Mesa 2 : Thursday 23.02.2017 10:00 a.m.
Participants: Cristina Norton, Ignacio del Valle, Karla Suárez, Teolinda Gersão and Tony Tcheka. Moderator: Carlos Quiroga.
Theme for discussion: “Nós jogamos com as palavras que nos deram” (We can only play with the words we were given).
One of the richest debates of the whole event, at this international meeting which gathers Lusophone and Hispanic writers during five days in this coastal northern Portuguese small town, was precisely this one, moderated by the Galician writer Carlos Quiroga. The contributions of the Asturian novelist Ignacio del Valle and the emerit Literature Professor and writer Teolinda Gersão, as well as the Guinean poet Tony Tcheka, were especially interesting, due to their sharp thought, geopolitical up-to-date knowledge and awareness, as well as the highest discursive accuracy and pertinence in their communications. On the other hand, others chose a more intimist approach: Cuban novelist Karla Suárez emphasized the ludic dimension of role-play and the practice of word games on creative writing relating an autobiographical situation whilst the Luso-Argentinian Cristina Norton preferred to maintain her focus on the fringe between the fictive construction of a narrative and the also biographical component of memorial writing as a raw material to be transformed into a literary production such as the cultural and linguistic background that shapes one’s writing.
The authors’ communications (detailed)
Ignacio del Valle, born at the Spanish Asturian town of Oviedo, discoursed on “El género negro” (The Dark Novel/The Crime Novel) as a direct allusion to his own books, particularly the last one, called Cielos Negros ( Dark Skies or as in the Portuguese translation Céus Negros). Del Valle showed himself concerned with what he sees as the “bastardy” within this literary genre and simultaneously interested in the close relationship between fictional literature and reality. He explores this bond thoroughly in his novels, as he sees it as to be crucial to give veracity and credibility to a novel. One considers the building of a character’s self. Ignacio del Valle prefers broken, shattered, troubled characters when structuring a plot around failure, grief or treason. These issues trigger his impulse to write because he sees them as “vehicles that bring back memory as well as hope”. The author states that these emotions and attitudes function as “windows to one’s memory, conferring nerve to a novel”. His fiction is often full of allusions or intertextualities taken from the German Romanticim, the poetry of Schiller, the prose of Göethe. It all has to do with a spiritual attitude of self-overcoming:
«When one controls completely a certain theme one must look for another subject to explore, just like Picasso used to do in the Arts (sic). And when Art is also contaminated by politics, then Art is screwed (and so is Literature).
This author is also interested in the Gothic style and the element of the fantastic in Literature which usually inspires him and his writing just like the element of transcendence in Art does:
«I’m not religious , but I’m all for the transcendent. Humour is also important, because reality is so harsh in our daily life that one must use humour as a healer, as a way out. I’m also deeply concerned with psychological [or personality] traits of the characters: their motives, their obsessions with glory, their relationship with sex. And I do not make a [semantical-linguistic] distinction between past and future, any longer. It is always the present tense, surrounded by its ghosts. And the construction of evil, captivates me as well. In my novels, evil is obscure. If there is evil, it always shows itself mixed with goodness. You see, bad people in life are usually mediocre. But one needs big evil in an evil character so there may also exist a hero. In fiction, evilness must lead the reader to a catharsis. Good characters may not always be very clever but if the hero is stupid the novel will lose its interest. So, the villain must be really evil (which in real life only happens randomly) but always clever.»
Grabbing the verse that illustrates these panel, Teolinda Gersão, who conquered the Fernando Namora 2015 Prize and the Vergílio Ferreira 2017 Prize, initiates her contribution stating:
«No one gives us anything. One must must conquer everything [words included], by saying things differently, even if the content is the same. I feel attracted to borderline cases. For example, the approach of a bilingual person to a subject is different from a monolingual one. The fluency on another language opens our spirit and deepens the skills on our own mother tongue.»
This Author expresses her admiration for two Brazilian classic novelists, Machado de Assis and Guimarães Rosa, to confirm that “despite the language is the same [as European Portuguese] their [Brazilian variant’s] huge variations transfigured it.»
But according to Mrs. Gersão, not only from Linguistics lives Literature. It is also fed by multiple facets of life, and the way it is daily affected by an endless amount of factors. Mrs. Gersão explores some of them:
«I’m also interested in the unconscious. I often recommend the reading of Carl Jung to my students. I prefer [Carl] Jung to [Sigmund]Freud. Freud didn’t like people. And to be a good psychoanalyst one must love people.
Memory is something without which there can not exist such thing as Literature. The great subject in Literature is Time. Writers are witnesses of their own time. The greatest riddle [in Literature] are the questions without answer: who are we?, where does our path lead to?, why does evil exist?»
The Author refers the extreme “perversity” of Lewis Carroll’s most famous book, Alice in Wonderland, which troubled her a great deal as a child, precisely for not answering the riddles it posts along the course of the story:
« But this is why it is so fascinating, for giving the readers someone that is not expected.
Writing a crime novel will never seduce me. It is the questions which are still to be answered that interest me. The innovation also captures my attention. Following a certain model or a formula does not attract me, like José Saramago who stated that novel would cease to exist in the future and the tendency is that novels will become more and more like essays, a perspective to which I don’t agree) used to do and [António] Lobo Antunes still does. I would bore myself to death if my books had to follow a certain path. I must always change the focus, or the structure…The themes are always the same: death, violence, sex, contradictions in life…»
Karla Suárez – The Cuban author, who chose Portugal to live in, presented her latest novel Un Lugar Llamado Angola (A Place Called Angola, with the Portuguese translation Um lugar chamado Angola) the day before, speaking about the Cuban presence in that country by the time of the Revolution and the following Civil War. But Ms Suárez chose not to speak about her own book in her communication and preferred to tell us a story, illustrating a situation of her life: the ability of playing with words as a game, which writers particularly enjoy and are used to as no one else does. The novelist spoke about her nephew she was taking care of while her sister was working to prove how far the ability on writing words and creative sentences can be stimulated in our early childhood and can be determinant for one to become a writer or at least to love writing and the Literature itself: as her sister’s child kept interrupting her writing in progress novel all the time, she decided that the same time spent with him wouldn’t be at all productive so, she thought it would be a lot better to spent it in a much more fun, interactive and creative way: creating sentences, rhymes, etymological associations. As a result, the child became a complete enthusiast of language games, and at end of the day, the little boy was trying to convince his mother to give up from her job and join them in their games. This situation does not, however, surprise Karla for she is fully convinced that “writing is the territory of the real freedom”, alluding to a time and place where “one can easily write anything but publishing may become a problem” as she had said the day before during the presentation of her book. And this is why, in Karla Suárez‘ perspective, “playing with words and telling stories is “the best game one can play; and that’s why I intend to keep on playing it during my whole life”.
Cristina Norton is an Argentinian writer who chose to live in Portugal after marrying a Portuguese historian and also a writer. Being a descendant of a Polish jewish family, Mrs. Norton told us that her memory did not recall the words of her ancestor’s language, spoken by her family in Poland. Only her Slavic nanny spoke Polish but she only occupied herself providing her basic needs without many interaction, besides showing herself always obsessed with food due to the traumatic years hunger during the Great War. Besides her nanny, everyone in her family spoke to her only in Castilian and French. Her own father used to tell her there was “no use on teaching her a language that would not survive”. Cristina Norton sees writing as an act of immense solitude, although playing with words, which implies theatralizing, is not at all a solitary act. Reading the classics which inspired her, playing with their words until finding her own voice, her own”musicality” inside her speech, was still a long process. And after eleven books published, Mrs. Norton is still surprised with new shades in her speech arising. However, in all her books there are three elements which are recurrent: Argentina, Portugal and Judaísm. That means the spatial location and her cultural roots and cultural environment are always present on her mind. And about this last issue she cannot help noticing: “the most terrible moments in history have always had a huge level of stupidity”.
For Tony Tcheka, the writer from Guinea Bissau, who greeted us with “mantanhas” (compliments in Guinea Creole language), explains us that the Portuguese word “palavra” (word) in Guinea language, also means “license to speak” (just like in Portugal) but can also imply conflict, and even the refuse to dialogue:
“The ‘palavra’ (word) came to us through women’s songs, lullabies, and in the moments of leisure at night, beside the fire. The word goes to nowhere to illuminate the darkest nights. It is a learning process, this access to the word. To knowledge. It comes to us through the looms, through the clothery, by congregating a whole History, a whole past, as the Cuba clothes are weaved in Congo, a process during which there is always a sharing of knowledge between man and women» (while the latter weaves the cloth the former imprints it with the family and tribe’s stories).
Mr. Tcheka kept speaking about how the words are spread and disseminated through space and time and their freedom of expression and circulation in these “dreary times”:
«It seems like a contradiction but this is only apparent. The ‘palavra’ (word) and the access to it, and also the opportunity to speak is more necessary than ever in these dread times. The word contains itself a visa, allowing it to enter in every country, using the highways of information. This is the reason why Raduan Nassar’s (winner of Camões Prize 2016) words reached every newspaper around the world. These times of darkness favour subservience of the Word itself, its depreciation, giving place to the overrating of the SELF and, simultaneously, its standardization to the single totalitarian view of thought. These are times of darkness, in which we live in. In every corner of this planet. Today, in the summit of power, the populism and the corruption rule. These are dark, very dark times.»
DISCUSSION WITH THE AUDIENCE
During the debate, a question from the audience was cast away to the table and triggered a passionate discussion about the 1990 Orthographic Agreement for the Portuguese Language involving the members from the Lusophone Community.
Teolinda Gersão expressed her indignation and complete refusal on this document and its unnatural use for speakers and misuse application for writers, which was imposed for political reasons and not for linguistic evolution. As a Professor with deep knowledge of the language Mrs. Gersão emphasized the “nonsense on erasing the etymology, because doing so, and choosing to follow merely phonetic criteria in order to give voice to the speakers’ language most recent changes, also implies erasing a great deal of the Portuguese cultural identity, such as expressed, for example, in the local toponymy as well as other countless historical references. This may not be so important for a country like Brazil, whose bond to Latin is not so strong, having other cultural and linguistic references (which are also important), but this should not prevent the language to follow different paths in both countries, since the linguistic richness of a language lies in its diversity.
Tony Tcheka, though, presented a different, benevolent, perspective:
«For us, Guinea people, this subject is not a priority. This new Linguistic Agreement does not seem to me a complete absurd, in spite of not being for me a major concern.»
For Ignacio del Valle, Karla Suárez and Cristina Norton, all of them Castilian-Spanish speakers, the position of the Hispanic countries is mainly inclusive on this matter. That means, accepting the differences, new ways of writing, introduction of new words, unusual phrasical constructions and new ways of saying things without any kind of authoritarian imposition of a rigid orthodoxy to the whole block of countries.
The second question to be put to the table had a sentence from Cristina Norton as a starting point to be explored: ‘The most terrible moments in history had always carried away the highest level of stupidity’. The statement had emerged in the author’s previous intervention about thirty minutes before, in a direct allusion to the Holocaust and the Second Great War, in the Norton’s latest novel, O Rapaz e o Pombo (The Boy and the Pigeon) whose protagonist is a young Jewish refugee in America who faces racism at school. The author was asked if it could be traced any parallel between the situation lived by her character in mid-twentieth century and the refugees from the Middle-East in our times, with the implosion of democracies around the world, the western world in particular.
Soon after some minutes of diversion – some authors thought they were being asked whether there was some autobiographical elements in their novels, Tony Tcheka grabbed the question by its horns and pointed his argument to the target, expressing major concern about the problem in the Middle East and the rise of the shadow of several types of fascism across Europe. Immediately after the Guinea author’s answer, Teolinda Gersão and Ignacio del Valle agreed that we are now entering an era in which those who rule are now determining the meaning of the words. Teolinda Gersão is even more audacious by by quoting Adolph Hitler’s own discourse: “We [the Nazi Intelligence] are the ones who decide who is Jew”. Ignacio del Valle points out that in order to contain the beast of Nazism [or other forms of totalitarianism] Europe must keep united, since its fragmentation will make us weaker. And to Del Valle‘s statement “Necessitamos más Europa” (we need more Europe) Tony Tcheka clarifies and adds:
«The problem is that in Europe there are already too many “Trumpinhos” and “Trumpinhas” (too many little Trump Boys and little Trump Girls). And the problem is not only Europe. The problem is global. To Ignacio’s sentence “More Europe” I would say “More World”. We need to act now. While there is still time.»
Póvoa de Varzim, Thursday23.02.2017,
Cláudia de Sousa Dias