Héctor Abad Faciolince is in Medellín (Colombia); Andrés Trapiello, at his home in Las Viñas, in the fields of Pago de San Clemente (Cáceres); Elvira Lindo and Laura Freixas, in Madrid. The four are newspaper authors and Babelia has brought them together by videoconference to talk about a genre that lives a time of splendor in Spanish literature. The confinement produced by the coronavirus epidemic has finished confirming that success.
QUESTION. Is confinement a propitious time for journaling?
HÉCTOR ABAD FACIOLINCE. It is a genre that seemed to be a minority, and suddenly many people are publishing newspapers in newspapers and on the Net. What I most like is this in 1816. In 1815 there was an eruption of the Tambora volcano, in Indonesia, and a year later next in the northern hemisphere it snowed in summer. People had to shut themselves up and Lord Byron joined other writers on Lake Geneva: from there comes the story of Frankenstein. Meanwhile, in Germany the bicycle is invented. You have to eat the horses because people are starving and a man invents a stick with two wheels. From situations like this, something good will have to be removed.
ELVIRA LINDO. Many people who did not write newspapers are writing them to certify what is happening, which is common to all. But what a writer does is translate the present and make it unique. I take notes and realize that they look like what is written out there, so I am interested in what non-professionals and cartoonists do. They offer different things.
ANDRÉS TRAPIELLO. The diaries are the writing of an exceptional time. If Anne Frank had not been confined, she probably never would have written. And if he had been saved, he may not have written again. A newspaper is like a fingerprint. They are all alike and they are all different.
LAURA FREIXAS. There is a subgenre that is the diary of a specific experience: war, prison, disease, conversion. What happens is that — unlike those other experiences, which are traumatic in themselves — nothing happens in a confinement. All the newspapers will now count more or less the same. I don’t think it is a time of special interest to write them, but it is to read them because time has stopped.
The locked up cat. Andrés Trapiello. Pre-Texts. Published 30 years ago, it is the first of 22 volumes of today’s great Spanish newspaper. It opened many doors to the gender of the self.
Q. How long should it take from the writing of a journal to the publication?
L. F. For me, a lot. I have systematically studied the subject of the newspaper in Spain – something relatively easy to do because the corpus is very small – and I have observed that the less time it takes to publish it, the less intimacy there is in it. The intimate journal in the most classical sense is posthumous or is published long after it is written.
P. Héctor Abad says in the prologue of his own that they are posthumous.
H. A. F. They were almost posthumous for me because I started them when I was 27 years old, when I had black hair, and I left them in 2006. A prudent time when I feel almost like someone else. But they are written in the present tense. It is the difference with an autobiography.
A. T. The criterion for judging a newspaper is naturalness. Having a long time is not going to make a book better. The newspapers are full of exceptions. There is Elias Canetti, who says that it will not open until a century has passed – as if it were a Fatima secret – and there is the one who says that he does not touch anything, but he does, of course, because it is compromising for his children or for his woman. What we have to judge is what we read. If it transmits an emotion, it is enough. I do not ask the reader to believe me, but to find for himself a truth. I rarely write full names. I replace them with an X or initials. When you say “I have met X, who is an intelligent person”, no one is taken for granted. But if you say “I have met X, who seems to me an idiot”, there are 20 people who apply to that X.
THE. Thinking about posterity seems to me of an unbearable vanity. In my case, the newspaper was joined by a chronicler’s will. It was the diary of a few months in which the lowest temperatures in New York occurred since there are records. I wrote it as a way to hold on to something. He didn’t want to talk about me, but about a time. Just like if I read the newspapers of Morla Lynch I am reading something about the history of my country [la Guerra Civil]. The newspaper is a way to save yourself in hostile weather.
L. F. The difference between autobiography and diary that Héctor talks about is very interesting. When we write an autobiography we do so with a certain guiding idea: like the novel, it is rounder, more unitary, has a global meaning and perhaps that is why it is aesthetically more satisfying. The great attraction of the newspaper is how it reflects how changing ideas are, uncertainty. You don’t know how it will end. It is interesting to compare the same incident in a letter from Rousseau and in his Confessions. Or in an Annie Ernaux novel and in her diaries.
Nights without sleep. Elvira Lindo. Seix Barrral. From January to May 2015, the author of ‘Open Heart’ made notes of her last winter in New York after 10 years in the city.
Q. Are there limits to what is counted? Héctor admits that he has preferred to publish the gloomy of his life, not the luminous.
H. A. F. Andrés has written that there are no truly intimate newspapers. I don’t know if he keeps thinking about it.
A. T. I say that I do not believe in the private diary because you can speak with privacy of almost everything. In everything you put your heart to the naked. The hardest part is writing from writers, but they are the people I relate to the most. I wish I was a carpenter.
H. A. F. You always choose, first what you write and then what you publish. In the honesty exercise that I tried to do, I suppressed the most boring, but not what made me look worse, the most shameful. Newspapers often talk about the worst facets of life because when you are happy you don’t write them down. Andrés says they are like a fingerprint. To me they are like a tattoo: episodes of life that remain forever.
THE. You are always aware of what you post. And of collateral damage. We often write about our parents because we speak more freely about them than we do about our children, whom we can harm for life. I do not believe that of writing with total freedom. You know how far you can go. As you know, I live with a writer, and write diaries not to publish, but for him. I see them accumulated in the closet and tell him to have ordered what he wants to be published and what not, because, if I survive him, I don’t want that inheritance.
