted in a particular homeland, like in Israel and the Holy Lands. How do you interact in New York as a Jewish man?   17:28 André: Put it this way, New York has made it very, very easy for me to be Jewish in the sense that most of the people I know are either half Christian or Jewish.  17:41 But I'm a very bad Jew. I don't like Judaism. I don't like the religion. I was never the equivalent of communion or bar-mitzvared. I refused the whole thing.  17:52  Nick: Why?   17:52 André: Because I hate religion. I really don't like religion, any religion. And probably because I had to pay a price for being Jewish when I was growing up, so I just have no tolerance for religion.  18:04 So, in New York, there are many practising Jews and they invite me to their weddings and things and I have to go, but I hate going. I really hate going.  18:12  Nick: See, I find that surprising because I thought that, in the whole beautiful image of 'Call me your name and I'll call you by your name' - that recalled to me   the Song of Solomon verse, chapter six verse three [Song of Solomon 6:3 – Ed] or something, about 'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.' This idea of total - I don't know - total sort of exchange of self or total 'two hearts beating as one'. I don't know, total commitment - trust, love, loyalty...   18:38 André: Intimacy.  18:39  Nick: Intimacy, exactly.   18:41 André: Well, I believe that. I believe that it's possible. It doesn't always last but it exists and it exists capriciously, whimsically, because you can't always arrest it there, but it is something to be cultivated.  18:56 And one works at it because you don't want to lose intimacy. Once you lose intimacy, you're with somebody but it doesn't really matter.  19:02  Nick: Yes, exactly. What did you think of the film? What do you think was gained and maybe lost by the adaptation?   19:09 André: I think the film was perfect. I loved the film. In fact, ironically, I was watching it on the plane coming here.  19:15  Nick: Really [laughs]?   19:15 André: Yes, just to refresh my mind. I've seen it a million times and I like the film. I like the fact that it takes its time. It is not in a rush to make the point that they're going to have sex, and it makes you almost - it forces you to slip into their lives and to understand how this thing is being worked out between them, how the tension is increasing constantly and you're not feeling it, but it's there. And then you have this moment of eruption in front of the monument when the kid just basically doesn't know what he's saying. He may not even have planned any of it, but he's telling him, "I'm interested in you. I have feelings for you." Well he's saying it very ambiguously of course because he might want to withdraw everything he's just said.  20:03 The film is very faithful to the spirit of the book. Now, there are many changes that occurred. Among others, there's no sense of the future which is totally out of the - there's no trip to Rome, which I think was pretty important for me. But it doesn't matter because I think the end of the book - most people get to the end of the book and they always write to me and they said, "I've cried. The moment I could feel the end coming, I was already crying." And I don't understand why.  20:30  Nick: Really?   20:30 André: I don't, and I'm being very honest. It's very hard for me to understand.  20:34  Nick: I cried a lot.   20:35 André: Why?  20:38  Nick: Why? Because it's a sense that something profoundly beautiful exists only once in a lifetime and it’s just sort of slipped you by. I think that's pretty devastating, at least.   20:45 André: It is devastating and I think the film, even though it has a scene that was never in the book - it's a scene when Elio is staring at the fireplace - I think that captures exactly what the end of the book was doing in its own, in film language, which is totally different from book language.  21:06 It does - it achieves the same effect. Now, why is it that this film - people go to see it many, many times? And why is it that people read the book many times? And why does it have this impact on people? What is it actually saying to them that they never tell me because they can't formulate it? I don't know what that is.  21:26 I cannot answer that question. I mean, I wish I knew because if I knew, I would have a formula and I would write a book every six months, but it's really very difficult to say. The only thing that I - and I say this many times - the only scene that means something to me personally is when they are in Rome and they're kissing against the wall and Elio is so entranced by the kiss that he doesn't care that these two old men are walking by and saying ‘in Mussolini’s time, those two guys would have been arrested.’  21:55 He doesn't care and I have had a moment like this in my life, against the wall, and every time I go to that wall which is not in Rome...  22:03  Nick: You revisit it? Yes, wow...   22:07 André: I am heartbroken because I realise at that wall, that my life could have taken a turn in the totally different direction, and it didn't. And so, when I go back to that wall, I see the moment. I can almost touch that moment when, by sheer idiocy on my part - which was also a touch of genius because it would have created a disaster - but...  22:31  Nick: That life with that particular woman, yes.   22:33 André: That was a disaster but, in fact, I do regret it. I'm grateful it never happened but I regret it because I knew that, at that moment, my love had come - had blossomed against that wall. And so, I wanted that scene at the wall. But most people read about the wall and they keep going.  22:55  Nick: I've got - we're thirty minutes in, so I've got about three more questions and then you can go and have a shower.    22:56 André: I've taken a shower already.  22:57  Nick: Oh, perfect. Okay, relax. Excellent.   22:59 André: I was going to nap but then I said, "I don't have time to nap."  23:05  Nick: No, you've got to roll through. Yes, it's the best way to beat jet-lag. But I think that it is so profoundly soul-rending, if that's the right word, because it does confront you with a vision of - everyone looks on Elio and Oliver and the loss that happened as a result of that, and you don't get the sense of how deep that loss was in the film as you do in the book. But we all look on our own lives and interrogate and we think, "Oh, I've had a moment of love like that, but I didn't live a life with that person when I could have." So, we are kind of confronted with all the selves we could have been, all the happiness that we could have had, and that's profoundly - hauntingly beautiful but profoundly shocking and disturbing in many ways. It's devastating.    