F E Arturo

Born in Genoa in 1972, Federico Eduardo Arturo was educated in England from the age of thirteen, attending Clifton College. He graduated from Keeble College, Oxford from with an MA in pre-war Italian Futurist poetry. He then worked briefly in the advertising industry in London before returning to Italy. He is married with two daughters and now divides his time between Italy and the UK. He has published a book of poems, ‘A casa nella malavita’ (At home in the Underworld). ‘Disposo-phobia’ is his first play in English.


The hoarder in your home…

Q and A with F E Arturo on his new play ‘Disposo-phobia’

“Rooms are very basic emotional things, maps of the heart, you might say, maps of who and where we are, with our possessions as reference points…”

Q – How did you come to light upon the subject of hoarding as the idea for a play?

“Bitter personal experience! Not that I’m a hoarder you understand. – Not that I’ve got anything against hoarders! Well, apart from the fact that they create indescribably horrible environments for themselves… No, I worked for a time, well two weeks actually before I resigned, for an agency that specialised in doing jobs no-one else wanted. And the last one I did was visiting a hoarder to clear his apartment.
“It was just staggering. You think you know what to expect when someone warns you ‘look this bloke’s a hoarder’, but actually nothing can prepare for the actual sensation of wading in three feet deep rubbish inside someone’s home…

Q – Is the plot based on personal experience too?

“No. Actually, I didn’t want to write the play at all at first. I found the whole experience so depressing, the last thing I wanted to do was dwell on it! If anything, I wanted to forget the whole scene. I tried to forget it!

Q – You must be glad you didn’t!

“The point was, when I was first confronted with this hoarder’s place I just couldn’t believe my life had come to this: there I was on a wet Wednesday in the suburbs, middle of nowhere geographically and spiritually, and I thought what the fuck is going on? What has happened to me? What happened to my plans for world domination?

“Then when I got home I thought, no hang on, this has been given to you for a reason: you could write something about this: you could make it relevant. I mean, not that it was a minor epiphany or anything, but I knew that I really could turn the experience to my own advantage, turn it into a piece of art and redeem it in that way, if I made an effort. So after a lot of humming and ha-ing I got on with it. – What was the question?

Q – The plot?

“Like most good ideas it wrote itself, he said modestly. No, seriously, it just suggested itself. Actually, in a way the plot is based on personal experience: just not direct chronological experience. It’s different bits of my life tacked together.

Q – So did you start the play with any preconceived ideas about the causes of hoarding?
“Of course – disgust! Well, disgust isn’t an idea. But it’s a motivating force to guide you in the direction of an idea. So you could say that to start with I was looking for dark and psychologically demonic reasons behind his hoarding, but as I wrote, and investigated my own notions, I began to discover a certain sympathy for the guy in question.

Q – He evokes a degree of sympathy in the audience, no?

“You tell me! But certainly I personally found he was not quite so easy to dismiss as just some old pervert, which is what I first thought of him.

“Writing a play can pull strange tricks on you in that way: you think you know what you’re talking about, then you discover that, in fact, you’re not so sure of the ground you’re walking on: some of it gives way, or leads you to wander in areas you hadn’t expected.

“Certainly the man in question started to evoke a lot more sympathy in me than I had expected. In the end I actually liked a part of him very much. – That’s not to say I still didn’t find him disgusting in some ways – is that English? You know what I mean! You can entertain two feelings about the same person, well, several feelings, god knows how many actually! One’s reaction to another person isn’t neat and tidy ‘ Oh I really like this person: I like everything about them, they’re completely marvellous’, sort of thing.

Well you can, it’s called falling in love. But that’s unreal. Falling in love is unreal. Ultimately, I mean. It doesn’t last. Only real things last.

Q – Would you say Disposo-phobia is an exploration of the very concept of personality?

“Undoubtedly. We think we know who we are. We think we know who the people we love are. But actually, dig a little deeper and you find you don’t know them as well as you think you do.

“To use the falling in love analogy again: you fall in love with someone, you think you know them really well, but actually what you’ve really fallen in love with is your own projection of your psychological needs onto this unsuspecting person! Well, they’re complicit in it too because they’ve done the same thing to you!

“But the point I’m getting at is that after a few months, or a year or so, or however long, you start to notice that the other person isn’t just as you originally perceived them, that they’ve got character traits you didn’t even notice. Take this a bit further and you begin to realise that actually they’re very different from how you originally saw them. This is when most affairs break up of course. So yes, personality, identity, self-belief re very central to the whole drift of the play.

Q – Do you come to any conclusions about the kind of personality that hoards?

“I come to two or three actually. I think it’s a complex of emotions that drives a person to live like that. But more important than that, I think we’ve all got aspects of the hoarding mentality in us. That’s what the play kind of gets at.

Q – In what way?

“Well you’ll have to see the play – or read it! But essentially you can look at hoarding as an attitude to life: it can express itself in an attachment to things, possessions; or it can reveal itself as an attachment to people, to ideas of them, of love – and these can be as chaotic as material hoarding in way… – If you don’t watch out you can find yourself drowning beneath a sea of emotional rubbish, a sea that been threatening to flood your life for years: its levels have been there rising all the time and you didn’t even know the tide had been coming in until it’s too late…