Fernando Aramburu: “I don’t believe in happiness as a fabulous horizon; I believe in the little happiness that appears every day”
After a million and a half copies of Patria sold (not counting translations) and a series of successes, the writer Fernando Aramburu returns with Los vencejos , a novel totally different from the previous ones.
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- Interviews Irene Vallejo: “Reading the classics restores our confidence in ourselves. They are the necessary counterweight to bad times”
Fernando Aramburu says that a writer is not born but rather gets up early in the morning. He has his journey inexorably ritualized. At half past nine he eats an apple. Until it reaches the number of words that has been marked to write that day, it does not connect to the internet. Before lunch he takes a walk with his dog. Then he takes a nap.
From seven thirty in the afternoon to eleven thirty at night he reads in an armchair so adapted to his body that together they form “a physical-chemical unit.” He assures that the regularity of his habits reaches such an extreme that he could anticipate what he will do on that day of the next week at such a time. “This is the only way I know of to fulfill the distant adolescent dream of being a writer on a daily basis.”
After a long season almost entirely dedicated to talking about Homeland , traveling and cultivating other genres – between 2017 and 2019 he wrote articles in El Mundo -, Aramburu cleaned his computer desk and began to write the chronicle of a confused man who tells the stories. 365 days left until the date of his death and that, like those birds that fly for months without perching, he would like to be out of the world, not rub against anyone. The Swifts , Aramburu warns, is a voluminous 698-page novel that has nothing to do with the previous one. “I do not aspire to repeat the success of Patria . By offering well-written books I have enough, although my ambition is not small,” he says.
“THIS NOVEL TELLS THE STORY OF A CONFUSED MAN IN THE POST-PATRIARCHY ERA”
How did the idea for this novel come about?
I can’t find a precise origin. One of my first stimuli was to tell the story of a man in the post-patriarchy era. An ordinary man from a big city who does not quite adapt to the new masculine role that is assigned to him. He is a character for whom many things have not worked in life, who has emotional deficiencies, and who has an internal contradiction between his rationalism, because he is a professor of philosophy, and a sexual drive that interferes with that rationalism. This man is misplaced. Life has dragged him to loneliness.
What defines the post patriarchy?
The confused man. The one who can no longer play the role of feeder of the family, the one who commands and has the last word. Now that man must learn other functions and other roles, assume new tasks, cede spaces of power to women, and of course violence is prohibited. I wondered about the difficulties that these ideas entail for many men and if it requires an adaptation that some are not capable of assuming. There are no models in the past of a similar social and family situation, where men must modify their role as women obtain rights that they should never have lacked. But beware, I do not address these issues from a theoretical point of view. They just seem useful to me to make literature with them.
There is a violent scene in which a female character asks: “Men, why are you like this?”
This phrase represents a situation according to which, in the face of a violent event, the male is immediately the object of suspicion or directly guilty. This is internalized in society and man, by the mere fact of being, bears the guilt of previous generations of men. The phrase you quote is said by a woman to her husband. That is, it speaks of the masculine gender although it refers to a specific male.
What about you in the protagonist, to whom life seems “a wicked invention”.
I have not lived a destiny similar to Toni, nor have I been divorced, nor have I a male child, nor have I been a philosophy professor. It is inevitable that in a novel snippets of the life of the person who writes appear, because one made use of whatever suits him or her. The experience of the writer is a trunk where you rummage. I cannot say, like Flaubert, “I am Madame Bovary.”
“IT IS A BAD SIGN THAT IDEOLOGIES HAVE SO MUCH PRESENCE IN THE LIFE OF THE CITIZEN”
You have been in Germany for more than half your life, how do you see Spain from there?
The truth is that you see little. Spain is not present in international debates, for whatever reasons, and when it is mentioned in the news, it is because of some problem. From there I perceive the same as a citizen here: discord,the strict division between left and right, the impossibility of politicians to reach agreements that favor social peace … It is a bad sign that ideologies have such a presence in the life of the citizen. Perhaps I say this because I come from a country that is quite de-ideologized. When citizens perceive that politicians are capable of governing, they tend to disengage and dedicate themselves more to their activities, their work, their family and their leisure. But in Spain the fight is continuous, the State, territoriality, flag, education are questioned … Citizens feel compelled to participate and these conflicts are reflected in private life.
What did the Catalan independence leaders think of the pardon?
I do not have a clear opinion on this matter. I understand the irritation of many, even myself the measure may be unpleasant, because they exonerate some people who have tried to break my country. But I prefer to wait to see the impact that pardons will have on society, which does not have to be negative. For Catalan citizens it can mean a reduction in tension, and I do not rule out that it has a therapeutic effect. Why such a rush to comment? I don’t like this urge to talk about everything instantly. It seems that we are forced to make a judgment right away, without considering a perspective, some effects. Chess fans know that sometimes it is convenient to have a pawn eaten or a small defeat inflicted and then win the game.
What do you think of the end of the policy of dispersal of ETA prisoners?
This approach was already foreseen by law, therefore the law is being complied with. With ETA disappeared, certain measures are no longer necessary, and I consider that it is to a certain extent human to bring prisoners closer to the Basque Country in order to facilitate visits by their families. I dont think is bad. Bringing prisoners closer does not mean setting them free. Presumably the other party will reciprocate in some way.
In the TELVA interview in 2016, on the occasion of Homeland , he said: “You have to turn the page on terrorism, but you have to read it first.” Have we already turned the page?
I insist that what interests me are human behaviors, why they occur and where they arrive. We cannot ask the generations that have not lived through terrorism to think about ETA. If the memory of terrorism were only in each citizen, it would be fragile and would disappear. I advocate the formation of a collective memory in the form of testimonies, books, photographs, museums, films … This task is fundamental and not only concerns the story of terrorism, but also other positive events in our history. . We should reflect more on reality and develop a constant story. In this sense, I feel called upon to contribute in a literary way my personal impression of so many tragic events that I experienced in my native land.
“THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM IN SPAIN IS LIKE A RUGBY BALL: WHOEVER GRABS IT RUNS TO TAKE IT TO HIS AREA OF INTERESTS, PERSECUTED BY HIS OPPONENTS”
As a young man he was part of the group CLOC, where he called for a “surreal renewal”. What is counterculture now?
We edited a magazine whose first issue appeared in 1978 (I was 19 years old), where we questioned everything. The only slogan was to exercise continuous rebellion. We liked the ugly, to break, to annoy … We challenged each other to see who said the biggest stupidity in public. This today would be difficult to sustain. Young people are on a different wavelength, but it is the law of life. There is no generation that does not believe that it is the last, the definitive or the best. Every so often there are new tastes and new problems.
Is it difficult for you to be politically correct?
There is an evident pressure so that the citizen does not leave the established line, so that no one feels offended. Nuances and puns are removed, and this is boring, of course. We have returned to an era of ideological surveillance, of control of expressive modes, where those who criticize the politically correct incur in it. The other day I was watching on the internet some performances from Tuesday and 13 that today would be unthinkable. However, everyone laughed then, no one was traumatized or offended.
I miss Benny Hill.
They would cut his neck the first time! And let’s not talk about the phenomenon of comedians asking for forgiveness. In Germany it happens continuously. There is a terrific comedian who just apologized for some jokes she made in the past in case they might offend blacks and Orientals.
Is revisionism okay with you?
The past can be reviewed, but assuming that in the process you are going to lose things. There are traditional tales that are pedagogically reprehensible today. In Lolita , Nabokov does not write any erotic scenes, however it is the reader’s mind that produces them. The more fanatic one is, the more afraid one is of the different, of the other, of what he does not dare to know.
A character in his novel compares the educational system in Spain to a rugby ball. Whoever grabs it runs to take it to his area of interests, pursued by his opponents.
I have worked 24 years as a teacher and I am an absolute skeptic regarding the education laws in Spain. When I was a teacher, our maxim was: What works is not touched. Here every government that arrives wants to change education. Says CS Lewis: “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down forests but to irrigate deserts.” The educational reforms in Spain are of an administrative nature and thus there is no one who advances. Questioning that memory plays an essential role in the educational process is the biggest mistake that can be made. That is the way we are going.
And what is Google for?
Of course, knowledge is not only about storing data, but learning is closely linked to the exercise of memory. Memory is an instrument that allows the brain to create islands, safe places from which to expand your knowledge. Elias Canetti learned German, the language in which he wrote his main works, as a teenager, with the help of his mother who was reciting phrases that he learned by heart. Canetti added new words to these verbal islands and thus expanded his knowledge of the language. Eliminating rote learning is an incomprehensible catastrophe. This in Germany would never happen. Naturally an external memory like Google is very practical, but it creates a dependency and makes us more and more limited.
One in four fifteen-year-olds is unable to understand a fairly complex text.
It gives the chills, yeah.
“I DO NOT BELIEVE IN HAPPINESS BUT IN HAPPINESS, IN PLEASANT MOMENTS, IN AESTHETIC ACHIEVEMENTS THAT ARE MANIFESTED IN EVERYDAY LIFE”
His novel begins with a confession by the protagonist: “I am not going to delegate to nature the decision about the time when I will have to return the loaned atoms. I have planned to commit suicide within a year.” Do you think about death?
What worries me is the fact that you know when you are going to die. The novel is written as a countdown to the date of the protagonist’s announced death, in such a way that the reader becomes his murderer as he nears the end. One of the functions of culture is to learn to die well, to leave without hysteria and without clinging to fantasies. I accept the temporary condition of the human being, but not for that I despise life but rather I try to improve my own existence and that of others. There are others who lived before me and enrich my life: Baroja, Stevenson, Velázquez …They are an encouragement. They motivate me and I try to emulate them when I write. In what remains for me to live, I aspire to know, to read, to listen … I believe that learning should continue throughout life. Then I have moral principles based on empathy with the suffering of others. With this I will go to the end.
And the happiness?
I do not believe in happiness but in happiness, in pleasant moments, in aesthetic achievements that are manifested in everyday life. For example, this morning I was taking a walk along the Cuesta del Moyano. The weather was nice and there were few people. I have bought several books: seven from the Austral collection, Diary of a bourgeois writer, from Umbral , in Destino’s edition, Gabriel Miró’s Las cherries from the cemetery, in a Mexican edition … Those fifteen minutes have been especially happy. I have never believed in happiness as a horizon or as something fabulous that happens somewhere in the future. I believe in good food, good conversation, a good book, good news that my daughters tell me, seeing the sea again … I call that congratulations.
How does one learn to capture those happiness?
In the first place, my parents predisposed me to it. They were caring people, who shared what they had. My father had a very good mood. Since I was a child they took me on a positive path, which in theory frees you from resentment and other habits that make you unhappy. That already gives you serenity, one of the greatest achievements you can achieve. I aspire to live calmly with myself and with others. Whoever wants to sell great truths and cry out for fantastic utopias should do so, but please leave me alone.