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Virtual interview with Laura Freixas

Virtual Interview with Laura Freixas, Instituto Cervantes Dublin Library, 3rd May 2011. Translated by Emer Cassidy

Laura Freixas

LMartín
Laura, which title would you recommend to the foreign reader as a good introduction to Carmen Martín Gaite’s work?

Laura Freixas
“El cuarto de atrás”(translated into English under the title “The Back Room”).

LMartín
How does Carmen Martín Gaite’s work vary from that of peers?

Laura Freixas
In many ways… For example: she had a great capacity for analysis, reflection, and introspection.

Also: her ability to mix popular culture and daily life with high culture, and to do so in a very natural way.

Also: the great richness and plasticity of her language (which, similarly to the references she made, even geographical – New York with a town in Galicia -, flowed seamlessly between popular and high culture).

Another characteristic very much her own, and perhaps the most obvious difference between her work and that of her peers, whether male or female, is the variety of genres in which she worked: novels, short stories, plays, essays, daily newspapers, autobiography etc.

LMartín
Kafka’s influence in Martín Gaite’s first novel, El balneario, is evident, as the writer herself agreed. Which other influences could we glean from her bibliography? Are any of them women?

Laura Freixas
Good question…I hadn’t thought about that. I think she was influenced by the novelists of the nineteenth century – Galdós, Balzac, Flaubert…-, also by Proust…and I’m not sure who else… I think like all good (male/female) writers, she was a voracious reader, and that means that there is no one single influence in her work; she drew from many wells.

DCarrión
Ignacio Aldecoa introduced Carmen Martín Gaite to his circle of friends upon her arrival in Madrid: there she met Medardo Fraile, and Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, with whom she later became romantically-involved until 1970. How important was this circle to her training as a novelist?  

Laura Freixas
Without a doubt he gave her support, and security, two things which are hard to find in the case of female writers, given that they are normally more isolated than male writers. Both formal groups (academies) and more informal groups (literary gatherings), where writers exchange opinions and ideas etc., tend to be male-dominated.

The entire group took on quite a similar aesthetic approach, a realistic and critical portrait of Spanish society at that time, in contrast to later generations who opted for more experimental literature.

DCarrión
Carmen Martín Gaite spoke on the television programme A Fondo, in and around 1981, of a before and an after in her writing style brought on by a refinement of her style crucial to the writing of her essay on Macanaz. Is her work previous to this still valid?  

Laura Freixas
How interesting, I didn’t know that. But, of course, her previous work is still valid, to my eyes Entre visillos shows she had already acquired a definite personal style. I read it just a few years ago and I still think it’s wonderful, and the same goes for Retahilas, for example.

DCarrión
Some years after the aforementioned TV programme, Carmen lost her only daughter. Did this tragic loss also affect the style and subject matter of her writing?

Laura Freixas
That’s a good question, but I don’t know… In any case, don’t forget that she had already lost a son, who died just a few months after having been born. That provided the autobiographical basis for her short story “Lo que queda enterrado”, although, oddly enough, the protagonist in the story loses a baby girl, not a baby boy.

(I think the reason for that change is that the death of the baby girl in the story takes on a greater meaning: it represents the death of the little girl in the narrator, of her hopes and dreams).

LMartín
You have mentioned before that very few women’s issues, such as pregnancy, are ever examined in literature. Which women’s issues did Carmen Martín Gaite explore in her work?

Laura Freixas
Lots of them: mother-daughter relationships, the profile of a housewife, feminine introspection, women’s various roles (comparing women who work outside the home, and those who don’t, for example), the creation of female characters rarely or never dealt with in literature (the “weird” girl, the artist etc.), the critical analysis of gender roles, inequality, the relationship between power and the lack of communication between the sexes…

LMartín
What other subjects do you think still remain difficult to write about simply because they are never discussed in literature?

Laura Freixas
I think there are still subjects which are scandalously absent from literature because they are difficult to deal with, or could cause a backlash, and/or because they are associated with sub-culture (they are viewed as “women’s magazine” topics, and aren’t considered “serious”). For example, pregnancy, abortion, or the negative aspects of motherhood.

DCarrión
Are Ana Karenina, Madame Bovary, and La Regenta “real” women, or are they transvestite men who have tried unsuccessfully to reflect the interior world of women?

Laura Freixas
Ah, what a good question! When I read those novels, I had the feeling there was something the authors hadn’t quite captured, or weren’t aware of, something they didn’t manage to fully reflect. I didn’t feel they were able to construct characters as convincing or as complex as those by Carmen Martín Gaite, Virginia Woolf or Annie Ernaux.

But the difference is so subtle that it would be very difficult to pinpoint exactly. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that I never fully believe historic novels. If I’m interested in learning more about the 17th century, I would be more inclined to read Madame de Sévigné, for example.

LMartín
How is the young Spanish woman from the ‘50s, the protagonist in “Entre Visillos”, different to the young woman from the ‘70s, the protagonist in “Adolescencia en Barcelona hacia 1970”?

Laura Freixas
The protagonist in Adolescencia… has had two or three times the luck of the young woman in Entre Visillos, to have been born in a more modern Spain (in terms of the era and the region, Catalonia), in a more cosmopolitan family, and to have studied in the French Lycée. All of those influences give her self-confidence, freedom, the ability to view things with a critical eye, and a clear ambition. She is more enterprising and more self-assured.

But what she does have in common with the protagonist in Entre visillos is a certain feeling of disorientation, that something isn’t right, but she can’t quite put her finger on what exactly.

(If truth be told, to answer the question properly I’d need to reread both books, because it’s not something I had ever thought of before. Thank you LMartín, for giving me so many ideas…)

DCarrión
The back cover of that same book reads:  …an education ruled by the maxim “You must be ladies”. Are today’s young women in Spain still under pressure to be ladies, or have things become even more difficult for them, in that nothing is expected of young women any more, nor of young people in general?

