Capotean Interview

by Toni Montesinos (originally published in Spanish here >>)

 

In 1972, Truman Capote published an original text that became the autobiography that has never been written. He titled it “Self-portrait” (in The Dogs Bark, 1973), and in it he gave himself with cunning and brilliance. Those questions that serve to proclaim his frustrations, desires, and customs, now, extracted, for the most part, form the following “Capotean interview”, with which they devote themselves to the other side, that of life, of Jorge Majfud. 

 

If you had to live in one place, never being able to leave it, which one would you choose?

In reality, that place exists: it is childhood. Now, if it were to be a physical, particular place, I think it would be that huge tree on my grandparents’ farm where I could see my loved ones who are no longer there and, somehow, those who were not there yet.

Do you prefer animals over people?

Sometimes. It does not depend on what animals but on what people.

Are you cruel?

So so, like everyone else. Frequently, truth is a form of cruelty and one must decide if it is worth it. Other times, one is cruel only through ignorance or petty passions, such as annoyance or frustration.

Do you have lots of friends?

I have a few friends sure and many friends maybe.

What characteristics do you look for in your friends?

I do not look for anything in particular. Each one is different and friendship, like love, is something that happens without any logic.

Do your friends usually disappoint you?

Yes, like any other kind of human being. But I worry much more about disappointing them.

Are you a sincere person?

I do not think anyone can answer that question sincerely. More than sincere, I try to be honest. 

How do you prefer to spend your free time?

Reading a book that does not kill my time. Talking to someone who does not kill me over time. 

What are you afraid of the most?

The suffering of my loved ones.

What scandalizes you, if there is anything that scandalizes you?

At my age almost nothing scandalizes me. I am disgusted with hypocrisy, the scandal of a kiss and the tolerance of violence, the death of a single child under smart bombs, the oppression of entire peoples, the Lies of Mass Destruction. 

If you had not decided to be a writer, to lead a creative life, what would you have done?

If I were not a writer walking or washing dishes would be a lot less interesting. I don’t know, I have done many different things in my life. Maybe I would have been a physicist. I was always attracted to Theory of Relativity.

Do you practice any type of physical exercise?

If walking on the beach is an exercise …

Can you cook?

No, but I try almost every day.

If Reader’s Digest commissioned you to write one of those articles on “an unforgettable character,” who would you choose?

I would not know who to write about. We are all forgettable.

What is the most hopeful word in any language?

“Sorry”.

And the most dangerous?

“Patriotism.”

Have you ever wanted to kill someone?

Never, even as a child, despite having seen so many people die and kill themselves.

What are your political leanings?

I always resisted all temptations, which were not few, to associate with a political party. The parties split, divide in very arbitrary ways. They are a necessary evil, like the monolineal simplification of left and right. Now, among all the simplifications I prefer the less used up and down and take sides for those below. 

If you could be something else, what would you like to be?

Someone who could abolish pain and death.

What are your main addictions?

Read, drink two beers, travel to the past, imagine what will come, people’s timeless smile … I do not know, so many things. In short, life.

And your virtues?

I hope that I have some, although who knows if this has any importance.

Imagine that you are drowning. What images, within the classical scheme, would pass through your head?

The water, I suppose.

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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/

 

What good is literature? (II)

Julio Cortázar

Image by Nney via Flickr

¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (II) (Spanish)

À quoi sert la littérature ? (French)

What good is literature? (II)

Every so often a politician, a bureaucrat or a smart investor decides to strangulate the humanities with a cut in education, some culture ministry or simply downloading the full force of the market over the busy factories of prefabricated sensitivities.

Much more sincere are the gravediggers who look at our eyes, and with bitterness or simple resentment, throw in our faces their convictions as if they were a single question: What good is literature?

Some wield this kind of philosophical question, not as an analytical instrument but as a mechanical shovel, to slowly widen a tomb full of living corpses.

The gravediggers are old acquaintances. They live or pretend to live, but they are always clinging to the throne of time. Up or down there they go repeating with voices of the dead utilitarian superstitions about needs and progress.

To respond about the uselessness of literature depends on what you comprehend to be useful and not on the literature itself. How useful is the epitaph, the tombstone carved, a reconciliation, sex with love, farewell, tears, laughter, coffee? How useful is football, television programs, photographs that are traded on social networks, racing horses, whiskey, diamonds, thirty pieces of Judas and the repentance?

There are very few who seriously wonder what good is football or the greed of Madoff. There are but a few people (or have not had enough time) that question or wonder, “What good is literature?” Soccer and football are at best, naïve. They have frequently been accomplices of puppeteers and gravediggers.

Literature, if it has not been an accomplice of puppeteers, has just been literature. Its critics do not refer to the respectable business of bestsellers or of prefabricated emotions. No one has ever asked so insistently, “what good is good business?” Critics of literature, deep down, are not concerned with this type of literature. They are concerned with something else. They worry about literature.

The best Olympic athletes have shown us how much the human body may withstand. Formula One racers as well, although borrowing some tricks. The same as the astronauts who put their first steps on the moon, the shovel that builds also destroys.

The same way, the great writers throughout history have shown how far and deep the human experience, (what really matters, what really exist) the vertigo of the highest and deepest ideas and emotions, can go.

For gravediggers only the shovel is useful. For the living dead too.

For others who have not forgotten their status as human beings who dare to go beyond the narrow confines of his own primitive individual experience, for condemned who roam the mass graves but have regained the passion and dignity of human beings, for them it is literature. ∎

Juan Goytisolo

Disfrutable. Al comienzo, cuando se refiere a la política de las últimas décadas en España no dice nada relevante (al final es diferente). Creo que él mismo estaría de acuerdo con esto. Ocurre en entrevistas de este tipo, hay un momento en que el motor está frio y uno sabe que no está diciendo nada rescatable. Sin embargo, luego se calientan los motores y cuando Goytisolo va a temas más profundos de la cultura y la historia es de una claridad irreprochable. Para algunos especialistas, sobre todo de la academia norteamericana y para varios amigos colegas de España, no dice nada nuevo. Pero no es nada nuevo para nosotros ahora porque poquísimos como Goytisolo abrieron camino mucho antes.

Biographical

Name: Juan GOYTISOLO
Nationality: Spanish
Born: 5 January, 1931
  • Attended University of Barcelona and University of Madrid
  • Has largely lived in exile since the late 1950s, mainly in Paris and Marrakesh
  • Visiting professor at the University of California, San Diego (1969), Boston University (1970), McGill (1972), NYU (1973-4)

Quotes

What others have to
say about
Juan Goytisolo:

  • “What distinguishes Goytisolo from other writers in the ever-widening international confraternity of young protesters is the clinical objectivity of his vision and the vigorous control he displays over his powerful, driving style. His works — short, violent and frightening — are like pages torn out of the book of experience.” – Helen Cantarella, The New York Times Book Review (18/3/1962)
  • “(T)he foremost novelist of contemporary Spain” – Carlos Fuentes, The New York Times Book Review (5/5/1974)
  • “The quality of Goytisolo’s translations has varied over the years, from the disastrous version of Marks of Identity by Gregory Rabassa to the masterpieces that Helen Lane made of Count Julian and others. Peter Bush [in The Marx Family Saga] does not reach Lane’s heights or sink to Rabassa’s depths.” – Abigail Lee Six, New Statesman (9/8/1996)
  • “Now in his late 60s, Goytisolo remains a marginal man, at least in America, because of his nervy depictions of homosexuality, elliptical Modernism, his mordant sense of history, and an unfashionable multiculturalism — he knows and admires Islamic traditions. A self-exile from Franco’s Spain, Goytisolo proffers a ferocious critique of power as oppression: his dialectical standoffs between West and East, European and Arab temperaments, waver between positing irreconcilable differences, the result of centuries of injustice and misunderstanding, and tantalizing intimations of cultural synthesis.” – Bill Marx, Boston Globe (29/4/1999)
  • “Goytisolo is one the finest masters of the postmodern.” -Sophie McClennen, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Fall/1999)
  • “His greatest achievement to date is his trilogy consisting ofMasks of IdentityCount Julian and Juan the Landless. These three books can be considered together; though fictional, they are unashamedly autobiographical, and they reflect Goytisolo’s sense of alienation experienced both in Spain and in exile. Cumulatively, they provide a debunking of Spanish culture, ideology and language, and a rejection not only of realist fiction but of the very idea of literary genres.” -Shomit Dutta, Times Literary Supplement (17/11/2000)
  • “Goytisolo’s fiction parodies traditions, dwells on solipsistic estrangement, and with coy postmodern irony questions the attempt to represent reality. But his journalism bleeds sincerity, and it uncompromisingly insists that ideals like toleration, respect, and magnanimity be put into political practice.” – Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Fall/2001)
  • “Thoroughly seduced by literary theory, Goytisolo maintains that a fiction writer should respond to movements in poetics and he invokes Russian formalists and French structuralists as patron saints. He tests his readers with punctuation-free interior monologues, citations in Latin and Arabic, dialogues in foreign languages, passages in mock Old Spanish, pastiche, unreliable narrators. The result is at times dazzling, but readability can hardly be counted among its merits. This may be intentional. One is not expected to curl up by the fire with a book by Goytisolo, but rather to be jolted out of any such bourgeois complacency in the first place.” – Martin Schifino, Times Literary Supplement (22/11/2002)
  • “Juan Goytisolo is a literary philosopher of the highest type — a writer interested in destroying hypocrisy and its old guard.” – Joe Woodward, San Francisco Chronicle (12/2/2006)

 

Source: http://www.complete-review.com/authors/goytisoloj.htm


What good is literature, anyway?

Jorge Majfud’s books at Amazon>>

 

 

American Author Ernest Hemingway aboard his Ya...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (I) (Spanish)

À quoi sert la littérature ? (Spanish)

What good is literature, anyway?

I am sure that you have heard many times this loaded query: “Well, what good is literature, anyway?” almost always from a pragmatic businessman or, at worst, from a Goering of the day, one of those pseudo-demigods that are always hunched down in a corner of history, waiting for the worst moments of weakness in order to “save” the country and humankind by burning books and teaching men how to be “real” men. And, if one is a freethinking writer during such times, one gets a beating, because nothing is worse for a domineering man with an inferiority complex than being close to somebody who writes. Because if it is true that our financial times have turned most literature into a hateful contest with the leisure industry, the collective unconscious still retains the idea that a writer is an apprentice sorcerer going around touching sore spots, saying inconvenient truths, being a naughty child at naptime. And if his/her work has some value, in fact he/she is all that. Perhaps the deeper mission of literature during the last five centuries has been precisely those things. Not to mention the ancient Greeks, now unreachable for a contemporary human spirit that, as a running dog, has finally gotten exhausted and simply hangs by its neck behind its owner’s moving car.

However, literature is still there; being troublesome from the beginning, because to say its own truths it only needs a modest pen and a piece of paper. Its greatest value will continue to be the same: not to resign itself to the complacency of the people nor to the temptation of barbarism. Politics and television are for that.

Then, yes, we can say literature is good for many things. But, because we know that our inquisitors of the day are most interested in profits and benefits, we should remind them that a narrow spirit can hardly shelter a great intelligence. A great intelligence trapped within a narrow spirit sooner or later chokes. Or it becomes spiteful and vicious. But, of course, a great intelligence, spiteful and vicious, can hardly understand this. Much less, then, when it is not even a great intelligence.

© Jorge Majfud

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

¿Por qué escribimos?

Ernesto Sabato

Image via Wikipedia

¿Por qué escribimos?

Desde Uruguay me piden que responda en veinte líneas la antigua y nunca acabada pregunta ¿por qué escribes? Reincidiendo en un viejo defecto, en diez minutos excedí al límite sugerido y me tardé casi una hora tratando de comprimir y recortar por aquí y por allá. Imagino que otros medios que tantas veces me han tolerado excesos peores, reciban bien la respuesta original. Aquí va, así era.

Cuando comenzó el Renacimiento en Europa terminó en España. Este detalle se pasa por alto por los países que reivindican ser la cuna del Renacimiento y por España misma —o lo que quedó de España— por su afán de negar grandes méritos a la realidad anterior a Fernando e Isabel, por querer negar que la Reconquista no fue un simple período de transición a un estado de satisfacción política, moral e ideológica sino una montonera de siglos sobre los cuales se desarrolló una cultura renacentista en su sentido humanista, científico, multirracial, multirreligioso, multicultural y progresista de la palabra. Aunque ninguno de estos méritos posmodernos llegaba al ideal sin frecuentes contradicciones, lo cierto es que luego fueron aniquilados por los venerados Fernando e Isabel y sus sucesores. Sus efectos sobrevivieron hasta Franco. No pocos investigadores entienden que España no tuvo Renacimiento y que su continuación de la Reconquista europea en la Conquista americana fue, en realidad, la exportación de un espíritu renacentista con una mentalidad medieval. Pero no sólo el hombre renacentista fue aventurero, conquistador y dominador. También lo fue el hombre medieval, tal como lo prueban las cruzadas. La diferencia radica en el rasgo secular y capitalista del nuevo hombre renacentista. Con la Reconquista castellana se liquida la diversidad y la inquietud intelectual de la España centrada en Córdoba, en el hemisferio sur de la península, y se instala una cultura medieval que ya abandonaba el resto del continente.

Para inmortalizar tantas matanzas promovidas por la nobleza, muchas veces como un deporte en tiempos de aburrimiento y llevada adelante por la milicia —los “de a miles” que procedían de las clases de campesinos y carniceros—, aparecieron los biógrafos. Estos escritores casi siempre vivían del mecenazgo de la nobleza.

Un descendiente de judíos, como Fernando del Pulgar, en 1486 alabó a un noble viejo diciendo que el conde Cifuentes “era ijodalgo, de limpia sangre”. Es decir, sin abuelos judíos. Antes, en 1450, Fernán Pérez de Guzmán, había tenido la lucidez de reconocer que ese oficio de escribir estaba implícitamente bajo la influencia del poder de los reyes, razón por la cual se pasaban por crónicas las exageraciones adulatorias.

De cualquier forma este oficio de contar sobre otros pronto se convirtió en un oficio de contar sobre uno mismo. Mucho antes de los aventureros en América —quienes escribían sus relaciones a modo de cartas como parte de su búsqueda de fama y favores del rey— otros practicaron la confesión literaria. Estos escritores hablaban sobre ellos mismos y sobre los demás, pero en gran medida eran los árabes y judíos que iban quedando, ya que la nobleza no consideraba digno exponer su interioridad. Tampoco era digno trabajar con las manos o con el intelecto. Salvo las guerras promovidas por príncipes, duques y obispos, actividad eminentemente noble, fuente inagotable de honores, casi ningún otro trabajo era digno.

En tiempos de Cervantes la escritura ya era un oficio y un negocio, como lo demuestra Lope de Vega. Un buen oficio y un mal negocio para muchos, como hoy. En el siglo XX, en casi todo el mundo, la exposición del yo, de la interioridad del individuo se convirtió en un requisito de la literatura, de casi todo el arte. Como lo demuestran los mass media, los reality shows, ahora hay otras formas de exponer elyo individual. Incluso cuando la norma es que el yo ha dejado de ser individual —si alguna vez lo fue— para ser una repetición del mismo individualismo, una repetición estandarizada de un mismo yo. El valor ético y políticamente correcto es “ser uno mismo”, como si en eso hubiese algún merito y alguna diferencia.