23:50  For me, the ending and being confronted with the different selves - I've only seen it done a couple of times in literature, and never as well as with your book. And that's why I thought that the film maybe could have put something in there, in terms of the twenty-year meeting after which I think was...   24:02 André: Well, he wants to do a sequel. I mean, that's what he was saying.  24:04  Nick: Yes, is that what that's going to unpack?   24:06 André: I don't know. I don't know. There’s talk of it, but I don't know if it's palaver or it's real. He is very committed to it, but there are too many other individuals involved. But you're touching on something that's very important for me. It's the particular - it's a verb mood, it's the 'might have been'.  24:27  Nick: Yes, the 'might have been'.   24:28 André: And I’m writing a whole book on 'might have beens'.  24:30  Nick: It's like “pluperfect lover” line, what's the mood? I'm trying to think - is there actually...? Anyway...   24:33 André: It's a conditional.  24:34  Nick: It's a conditional, that's right.   24:35 André: Yes, it's a past-conditional, the 'might have been'. And that is a dimension of our lives that we seldom visit because it's awful.  24:45  Nick: It's infinite, though. It could, you know...?   24:48 André: Well, that's exactly it. And so, it forces us to go backwards and forwards because the 'might have been' is still with us and it might be achieved in the future. And we dread it and we desire it, and we don't know.  24:59 And so, this whole condition of the 'might have been' might be the moving click, the thing that makes you say, "My god, this is not just about the love lost, but it's a love that could have been and hasn't quite resolved itself." And that's disturbing.  25:17  Nick: Yes, I've only seen it done in McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' at the end when he says, "This is how the course of a life could change." Because he didn't call out to his lover on the beach and say, "I'm sorry, I love you."    25:25  But the second half of the book, like your Ghost Spots section, flips by life very quickly. I think it's so beautiful and it's sad because ultimately the life they did lead is not fulfilling in some ways...   25:41 André: That's true.  25:42  Nick: ... compared to the infinite possibilities in their minds.   25:45 André: And I like the fact that Elio says - when he says, "Come and visit my family." And he says, "No."  25:50  Nick: Because he doesn't want to see.   25:52 André: Obviously he still is not over it.  25:54  Nick: Yes.   25:54 André: And neither is Oliver for that matter.  25:58  Nick: But coming back to the final questions, there's that beautiful line at the end in the last couple of pages about the memories and the instances you've had with your lovers and partners and lovers and friends. They're never really gone and you use the expression that was like a beautiful summer fire fly or that it was like a “summer field”, like an eternal sort of space of memory in which you and your lover from forty years ago on the wall in Rome are still together in some ways, it doesn't disappear.   26:25 André: 'Yesterday was like tomorrow' or something like that.  26:27  Nick: Yes, exactly.   26:28 André: That’s just one sentence. Yes, that captures it because what just happened centuries ago. And what happened twenty years ago is just like this morning.  26:39  Nick: Yes, precisely.   26:40 André: And I think, yes, but because I'm always challenging time. And you initially started by saying that time is mortality, and I think it is. I mean, time equals death and we don't like death and I do not accept death.  26:53 And I think that we try to negotiate with it, however feebly we can, so that we can essentially grab something and keep it, and it's very hard to do.  27:05  Nick: My final question is do you think that memory can sometimes be like a siren which can lead you to crash on the rocks? Because my thing is it's nice for me, at least - I dwell on all the, you know, beautiful lovers and friends that I've known over the years - but ultimately, we are here in the present today. And I think the best part, when I read the book and watch the film, is when it makes me feel like I should be creating more memories today and gathering my rosebuds while I still can because what we have here today will one day be memory and we need to make sure we are actively living in the present.   27:39 André: We should live in the present. I've always thought so and that's what the father is saying, "Live in the present, don't fight the past, but don't also anticipate the future. Stay in the present." And I believe that, except I don't know how to do it.  27:57 I think that every - whenever I used to go into a relationship, I would feel like, "I know this is not going to last more than two weeks, I can already tell." And people will say, "Don't be judgemental." I'd say, "But I can tell, it's not going to go far." And I was always right - "Well, you made it happen that way because you..." No, I said, "No, I just knew it wasn't going to go."  28:17 The ones that where I felt my whole life was teetering before this particular relationship and this particular desire are the moments when I felt, "I'd better control this because it might control me." And I was going against the father's advice.  28:34  Nick: Yes, well, thank you so much for your time. I know you've got to rush off.   28:36 André: You're welcome.  28:36  Nick: It's very generous of you to squeeze me in and thank you so much.   28:39 André: It's a pleasure. You're really very good at this.  28:42  Nick: Thank you.   28:42 André: I have to tell you. I really - it was a total pleasure.  28:46  Nick: Thank you. Enjoy Melbourne as well.   28:48 André: Thank you.  28:48  Nick: One night in Melbourne, fantastic.   28:49 André: One night in Melbourne, that's all I can do.  28:51  Nick: Okay.   28:51 André: Are you coming to the thing?  28:52  Nick: I am, I am.   28:53 André: Oh, you're going.  28:54  Nick: I'm going to get a dinner and I'm going with some friends.      