Laura Freixas
I don’t know, to tell you the truth, because the only young woman I know well is my daughter, and I, along with her father, and her school (the French Lycée, cela va sans dire!), expect a great deal from her.

LMartín
Is the biographical component also an important element in your other three novels “Último domingo en Londres”,”Amor o lo que sea” and “Entre amigas”?

Laura Freixas
Yes, absolutely. All my novels have an autobiographical core. I used to feel uncomfortable about that at the beginning, but not any more, for the following reasons:

1-Autobiographers are accused of having a lack of imagination, but I think I have proved that’s not the case with my books of short stories. Besides, it is possible to be a wonderful writer while not displaying much imagination (as with Proust, or Pla).

2- In revealing my life, I’m not revealing anything most people couldn’t relate to. My life is very similar to that of any other woman born in circumstances (generational, geographical, social etc.) similar to my own.

3- The autobiographical element is only the jumping-off point. It’s like the fabric from which I make a dress: first I have to cut out the pattern, sow it, add other materials and accessories, and so on. Multiple stories can be weaved from the one biography.

DCarrión
What happened with your first novel, “Último domingo en Londres”? Why was it such “an ordeal” to get published, given that you had already published your first book of short stories? Were you not able to convince Anagrama? I imagine they were your first choice.

Laura Freixas
That’s exactly it. I think it was a very ambitious (or complicated) novel for the little literary experience (or complete lack of, if we are talking specifically about novels) I had at the time.

Aside from that, I think that gender was something of a double-edged sword in the case of my initial success (Anagrama having published my first novel, given that I was unknown and that it was a book of short stories), in that, young women have a certain charisma and that affords them lots of opportunities… but then, when they are no longer so shiny and new, they are treated as “more of the same”…

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many female writers’ careers (I would interested in finding out if the same thing happened in other eras, and if it continues to happen in other fields, such as in politics, or painting) take off very early and with apparent ease, and then lose speed, or disappear completely, only to reappear (in some cases) years later, as the very same Carmen Martín Gaite, Carmen Laforet, Ana María Matute, Luisa Forrellad…

LMartín
Regarding “Ladrona de rosas”, isn’t it a luxury to throw yourself into writing and publishing the biography of a Brazilian author who isn’t particularly well-known in Spain? How did the need, or the idea, to write this book come about?

Laura Freixas
It was all thanks to a happy coincidence. An editor (María Borrás, from La Esfera publishing house) contacted me to ask if I would be interested in writing an autobiography, which gave me the opportunity study a writer who had always intrigued and fascinated me, through her life as much as her work.

DCarrión
Is “Ladrona de rosas” to Laura Freixas what “Macanaz” was to Martín Gaite? Did the writing of this book change the way in which you approach your literary work?   

Laura Freixas
I haven’t thought about that, but it has changed my approach to life, or rather, it has reaffirmed one thing, namely: for years I thought being a (part-time) housewife was a good way of being able to devote oneself to writing, without the pressures inherent in having to make a living from a career (be that literature or not).

Now, through my own experience, and also because I have seen it as clear as day in the case of Lispector, I think that is a very dangerous was of thinking, and which comes at a high price. Through her letters, we see that when she was living abroad, disconnected from what was happening in literary circles in her country, she was so distressed and depressed she had great difficulty writing. And she wrote her best works when she divorced, returned to Brazil and had to earn a living. Of course there are lots of factors at work there, but that doesn’t stop it being a fact.

LMartín
“A glass ceiling prevents many women from being published”, those are your words. What can we do to break through this glass ceiling?

Laura Freixas
The first thing we can do is be aware of it, talk about it, analyse it, research the figures, to try to understand why and how it occurs… In my association “Clásicas y Modernas”, that’s precisely what we do.

DCarrión
In 2009, you relayed some striking facts produced by the Spanish Ministry of Culture: “women read more than men, the number of men and women who write literature is equal – 8% of the population – however, only 20% of literature published in Spain is by women”. Has anything changed since then?

Laura Freixas
Unfortunately not. And neither have I observed a greater awareness of the situation… except in the case of those involved: female writers, painters, composers, film directors… as evidenced by the creation of various associations of women within the world of the arts in recent years, such as CIMA (association of women in film and audiovisual industries), MAV (Women in the Visual Arts) and Clásicas y Modernas (association for gender equality in the arts).

DCarrión
Your mother’s passion for reading was, as far as I’m aware, what led you to read and to write, “to turn yourself into a book” so that your mother would pay more attention to you. What did you read at that age? Which was the book that seeded your love of literature?

Laura Freixas
My love of literature began even before I could read. Oddly, I don’t remember a particular title which marked me greatly until the great discovery I made at 19: Proust.

Patricia
You were recently selected as one of the most representative authors of contemporary Spanish fantastic narrative. Proof of that is the inclusion of your short story “Final Absurdo” in the anthology of contemporary Spanish fantastic short stories “Perturbaciones, Antología del relato fantástico español actual” (Salto de Página, 2009).

What is your relationship with the fantastic genre? What is it that attracts you to it? How would you define today’s fantastic literature?

Laura Freixas
Well, I should confess that it’s a genre which interested me when I was younger, mainly as an influence of the Latin American boom, and now it doesn’t interest me so much…

Pavel
Laura, I think men are more group-oriented than women, making it much more difficult for women to achieve important positions within society. I don’t understand why it is like that. What is your view on the subject?

Laura Freixas
You’re right, women are more fragmented, living their lives at home, not making as much use of public spaces, and tending to spend their time with family and friends more so than with colleagues or competitors.

That has to do with power: men play power games much more than we do, and that happens through men tending to relate mostly with other men, through negotiations and exchanges. As for women, I’m not sure whether it’s that we don’t know how to play those games, we’re not able to, or we don’t want to. And I think being excluded from that interplay, whatever the reason may be (which I honestly don’t know), is a price we pay dearly.

Joe
Do you think men and women write about different subjects in their work?

