Ednodio Quintero: “Ahora escribo sabiendo que no tiene importancia” / Pablo Bujalance

Ednodio Quintero: “Now I write knowing that it’s not important”

The publishing house Candaya continues with the publication of works by the Venezuelan writer with Ceremonias, a selection of his short stories that first appeared between 1974 and 1993.

A polite Ednodio Quintero (Las Mesitas, Trujillo state, Venezuela, 1947) answers the phone sitting in a plaza. The Spanish weather is too cold form him this time of year, but he exposes himself to the elements, despite having lost his voice, with Seneca-like stoicism. The writer has once again crossed the pond to present Ceremonias, a volume that gathers a selection of his short stories published between 1974 and 1993 (and which follows Combates, published in 2009 with a representation of his subsequent production of stories) with which the publishing house Candaya maintains its struggle against all odds to publish his work here in Spain. Ednodio Quintero is one of the most brilliant, surprising, rich and admirable writers of the Spanish language. His mastery has already been widely recognized in Venezuela and in much of Latin America, as well as France and other European territories. Spain still has quite a few debts to pay in regards to his work. If it’s up to us, this will change.

What’s left of the Ednodio Quintero who wrote the stories included in Ceremonias?

Nearly nothing. Keep in mind it includes stories that were written 44 years ago. And yet, I have to say that when I reread them now for this edition I was pleasantly surprised. The person who wrote them did it very well, and I’m happy to verify that he’s once again signing his books. I selected 45 stories from out of more than 70, with very personal criteria. And I’m satisfied.

The influence of Borges is more notorious than I’d perceived in Combates. Do you end up letting go of your teachers as time passes?

Yes, it’s true that Borges is very present in those stories. But Cortázar is there even more. One of the stories,“El paraíso perdido,” could be considered a rewriting of “The Island at Noon.” I realized that when I had already finished it, but I didn’t give it too much importance. You learn how to write the same way you learn how to speak, imitating your parents. Though later you might commit a necessary parricide. That’s what happened to me with Borges.

Pierre Michon was asked once who his literary father was and he responded Faulkner. When they replied that his writing has nothing to do with Faulkner, he answered: “That’s precisely why. He’s my father, and I don’t want to be like him.”

Yes. I could say the same thing about Kafka. Though he wouldn’t exactly be a father for me. Maybe a godfather, or a distant uncle who’s around. What happens is that after a certain age one thinks less about possible new influences. It ends up being harder to find a surprising read.

I remember in a previous interview we spoke about Becket, whom you met in paris, and when I read Ceremonias I found this direct quotation from the Irish writer: “Custom is the habit that chains the dog to his vomit.”

Beckett I do still have very present. Always. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about another phrase of his, which is fundamental for me: “When I wrote Molloy, and everything that came after that, everything I wrote was nonsense.” Each day I think more and more like that. Now I write knowing that it’s not important at all.

Is it perhaps a symptom of maturity? The first one to realize that was Socrates.

No, it has more to do with freedom. I’m still not sure what I’ll leave as an epitaph, but I really like the one Nikos Kazantzakis wrote, whom by the way I need to visit: “I don’t believe anything. I’m not waiting for anything. I’m free.” That’s what it’s about. Right now I’m sitting in a plaza, talking with a friend, it’s a little cold but I feel good. And that’s what matters. Literature occupies the second or first place in my scale of interests.

Has the label of the Boom weighed on Latin American writers of your generation, particularly for those who avoided it?

It’s never weighed on me. In fact, I continue to read the writers of the Boom. Maybe we’d have to think relatively about the importance it all had. Onetti, for example, was known in Spain not because of the Boom, but because he settled there and was very well received. They even gave him the Cervantes Prize, but before he came he practically didn’t exist, even though he’d already written his most well-known works. The Boom also contributed to the publication of other writers like Alejo Carpentier, but it was mostly a phenomenon associated with others from its era like the May of 1968, and just like that phenomenon it wasn’t able to sustain itself, no matter how many people imitated it long afterwards. But for a writer who has his own well-defined vocation, those things shouldn’t have much of an effect. Remember the case of Nestor Sánchez, the fabulous Argentine writer. Julio Cortázar intervened so that his work was published in France and four of his books were translated into French. But none of that was of any use: Nestor Sánchez died and today he continues to be unknown both in France and Spain.

Your short stories move between the most violent cruelty and the most moving tenderness. Have you reached a conclusion about what devil the human might be?

That’s a difficult question. What I try to do is make consciousness speak, to leave in writing a register of a determined experience of life, which is my own. In my work you’ll find people I’ve known, the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen.

And don’t you worry what your consciousness might say?

No, because I want to leave registered whatever I might say without any type of censorship. My idea of consciousness is different from that of St. Augustine, it’s more rational, it doesn’t worry about transcendence. I merely have a clear notion in this life.

You’ve published short stories and novels. Do you feel more indebted to one genre more than the other?

I stopped writing short stories in 1998. But I’ve continued writing novels since then. The last one was published this year. Now, however, I’m writing a piece of fiction that looks somewhat like a novel, but doesn’t quite manage to be one. I’m trying to overcome genres, to write without the work having to necessarily be tied to a label. What happens, of course, is that it’s always easier to write something under a given label. That simplifies things a great deal. Regardless, I don’t know how to write poetry.

And yet, is being a novelist your best way of being a poet?

I hope so.

How do you like the e-book and the new digital reading formats?

The tendency towards the generalized use of technology is inevitable. You can’t go against that. I don’t know how long the paper book will last, but the fact is that technology allows us to enjoy more freedom for writing, so it’s useless to try and impose a limit to that freedom. I read quite a bit of things that aren’t literature on the screen and for literature I prefer paper, undoubtedly, but I’m not orthodox about it. When I’m traveling with my luggage full of books and I see someone with their little screen I understand it perfectly, of course.

By the way, why are customs agents so suspicious in airports about a suitcase full of books?

There’s an explanation: the books have a form that’s too compact. They're suspicious. And besides, there are many illiterate people.

After Ceremonias, which of your books would you like to see published in Spain?

I don’t know. What I’m sure about is that I’ll continue with Candaya. The work they do seems to me to be quite an achievement, and of high quality. I don’t even have an agent, so everything comes out with them in a very natural manner. As for the rest, my task consists of writing. I don’t plan on conquering the Spanish market, nor the Chinese one. I just want to die with my boots on.

{ Pablo Bujalance, Málaga Hoy, 15 November 2013 }

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