Ernesto Sábato también exaltó el valor y la particularidad del yo como materia prima, al mismo tiempo que descubría que esa particularidad de la ficción moderna era lógica expresión de la soledad del siglo. Ese yo decía que escribía porque no era feliz; Borges, porque era feliz, al menos mientras escribía. Cortazar porque quería jugar. Onetti porque quería leerse a sí mismo.

Muchos otros escritores menores tenemos razones igualmente diversas. Ante la pregunta de por qué escribo quizás tenga muchas formas de responderla y ninguna definitiva. Podría decir, por ejemplo: empecé a escribir de niño para alegrar a mis abuelos que vivían lejos en el campo y no tenían televisión. Seguí escribiendo para reproducir la emoción que me provocó el descubrimiento de la literatura fuera del salón de clase. Después porque quería escapar del mundo. Hoy en día escribo porque sufro y me apasiona la complejidad del mundo que me rodea. Escribo porque quiero batalla con este mundo que no me conforma y escribo porque a veces quisiera refugiarme en algo que no está aquí y ahora, algo que está libre de la contingencia del momento, algo que se parece a un más allá humano o sobrehumano. Pero todo lo que escribo surge a partir de aquí y ahora, de mi inconformidad con el mundo, de una sospechosa necesidad de olvidarme de mí mismo al tiempo que, no sin reprochable contradicción, no me niego a que difundan mis trabajos, al tiempo que espero justificar mi vida a través de algunos lectores que han encontrado algo útil en lo que hago. Uno siempre puede hacer otra cosa, pero quien se siente escritor de verdad, sea bueno o sea malo, no puede dejar esto, esa obsesión de luchar contra la muerte sin saberlo.

Pero si las razones personales son suficientes para justificar lo que uno hace, nunca son suficientes razones para explicar por qué uno hace lo que hace. Desde una perspectiva más amplia, por ejemplo y retomando las reflexiones iniciales, vemos que finalmente no fue la nueva Edad Media española la que venció en el siglo XIX y en el XX sino el Renacimiento centroeuropeo, con su ambiguo foco en el humanismo y en el individualismo, en la nueva libertad del antiguo villano, otrora sumiso obediente, y la creciente tiranía del capital. No fue el odio que Santa Teresa profesaba a la libertad, su amor a la obediencia ciega a la jerarquía política y eclesiástica la que venció entre los escritores e intelectuales modernos, sino la herejía utópica de Tomás Moro y de humanistas como Erasmo de Róterdam. Todos aquellos escritores que creemos ejercer la libertad de pensamiento también somos,casi completamente, productos históricos, productos de esas batallas políticas, ideológicas y culturales. (También los más ortodoxos reaccionarios que se creen intérpretes de la palabra de Dios lo son.) La libertad intelectual está siempre en ese “casi”. Sabemos que somos prisioneros de nuestro tiempo, que nuestro tiempo es producto de una larga y pesada historia. Pero la sola sospecha funciona como una llave. A veces esa llave no puede abrir ninguna puerta, pero nos indica por donde mirar. Y basta el ojo de una cerradura para convertir esa “casi libertad” en una de las más vertiginosas aventuras humanas: la libertad de conocer, de formularse preguntas que logren cuestionar, si no desarticular, la gran prisión, la que no debe ser obra de ningún Dios bondadoso sino pura construcción humana —a veces en su nombre.

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University

Milenio I, II (Mexico)

 

¿Para qué sirve la literatura?

