Interview with Carlos Yushimito at el Pais

El Pais has an interesting interview with Carlos Yushimito over his new book of short stories, Los bosques tienen sus propias puertas (Demipage), and his writing process in general.

R. Exacto, ya no tenía ese pudor de la cercanía. Me da autosuficiencia para escribir y estar en ese borde de lo que puede ser verdad y lo que puede ser ficción. Luego hay otras resonancias, por ejemplo la sonoridad brasileña: los nombres de las calles y de los personajes me daban una base sobre la cual partir. También hay algunos homenajes en el libro, uno a Guimarães Rosa, el mundo del sertón, del noreste, para ello investigué porque la geografía es distinta. Hablar sobre favelas no es tan difícil en términos de descripción porque hay una imagen planetaria de ellas. Eso me permitía hablar sobre el Perú sin mencionarlo directamente o sobre las periferias en Latinoamérica, con ese simbolismo alrededor de lo brasileño. Las Islas (su segundo libro) es una serie de cuentos que tienen como escenario una favela imaginaria. Excepto por Apaga la próxima luz, un cuento que dediqué a Guimarães Rosa (incluido en su libro de 2011 y Las Islas), con la historia de un cangaceiro (bandolero) famoso del siglo XX, Virgulino Ferreyra, luego me he ido desligando de Brasil. Es una pregunta tan recurrente que yo mismo me cohibí.

P. Hay frases que parecen de un brasileño que está aprendiendo español.

R. Claro. Intenté escribir en portuñol y hay palabras en portugués. Donde fui más radical es en el cuento del cangaceiro, mi intención era imitar un poco a Guimarães aunque es imposible porque es un maestro. Había muchos signos en Las Islas para que el lector los siga, como Clarice Lispector y el MPB (género musical: música popular brasileña). uno de los personajes se llama Fernanda Abreu (una cantante brasileña). Pero no quería encasillarme como un escritor exótico, iba a ser siempre el peruano que escribe sobre Brasil.

Horacio Castellanos Moya and the Political Novel at the Quarterly Conversation

Tirana MemoriaScott at the Quarterly Conversation has written an excellent article about Horacio Castellanos Moya and the new political novel. It is a good introduction to his work and is worth a read in part because it charts not only an interesting history of the development of the political novel, but of Latin American political novels. The nexus of his argument is here

As with Senselessness, the shape of She-Devil’s political conspiracy never becomes very distinct. Trapped within the narrator’s paranoid consciousness we can only guess at its actual dimensions, and any objective reality of an actual conspiracy is never confirmed. Part of this is simply the fragmented distribution of political power in a modern society—the fact that even a president can’t have full information on everything being done by a government. This fragmentation of power is something that Moya elegantly fuses with the development of his plot and his character as he marches his protagonists down each alley one at a time, closing certain threads of investigation even as new ones are introduced.

Yet the more significant part of this is due to the protagonist’s mind, which changes subtly but powerfully throughout both of these novels. What Senselessness and The She-Devil in the Mirror are doing is bringing the unreliable first-person novel to a modern Latin American context. What for Ford Madox Ford was primarily a story of infidelity in inter-war England, and for Kobo Abe was about existentialist malaise in mid-century Japan, and for Walker Percy was about the alienation of the individual in a radically mediated society, and for Kazuo Ishiguro was a story of classism in contemporary England, becomes for Moya a story of the great political subconsciousness that seethes through life in 21st-century Latin America. Each of these writers shares an interest in portraying the space between objective reality and human subjectivity. Fundamentally, they are interested in what happens as the human mind attempts to piece together a reality, though it lacks the necessary information to do so. As the diversity of these writers’ output shows, the dramatization of this gap is a very malleable tool: an individual’s quest for objective truth can interrogate realities about the cultures that range from a bottom-rung operative in a Latin American state on the verge of failure to a wealthy, privileged gentleman in a European nation at the height of empire. What is most characteristic about these novels is that vital facts about the culture each is set in are bound up at the deepest levels with the narrators’ own gradual realization that there is no such a thing as an objective reality. The process of self-discovery is contingent on comprehending one’s cultural context.

I would also add that having read Tirana Memoria I know that he doesn’t always approach reality in such dark terms, even when he is writing about a coup. He is also willing to inject humor and play games with the perception of reality only in the most oblique terms. Tirana Memoria uses one of the most straightforward sounding narrators, who scarcely hints at the deep rejections of a verifiable truth. If the book is ever translated into English, perhaps we will have a more complete picture of his work.

Borges and His Precursors

Letras Libres‘ August issue included three stories that influenced some of Borges’ most famous stories in Fictiones. The stories are a fascinating look into Borges process of thought and creation and worth a look for any fan of Borges. While the stories are available on-line in Spanish, they are not on-line in English. However, two are more or less easily available in reprints, while a search for the third on the web will easily bring up a result. The three stories by Borges are the Library of Babel, Perrie Mendard Author of the Quijote, and the Shape of the Sword.

Of the three, the precursor to the Library of Babelis the most interesting. Written by Kurd Lasswitz, the Universal Libraryis a mathematical exploration of a library that contains every possible book, those with errors, those that we know, and the billions of others that do not exist now. What sets the story apart from Borges is the idea that there is some sort of true volume by each author, whereas Borges focuses more on the metaphysical complications of a library that has every possible book. Both stories authors posit intriguing ideas on the shape of ideas, but for Lasswitz the library he envisions is a mathematical monster, one that would be so large that laying the books end to end would take two light years to get from one end to the other. Even though Lasswitz sees it as finite, in practice it is an infinite library. For Borges the intrigue is more in what happens if the library already existed, how would knowledge exist. He goes one step beyond Lasswitz, one step beyond the reader’s history with true volumes, and reflects on more than the mathematical possibilities, but the ontological possibilities. 

The precursor to Perrie Mendard Author of the Quijote has the most Bogesian changes. Corputby Tupper Greenwald is the story of a professor who so loves King Leer that when he finally takes the time to write his own play, what he creates is an exact copy. Greenwald’s protagonist is more of a lost man who has so imbibed a work he is unable to differentiate himself from the work.  The story is psychological more than literary and it suggests that the professor has become senile. Borges, on the other hand, places the focus of the story less in the copying of the Quijote, and focuses on the interpretation, the way a work is understood through time. When the narrator of Perrie Mendard Author of the Quijote describes the book he changes the terms of interpretation so that what in Cervantes’ day was considered a medieval way of writing, in Perrie Mendardbecomes a briliant exposition of criticism. Even though they are the same text, the interpretations have changed. Corput, while interesting, is no where near as interesting as Perrie Mendard Author of the Quijote.

The final story,  Shape of the Sword, I won’t cover here but is based on W Somerset Maugham‘s the Man with the Scar.

As in reading Boccaccio’s Filocolo before reading Chaucer’s the Franklin’s Tale, or reading Plutarch before reading Shakespeare, reading the sources of Borges will not diminish the quality of invention in his stories, but will magnify them.

A New Unpublished Bolaño Short Story

60Watts, a relatively new Spanish language literary journal, has published an as yet unpublished short story by Roberto Bolaño, El contorno del ojo (The Contour of the Eye). The story was presented at a literary contest in Valencia in the 80’s so Bolaño could earn some money. Perhaps it is good. I haven’t had time to read it, not translate anything from it.

You can read the story at 60Watts and read a short article in La Vanguardia, all in Spanish.

Alberto Fuguet: from Film to Literature, the Hybrid Case of a Writer

La Jornada has an interview with the Chilean Author  Alberto Fuguet is a younger author who as a proponent of Mc Hondo has looked to turn away from the over saturated magical realism that came to define Latin American Literature. His book Shorts is available in English and is a mix of story telling methods, some leaning towards the cinematic and the interview makes it obvious that it is one of his focuses. He does have a new book out:

At the beginning of the year he published a new book in most of Latin America and Spain, a novel “mounted”by Fuguet, My Body Es a Cell, which is an autobiography of Andrés Caicedo, a Columbian cult writer whose book has continued to be the best selling book in Columbia.

A inicios del año, salió en la mayoría de los países de América Latina y España, la novela “montada” por Fuguet, Mi cuerpo es una celda, autobiografía de Andrés Caicedo, escritor colombiano de culto, cuyo libro se ha mantenido como el mejor vendido en ese país sudamericano

The interview covers several themes. First, he talks about hos he wished he could direct films instead of write, yet he isn’t interested in being a screen writer either. He has created a website for hosting independent videos. He has also made several short films.

Second, he talks about what he sees the role of the blog and the new media. It is refreshing for an author not to see it as just another means  of publicity, or a half way step to print.