Laura Freixas
Although it may be rather brash of me to make sweeping generalisations, I do think there are certain areas which are dealt with more by male writers (for example, war) and others which are more common among female writers (for example, relationships between women: friends, mothers and daughters, sisters etc.).

I also think that female writers tend to construct female characters which are varied and complex, with interests and ambitions not solely focused on love, whereas male writers are inclined to present female characters purely as the lover, mother, or wife of the male character, rather than the protagonist of her own life.

Joe
Laura, a few months ago you were interviewed on the radio for the classical music programme “Juegos con espejo”, in which the person being interviewed picks their favourite music. You chose only foreign composers. Why were there no Spanish composers among your selection? Thank you.

Laura Freixas
Thank you for pointing that out, I hadn’t noticed.

It’s purely down to my musical ignorance. The little musical knowledge I have has been almost entirely handed down from my parents, who were both great fans of classical music. As far back as I can remember they would listen to Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schubert… I added more modern composers (Janacek, R. Strauss…), and apart from that, my friends influenced me as a teenager, by introducing me to Janis Joplin, for example.

Although, if truth be told, now that you mention it, I think that like many of my generation, I had certain anti-Spanish prejudices in my formative years, which carried over to my tastes in literature (I started to get out of that mind-set quite late, in the ‘90s, when I began reading the Spanish classics, of my own accord), and I suppose also in music.

Colm
Do you think that men and women’s roles in society are the same in every country? Thank you.

Laura Freixas
Not in the slightest. Fortunately so, for those of us who live in the West, which proves that gender roles are a social fabrication and may be modified.

Vicky
Good afternoon, Laura. What does Carmen Martín Gaite’s “Caperucita en Manhattan” represent to you? Thank you very much.

Laura Freixas
Yikes, that’s one of the very few, perhaps the only, of her books I haven’t read… I’m sorry. I’ll make sure to read it.

Thank you to all of you for taking part.

Related links:

Laura Freixas is our author of the month throughout the month of May.

Luís García Moreno: Writing is having an awareness of the other reality…

Luis Garcia Montero

Interview with Luis García Montero held on 24rd March, 2011 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on the occasion of his participation in the round table discussion “More than poetry” with Almudena Grandes.

Luis García Montero (Granada, 1958) is Professor of Spanish Literature. Among his poetry collections we can highlight Y ahora ya eres dueño del Puente de Brooklyn (1980), Tristia (a collaboration with Álvaro Salvador, 1982), El jardín extranjero (1983), Diario cómplice (1987), Las flores del frío (1991), Habitaciones separadas (1994), Completamente viernes (1998), La intimidad de la serpiente (2003), Vista cansada (2008) and Un invierno propio (2011). The poems he wrote in his youth were collected in Además (1994). His poems have been extensively anthologised, and he has received numerous awards. He is also the author of essays, fiction and newspaper articles.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Luis, is this your first time in Dublin?

Luis García Montero: —It’s my first time. I was really looking forward to it, because apart from being an important European capital, it’s also a very literary city.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Granada is also a literary city. And if there’s anyone that knows Granada well, it’s you. What would you recommend? What should we not miss when we go to Granada?

Luis García Montero: —Granada is a city with a lot of life, it’s a small city with a population of 350,000, it has a university with 70,000 students. I would recommend, of course, the must-see tourist sites. We never get tired of speaking about the Alhambra, it’s simply a wonder. The Royal Chapel, where the Catholic Monarchs are buried, is the other Granada, not the Islamic one, the Christian Granada, with a very important collection of paintings. But what I would advise is to take in the city’s atmosphere, especially at night. There are lots of cultural events, lots of bookshops and lots of bars. And at night, culture and life merge into one in the bars, because the students go out, have a few drinks, have some amazing and very cheap tapas in the bars and then, at every table, there’s a discussion about culture, about art, about literature, about politics, about everything. It’s something I associate strongly with my education and my youth.

Granada was García Lorca’s city, of course. When I started out writing, to me, Lorca was that poet who had been executed in the Civil War and when he was killed the modern city of the 1920s and ’30s was wiped out. For me, growing up, getting an education, studying at university meant trying to discover that city that had disappeared with García Lorca’s death. And there was a lot of that city in the bars and in the conversations, waiting to be served at the bar, and at the tables where people lived and drank, discussing politics and literature at the same time.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Who do you remember fondly?

Luis García Montero: —Lots of people. I had a good relationship with my parents and a family life which was something of a paradox, because my personal and political beliefs were very different from my family’s traditional ideas, but, even so, we always got on in a very caring and kind way.

And from the point of view of literature, I’ve been lucky in that some maestros have come down from their pedestals, where they were in my mind, like mythical figures, and through their generosity they’ve become friends of mine. The first was Rafael Alberti, a friend of Lorca’s, a poet in exile, and a republican poet. And I had a very close friendship with him while I was doing my doctoral thesis. And after that, other writers who have been important to me have been Francisco Ayala, Ángel González, and Jaime Gil de Biedma. I remember each of them particularly fondly.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Cincuentena is a book for which you have selected 50 poems, to coincide with your birthday. Was that difficult? How did you choose them?

Luis García Montero: —It was very difficult. I like to think about literature as a reader. As a reader I still try to please the adolescent in me, who was blown away by the book in his hands and who devoted himself to writing because he had huge admiration for what he had read by García Lorca, Neruda, Machado, Cernuda, by so many poets. But, as a writer it’s very hard, because when I read my own work I don’t look at it through the same admiring eyes which enable me to enjoy literature. My eyes see things to be corrected, I’ve made a mistake with this, or I could have written that in a different way…

If you manage to hold on to a critical conscience, it’s just as important to hold on to the sense of wonder you had as a teenager. Reading your own work isn’t an enjoyable experience, because you end up discovering more mistakes, or different possibilities, than parts you like. And in this anthology, Cincuentena, I chose the 50 poems not which I like the most, but which worry me the least, they leave me feeling calmer when I read them, my corrector’s eyes scold me less than with others. And that’s what I did when I reached my 50th birthday, I put together a collection of 50 poems.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Does the passing of time frighten us?

Luis García Montero: —I think it does. The passing of time is something which is inevitable to the human condition, because it’s not just that time passes for us, but rather, we’re aware of its passing. Other creatures that follow their instincts, aren’t aware of it. And I mention instincts because I think we’re living in a time in which too much emphasis is placed on having an instinctive relationship with time. We surround ourselves with euphemisms, we want to hide the fact that we’re destined to grow older, that we’re destined to die. It’s as if contemporary life encourages euphemisms, to help us forget about old age, illness, and death. And I think an important role of literature is to provide a space for memory, and for the idea that life isn’t all inane joy and superficial exaltation of youth.

Writing is listening to your elders, something which happens less and less these days, writing is having an awareness of the other reality, which isn’t wrapped up in fancy paper, which has to do with pain, with loss, and from that point of view, one of the fundamental themes in literature is the passing of time.

Carmen Sanjulián: —“Aunque tú no lo sepas” is a poem which really made headway.

Luis García Montero: —You know what parent-children relationships are like. As soon as kids get a bit older, they’re desperate to get rid of their parents. That’s just the way it is, we’ve all done it. I published “Aunque tú no lo sepas” in the bookHabitaciones separadas. Enrique Urquijo, the singer, was interested in the poem and he asked Quique González, a singer-songwriter I admire a lot, to do a version of the poem. He did it, and the poem became a song, later it became the title of a film and appeared in a film, later on it also appeared quoted in some other books.

It’s been very lucky, but what I’m most pleased about is that one day, my daughter, who admires Quique González, was looking up his website with some friends of hers, and she saw the story of “Aunque tú no lo sepas” and how Enrique Urquijo had asked Quique to write the song. She came to me with a very serious face and said: “Dad, did that song by Quique González come from one of your poems?” And I said to her, “Well, yes dear, what the website says is true.” And since then she looks at me differently. She has that little bit more respect for me now.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Luis, what makes you happy?

Luis García Montero: —I think in the middle of winter and the recession and in a world full of insecurities and cut-backs, happiness is too formal a word. But I don’t give up on joy, because the ability to enjoy life, to not give in and wallow in pain but search out the good things in life, I think that’s the only watchword we can accept with a little decency.

There are areas of warmth in life. I like friendship, I like literature, and sometimes the two go together because some of my best friends are writers and I admire what they write. But, of course, there are other friends with whom I like to watch a match, go out for a few drinks, have a beer. In an Irish pub in Madrid, O’Connor’s, we have two weekly meet-ups, and something very serious would have to happen for me not to go, because I like being in a good mood, and being happy with my friends. And love, of course, I think literature, friendship and love are my sources of happiness.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Words are part of our daily lives. Do we have favourite words?

Luis García Montero: —Well, yes, we have favourite words and we have to take special care of them because sometimes our favourite words are changed and turned into something strange.

Actually, I could talk to you about words which fascinate me because of how they sound, like “damajuana” (demijohn) which to me is wonderful, I also think “ojalá” (let’s hope so!) is wonderful. But recently, when I’ve been asked that, I always say my favourite word is “despertador” (alarm clock), and I’ll explain why: because the word “amanecer” (dawn) has been manipulated a lot, it’s one of those words that, if you’re not careful, it escapes and ends up in a hymn. They are far too solemn words, by meaning “the world is beginning”, “life will change”, “the future will arrive”. On the other hand, the word “despertador” seems less solemn to me and more humane.

I really enjoy staying up late, but I also like seeing the light of day. Keeping your head above water is hard work. After a long night you have to wake up, get up early and go to work, and that’s keeping your head above water. For me, that idea is closer to the word “despertador” than “amanecer”. You arrive home and set the alarm so that the next day you’ll be able to get up, open your eyes and keep making your way in the world.

Recommended links

< List of interviews

Luis García Montero: Escribir es tener conciencia del otro lado de la realidad

Luis Garcia Montero

Entrevista con Luis García Montero realizada el 24 de marzo de 2011 en la Biblioteca Dámaso Alonso del Instituto Cervantes de Dublín con motivo de su participación en la mesa redonda “Más que poesía” junto a Almudena Grandes.

Luis García Montero (Granada, 1958) es catedrático de Literatura Española. Entre sus libros de poemas pueden destacarse Y ahora ya eres dueño del Puente de Brooklyn (1980), Tristia (en colaboración con Álvaro Salvador, 1982), El jardín extranjero (1983), Diario cómplice (1987), Las flores del frío (1991),Habitaciones separadas (1994), Completamente viernes (1998), La intimidad de la serpiente (2003), Vista cansada (2008) y Un invierno propio (2011). Su poesía juvenil fue reunida en el volumen Además (1994). Ha publicado también varias antologías de sus poemas y ha recibido multitud de premios. También es autor de ensayos, prosa narrativa y artículos de prensa.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Luis, ¿es la primera vez que vienes a Dublín?

Luis García Montero: —Es la primera vez. Tenía mucha ilusión, porque aparte de una importante capital europea, es una ciudad muy literaria y no la conocía.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Granada también es muy literaria, y si hay alguien que conoce bien Granada, eres tú. ¿Qué nos recomendarías? ¿Qué no podemos perdernos cuando vamos a Granada?

Luis García Montero: —Granada es una ciudad muy viva, es una ciudad pequeñita, de 350 000 habitantes. Tiene una universidad de 70 000 estudiantes. Yo invitaría, por supuesto, a hacer las visitas turísticas obligadas. La Alhambra es una maravilla, y no nos cansamos de repetirlo. La Capilla Real, donde están enterrados los Reyes Católicos, es la otra Granada, la no islámica, la Granada cristiana, con una colección importantísima de pintura. Pero lo que aconsejaría es vivir la ciudad, sobre todo vivir las noches de la ciudad. Hay muchos actos culturales, hay muchas librerías y muchos bares. Y por las noches, en los bares, se juntan la cultura y la vida, porque los estudiantes salen, toman copas, se comen unas tapas estupendas y muy baratas y después, en cada mesa, hay una discusión sobre cultura, sobre arte, sobre literatura, sobre política, sobre todo. Lo tengo muy relacionado con mi formación y mi juventud.

Granada era la ciudad de García Lorca, por supuesto. Cuando yo empecé a escribir, Lorca era ese poeta que había sido ejecutado en la Guerra Civil y con su muerte se había borrado la ciudad moderna de los años veinte y treinta. Para mí, crecer, educarme, estudiar en la universidad, fue ir a buscar esa ciudad que había desaparecido con la muerte de García Lorca. Esa ciudad yo me la encontré mucho en los bares y en las discusiones de las barras, y en las mesas donde la gente vivía y bebía, y discutía de política y literatura al mismo tiempo.

Carmen Sanjulián: —¿A quién recuerdas con un cariño especial?

Luis García Montero: —A mucha gente. He tenido una buena relación con mis padres y he tenido una vida familiar paradójica, porque mis ideas personales, políticas, han sido muy distintas a las ideas tradicionales de mi familia pero, sin embargo, el trato ha sido muy humano y muy bueno.

Desde el punto de vista de la literatura, he tenido la suerte de que algunos maestros se hayan bajado del pedestal donde yo los tenía, de figuras míticas, y se hayan convertido en amigos míos por su generosidad. El primero Rafael Alberti. Era el amigo de Lorca, el poeta del exilio, el poeta republicano. Y con él, mientras yo hacía mi tesis doctoral, tuve una amistad muy estrecha. Después, importantes para mí han sido escritores como Francisco Ayala, como Ángel González, como Jaime Gil de Biedma. A todos ellos los recuerdo de un modo muy especial.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Cincuentena, un libro en el que recogiste cincuenta poemas que además coincidían con tu aniversario. ¿Es difícil? ¿Cómo los elegiste?

Luis García Montero: —Muy difícil. A mí me gusta pensar en la literatura, pero como lector. Como lector yo sigo cuidando mucho al adolescente que fui, que se deslumbró con un libro en las manos y que se dedicó a escribir porque admiraba enormemente lo que leía de García Lorca, de Neruda, de Machado, de Cernuda, de tantos poetas. Pero como escritor es muy complicado, porque yo, cuando me leo a mí mismo, no tengo esos ojos de admiración que me hacen disfrutar de la literatura. Tengo ojos de corrección, de corrector: aquí me he equivocado, aquí podía haberlo hecho de otra manera…

Si uno conserva la conciencia crítica, eso es tan importante como conservar al adolescente deslumbrado que uno fue. Cuando se lee, uno no lo pasa muy bien porque descubre, más que placeres, errores, posibilidades distintas. Y yo, en esta antología, en Cincuentena, escogí no los cincuenta poemas que más me gustan, sino aquellos a los que les tengo menos miedo, que me dejan más tranquilo, que cuando los leo, los ojos de corrector que tengo, me regañan menos. Eso es lo que hice al cumplir cincuenta años, hacer una colección de cincuenta poemas.

Carmen Sanjulián: —¿Nos da miedo el paso del tiempo?

Luis García Montero: —Creo que sí. El paso del tiempo es algo que es inevitable en la condición humana, porque no solo pasa el tiempo para nosotros, sino que tenemos conciencia del paso del tiempo. Los que solo viven bajo sus instintos, no tienen conciencia de eso. Recuerdo lo de los instintos porque creo que vivimos en una época que está apostando demasiado a tener una relación instintiva con el tiempo. Nos rodeamos de muchos eufemismos, queremos ocultar que somos seres llamados a envejecer, que somos seres llamados a morir. Parece que la vida contemporánea invita al eufemismo, a olvidarnos de la ancianidad, de la enfermedad, de la muerte. Y yo creo que una de las tareas importantes de la literatura es tener presente la memoria, y tener presente que la vida no es solo la felicidad bobalicona de una exaltación superficial de la juventud.

Escribir es escuchar a los mayores, cosa que se está olvidando con frecuencia. Escribir es tener conciencia del otro lado de la realidad, la que no se envuelve con un papel de regalo, la que tiene que ver también con el dolor, con la pérdida, y en ese sentido, uno de los temas fundamentales es el paso del tiempo.

Carmen Sanjulián: —«Aunque tú no lo sepas», un poema que te ha dado mucho de sí.

Luis García Montero: —Ya sabes la relación que tienen los padres y los hijos. En cuanto cumplen unos años, los hijos tienen la tarea de quitarse de en medio a los padres. Es así y eso lo hemos hecho todos. Yo publiqué en el libroHabitaciones separadas «Aunque tú no lo sepas». Enrique Urquijo, el cantante, se interesó por el poema y le pidió a Quique González, un cantautor al que yo admiro mucho, que hiciera una versión del poema. La hizo, el poema se convirtió en canción, después se convirtió en título de película y apareció en una película, después ha aparecido como cita en algunos otros libros.

Ha tenido mucha suerte, pero lo que yo más le agradezco es que un día, mi hija, amante de Quique González, entró en su página web con unas amigas y de pronto vio la historia de «Aunque tú no lo sepas» y cómo Enrique Urquijo le había encargado a Quique la canción. Vino muy seria y me dijo: «Oye, papá, la canción de Quique González, ¿sale de un poema tuyo?» Y le dije: «Pues sí hija mía, es verdad lo que cuenta esa página web». Desde entonces me miró con otros ojos. Decidió que me iba a respetar un poquito más de lo que me respetaba normalmente.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Luis, ¿qué te hace feliz?

