We write from uncertainly
Conversation with Alberto Barrera Tyska
Alberto, tell me about the writer as a reality interpreter.
I think that media are a little overwhelmed. Our country reality is dizzying in its dynamics because of the news constantly coming from either side. Thus, everyone manages many versions of reality, and there comes a time when that we call reality loses its sense. So, you see other messages have begun to work, such as historic speeches, of reality, literature and chronicle. I am surprised to see how people are looking for the history books to try to understand what we are living.
So, I do feel that there is a different practice than simplicity stated in the information or rather the headlines. It seems that the country lives all the time on Twitter, with 140 characters and that it is the definition of reality. But maybe people need more, they want to understand, want to know why this sentence is right and why another it is not.
Do we need more spaces for reflection?
We live in a great time with reality; we know that our country has changed, although we do not know how. There are things we like and others that we do not. Nevertheless, we are aware that we are in a very profound change. In this sense, I am amazed by people that have begun to write and has taken the risk of writing literature, novels related to the questions within the society.
When a writer starts writing, does he or she go hand in hand with the search for identity: what we are, or we cease to be and what we become?
I don’t think I have that thought as clear as you express it. Maybe, I write more intuitively, thinking that it hurts, and after I read it, I realize that it can be a search. When I read the article by Fernando Mires about my last novel, I realized there was something fascinating: the moral judgment of the characters was not whether they were or not Chavistas, or whether they were or not opposition, but rather by the fact they were all the time faced by the dilemma of survival. That represented an ethical problem in many cases. Those are the issues that interest me, and you begin to discover them as you write.
Does the writer shake off his or her taboos while writing?
In the creative exercise, reasoning does not work for me. This is not a process where I can say: “I am clear what I want to say and how, and here are the characters I will use.” For me, The process works in reverse. I am confident about the story and who the characters are; then, I look at them and decide to express some ideas. Umberto Eco used to say, in The Name of the Rose, when you cannot explain something you must tell it as a story. I think there is a bit of that. it is hard to explain Venezuela and what it is happening, but I can tell you some things that I see, I imagine, things that hurt me and that I can turn into a story.
Is it possible that we may need more time to figure out what is happening to us as a country?
History always needs more time. This has been intense and violent. I guess these are the first attempts that we do because we have to. However, twenty years from now, there will be more information and more distance. There will be plenty of people writing about what happened twenty years ago, which we cannot afford. We write from the uncertainty and the anxiety of not knowing what will happen.
When you think about a character that you know you can develop, how do you choose him or her? Are those characters real on the street?
Our sensibilities are thieves, I mean they go down the street and steal like sponges that detect things that others do not see, as a kind of spy. I am not saying that it is better or worse, but that happens. There are many characters in my last novel that come from real life stories. The girl on the book cover comes from a story that a friend told me five years ago, about a woman who worked at her house and was thinking about withdrawing her daughter from school and make her study at home, because of the amount fatal crimes in that school. I kept thinking about that story at least for two years, taking some notes, dreaming about this character, and I began to poison it and transforming it into something else. The starting point is an anecdote that anyone can tell, and it stays within you. It keeps living with you until it transforms itself even before it is written, and then in the same writing it develops and changes. At least that’s my process.
What book would you use, as a writer, to relate to the tragedy that the country is living now?
I was impressed some years ago when I read a South African writer named J. M. Coetzee, Nobel prize winner for literature 2003. I read his novels: Disgrace and Age of Iron. I felt that there were many things of us in them, in spite of being a faraway country, speaking other languages such as racism. I felt that there was a broken-down reality like ours, with grudges that perhaps we had not seen, but that were floating, and nobody knew they could reach those dimensions. I think we must take advantage of this time to sit down and see what happened.
It is not a problem of a charismatic leader with ambitions of power, there are many of those and they are everywhere.
Can there be new leaders like those and people who go to them? Is that the tragedy?
Of course, but the question is: what happened to the country so that it got hooked in that way? Why did Chavez have all the support of the country or a large part of it when he won in 1998? And later with the ones engaged against him, there is a process that is not only interested in the field of power. Thinking about that should enlighten us as a country somehow.
Do you believe that we live in a pre-apocalyptic society? Or are we the pioneers of the Apocalypse? At least we are at the forefront of something, lol.
We are on the brink of disaster. I believe this is the year when finally the “prophets of doom” were right, but we are all impressed at what is happening. Yes, we are in the middle of a whirlwind where we wonder if it is true that we are this. We cannot think that we are just warlords and an oil country.
But I think that there is an international trend toward extremists. For example, how Americans explain that after having Obama as President, they might think to have Donald Trump as President? That is a great example.
I think that irrationality is very tempting, and Trump represents that, irrationality, as Chavez. It is a guy that breaks the table and says that we are going to be large, is simple but tempting.
It is easier to destroy than to build something. Then, where is our ITHACA? Can we have hopes from the condition of a being, broken by a reality that surpasses us?
I still believe that we have a few values from the experience of the Venezuelan identity. Regardless, we have good things like strength. Notice that we have been subjected for 17 years to such a violent speech from power, because what Chavez did was to legitimize violence. He legitimized it from the language. You wonder: Why are we still alive? Of course, there is a terrible social violence in Venezuela, but that discourse of violence and the so little difference in the electoral results had condemned us to dialogue, there is not another way. Radicalism gets mad, but dialogue is the way. See Colombia after so many years of war and death.
Countries are condemned to reconciliation or destruction.
We have a Government that operates in a context of war, and that does not want to change. However, it will have to, because they are fewer and fewer. It will be a slow and arduous process, but there is no other way out. For me that is hope. There are no magic solutions. We should bury fantasies. All magic solutions have gone wrong. Magic is a failure at least in politics.
Alberto, what is the structure or thread that binds your work?
I think it is fragility because I am interested in it. Fragility covers everything in my work. The vulnerability in human beings, pain, what is wrong, what is weak. That is what interests me. The disease is there as a requirement of the human side. That is what calls my attention and what pulls me to write. In this book, the disease also has a major role. It is linked to pain and sentimentality. In literature,
this is not well accepted, or it must be handled with delicacy. What makes us happy or what defines us as unhappy, it’s something else I am interested in. Life makes no sense and in its pointless condition, since there is no great utopias or religions in which I believe, I think it is the fundamentals of these little and miserable things.
How does a writer handle time? Not only in the novel, but the real and personal time, the country time, the lost time like Proust said once.
My characters are always on time. The issue of spent time is an obsession not only for every writer but the human being. As you progresses and you have less time and less life, well that makes you account for it differently, and the stories are different. Perhaps, there are more problems with the country time. You begin to accept that there are things that you will never see. The impatience with the country time works differently.
Regarding county time, Are we just teenagers? Do we just want instant gratification? Are we early ejaculators, which forces us into tortuous paths?
It is hard to think about time in the context of history which is very long. It is also a hard thought for a country when someone gets into power and begins to speak from eternity. This suspends any sense of alternation, as Chavez did.
It’s like planning a novel that just never ends.
And that I am the only writer, LOL, and everyone else is forced to read it…
It is like reading the groundhog day… lol
Where there is only an actor.. .and others are the groundhog, waiting for somebody to grab us.
Interesting is the issue of egos that we have as a country.
It is also interesting, the vanity as an engine of history. Let us say that in the case of Venezuela, Chavez is the story of a great vanity, from 1998 until death.
Also inflated by the same society, beyond the own narcissistic case.
And also a State willing to feed that vanity, everything centers in that.
I have seen many times talented youngsters sick by the same society. That inflates them, and when you believe it, you lose… it is possible that at a certain age you don’t have the necessary means to defend against adulation and vanity attacks. The greatest example was as they raised the great Supreme.
But, how do you manage your ego?
I try to be aware. I am not sure if by discipline or because I believe that ego kills creativity. Let us say ego undermines your creative development, and I try to fight that, well we all have some ego. The writer Igor Barreto said once “writers are vain since the Greeks,” But I think it is a thing you have to pay attention all the time. That can be measured very well on social networks; they are a good window to measure the ego.
If we start from the plane of Italo Calvino and his invisible cities, what is Caracas for you?
I tell you honestly; I do not think that I can handle or know what is Caracas, or the Caracas of today. I had a Caracas where I lived and controlled as my city; I knew it from end to end. Now, I do not know it; for years I have not visited certain places. For example, when Jorge Rodríguez said: “you won’t come here”, he spoke to the others as if they were invaders and you begin to feel that if you cross a territory, you are invading another. There is an atomization of the city by political criteria, where the power decides and not you. Furthermore, you have to add fear and insecurity. Today’s Caracas is an unknown city for me and I do not like that, it hurts me. Everybody speaks very well of Caracas when we think about it as a window for El Avila. Caracas is more than that, there is a representation, which operates as a sacrament having that wonderful image. But the everyday city… How long ago did I go to the Guaicaipuro market? I lived in downtown; that city belongs to me, it does not belong to me. The city is the great territory of distrust.
I had to draw the destruction of a country. If somebody had told me, I would have not believed it or accepted it in this daily pattern. If you had to write the end, how would it be?
I think optimism is irrational. I do not have an unshakable optimism. However, I cannot think on the end of history but in a good way. I think it with optimism and also I believe that I will see it. Everybody can contribute to that. I think reconciliation is possible, undertaking a vast amount of processes that sometimes are simpler than you think. The recognition of the other, such simple thing, I think is essential in a society that has been undermining the existence of the other for 17 years. Who knows if our society surprises us by accepting the other. I do believe there is good Venezuelan genetics for that, so we can rebuild a cultural fabric, a collective spirit and a new sense of truth among us, that can happen in the human processes. I believe in that.
Well, I think this novel is going to sell very well dear Alberto.