L. F. I am interested in newspapers that are both intimate and daily, such as those by André Gide, Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Platn. In mine I am interested in reflecting episodes in which I do not go out particularly well because they give credibility. Collateral damage is a very serious thing. Not in Spain, but in France there have been trials for allegations of those mentioned.
What was present. Héctor Abad Faciolince. Alfaguara. Perfect example of a private diary, it portrays all the miseries of its author and the world of literature.
Q. To what do you attribute the current emergence of the genre in Spanish and its previous scarcity?
A. T. We are from a generation whose parents were little less than hermetic beings, and that has been translated in literature, of course. As there is more democracy, more secularism and fewer taboos in a country, the newspaper has more presence.
L. F. The explanation for the absence of intimacy in our literature is the Counter Reformation. Saint Teresa had begun to explore her inner life, but the Inquisition cut it short. You can hardly explore your intimacy when there is no freedom to doubt, when there is a revealed orthodoxy that imposes a single correct intimacy: the one your confessor tells you. The newspaper is developed mainly in Protestant countries – where there is no confession – or where there is religious freedom, as in France. In the case of Spain, the intimate newspaper begins in Catalonia and has already entered the 20th century. And almost at the same time in 1918, with Josep Pla, Marià Manent and Joan Estelrich. Both that generation and Max Aub, Rosa Chacel and later Carlos Barral and Jaime Gil de Biedma have something in common: their connection to foreign cultures. For studies, trips or exiles. Another factor would be the presence of women in culture, which also results in a greater exploration of emotions.
THE. Women have had a harder time expressing ourselves without shame. So I am more interested in what they say: it is very revealing. On the other hand, I perceive that there are genres that are increasingly interesting readers: newspapers, memoirs, self-fiction. Why? Because literature has stopped telling stories. Experimentation is fine, but in a book you want to find other human beings.
H. A. F. I would add a nuance. The fact that there are more or less newspapers depends not only on the degree of freedom or repression that exists in each culture, but in each family. In ours we use a lot about dirty laundry being washed at home, but we don’t talk about it. Tolstoy’s house was called the newspaper house. They all wrote them down and they all read each other. As this produces a frightful neurosis, Tolstoy kept three diaries: one public for people to read, one private for them to believe they were reading something special, and a secret one sewn into the boot. The diarist shows more what he is like when he talks about others than when he talks about himself. There are wonderful diaries of admiration, such as Bioy Casares on Borges or Boswell on Dr. Johnson. Or curiosity diaries, like Darwin’s on board the Beagle.
THE. It is true, we talk a lot about literary diaries, but there are others that are as important or more important than those of writers: those of Thoreau, for example.
They all wear masks. Laura Freixas. Errata Naturae. Second installment of the notebooks of the 90s of a specialist in autobiographical literature.
A. T. The worst are the exhibitionists: corny or cipotudos. What Héctor de Tolstoi was saying reminds me of what González-Ruano said when he returned from visiting Sánchez Mazas: “What a strange house! Everyone speaks ill of everyone and everyone is right. ” Ruano’s diary, by the way, was of a disgusting exhibitionist marketing. He writes: “I have eaten with the doctor such, an eminence of the medicine” so that he will not be charged. I like love diaries for things. The best pages of Jünger’s are his passion for insects. When he shows his great culture, I distance myself.
H. A. F. Then there is that of Thomas Mann, who is very boring because he always talks about his digestion, although suddenly he says that he is enchanted by the teenage son of a friend. Those parts today would take a writer to jail. Or Gil de Biedma, who is already tired looking for little boys in the Philippines. That is the exhibitionism you are talking about.
Q. What newspaper would you recommend?
L. F. That of Sylvia Plath, who embodies a great virtue of the newspaper: to be a laboratory to face experiences that have not yet been accepted or elaborated socially. He started it at 17 and finished it at 30, shortly before committing suicide, although the last two volumes were destroyed by her husband, Ted Hughes. Her great theme is the difficulty of being a woman and having a literary vocation and the desire that this vocation lead to success. She lives it in a tormented way. It is wrong to say it, but it is fortunate that he died so young. This has allowed the newspaper to reach us as is. Had he lived, he would not have dared to publish it or would have sweetened it.
THE. It would be necessary to explore how many women captured in a novel what they did not dare to tell in a newspaper. Elena Fortún, for example. I really like John Cheever’s diary-confession about his homosexuality, apart from his marriage and his children, and about his alcoholism, which surely led not only the time, but also that life in the closet. It is the diary of a repression. There is a movie with Dennis Quaid based on it: Far from Heaven.
A. T. I just discovered a film diary courtesy of Jonah Trueba: that of a Jewish filmmaker, David Perlov. It’s six hours, from the late 1970s to 1983, about his family in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. To the anime, I say the same thing Trueba told me: get to the end. When you finish you think: gee, this is what I would have liked to do with what has not happened to me.
H. A. F. The newspaper I like the most is Stendhal’s, Life of Henry Brulard. I open randomly and a little Don Quixote cartoon comes out. He says that since his mother’s death he had not laughed. And that he took Don Quixote and was dying of laughter. The father took away the book and forbade him to read it because he was laughing too much. When I read it, I thought: if it helped Stendhal to write a diary, maybe it would help me too. And that’s why I started mine.
A. T. Did you know, Héctor, that Stendhal’s was the one that started me in the newspapers? It has a wonderful phrase that says, “When I lie, I get bored.” That’s what made me think telling the truth was more fun than making things up.
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