I think that there are people in the virtual world who are very shy and unknown who write very personal things in their blogs; the people who are less shy use the virtual as a type of trampoline to eventually publish on paper. I am sure that there is a Kafka, a Pavesse, and people like that hidden on the web and that we are going to discover them latter. My idea of a blog is to help myself, to help others, as breaking the circle of books, in my case I see that my books come from the same planet.

Creo que lo que hay virtual es de gente muy tímida y muy desconocida, que escribe en sus blogs cosas muy personales; la gente que es menos tímida lo usa como una especie de trampolín para eventualmente llegar al papel. Estoy seguro de que hay un Kafka, un Pavesse, y hay gente así escondida en la red y que vamos a descubrirlo después. Mi idea del blog es apoyarme, apoyar a otros, como romper el círculo de los libros, en mi caso yo veo que mis libros vienen como del mismo planeta.

Finally, he talks about Rulfo and Bolaño.

Rulfo is super global writer, super preliminary, who seems very interesting to me. In general I have voices and companions that interest me. In the future perhaps one should find that not all of the world is Latin American. I am interested in everything hybrid, like chronicles; in Andrés Caicedo, the Argentine Fabián Casas, or what the small presses are doing.

I think that Blaño is a hybrid writer, but one that has the respect of intellectuals. He is very pop, has a much more mixed world…Rather than writing about a nostalgic Argentine exiled to Paris, he wrote about Mexicans or Spaniards. He dared to with other passports. He took on voices that were not his and transformed them.

Rulfo es un escritor súper global, súper liminar, me parece muy interesante. En general tengo voces y compañeros de ruta que me interesan. En el futuro habría que analizar que no todo el mundo es latinoamericano. Estoy interesado en todo lo híbrido, como crónicas; en Andrés Caicedo, en el argentino Fabián Casas, o en lo que se está haciendo en las editoriales pequeñas.

Siento que Bolaño es un escritor bien híbrido, pero que logró tener respeto intelectual; es súper pop, tiene un mundo mucho más mestizo […] Más que escribir de un argentino exiliado nostálgico en París, él escribía sobre mexicanos o españoles, se atrevía escribir con otros pasaportes. Logró meterse en voces que no eran las suyas y las transformó.

Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue

I finished reading Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue a week ago and have sometime to think about the quality of the stories. Before I start, though, I must say it was a pleasant surprise to have the text both in English and Spanish, which gave me a chance to read the stories in the original.

On the whole I wasn’t impressed with the stories. Many of them just weren’t that interesting to me. I’m not sure exactly why. Some of it was the writing style, which didn’t interest me too much, but mostly it was the choice of subjects. The worst was the story about the porn actor. I stopped reading it after a page and a half.

There were several stories, though, that did stand out. Tuesday Meetings by Slavko Zupcic was probably the best. The writing was fresh and the story about inmates in an asylum waiting for the pope’s visit was interesting and funny. Insular Menu by Ronaldo Menéndez from Cuba talk of the privations in Castro’s Cuba with a humor that didn’t dwell on the politics but human survival, although, cat lovers shouldn’t read the story. An Open Secret by the late Aura Estrada had some nice touches, although I think the story had more to do with Juan Rulfo than Borges. And, finally, Family by Rodrigo Hasbún was had some nice shifting perspective.

Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue isn’t the best of Latin America, but a sampling of young writers. Some of these writers are very good and are worth a further look. Considering it can take years before young writers can make it into English, this is a good collection even if it is a little uneven.

Zoetrope Featuring the Latin American Issue

Zoetrope’s latest issue focuses on Latin American fiction. It sounds interesting, a kind of post boom manifesto, which if you don’t follow Latin American Literature, it sometimes seems if it is still 1969 and Gabo is just publishing 100 Years. Perhaps that is unfair, but short story collections often show this weakness. (hat tip to MOLESKINE LITERARIO)

The research for this edition of Zoetrope: All-Story began with an anthology called El futuro no es nuestro (The Future Is Not Ours), edited by Diego Trelles Paz and just published in Argentina by Eterna Cadencia. That collection includes twenty writers from more than a dozen countries but does not pretend to be anything more than a snapshot of a Latin American moment. It is not comprehensive—for a region this large and diverse, how could it be?—just as this edition of All-Story isn’t. Still, we have attempted to show some of the talent that exists among this new generation; and it’s no coincidence that the writers here are all under forty years old, therefore born after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude.