Roberto Martínez Bachrich: Nos gusta quejarnos de la ausencia de Literatura / Eduardo Cobos

Roberto Martínez Bachrich: We like to complain about the absence of Literature

The poet, fiction writer and essayist doesn’t think there’s a boom going on in Venezuelan fiction or anything of the sort. “It’s simply one more chapter in a tradition that’s always been alive,” he affirms.

Photo by Williams Marrero

Martínez Bachrich (Valencia, 1977) is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. He was selected by the 2011 Guadalajara International Book Fair as one of the 25 Best Kept Secrets of Latin America. With his essay about the poet and novelist Antonia Palacios, Tiempo hendido, he received the prize for the Concurso Anual Transgenérico awarded by the Fundación para la Cultura Urbana. In this interview he talks about his recent short story collection, Las guerras íntimas (Caracas: Lugar Común, 2012).

Books have been fundamental for Roberto Martínez Bachrich in his life. He began to read from a very young age and with literary maturity it became a career, he graduated with a degree in Literature from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, got a Master’s in Creative Writing from in Turin, Italy under the auspices of Alessandro Baricco, and managed to complete another Master’s in Literary Studies, also at UCV.

With these tools for study and a stubborn university teaching practice, he has been able to study Venezuelan literature. And perhaps from that experience surges “a passion that might seem forced though it’s actually not.” In any case, he assures he doesn’t have a deep relationship with the fiction of Venezuelan writers. What has actually caught his attention have been particular aspects.

“Maybe I have an ample taste in that regard. I mean, I get excited about formal aspects of fiction, that aren’t related to me, with what I do. Things that I might not ever explore but which, being well-made, interest me as a reader. One can always gain something from what’s read, because each book demands a different pact. We like to complain about the absence of literature, and also about “literature that’s no good.” It’s a matter of how we look at ourselves. We judge half a century by two or three names, two or three works. And we don’t investigate further to see what else we might find. In the 19th century there were already, without a doubt, great writers, even during the Colonial era.”

As for new Venezuelan fiction, the cohort to which he belongs, he points out: “I’m not very up to date. For professional reasons I’ve been reading “old stuff” for years. What I’ve read by Salvador Fleján, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón, Carlos Ávila and Miguel Hidalgo Prince, among others, seems very good to me. But I don’t think it’s a boom or anything of the sort. It’s simply one more chapter in a tradition that’s always been alive.”

The Rewritten Version

It’s interesting that so many years passed between your last book of stories, Vulgar, and Las guerras íntimas.
The first version was ready in 2001. Some of the stories I wrote alongside Vulgar, except in another tone, with different themes. There were sixteen more or less short texts. It wasn’t published and I was able to revise them a great deal. I kept cutting sections. Meanwhile, I was writing other things. In the end, only five were left in this final version. And others I made until 2007.

Was there a maturation?
I suppose so. That distance, those years allow you to think a great deal, to rewrite and reorganize. And I think that, as they’d say, a more or less decent collection of short stories emerged. Something much more meditated, processed more slowly. There’s a deeper effort of rewriting that none of the other books had. Well, and that thing that if a story interests you and you rewrite it and it doesn’t convince you then maybe you throw it out. And you end up with the ones that produce in you a sensation that makes you think they work. Though I don’t know exactly when it happens. I read them and say “this works.”

When would you stop revising?
The reader inside you tells you: “This story’s ready.” If more years had passed, maybe it wouldn’t be this book anymore. But I feel less insecure with Las guerras íntimas. Precisely because of that extensive work of redefinition and rewriting. Maybe they’re not extraordinary stories. But I think, let’s say, that they’re ten stories with which I’m satisfied up to a certain point.

What would be the formal difference of Las guerras íntimas?
They’re stories that live on their own. Maybe a writer dedicated to his anecdote, without distracting himself as happened in the fiction within fiction of the previous books. Besides, there’s a change in self-awareness of the characters who think they’re literary or are a farce or a fiction. That, which was often in Vulgar, is now gone.

In any case, one perceives the constancy of your previous themes.
There are those who say one is always writing the same work. And if you look at these stories they’re also vulgar miscommunications, or the previous ones were already intimate wars. Because they’re battles in a closed environment, amidst a few characters. Very minor, domestic, private, intimate battles. And they revolve around family relationships that have come undone, fractured couples, crises at work, within friendships, of the heart, in the end.

The Disappearance of the Narrator

Does the need for expression reside in hiding the narrator?
It could be. Because how do you tell these stories, the one about a paranoid man who fears tables, the one about mythomaniacs who murder over the phone, the one about the ghost of a decapitated nurse, the one about a family that escapes a war, the one about painter who goes hunting and doesn’t come back, the one about the girl who goes from one boyfriend to the next within one circle of friends; how do you narrate these intimate wars while trying to not participate, letting the story live on its own. What can you do, as a narrator, so that will work. Maybe it’s to disappear.

There’s also evidence of different registers. For instance, the treatment of the atmosphere that’s present in “Aguas perdidas, aguas encontradas” and “Densidad de las mesas.”
Something about the work of the atmosphere, which I was obsessed with a while ago, must have remained there. And yet, they’re very different stories. “Aguas perdidas...” is a morose tale, with a situation that’s more tense than it is intense (but tension, Cortázar says, is another way of building intensity), which is the boy’s battle against death in the water. And that struggle between the character and the sea is seen by no one and no one cares about it. It becomes intimate again. But it’s reached by accumulating apparently unconnected situations that, nevertheless, are preparing that moment in the story: the final battle. While in the other story you mention, “Densidad...”, the rhythm is much faster. There are no detours. We follow the single narrative thread that goes straight toward consummation, toward tragedy.

Are you working on something else?
I’m writing new stories, but I’m not thinking about a book yet. What I’m working on needs a lot more before it can close. Things are emerging little by little, very slowly. I’m also writing quite a few essays. What I’ve definitely finished is poetry. But publishing poetry in this country has become very difficult: each day there are fewer publishing houses that might contemplate a collection of poetry. Poetry doesn’t sell, they say. An important reason, then, to listen to it and pay attention to it. A fortunate genre, poetry, that manages to escape and happily sidestep the market’s iron bars.

{ Eduardo Cobos, El Nacional, 28 April 2012 }

No comments: