Interview on Crisis

Jorge Majfud applies his fractal vision to Latino immigrants

 
 

Teacher, writer and novelist Jorge Majfud. (Photo/ Jacksonville University)

Jorge Majfud is a writer, novelist and professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Jacksonville in Florida whose books — including his fourth, Crisis, to be on the market in the U.S. in June — share a common thread: They are born from his experiences as a Latino and as an immigrant.

Uruguayan by birth, Majfud’s childhood in the 70’s was imprinted by the stream of political affairs in the Southern Hemisphere: political persecution, corruption, years of suffering and torture – real, psychological and moral — and social solidarity. “Those were years of listening at the official speeches and holding back the unofficial truth, of watching universal injustices and being unable to stop them,” Majfud told Voxxi.

“Until someone pushed you to take sides, and when you refused to do it, then  you became a ‘critic’ of the events, a suspicious one but ultimately a critic.”

Beginnings

A writer who confesses learning to read newspapers before nursery rhymes in kindergarten, Majfud, 42, describes himself as an avid devourer of the “classics” during those formidable childhood years. Perhaps as a form of escape from reality. “It was a time of fantastic discoveries, perceiving literature as something useless but fascinating,” he said.

Taking after his mother, Majfud explored the world of painting and sculpture, and ended up at the School of Architecture in the University of the Republic of Uruguay.  However, he could not resist writing essays and fiction during those years, which “not only channeled my psychological conflicts but also gave me a new philosophical perspective about reality and fiction, of what was important and not.”

During seven years working as an architect, Majfud came to realize that reality was built more from words than from bricks. Soon after, his first novel, Memorias de un desaparecido (Memories of a Missing Person), was published in 1996.

Highlight

Fast forward to 2012 and Majfud is about to give birth to his fourth novel, Crisis, which will be printed in Spain and available to the U.S. market next month. “On its surface, Crisis is the drama ofLatin-American immigrants, especially those undocumented ones, in the United States,” Majfud told Voxxi. “At a deeper level, it is the universal drama of those individuals fleeing from a geographical space, apparently looking for a better life but in reality, fleeing themselves; fleeing a reality perceived as unfair but rarely solved through the actual physical relocation.”

Missing, moving, fleeing individuals seem to be recurrent characters in Majfud’s writings, which document their paths towards permanent discovery of their own identity in different realities and situations. These characters stumble upon communication barriers and live through moral, economic and cultural violence as inevitable components of their double drama: as social and as existential beings.

Faithful to his architectural past, Majfud chose a “mosaic” format for his new novel.

“They are fractals in the sense that they may be nearly the same at different scales,” he said. “Each story can be read by itself but when read through, they form an image, such as the pieces of a mosaic, a reality that is less visible to the individual but it can be seen from afar as a collective experience.”

Many of its characters are different but they share the same names – Guadalupe, Ernesto, and so on – because they are collective roles. “Sometimes we believe our life is unique and particular without perceiving we are merely replicating our ancestors’ past experiences or the same dramas of our contemporaries living in different spaces but in similar conditions,” Majfud said. “We are individuals in our particularities but we are collectives in our human condition.”

Each story is set in a different U.S. location with Latin American images appearing in inevitable flash-backs. “Each time a character goes to eat at a Chili’s – a Tex-Mex chain restaurant – trying to navigate a reality between a Hispanic and an Anglo-Saxon context, it is hard to say if they are in California, Pennsylvania or Florida,” Majfud said.

Likewise, he chose Spanish names for all the cities where the stories take place. “It is a way to vindicate a culture that has been under attack for a long time. Just looking at the United States map, you can find a large amount of geographical spaces named with Spanish words, names like‘Escondido’, ‘El Cajón’, ‘Boca Ratón’ o ‘Colorado,’ especially in certain states where they are predominant.”

Novel “La ciudad de la luna” by Jorge Majfud. (The city of the moon)

“However,” he said, “they are invisible to the English speaker, who in his/her ignorance considers them as part of the daily vocabulary. The history ofHispanic culture becomes then subdued, disappears under this blanket of collective amnesia, in the name of a non-existent tradition. Spanish language and culture were in this country one century before the first English settlers arrived, and have never left. Consequently, we cannot qualify Spanish language and culture as being ‘foreign.’ This label is a violent strategy for an indiscernible but dreadful culturicide.”

Although Majfud believes all individuals share a common base – not only biological and psychological but also moral in its most primitive levels – they also differ in certain characteristics, which in our times are considered positive, with certain exceptions, such as cultural diversity.

“Such differences produce fears and conflicts, actions and reactions, discrimination and mutual rejection,” he said. “It is natural that these cultural currents, the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic cultures, would reproduce the universal dynamics of dialogue and conflict, and integration and rejection from one another, elements that are also present in Crisis.”

Achievements

Finally, Majfud talked about his achievements. “A writer’s life, like any other person’s, looks like his résumé: the most impressive record of achievements hides a number of failures, sometimes larger than the successes.”

Majfud believes his best achievement is his family; one with failures, because he is human, but his main achievement so far.

“I doubt my actions, sometimes obsessively; however, I never have doubts about the angel I have brought to this life, my son. I hope he will be a good man, not without conflicts or contradictions but an honest one, serene and the happiest he can be,” Majfud said.

“This desire does not have a rational explanation, it just is. As the most important things in life, which are few, it does not depend on reason.”

Shown here is Ernesto Camacho’s painting, “Christie’s World“ from his Series, “Diaries of a City”. “Christie’s World” Christie’s World is a depiction of a single mother in a big city. Although surrounded by the hard, fast paced society of New York, she never looses the quality of being a gracious woman. Even though life in the Big Apple can become disheartening at times, Christy remains alive. (Photo/ Courtesy Majfud with artist permission)

Crisis cover

http://voxxi.com/jorge-majfud-applies-his-fractal-vision-to-latino-immigrants/

 

The Importance of Being Called an Idiot

Mario Vargas Llosa

Image via Wikipedia

¿ Cómo definimos la idiotez ideológica? (Spanish)

The Importance of Being Called an Idiot


Jorge Majfud

 

A few days ago a gentleman recommended that I read a new book about idiocy.  I  believe it was called The Return of the Idiot, The Idiot Returns, or something like that.  I told him that I had read a similar book ten years ago, titled Manual for the Perfect Latinamerican Idiot.

“What did you think?” the man asked me narrowing his eyes, kind of scrutinizing my reaction, kind of measuring the time it took me to respond.  I always take a few seconds to respond.  I also like to observe the things around me, take a healthy distance, control the temptation to exercise my freedom and, kindly, go after the guy.

“What did I think?  Entertaining.  A famous writer who uses his fists against his colleagues as his principal dialectical weapon when he has them within reach, said that it was a book with a lot of humor, edifying… I would not say so much.  Entertaining is sufficient.  Clearly there are better books.”

“Yes, that was the father of one of the authors, the Nobel Vargas Llosa.”

“Mario, he is still called Mario.”

“Fine, but what did you think about the book?” he insisted anxiously.

Perhaps he was not so interested in my opinion as he was in his own.

“Someone asked me the same question ten years ago”, I recalled.  “I thought it deserved to be a best seller.”

“That’s what I said.  And it was, it was; in effect, it was a best seller.  You realized that pretty quick, like me.

“It wasn’t so difficult.  In the first place, it was written by experts on the topic.”

“Undoubtedly”, he interrupted, with contagious enthusiasm.

“Who better to write about idiocy, am I right?  Second, the authors are staunch defenders of the market, above all else.  I sell, I consume, therefore I am.  What other  merit could they have but to turn a book into a sales success?  If it were an excellent book with limited sales it would be a contradiction.  I suppose that for the publisher it’s also not a contradiction that they have sold so many books on the Idiot Continent, right?  In the intelligent and successful countries it did not have the same reception.”

For some reason the man in the red tie sensed some doubts on my part about the virtues of his favorite books.  That meant, for him, a declaration of war or something of the kind.  I made a friendly gesture to bid farewell, but he did not allow me to place my hand on his shoulder.

“You must be one of those who defend those idiotic ideas of which those books speak.  It is incredible that a cultured and educated man like yourself could uphold those stupidities.”

“Could it be that too much studying and researching cause damage?” I asked.

“No, studying doesn’t do damage, of course not.  The problem is that you are separated from reality, you don’t know what it is to live like a construction worker or business manager, like us.”

“Nonetheless, there are construction workers and business managers who think radically differently from you.  Might there not be another factor?  That is, for example, could it be that those who have ideas like yours are more intelligent?”

“Ah, yes, that must be…”

His euphoria had reached climax.  I was going to leave him with that little vanity, but I couldn’t contain myself.  I thought out loud:

“It’s quite strange.  The most intelligent people don’t need idiots like me to realize such obvious things, no?”

“Negative, sir. Negative.”

 

Translated by Bruce Campbell

 

 

Eduardo Galeano: The Open Eyes of Latin America

Cover of "Mirrors: Stories of Almost Ever...

Cover of Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

 

Eduardo Galeano:

The Open Eyes of Latin America


On Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University

There are very few cases of writers who maintain total indifference toward the ethics of their work. There are not so few who have understood that in the practice of literature it is possible to separate ethics from aesthetics. Jorge Luis Borges, not without mastery, practiced a kind of politics of aesthetic neutrality and was perhaps convinced this was possible. Thus, the universalism of Borges’ precocious postmodernism was nothing more than the very eurocentrism of the Modern Age nuanced with the exoticism proper to an empire that, much like the British empire, held closely to the old decadent nostalgia for the mysteries of a colonized India and for Arabian nights removed from the dangers of history. It was not recognition of diversity—of equal freedom—but confirmation of the superiority of the European canon adorned with the souvenirs and booty of war.

Perhaps there was a time in which truth, ethics and aesthetics were one and the same. Perhaps those were the times of myth. This also has been characteristic of what we call committed literature. Not a literature made for politics but an integral literature, where the text and the author, ethics and aesthetics, go together; where literature and metaliterarure are the same thing. The marketing thought of postmodernity has been different, strategically fragmented without possible connections. Legitimated by this cultural fashion, critics of the establishment dedicated themselves to rejecting any political, ethical or epistemological value for a literary text. For this kind of superstition, the author, the author’s context, the author’s prejudices and the prejudices of the readers remained outside the pure text, distilled from all human contamination. But, what would remain of a text is we took away from it all of its metaliterary qualities? Why must marble, velvet or sex repeated until void of meaning be more literary than eroticism, a social drama or the struggle for historical truth? Rodolfo Walsh said that a typewriter could be a fan or a pistol. Has this fragmentation and later distillation not been a critical strategy for turning writing into an innocent game, into more of a tranquilizer than an instrument of inquiry against the musculature of power?

In his new book, Eduardo Galeano responds to these questions with unmistakable style—Borges would recognize: with kind contempt—without concerning himself with them. Like his previous books, since Days and Nights of Love and War (1978), Mirrors is organized with the postmodern fragmentation of the brief capsule narrative. Nevertheless the entire book, like the rest of his work, evinces an unbreakable unity. His aesthetics and his ethical convictions as well. Even in the midst of the most violent ideological storms that shook recent history, this ship has not broken up.

Mirrors expands to other continents from the geographical area of Latin America that had characterized for decades Eduardo Galeano’s main interest. His narrative technique is the same as in the trilogy Memory of Fire (1982-1986): with an impersonal narrator who fulfills the purpose of approaching the anonymous and plural voice of “the others” and avoiding personal anecdote, with a thematic order at times and almost always with a chronological order, the book begins with the cosmogonic myths and culminates in our times. Each brief text is an ethical reflection, almost always revealing a painful reality and with the invaluable consolation of a beautiful narration. Perhaps the principle of Greek tragedy is none other than this: lesson and commotion, hope and resignation or the greater lesson of failure. As in his previous books, the paradigm of the committed Latin American writer, and above all the paradigm of Eduardo Galeano, seems to be reconstructed once again: history can progress, but that ethical-aesthetical progress has mythical origin for its utopian destination and memory and awareness of oppression for its instruments. Progress consists of regeneration, of the recreation of humanity in the same manner as the wisest, most just and most vulnerable of the Amerindian gods, the man-god Quetzalcóatl, would have done it.

If we were to remove the ethical code with which each text is read, Mirrors would shatter into brilliant fragments; but it would reflect nothing. If we were to remove the aesthetic mastery with which this book was written it would cease to be memorable. Like myths, like the mythical thought redeemed by the author, there is no way of separating one part from the whole without altering the sacred order of the cosmos. Each part is not only an alienated fragment but a tiny object that has been unearthed by a principled archeologist. The tiny object is valuable in its own right, but much is more valuable due to the other fragments that have been organized around it, and these latter become even more valuable due to those fragments that have been lost and that are now revealed in the empty spaces that have been formed, revealing an urn, an entire civilization buried by wind and barbarism.

The first law of the narrator, to not be boring, is respected. The first law of the committed intellectual as well: never does entertainment become a narcotic instead of a lucid aesthetic pleasure.

Mirrors has been published this year simultaneously in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina by Siglo XXI, and in Uruguay by Ediciones del Chanchito. The latter continues an already classic collection of black cover books which has reached number 15, represented meaningfully with the Spanish letter ñ. The texts are accompanied with illustrations in the manner of little vignettes that recall the careful art of book publishing in the Renaissance, in addition to the author’s drawings as a young man. Even though his conception of the world leads him to think structurally, it is difficult to imagine Eduardo Galeano skipping over any detail. Like a good jeweler of the word who polishes in search of every one of his different reflections, he is equally careful in the publication of his books as works of art. The English edition, Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone, translated by Mark Fried, will be published by Nation Books.

With each new contribution, this icon of Latin American literature confirms for us that additional formal prizes, like the Cervantes Prize, should not be long in coming.

Translated by Bruce Campbell