Estoy seguro que muchas veces habrán escuchado esa demoledora inquisición “¿Bueno, y para qué sirve la literatura?”, casi siempre en boca de algún pragmático hombre de negocios; o, peor, de algún Goering de turno, de esos semidioses que siempre esperan agazapados en los rincones de la historia, para en los momentos de mayor debilidad salvar a la patria y a la humanidad quemando libros y enseñando a ser hombres a los hombres. Y si uno es escritor, palo, ya que nada peor para una persona con complejos de inferioridad que la presencia cercana de alguien que escribe. Porque si bien es cierto que nuestro financial time ha hecho de la mayor parte de la literatura una competencia odiosa con la industria del divertimento, todavía queda en el inconsciente colectivo la idea de que un escritor es un subversivo, un aprendiz de brujo que anda por aquí y por allá metiendo el dedo en la llaga, diciendo inconveniencias, molestando como un niño travieso a la hora de la siesta. Y si algún valor tiene, de hecho lo es. ¿No ha sido ésa, acaso, la misión más profunda de toda la literatura de los últimos quinientos años? Por no remontarme a los antiguos griegos, ya a esta altura inalcanzables por un espíritu humano que, como un perro, finalmente se ha cansado de correr detrás del auto de su amo y ahora se deja arrastrar por la soga que lo une por el pescuezo.

Sin embargo, la literatura aún está ahí; molestando desde el arranque, ya que para decir sus verdades le basta con un lápiz y un papel. Su mayor valor seguirá siendo el mismo: el de no resignarse a la complacencia del pueblo ni a la tentación de la barbarie. Para todo eso están la política y la televisión. Por lo tanto, sí, podríamos decir que la literatura sirve para muchas cosas. Pero como sabemos que a nuestros inquisidores de turno los preocupa especialmente las utilidades y los beneficios, deberíamos recordarles que difícilmente un espíritu estrecho albergue una gran inteligencia. Una gran inteligencia en un espíritu estrecho tarde o temprano termina ahogándose. O se vuelve rencorosa y perversa. Pero, claro, una gran inteligencia, perversa y rencorosa, difícilmente pueda comprender esto. Mucho menos, entonces, cuando ni siquiera se trata de una gran inteligencia.

© Jorge Majfud

Montevideo

Diciembre de 2000

 

What good is literature, anyway?

I am sure that you have heard many times this loaded query: “Well, what good is literature, anyway?” almost always from a pragmatic businessman or, at worst, from a Goering of the day, one of those pseudo-demigods that are always hunched down in a corner of history, waiting for the worst moments of weakness in order to “save” the country and humankind by burning books and teaching men how to be “real” men. And, if one is a freethinking writer during such times, one gets a beating, because nothing is worse for a domineering man with an inferiority complex than being close to somebody who writes. Because if it is true that our financial times have turned most literature into a hateful contest with the leisure industry, the collective unconscious still retains the idea that a writer is an apprentice sorcerer going around touching sore spots, saying inconvenient truths, being a naughty child at naptime. And if his/her work has some value, in fact he/she is all that. Perhaps the deeper mission of literature during the last five centuries has been precisely those things. Not to mention the ancient Greeks, now unreachable for a contemporary human spirit that, as a running dog, has finally gotten exhausted and simply hangs by its neck behind its owner’s moving car.

However, literature is still there; being troublesome from the beginning, because to say its own truths it only needs a modest pen and a piece of paper. Its greatest value will continue to be the same: not to resign itself to the complacency of the people nor to the temptation of barbarism. Politics and television are for that.

Then, yes, we can say literature is good for many things. But, because we know that our inquisitors of the day are most interested in profits and benefits, we should remind them that a narrow spirit can hardly shelter a great intelligence. A great intelligence trapped within a narrow spirit sooner or later chokes. Or it becomes spiteful and vicious. But, of course, a great intelligence, spiteful and vicious, can hardly understand this. Much less, then, when it is not even a great intelligence.

© Jorge Majfud

Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers

Victorians were enamored of the new science of statistics, so it seems fitting that these pioneering data hounds are now the subject of an unusual experiment in statistical analysis. The titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th century — 1,681,161, to be exact — are being electronically scoured for key words and phrases that might offer fresh insight into the minds of the Victorians.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/04/books/04victorian.html?hp

Grafico: Del NYT de hoy: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/12/04/books/04victorian-graphic.html?ref=books

¿Para qué sirve la literatura?

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À quoi sert la littérature ? (French)

What good is literature, anyway? (English)

¿Para qué sirve la literatura? (II)

¿Para qué sirve la literatura?

Estoy seguro que muchas veces habrán escuchado esa demoledora inquisición “¿Bueno, y para qué sirve la literatura?”, casi siempre en boca de algún pragmático hombre de negocios; o, peor, de algún Goering de turno, de esos semidioses que siempre esperan agazapados en los rincones de la historia, para en los momentos de mayor debilidad salvar a la patria y a la humanidad quemando libros y enseñando a ser hombres a los hombres. Y si uno es escritor, palo, ya que nada peor para una persona con complejos de inferioridad que la presencia cercana de alguien que escribe. Porque si bien es cierto que nuestro financial time ha hecho de la mayor parte de la literatura una competencia odiosa con la industria del divertimento, todavía queda en el inconsciente colectivo la idea de que un escritor es un subversivo, un aprendiz de brujo que anda por aquí y por allá metiendo el dedo en la llaga, diciendo inconveniencias, molestando como un niño travieso a la hora de la siesta. Y si algún valor tiene, de hecho lo es. ¿No ha sido ésa, acaso, la misión más profunda de toda la literatura de los últimos quinientos años? Por no remontarme a los antiguos griegos, ya a esta altura inalcanzables por un espíritu humano que, como un perro, finalmente se ha cansado de correr detrás del auto de su amo y ahora se deja arrastrar por la soga que lo une por el pescuezo.

Sin embargo, la literatura aún está ahí; molestando desde el arranque, ya que para decir sus verdades le basta con un lápiz y un papel. Su mayor valor seguirá siendo el mismo: el de no resignarse a la complacencia del pueblo ni a la tentación de la barbarie. Para todo eso están la política y la televisión. Por lo tanto, sí, podríamos decir que la literatura sirve para muchas cosas. Pero como sabemos que a nuestros inquisidores de turno los preocupa especialmente las utilidades y los beneficios, deberíamos recordarles que difícilmente un espíritu estrecho albergue una gran inteligencia. Una gran inteligencia en un espíritu estrecho tarde o temprano termina ahogándose. O se vuelve rencorosa y perversa. Pero, claro, una gran inteligencia, perversa y rencorosa, difícilmente pueda comprender esto. Mucho menos, entonces, cuando ni siquiera se trata de una gran inteligencia.

© Jorge Majfud

Montevideo

Diciembre de 2000

Litterae (Chile)


What good is literature, anyway?

I am sure that you have heard many times this loaded query: “Well, what good is literature, anyway?” almost always from a pragmatic businessman or, at worst, from a Goering of the day, one of those pseudo-demigods that are always hunched down in a corner of history, waiting for the worst moments of weakness in order to “save” the country and humankind by burning books and teaching men how to be “real” men. And, if one is a freethinking writer during such times, one gets a beating, because nothing is worse for a domineering man with an inferiority complex than being close to somebody who writes. Because if it is true that our financial times have turned most literature into a hateful contest with the leisure industry, the collective unconscious still retains the idea that a writer is an apprentice sorcerer going around touching sore spots, saying inconvenient truths, being a naughty child at naptime. And if his/her work has some value, in fact he/she is all that. Perhaps the deeper mission of literature during the last five centuries has been precisely those things. Not to mention the ancient Greeks, now unreachable for a contemporary human spirit that, as a running dog, has finally gotten exhausted and simply hangs by its neck behind its owner’s moving car.

However, literature is still there; being troublesome from the beginning, because to say its own truths it only needs a modest pen and a piece of paper. Its greatest value will continue to be the same: not to resign itself to the complacency of the people nor to the temptation of barbarism. Politics and television are for that.

Then, yes, we can say literature is good for many things. But, because we know that our inquisitors of the day are most interested in profits and benefits, we should remind them that a narrow spirit can hardly shelter a great intelligence. A great intelligence trapped within a narrow spirit sooner or later chokes. Or it becomes spiteful and vicious. But, of course, a great intelligence, spiteful and vicious, can hardly understand this. Much less, then, when it is not even a great intelligence.

© Jorge Majfud