Melbourne, Thursday 3 May, 2018

Returning from my lunchtime run, I refreshed my inbox to find a message from Andre Aciman, the author of Call Me by Your Name and Out of Egypt. I had emailed him earlier in the week, requesting 30 minutes of his time for a podcast while he was in Melbourne headlining a writers’ festival hosted by the Wheeler Centre. His response was brief, indicating that yes, he would be delighted to meet, and could I make it happen this afternoon?

Here was my chance to converse and ask questions of one of my favourite authors, who had also written the love story behind my favourite film. Aciman exists in that personal pantheon of authors who have deeply moved and shaped me as a person. This would be like talking to Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, or Ernest Hemingway, and being able to ask them about the deepest truths of their texts and inquire about all my unresolved questions. Was this really happening? The whole afternoon suddenly had a frisson of the fantastical to it. I felt like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, only this would be Afternoon in the Paris End of Collins St, Melbourne.

Sitting in the foyer of the Sofitel Hotel, Andre quietly approached me and thanked me for coming, before leading me over to a table in the foyer. He had a gentle and respectful demeanour, and his Sephardic olive eyes had a Dumbledore-like warmth and twinkle to them. The qualities of his cosmopolitan voice hinted at the extraordinary life he has led: the Arabic purr from his childhood in Egypt; the expressive musical Italian cadences from his youth and education in Italy; and the intellectualism and texture of the Jewish diaspora from a lifetime in New York.

What followed was a thirty-minute interview, which turned out to be one of the most pleasurable conversations of my life. You can read the full transcript below. It helped illuminate Call Me by Your Name as a canonical book and a filmic work of art, but also it helped me to understand Andre Aciman as the wellspring beneath the global phenomenon of Call Me by Your Name, which has touched the lives of so many people across continents, genders, sexualities and class barriers. I’ve never agreed with Roland Barthes’ concept of ‘The Death of the Author’, which asserts that the text and the creator are not connected and should be analysed separately. While the author’s experiences should probably never constitute a definitive explanation of the text, I think that they can certainly help us understand the contours and composition of a literary work in meaningful ways.

--

Interview with André Aciman, Melbourne, Thursday 3 May 2018

Nick Fabbri interview with André Aciman

 

00:01 Nick: I'm very fortunate to be here today with André Aciman, Professor of Comparative Literature at City University of New York and author of the hit novel, 'Call Me by Your Name'. So, thank you very, very much for joining us here in Melbourne. It's a great privilege and an honour to be speaking with you here today.

00:16 André: For me as well, it's a great pleasure.

00:17 Nick: Thank you. Perhaps you could begin, Professor, by giving us a brief overview of your life and story, and how it was that you came to be here in Melbourne on this Autumn evening for your first time, I believe.

00:29 André: Very first time, yes. I think that my whole life begins in Egypt and there is a moment of - it was a bit of a shock because I was kicked out of Egypt which is a place that I didn't want to be in to begin with.

00:44 So, I was born there. I didn't like it. I couldn't wait to get out and then eventually I was forced out because of political situation.

00:53 And essentially, I never got over that. I think it reappears in almost everything I write, the absence of a homeland or of a home. They're not necessarily synonymous but they mean the same thing in the end. In other words, a home cannot be a homeland but it's still where you long to be and where you were made to expect to be.

01:14 So, you always have this expectation of something that occurred in the past. I mean, no, let me rephrase this. You are taught that you will be in a place, even though you're also understanding that you will never be in that place.

01:28 So, that kind of bickering that occurs inside of you and in the family as well, that we belong here but we don't belong here, has stayed with me forever and so I take it everywhere I go.

01:40 I write about exile, about displacement, about ambivalence, ambivalent sexuality. Everything that I write is essentially at loggerheads with itself. I hate to use the word 'contradiction', it's too simple.

01:59 And eventually I wrote a book called 'Out of Egypt' which is about my life in Egypt, growing up in Egypt. It was successful and I kept writing about exile, exile, exile after that all the time; until I got sick and tired of exile and I decided to write about something else and I wrote this book about a gay love affair.

02:17 And 'Out of Egypt' had done very well. I didn't need to write another book if I wanted to be known but this has basically exploded and, once the film comes out, everybody talks about it. Everybody writes to me and it's there.

02:33 So, I get invited to places and eventually I got invited to Australia, to come to Melbourne.

02:43 Nick: We're very lucky to have you here. So, you are a Professor of Comparative Literature. You teach the classics and English style, with a particular interest in Marcel Proust. I hope I got the name right.

02:54 André: You did.

02:50 Nick: Could you please reflect on Proust's influence on your style and perhaps also on the broader themes that he seems to be concerned out? Namely memory, the passing of time and nostalgia for things that we've lost.

03:07 André: Yes. I think that the nostalgia comes naturally to me, so finding it in Proust was an easy thing. Proust is a nostalgist. He longs for the past or at least he claims to long for the past. It's an easy gesture. It's an easy move for him and I immediately connected with that when I read Proust. I was very young when I read Proust.

03:31 But there's also many other things in Proust. Proust was interested in people and he wants to examine or let's say 'excavate' their personalities, their motivations, what it is that they're hiding from you and what it is that you're hiding and what your motivations are when you're dealing with others. He's very interested in that. I don't think there's another author who has done it as well as he has. Even psychologists are not able to penetrate the mind as he has.

03:58 I was interested in that too because I don't trust people and I always assume they are out to get me or to hurt me, so I'm always analysing, "What does he want? Why? Why? What do they want?"

04:07 So, with that I connected as well but the third item is the most important. There was a particular kind of cadence in the rhythm that Proust has invented for us. And once you allow yourself to be trapped and caught and basically carried away by that rhythm, you begin to see life differently.

04:28 And what I wanted for people to do when they read me is to like the rhythm that I gave them, to accept the fact that they will be carried away by it. And once they do that, they can no longer tell whether it is they themselves they are reading or me. And the fact that there's a confusion is a Proustian move. When you read Proust, you think you're reading yourself, you're not reading Marcel. And I wanted that to be - or maybe I didn't even want it, it just happens.

05:00 Nick: It did happen in 'Call me by your name'. I was reading it and I felt myself slipping into the grooves of Elio's consciousness. I actually almost felt sort of headachy at a point because of this obsessiveness about Oliver. It actually was so empathetic in the way that I was able to be absorbed into his mind.

05:18 André: Well, a lot of people get absorbed into it and they start crying because they see the trauma that they've experienced. But there are a lot of straight men who read my book and begin to question what their sexuality really is because they're seduced by it. And there are girls who are twelve or thirteen years old who start crying for days. So, they write to me and their mothers tell me, "She's been crying for days. I want to know what you've done." I, of course, say, "I didn't want to do that."

05:47 Nick: Yes, I know.

05:49 André: But it's something that's totally unintentional.

05:51 Nick: And beyond Proust, I think what I really loved about your work is how it's sort of suffused with classical and other literary references. Like, I remember Elio's father speaking and quoting Dante and Dante's 'Inferno' and Virgil as well, particularly the image of reaching out to the further bank from book six [of The Aeneid, VI, 313]. You see these subtle references all the way through and, of course when they go to lake and they literally dredge up a classical monument - I mean, this is quite a potent symbol of I think what your book does, it actually brings the classics back into our consciousness. So, can you reflect on what moves and influences you, about the classics, as a writer?

06:30 André: The classics are, for me, very - they're the best books that have ever been written. I mean, let's go with that. They also are the safest books. In other words, they're always established. They are there.

06:44 When I was reading the classics as a child, I was in Egypt and there was something about the classics that made me feel I belonged to this tradition even though I'm out there in this outback of the world which has no connection with the rest of the universe - because it was really secluded. And yet, when I think of the classics, it sort of tells me, "No, no, you belong to a long tradition."

07:08 Nick: Which you can communicate with...

07:09 André: Yes.

07:10 Nick: ... and become part of.

07:12 André: Exactly, so in many ways the classics for me represented a connection with history and with the rest of Europe and also with the very best of Europe, and I wanted that.

07:24 But at the same time, the classics are so profound. So, when Elio masturbates with the peach, he's also thinking of the peach as a character from Ovid that has been transformed into poor peach and she's suffering.

07:45 Or there's a scene - there's a big scene in the third chapter. It occurs in Rome and they're having this dinner together. Everybody's getting drunk and suddenly this guy arrives very late because he got lost on the way. He's drunk too and he starts talking gibberish. And that is all a pastiche of 'The Symposium' by Plato - very few people know this.