Luis García Montero: —Creo que en medio del invierno y de la crisis en la que vivimos, y en un mundo lleno de precariedades, la palabra felicidad es demasiado solemne. Pero yo no renuncio a la alegría, porque la capacidad de disfrutar de la vida, de no abandonarse a la renuncia y al dolor, y de buscar las cosas buenas de la vida, creo que es la única consigna que se puede aceptar con un poco de decencia.

Hay ámbitos de calor en la vida. Me gusta la amistad, me gusta la literatura, y a veces están muy unidas porque algunos de mis mejores amigos son escritores y admiro lo que escriben. Pero bueno, hay otros amigos con los que me gusta ver un partido de fútbol, salir a tomar copas, a tomar cerveza. En un pub irlandés que hay en Madrid, el O´Connor, tenemos dos citas semanales. Tiene que pasar algo muy grave para que yo no cumpla, porque me gusta ser feliz y estar alegre con mis amigos… Y el amor, por supuesto, creo que la literatura, la amistad y el amor son los ámbitos de mi alegría.

Carmen Sanjulián: —Las palabras forman parte de nuestra vida. ¿Tenemos palabras preferidas?

Luis García Montero: —Pues sí, tenemos palabras preferidas y hay que cuidarlas mucho, porque a veces nuestras palabras preferidas las manipulan y las convierten en algo raro.

Mira, podría hablarte de palabras que a mí me fascinan por como suenan, la palabra «damajuana» a mí me parece maravillosa, la palabra «ojalá» me parece maravillosa. Pero cuando me preguntan últimamente, yo siempre digo que la palabra que más me gusta es «despertador» y lo explico: porque la palabra «amanecer» está muy manipulada, es una de esas palabras que, en cuanto te descuidas, se escapa y acaba en un himno. Son palabras demasiado solemnes, como que «el mundo está empezando», que «la vida va a cambiar», que «el futuro llega». Y, sin embargo, la palabra despertador me parece menos solemne y más humana.

Me gusta mucho trasnochar, pero me gusta también ver la luz del día. Luchar por el futuro es trabajoso. Después de las largas noches, hay que levantarse y hay que madrugar, y hay que ir al trabajo, y eso es luchar por el futuro. Para mí, eso está más encerrado en la palabra «despertador» que en la palabra «amanecer». Es llegar a casa y poner la hora para que al día siguiente puedas levantarte, puedas abrir los ojos y puedas seguir por el mundo.

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Alicia Mariño: The Fantastic is always liberating

Alicia Marino

 

Interview with Alicia Mariño held on 3rd March 2011 at the Dámaso Alonso Library of the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on the occasion of her participation in the round table discussion “Many worlds” with Luis Alberto de Cuenca and Jorge Edwards.

Alicia Mariño holds a Ph.D. in French Language and Literature and a Law degree. Her doctoral thesis was on the role and significance of Fantastic literature in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. She has since researched the Fantastic genre in the work of different authors. The results have been published as articles in various specialist journals and a book, published by Cátedra in the collection “Clásicos Universales” series, on Romance of a Mummy, by Théophile Gautier. Recently, her work has focused on comparative literature, studying the genesis and evolution of some European legends. She has also done research in the field of women’s literature.

Pilar Garrido: —Alicia, what did your interest in Fantastic literature stem from?

Alicia Mariño: —I’m not sure where it came from. I imagine I must have daydreamed a lot as a child but, more than anything else, I was a real bookworm. When I finished my degree at the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid, I put the same question to my thesis supervisor, Javier del Prado, who was the one to suggest that I do my doctoral thesis on Fantastic literature. He told me, many years after having read my thesis, that the only person from among his students who could have worked on Fantastic literature was me. The truth is that this subject always fascinated me, maybe I already had some spark, or interest, lying dormant, which I hadn’t yet discovered. I’ll never know.

Pilar Garrido: —Could you define Fantastic literature for us in a few words?

Alicia Mariño: —Hmm, that’s a difficult task. It looks as if the great theorists on the subject have finally come to an agreement. But, let’s say, if we look at a story, there’s always a strange or supernatural element which invades daily life, in such a way that the character (this all takes place within the story) can’t understand what’s happening, can’t find a rational explanation.

It’s important that the rational laws that govern both the reality of the reader and the reality of the character in the story are insufficient to explain this strange or supernatural phenomenon, which has to be narrated in a credible way. And from then on, from this doubt, from this incomprehension, the character starts to be gripped by fear, existential vertigo, anxiety, and all sorts of feelings, none of them pleasant, because of the insecurity that’s created by not knowing what’s happening.

Generally, in Fantastic literature, in its strictest sense, the story ends without an explanation. But, the most important thing is that it’s a story in which the narrative technique manages to make the implausible plausible. The perfect Fantastic stories are those which manage to move within the boundaries of what’s possible and what’s impossible, and most importantly, which don’t have a rational explanation. Sometimes, at the end of the story, but not always, there is an explanation of the event: it’s a dream, madness, cruelty.

That’s why Fantastic literature flourished as soon as rationalism was established as the prevailing philosophy. Earlier, in the Middle Ages for example, there are lots of mentions of Fantastic literature but, actually, they are only elements of the Fantastic. Because at that time when people believed in miracles and in a world in which anything was possible, Fantastic literature simply couldn’t exist since there was no clash between the rational and the irrational. In other words, strange or supernatural phenomena are not subject to an explanation, the laws of Reason.

That’s the difference between the Fantastic and fairy tales, for example. In a fairy tale, the characters are inside a story and a world in which anything is possible, in which miracles abound and which isn’t ruled by the laws of reason, so there is simply no need for any rational explanation of unusual phenomena. Therefore, there’s no distress or anxiety either resulting from a misunderstanding of something incredible that appears as plausible. We could even say that in the fairy tale, where everything is possible, nothing seems unlikely. In the Fantastic tale it’s the complete opposite.

Pilar Garrido: —Is this a genre which has a lot of followers?

Alicia Mariño: —Yes, quite a lot. It’s just that it has always been viewed as being slightly on the fringe. But I think that, in the last thirty years, there’s been quite a boom in people interested in the genre and, of course, it has some excellent authors.

Pilar Garrido: —Could you name a few?

Alicia Mariño: —I could name lots… I think I have to mention Edgar Allan Poe, and Hoffman before that, and all those who followed in their footsteps… But most of all, here in Dublin, the only person we need talk about today is Stoker, the author of one of the best novels, not just within the genre, but of all time: Dracula. It could be defined as the last great gothic novel or at least, one of the first “well-established” Fantastic novels. It’s extraordinary.

Pilar Garrido: —Do you think that in times of crisis, like we have now, people are more inclined to read Fantastic novels to escape their problems, or routine?

Alicia Mariño: —I think they are. Particularly if you take into account all this mania for vampirism, even if it is sort of teenybopper vampirism, but still, this new wave of films and novels, even for teenagers, makes me think that maybe times of crisis, and difficult times, lead us to this type of literature. Maybe because we’re all looking for more escapism, and even to exorcise fear, insecurity. In any case, the Fantastic is always liberating.

Pilar Garrido: —Do you think there are cultures or countries which have produced more of this type of literature?

Alicia Mariño: —Without a doubt. The great masters of the genre all come from the Anglo Saxon world.

Pilar Garrido: —Is there any particular reason for that?

Alicia Mariño: —I’m afraid I can’t say, because I’ve researched it, I’ve tried to study why Spain produces less Fantastic literature than other countries, but I don’t know why. Psychiatrists who have studied the topic from a psychoanalytical point of view can’t explain it either. There is much talk about the importance of landscapes, the mist, the forests, the world of legends, in moulding the Fantastic imagination, in the Celtic world, and back home in Galicia but really, the Anglo Saxons started it all. Then it spread to France and took off, and then the trend arrived in Spain. We also have great Fantastic writers, but not in the same numbers as in the Anglo Saxon world.

Pilar Garrido: —And finishing up, Alicia, you mentioned before that your surname, Mariño, has links with a legend as well. Could you explain that to us briefly?

Alicia Mariño: —Surely, in honour of Torrente Ballester who told it to me in the halls of residence, when I was studying in Salamanca, and I went up to him to ask him to sign my book. “Alicia Mariño”, he said, “wow! Don’t you know the legend about your name?”

He told me that the name “Mariño” comes from a gentleman who was strolling by the water’s edge when he fell in love with a mermaid, and went to live with her at the bottom of the sea. They had lots of children but, as the years went by, he wished he could educate his sons in the art of war. He asked the mermaid for permission to take them back on land and she granted it, on condition that from then on he would give her one person from each generation. And it is said that to this day, a blue-eyed Mariño, from each generation, loses his life at sea.

Later on, I discovered that Torrente Ballester must have been obsessed with that name because his first novel is calledJavier Mariño. I have a cousin with the same name, but the novel isn’t linked to him in any way.

Torrente Ballester also wrote a novella called El cuento de sirena, in which he recounts the legend in the first two pages and from there, he goes on to develop a 20th century legend, about a man whose surname is Mariño. The perfect crime takes place, but in the end, this Mariño is the last of a generation, he’s blue-eyed, he has an accident, and ends up in the sea. I really recommend Torrente’s novella El cuento de sirena.

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Alicia Mariño : Lo fantástico siempre es liberador

Alicia Marino

Entrevista con Alicia Mariño realizada el 3 de marzo de 2011 en la Biblioteca Dámaso Alonso del Instituto Cervantes de Dublín con motivo de su participación en la mesa redonda “Muchos mundos” junto a Luis Alberto de Cuenca y Jorge Edwards.

Alicia Mariño es doctora en Filología Francesa y licenciada en Derecho. Realizó su tesis doctoral sobre la función y el significado de la literatura fantástica en Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. Ha trabajado desde entonces sobre el género fantástico en distintos autores. Fruto de esos trabajos han sido diferentes artículos publicados en revistas especializadas y un libro, editado por Cátedra en su colección Clásicos Universales, sobre La novela de la momia, de Théophile Gautier. Recientemente, ha orientado su labor hacia la literatura comparada, estudiando la génesis y evolución de ciertas leyendas europeas. También ha realizado estudios en el campo de la literatura femenina.

Pilar Garrido: —Alicia, ¿de dónde viene tu interés por la literatura fantástica?

Alicia Mariño: —No sabría decirte. Imagino que debí de ser una niña muy soñadora y, sobre todo, fui una niña muy lectora. Terminé mi carrera en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, y esta misma pregunta se la hice, años más tarde, a Javier del Prado, director de mi tesis doctoral, quien me propuso el tema sobre literatura fantástica. No lo sé, Javier, que fue mi maestro, me respondió mucho tiempo después de haber defendido mi tesis doctoral, que del grupo de alumnos que trabajaba con él yo era la única que pensó que podía trabajar sobre lo fantástico. La verdad es que el tema me fascinó siempre, quizás porque había algún germen oculto, o algún interés, desconocido para mí; no lo sabré nunca.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Podrías definirnos la literatura fantástica en unas poquitas palabras?

Alicia Mariño: —Bueno, es una tarea algo complicada. Parece que, finalmente, los grandes teóricos de la materia se han puesto de acuerdo. Digamos, así muy rápidamente, que para que un relato sea considerado fantástico debe ocurrir en él que un elemento sobrenatural o extraño invada la vida cotidiana, de manera que el personaje, siempre desde el interior del relato, no puede entender lo que ocurre, no encuentra explicación racional a lo que sucede.

Es importante que las leyes racionales que rigen tanto la realidad del lector, como la realidad del personaje de la historia contada sean insuficientes para explicar ese fenómeno extraño o sobrenatural, narrado de forma verosímil. Y a partir de ahí, de esa duda, de esa incomprensión, se genera en el personaje el miedo, el vértigo existencial, la angustia, y toda una serie de sentimientos, no demasiado gratos, provocados por la inseguridad que provoca lo incomprensible.

