Today joining us is María Negroni.
Poet, essayist, novelist, translator and collage professor. Welcome to the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin.
Thank you. In your literature we find multiple times the word “isla” (island), also the name given to the literary festival, here at the Instituto Cervantes
where you participate actively. What does this word tell you? What’s behind the word “isla”? Well… the word “isla” is almost a synonym for poetry. Because an island in general, or at least when you picture it, suggests land surrounded by water, an isolated land. Is-olated, has the same beginning as “isla” (or island). And this suggests a virgin territory, with plenty of possibilities, empty. An island can also be like a body, we could even say that people are
actually like islands, surrounded by death. On that space that’s say, isolated, it’s possible to create different worlds. An island is the miniature of a continent. And that miniature is like a poem, small. It’s like a small universe, but open to endless possibilities. And that’s for me an island, even one of my first books is called “Islandia”, (in Spanish) the land of the island, like Disneyland is the land of Disney, right? The country of the island. I wrote it a long time ago and I could say that it was a journey. A trip, like a tribute to Borges, who loved Icelandic literature. However, in my case, I somehow mixed that tribute to Icelandic fairies with the trip of a contemporary woman to another island, Manhattan. Related to this, you mentioned before, is the principle of the feminine side in poetry and fantasy novels. What’s the actual importance? Well… It would take a while to answer that.
I suppose. But long story short, we could say that fantastic literature is like gothic literature, from which fantasy comes from. And in poetry, there is a principle of insubordination against rational thinking, bright, luminous, from reason and order. Then, in my opinion, in those genres, just like in poetry, we could say there is some sort of emergence from underneath. From a principle that comes to erode and corrode. To the principle of light. And that could be summarised by saying that it is desire. And the desire as an insubordinate principle is, for me, feminine. If you look closely to the best fantasy or gothic novels, every time, what is underneath, what hides in crypts, and below the surface, has something to do with the feminine side of the story. With the night, the body or the desire basically. The same thing happens with poetry. That’s why
poetry is so important because that’s where words gain their biggest anti-authoritarian role. Related to this, with the
role of the gothic, Do you think that it is still there? Well, in the state of the art of Latin-American literature and that authors still rely on it. Of course, obviously not like they wrote it in the XVIII century in English but it is still there because the desire and the night and what escapes to the world of reason will never cease to exist. Therefore it just keeps changing into new faces and expressions. The Latin-American Fantastic of the XX century comes straight from the English Goth. Straight from the English Goth, you say… I have a book called “La galería fantástica” where I try to prove this premise. Just like we can see in the film, the neo-gothic. There are loads of… I could even say that it is present in the North American Film noir from the XX century. Don’t forget that
American directors that did film noir are the German expressionists that were escaping the Nazi government and re-created themselves in Hollywood. Gothic, however, is very present amongst other faces and names. But it is still there. Whenever you write, do you do it from your experience or from things you don’t know, by looking at the unknown? I’ve always thought that Poetry is some sort of epistemology of the unknown. I mean to write you need to focus on what you do not know. As the English critic, George Steiner, says: The beauty is the breaking, the breaking of the known and conventional. Meaning that if you are going to repeat something that you already know, no aesthetic-effect would be produced. However it will be produced with the questions without their answers. That’s when the writing comes from the unknown. And the work of the poet or poetess is to go into the retail of the unknown because
you can always go further. You can always, like Beckett would say, fail better. Fail again, fail better.
That’s it. What is paradise for a poet? And something a bit more personal too, what’s your paradise as a poet? The first thing that comes to mind is to say that the paradise would be a library. Because books, in my opinion, are like dialogues from other books written by other authors. It is like talking to other souls. Therefore, a library would be the perfect place for a poet. I think it would also be the perfect place for me because well… I think that writing and reading are pretty much the same thing. I would even say that the literary “career” of the reader, is the most difficult literary career. Know how to read. Then I would say that, maybe I shouldn’t, but I am perfectly happy with just books. No, in fact it’s perfect. Ok, to finish off, you have been living in the United States in New York, for a while now. Is there any sign of the New York life in any of your work? Or maybe you think that it has influenced you in a special or particular way? It has had a great impact on me actually. I arrived in 1985. There are 2 phases. With a phase in Buenos Aires in between them. Obviously New York blew my mind. It’s a city I spent ten years discovering and exploring. I was absolutely amazed and captivated by the city. During the first decade, when I was a student, New York was different, and so was I. Nowadays I find the city less interesting than it was back in the 80’s. It’s a city that, as they say, has been “gentrified”. Now it’s a richer and cleaner city. I liked it better when it was dirtier, more abysmal. That’s the word, abysmal. It also happens that before it was a vast city, with a great deal of cultural activity and always something to do and little by little after you discover all those things, even though you still enjoy them, some of the charm is gone. Maybe. But also the city has changed… Now it’s a more homogeneous city, very rich, like a shopping mall, a department store… It’s like a very rich shop. Before it had like more…Even the districts where artists moved around, now they’re gone. They all moved to Brooklyn. And now Brooklyn is like the new Manhattan. And now I find it less interesting But it is a city that has given me a lot and I would experience all over again. Besides it is the subject that is being discussed in the festival. Leaving a place, going somewhere else, moving to another place… It has been key for me as it allowed me to take an unmarked position towards my own environment, the Argentinian environment. This gave me great freedom. I think that in Argentina I’m an unclassifiable writer. I always move around like escaping from genres. And that is something that gave me… It kind of qualified me, the city. It is extremely important. You have a certain liberty as well. That’s for sure. And I don’t think that I would have had it if I had stayed in Buenos Aires. So, yeah. Very well. Thank you very much again for this interview and we’re glad to have you here.
Thank you and everyone and many thanks to the Instituto Cervantes. Ok. Thank you.