08:06 Nick: Yes, okay.

08:07 André: And so, basically there is, "What is love? What is the theory of love?." They're basically playing on Plato and I love that because I think the classics are what - in one way or another, they are what unifies us among ourselves because it's a common language we have and it also unifies us with the past.

08:26 And so, it's something I consider essential and very safe. They're always going to be there. As long as we have books, we will have the classics. They are never going away.

08:37 Nick: Yes, that's very beautiful. What I mentioned before, I think it is a classical work or a book that pays homage to the classics...

08:44 André: I think the attitude is classical.

08:46 Nick: A classical attitude, yes.

08:47 André: Yes, the style is not - I mean, we can use the work 'fuck' a few times but it doesn't mean that we're not aware that - basically, the language is polished. The writing is, I think, pretty decent. It doesn't - the standards are high, I think. I shouldn't be saying this, but I'm conscious I mean, if my sentences are sort of awkward, I fix them. I don't want them to be awkward.

09:14 And so, I'm writing - if I can claim this, which is very arrogant - I'm writing for the great works. I'm writing to them. I want them to hear me. I'm not writing for people who read magazines.

09:28 Nick: But I think through the film and the book as well, you've inducted many people into that tradition as a result of how accessible it has been, in terms of the love story.

09:38 André: I hope so. I would love to think that. The funny thing is that people may not have read my book before. Now they read it.

09:39 Nick: Exactly, yes.

09:40 André: And these are people who would normally not want to read that kind of a book because it's a difficult book. It's not easy-easy. I mean, the writing is sometimes even precious.

09:56 Nick: Yes, but it's like when you work through Proust. It's a labour. It's an effort sometimes. I'm not saying it's difficult to read your book, I read it in a day, but...

10:03 André: At first, you have to accept the rhythm. Once you're in it, it's easy.

10:07 Nick: So, do you think in the modern world - I mean, because of this sort of nodding and gesture towards the classics and how you apotheosise it in some ways - do you think there's something deficient or something in our modern world in terms of our considerations of Love and our consideration of Beauty and the sublime?

10:25 André: No, I don't think there's something deficient. I think that the art is deficient. The standards of high art. I'm not talking about middle-brow art, I'm talking high art - are totally lacking.

10:39 We want things to be simple and easy and quick. And there's a sense of - and I was speaking about this a couple of days ago in Sydney when I was making fun of Strunk and White, I don't know if you know who they are.

10:51 Nick: No.

10:52 André: Strunk and White are two individuals who wrote a book called 'The Elements of Style'.

10:52 Nick: Oh, yes. I - yes [My enemies - Ed.]

10:5 André: Okay, but that's exactly what people think what good writing is - simple, declarative, indicative mood. Never the subjunctive - never. Never the conditional mood.

11:07 Nick: No long subordinates, no.

11:08 André: Yes, I spoke about subordinature forever and basically people don't like that. So, I don't think our appreciation of love is any different. The Greeks didn't have a good idea what love was either, but they knew how to speak about it and they knew how to elaborate as opposed to simplify it.

11:28 Nick: Which we don't in short declarative academic writing in many ways.

11:29 André: You can't.

11:30 Nick: You can't, no.

11:32 André: It destroys it.

11:33 Nick: You only get a credit or a pass on your assignment, you know?

11:35 André: [laughing]

11:37 Nick: Okay, so moving along. In terms of the impact that the book has had on attitudes towards sexuality and gender, particularly people's attitudes towards gay or bi-sexual or even bi-curious men and women - people reading the book can interrogate their own sexuality. What kind of impact do you think that your work has had and the film as well, in terms of making people feel that it's okay to be authentic in themselves and in their sexual identities?

12:11 André: I think that at this point in time, most people are not fighting their sexuality any longer. I mean, people are coming out all the time.

12:22 It's older people who basically regret not having come out to their parents because their father's long dead, that sort of thing, and they write to me about that.

12:32 In many ways, I think that the book sanctions the absence of repression and it's an encouragement, particularly to parents, to heed what their children are saying and to accept. There's no choice but to accept.

12:49 Nick: But this is like - I come back to Plato again. You know, the father - I can't remember his name this is horrible - but he represents, in many ways, a Platonic form of what a father should be in terms of being loving and accepting...

13:02 André: Yes, oh God, yes.

13:03 Nick: ... and in listening as well. And almost encouraging his son to feel the pain rather than to just sort of 'stiff upper lip' and carry on...

13:10 André: Oh yes, ‘it’s gonna go away’.

13:12 Nick: Yes, I thought that was a remarkable...