A veces, al final del relato, aunque no siempre, se encuentra una explicación del acontecimiento, del que dan razón el sueño, la locura, la crueldad. En literatura fantástica stricto sensu, el acontecimiento queda siempre sin explicación racional. Y sobre todo, lo esencial también es que una depurada técnica narrativa realista consiga hacer verosímil lo inverosímil. Ese es el relato fantástico perfecto, el que consigue moverse ahí, en el límite entre lo posible y lo imposible, sin que exista explicación racional alguna.

Por eso, la literatura fantástica se desarrolla a partir del momento en que impera el racionalismo como filosofía ya establecida. Antes, por ejemplo en la Edad Media, se habla muchas veces de que existe literatura fantástica, y en realidad lo que hay son solo elementos fantásticos. Porque en aquel mundo en el que existe y se acepta el milagro, y en el que se cree que todo es posible, no puede haber literatura fantástica, pues no hay choque entre lo racional y lo irracional. Es decir, que los fenómenos sobrenaturales o extraños no están sometidos a la explicación, a la ley de la razón.

Esa es la diferencia, por ejemplo, entre lo fantástico y el cuento de hadas. En el cuento de hadas, los personajes están sumergidos en un relato y en un mundo en el que todo es posible, en el que impera el milagro y que no se rige, en absoluto, por leyes racionales; de ahí que la necesidad de explicación racional de un fenómeno extraño no exista y, por lo tanto, tampoco la inquietud ni la angustia que genera la incomprensión de algo inverosímil que aparece como verosímil. Incluso podríamos decir que en el cuento de hadas, en el que todo es posible, nada parece inverosímil. En el relato fantástico ocurre todo lo contrario.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Es un género con muchos seguidores?

Alicia Mariño: —Tiene bastantes, lo que pasa es que siempre ha aparecido como algo marginal. Pero yo creo que de treinta años a esta parte ha surgido mucha gente interesada por el género, y por supuesto tiene autores maestros.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Podrías citar algunos?

Alicia Mariño: —Podría citar muchísimos. Creo que si no se cita a Edgar Allan Poe, a Hoffmann anteriormente, y a todos sus seguidores… Pero sobre todo, estando aquí, en Dublín, pienso que al único que hay que citar hoy es a Stoker, el autor de una de las mejores novelas, no solamente de género, sino de la literatura universal: Drácula. Se la puede definir como la última gran novela gótica, o bien como una de las primeras novelas fantásticas, extraordinaria.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Crees que en tiempo de crisis, como hoy en día, la gente tiende a leer más este tipo de novelas fantásticas para evadirse de los problemas o de la vida diaria?

Alicia Mariño: —Yo creo que sí. Todo esto que ha surgido en torno al vampirismo, aunque ya es un vampirismo un pocolight, toda esa nueva oleada de películas y de novelas, incluso para adolescentes, me lleva a pensar que quizá los tiempos de crisis y los tiempos complicados lleven a este tipo de literatura. Quizás porque uno se evade mucho más, e incluso exorciza el miedo, la inseguridad. Lo fantástico siempre es liberador.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Crees que hay culturas o países que han producido más este tipo de literatura?

Alicia Mariño: —Sin lugar a dudas, los grandes maestros del género pertenecen al mundo anglosajón.

Pilar Garrido: —¿Y por alguna razón en especial?

Alicia Mariño: —Pues no sé decirte, porque he intentado estudiar por qué en España se da menos literatura fantástica que en otros países, pero lo ignoro. Algunos psiquiatras que han estudiado el tema desde el punto de vista psicoanalítico tampoco lo explican. Se habla mucho de la importancia del paisaje, de la bruma, de los bosques, del mundo de la leyenda para configurar ese imaginario fantástico, del mundo celta, tan de aquí y también de nuestra Galicia. Pero realmente, de los anglosajones parte todo lo fantástico en literatura. Desde ahí influyen muchísimo en Francia, y luego sí que llega la tendencia a España, donde también tenemos escritores fantásticos buenos, pero no en esa gran cantidad como en el mundo anglosajón.

Pilar Garrido: —Para terminar, Alicia, antes me comentabas que tu apellido, Mariño, tenía también relación con alguna leyenda. ¿Podrías explicárnoslo brevemente?

Alicia Mariño: —Sí, así rendimos homenaje a Torrente Ballester, que me la contó en el colegio mayor, cuando yo estudiaba en Salamanca y me acerqué a él para que me dedicara un libro. «Alicia Mariño», dijo, «¡uy! ¿Y no conoces la leyenda de tu nombre?»

Él me contó que el nombre «Mariño» pertenecía a un caballero que, paseando por la orilla del mar, se enamoró de una sirena y se fue a vivir con ella al fondo del mar. Juntos tuvieron muchos hijos, pero, pasado el tiempo, el caballero empezó a echar de menos la posibilidad de educar a sus hijos varones en las artes de la guerra. Pidió permiso a la sirena para llevárselos a tierra y educarlos en esas artes; ella se lo dio con la condición de que, de cada generación, le entregara uno. Y dicen que, desde entonces, de cada una de las generaciones, muere un Mariño de ojos azules en el mar.

Más tarde, averigüé que a Torrente Ballester debió de obsesionarle este nombre porque su primera novela se llamaJavier Mariño. Yo tengo un primo que se llama así, pero no tiene nada que ver con la novela.

Torrente Ballester también escribió un librito pequeño que se llama El cuento de sirena, donde narra, en las dos primeras páginas, esta leyenda. Y a partir de ahí, él crea una ficción ambientada en el siglo XX; es la historia de un hombre que se apellida Mariño: ocurre el crimen perfecto, pero al final, ese Mariño es el último de una generación, además tiene ojos azules y acaba, por un accidente, en el mar. La verdad es que recomiendo esa novelita de Torrente, El cuento de sirena.

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