13:14 André: Well, but I think - I believe it. I think everybody accepts that, we fight many times and we suffer, especially with love. We fight it. We try to hate the other person and get rid of them. And what the father's saying, "No, no, don't fight it. It's good to suffer." Then he makes the other declarative statement that is, "I could have had what you have, but I never did." And so, there was even this touch of nostalgia on the part of the father.

13:42 Nick: Yes, precisely.

13:43 André: And what kind of father would tell that to his son? It's not just the son coming out to the father, it's the father coming out to the son.

13:50 Nick: Precisely and it's remarkable.

13:53 André: And I think that's very moving.

13:55 Nick: Yes, deeply so. Beyond the idea of reconciling one's self with that Greek concept of 'Gnothi Seauton' (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) - that's not the right pronunciation, but it means 'become who you are' [Know Thyself – Ed] essentially...

14:06 André: Oh, yes.

14:07 Nick: There's a sense in which the book and the film is about sexual awakening; a coming into one's sexuality, the act of making love as well. But I think what hasn't been discussed as much insofar as the things that I've read is the idea of the book being a religious awakening as well. There's that beautiful line about when Elio and Oliver are together and Elio has had the blood nose, and they speak about the Star of David that they're wearing on the chest. He says, "You’re not a Jew of discretion" or something to that effect. Oh no, Elio says that, "Mum says we're Jews of discretion." But then after that, the next scene is him coming out of the water - almost a baptismal sort of image - and he's wearing the Star of David.

14:48 André: Very well said. I had never planned for this, but it's in the film. He comes out of the water and he is baptised. Very well said.

14:56 I think that he's accepted his religion and he's open. I think the religion motif - I wasn't really interested about the Jewishness per se, but they are the two Jews in the town and so it automatically binds them somehow. They have something in common. They may have nothing else in common, but they do have that in common and it sort of solidifies their relationship.

15:17 And the fact that Elio accepts to wear the star of David, for me, is clearly a symbolic acceptance of his own sexuality.

15:28 Nick: Absolutely.

15:28 André: Which he's accepted from page one in the book and, from page one, there's no, "I am not gay, I am not gay." I mean, he - from the very beginning, he's saying, "I know what I want. I want to sleep with this guy. Period."

15:40 Nick: I think it also taps into that almost Kafka-esque, as a writer, sense of him - there's like that outsider complex, being gay and being away from what is hetero-normative, but also being Jewish in a village which isn't Jewish. And the same as Oliver being - he's in New Hampshire or something, he's the only Jew in that particular locale. So, how do you - going back to that idea of exile and outsided and alienation - is this something that's been pertinent for you as a writer?

16:08 André: It is totally pertinent to me because I remember when I was in Egypt - I was ten years old, even perhaps younger - and there was another boy and he must have been sixteen/seventeen. He wore a Star of David or actually not even a Star of David, he wore a Mezuzah which I don't know if you know...

16:23 Nick: No, I don't know.

16:24 André: It's another symbol the Jews have. And I saw this and said, "What is he, crazy? This is Egypt and he's walking around with this thing?"

16:31 Nick: And this is after the Egyptian nationalism where they expelled the Jews and...?

16:35 André: Yes, yes. In fact, he ended up pretty badly; years later, I found out. But, I mean, he was so totally okay with being Jewish, whereas I was not ever going to wear one. And I envied him and I became interested in him because he was a Jew who was not afraid of being Jewish.

16:52 Of course, I thought I wanted to have a friendship with him. He wasn't interested because he was much older but I'm sure that if I had known about sex back then, maybe I would have thought that there was some kind of attraction, but I'm not sure. I couldn't say.

17:07 Nick: For you, as a writer and a human -  you obviously live in New York now and, in some academic writing, that's been called the 'Global Capital for the Jewish Diaspora'.

17:19 André: Yes.

17:19 Nick: Versus that idea of having to be rooted in a particular homeland, like in Israel and the Holy Lands. How do you interact in New York as a Jewish man?

17:28 André: Put it this way, New York has made it very, very easy for me to be Jewish in the sense that most of the people I know are either half Christian or Jewish.

17:41 But I'm a very bad Jew. I don't like Judaism. I don't like the religion. I was never the equivalent of communion or bar-mitzvared. I refused the whole thing.

17:52 Nick: Why?

17:52 André: Because I hate religion. I really don't like religion, any religion. And probably because I had to pay a price for being Jewish when I was growing up, so I just have no tolerance for religion.

18:04 So, in New York, there are many practising Jews and they invite me to their weddings and things and I have to go, but I hate going. I really hate going.

18:12 Nick: See, I find that surprising because I thought that, in the whole beautiful image of 'Call me your name and I'll call you by your name' - that recalled to me the Song of Solomon verse, chapter six verse three [Song of Solomon 6:3 – Ed] or something, about 'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.' This idea of total - I don't know - total sort of exchange of self or total 'two hearts beating as one'. I don't know, total commitment - trust, love, loyalty...

18:38 André: Intimacy.

18:39 Nick: Intimacy, exactly.

18:41 André: Well, I believe that. I believe that it's possible. It doesn't always last but it exists and it exists capriciously, whimsically, because you can't always arrest it there, but it is something to be cultivated.

18:56 And one works at it because you don't want to lose intimacy. Once you lose intimacy, you're with somebody but it doesn't really matter.

19:02 Nick: Yes, exactly. What did you think of the film? What do you think was gained and maybe lost by the adaptation?

19:09 André: I think the film was perfect. I loved the film. In fact, ironically, I was watching it on the plane coming here.

19:15 Nick: Really [laughs]?

19:15 André: Yes, just to refresh my mind. I've seen it a million times and I like the film. I like the fact that it takes its time. It is not in a rush to make the point that they're going to have sex, and it makes you almost - it forces you to slip into their lives and to understand how this thing is being worked out between them, how the tension is increasing constantly and you're not feeling it, but it's there. And then you have this moment of eruption in front of the monument when the kid just basically doesn't know what he's saying. He may not even have planned any of it, but he's telling him, "I'm interested in you. I have feelings for you." Well he's saying it very ambiguously of course because he might want to withdraw everything he's just said.

20:03 The film is very faithful to the spirit of the book. Now, there are many changes that occurred. Among others, there's no sense of the future which is totally out of the - there's no trip to Rome, which I think was pretty important for me. But it doesn't matter because I think the end of the book - most people get to the end of the book and they always write to me and they said, "I've cried. The moment I could feel the end coming, I was already crying." And I don't understand why.

20:30 Nick: Really?

20:30 André: I don't, and I'm being very honest. It's very hard for me to understand.

20:34 Nick: I cried a lot.

20:35 André: Why?

20:38 Nick: Why? Because it's a sense that something profoundly beautiful exists only once in a lifetime and it’s just sort of slipped you by. I think that's pretty devastating, at least.

20:45 André: It is devastating and I think the film, even though it has a scene that was never in the book - it's a scene when Elio is staring at the fireplace - I think that captures exactly what the end of the book was doing in its own, in film language, which is totally different from book language.

21:06 It does - it achieves the same effect. Now, why is it that this film - people go to see it many, many times? And why is it that people read the book many times? And why does it have this impact on people? What is it actually saying to them that they never tell me because they can't formulate it? I don't know what that is.

21:26 I cannot answer that question. I mean, I wish I knew because if I knew, I would have a formula and I would write a book every six months, but it's really very difficult to say. The only thing that I - and I say this many times - the only scene that means something to me personally is when they are in Rome and they're kissing against the wall and Elio is so entranced by the kiss that he doesn't care that these two old men are walking by and saying ‘in Mussolini’s time, those two guys would have been arrested.’

21:55 He doesn't care and I have had a moment like this in my life, against the wall, and every time I go to that wall which is not in Rome...

22:03 Nick: You revisit it? Yes, wow...

22:07 André: I am heartbroken because I realise at that wall, that my life could have taken a turn in the totally different direction, and it didn't. And so, when I go back to that wall, I see the moment. I can almost touch that moment when, by sheer idiocy on my part - which was also a touch of genius because it would have created a disaster - but...

22:31 Nick: That life with that particular woman, yes.

22:33 André: That was a disaster but, in fact, I do regret it. I'm grateful it never happened but I regret it because I knew that, at that moment, my love had come - had blossomed against that wall. And so, I wanted that scene at the wall. But most people read about the wall and they keep going.

22:55 Nick: I've got - we're thirty minutes in, so I've got about three more questions and then you can go and have a shower.

22:56 André: I've taken a shower already.

22:57 Nick: Oh, perfect. Okay, relax. Excellent.

22:59 André: I was going to nap but then I said, "I don't have time to nap."

23:05 Nick: No, you've got to roll through. Yes, it's the best way to beat jet-lag. But I think that it is so profoundly soul-rending, if that's the right word, because it does confront you with a vision of - everyone looks on Elio and Oliver and the loss that happened as a result of that, and you don't get the sense of how deep that loss was in the film as you do in the book. But we all look on our own lives and interrogate and we think, "Oh, I've had a moment of love like that, but I didn't live a life with that person when I could have." So, we are kind of confronted with all the selves we could have been, all the happiness that we could have had, and that's profoundly - hauntingly beautiful but profoundly shocking and disturbing in many ways. It's devastating.

23:50 For me, the ending and being confronted with the different selves - I've only seen it done a couple of times in literature, and never as well as with your book. And that's why I thought that the film maybe could have put something in there, in terms of the twenty-year meeting after which I think was...

24:02 André: Well, he wants to do a sequel. I mean, that's what he was saying.

24:04 Nick: Yes, is that what that's going to unpack?

24:06 André: I don't know. I don't know. There’s talk of it, but I don't know if it's palaver or it's real. He is very committed to it, but there are too many other individuals involved. But you're touching on something that's very important for me. It's the particular - it's a verb mood, it's the 'might have been'.

24:27 Nick: Yes, the 'might have been'.

24:28 André: And I’m writing a whole book on 'might have beens'.

24:30 Nick: It's like “pluperfect lover” line, what's the mood? I'm trying to think - is there actually...? Anyway...

24:33 André: It's a conditional.

24:34 Nick: It's a conditional, that's right.

24:35 André: Yes, it's a past-conditional, the 'might have been'. And that is a dimension of our lives that we seldom visit because it's awful.

24:45 Nick: It's infinite, though. It could, you know...?

24:48 André: Well, that's exactly it. And so, it forces us to go backwards and forwards because the 'might have been' is still with us and it might be achieved in the future. And we dread it and we desire it, and we don't know.

24:59 And so, this whole condition of the 'might have been' might be the moving click, the thing that makes you say, "My god, this is not just about the love lost, but it's a love that could have been and hasn't quite resolved itself." And that's disturbing.

25:17 Nick: Yes, I've only seen it done in McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach' at the end when he says, "This is how the course of a life could change." Because he didn't call out to his lover on the beach and say, "I'm sorry, I love you."

25:25 But the second half of the book, like your Ghost Spots section, flips by life very quickly. I think it's so beautiful and it's sad because ultimately the life they did lead is not fulfilling in some ways...

25:41 André: That's true.

25:42 Nick: ... compared to the infinite possibilities in their minds.

25:45 André: And I like the fact that Elio says - when he says, "Come and visit my family." And he says, "No."

25:50 Nick: Because he doesn't want to see.

25:52 André: Obviously he still is not over it.

25:54 Nick: Yes.

25:54 André: And neither is Oliver for that matter.

25:58 Nick: But coming back to the final questions, there's that beautiful line at the end in the last couple of pages about the memories and the instances you've had with your lovers and partners and lovers and friends. They're never really gone and you use the expression that was like a beautiful summer fire fly or that it was like a “summer field”, like an eternal sort of space of memory in which you and your lover from forty years ago on the wall in Rome are still together in some ways, it doesn't disappear.

26:25 André: 'Yesterday was like tomorrow' or something like that.

26:27 Nick: Yes, exactly.

26:28 André: That’s just one sentence. Yes, that captures it because what just happened centuries ago. And what happened twenty years ago is just like this morning.

26:39 Nick: Yes, precisely.

26:40 André: And I think, yes, but because I'm always challenging time. And you initially started by saying that time is mortality, and I think it is. I mean, time equals death and we don't like death and I do not accept death.

26:53 And I think that we try to negotiate with it, however feebly we can, so that we can essentially grab something and keep it, and it's very hard to do.

27:05 Nick: My final question is do you think that memory can sometimes be like a siren which can lead you to crash on the rocks? Because my thing is it's nice for me, at least - I dwell on all the, you know, beautiful lovers and friends that I've known over the years - but ultimately, we are here in the present today. And I think the best part, when I read the book and watch the film, is when it makes me feel like I should be creating more memories today and gathering my rosebuds while I still can because what we have here today will one day be memory and we need to make sure we are actively living in the present.

27:39 André: We should live in the present. I've always thought so and that's what the father is saying, "Live in the present, don't fight the past, but don't also anticipate the future. Stay in the present." And I believe that, except I don't know how to do it.

27:57 I think that every - whenever I used to go into a relationship, I would feel like, "I know this is not going to last more than two weeks, I can already tell." And people will say, "Don't be judgemental." I'd say, "But I can tell, it's not going to go far." And I was always right - "Well, you made it happen that way because you..." No, I said, "No, I just knew it wasn't going to go."

28:17 The ones that where I felt my whole life was teetering before this particular relationship and this particular desire are the moments when I felt, "I'd better control this because it might control me." And I was going against the father's advice.

28:34 Nick: Yes, well, thank you so much for your time. I know you've got to rush off.

28:36 André: You're welcome.

28:36 Nick: It's very generous of you to squeeze me in and thank you so much.

28:39 André: It's a pleasure. You're really very good at this.

28:42 Nick: Thank you.

28:42 André: I have to tell you. I really - it was a total pleasure.

28:46 Nick: Thank you. Enjoy Melbourne as well.

28:48 André: Thank you.

28:48 Nick: One night in Melbourne, fantastic.

28:49 André: One night in Melbourne, that's all I can do.

28:51 Nick: Okay.

28:51 André: Are you coming to the thing?

28:52 Nick: I am, I am.

28:53 André: Oh, you're going.

28:54 Nick: I'm going to get a dinner and I'm going with some friends.