On what to do on the borderline: A dialogue with Jorge Eduardo Benavides

With: Juan Pablo Torres Muñiz
 
Writing as a craft is something very different from habit, obsession or a simple exercise with a certain goal, e.g., catharsis (no matter the fact that nowadays everything can be published). It achieves the category of art in fulfilling a call for communication, distinguising itself from mere recording, information transfer or mnemonic tool in that it postulates a new, complete reality, reaffirming it in each new work. This reality faces other people’s one, their hints and sketches, their voids, questioning their motives and reasons. It implies taking sides. This happens frequently not so much in the assertions, but in the forms of expression adopted in the language, making clear the way of thinking, the mechanisms chosen by the intelect. It leads to T. S. Eliot dictum about everyone’s own syntax.
We’re talking about conscience and also of the result of a paradoxical stand, which implies more than a theory of structural arrengement. Every creator must surrender him/herself, with total attention, so that what finally distinguishes him/her would be the manifestation of his/her own elocuence, a revelation of the conscience, the subconscious and the unconscious, exposed as a remote, complex and changing prism.
To talk to Jorge Eduardo Benavides is an ideal occasion for glimpsing and learning more about all this, and specially as regards the novel. His cordial testimony goes beyond the field of literature. His manners reveal a wider mind. And a special charm.
 
 

In fact, I don’t know how a story would surge. Sometimes, it’s a comment, a little idea seized in the moment, rarely an image. Rather, it’s the stories themselves that catch my attention, stories that have been told, or casually heard or read in the newspaper or in a book. For example, my book El enigma del convento is a narrative ocurring in the Saint Catherine Monastery of Arequipa, and the idea of the book took form during a walking tour I made there. Suddenly, in the midst of this tour, in a place known to me from other previous visits as a toutist, the notion appeared of a story ocurring in a monastery. This notion had such a force that I had to to put aside what I was writing at that moment in order to pursue this new nuns’ tale… and from there, a mere sketch, surged a story that I discovered gradually, as I was putting it in words.
 
In this way comes into life this other reality we were talking about…
 
 
On the matter of language…
 
It´s at the same time a tool, a subject and also a problem. It must work for, and adequate itself to the plot, it should be at the service of the plot and not the other way, which is always a risk for all of us that give great importance to language. I’m very punctilious in this respect, because I think that without a proper language novels simple cannot work. This is the difference between typists and writers doing literature. And often here is a confusion. The success of a story, it’s good to say it, depends on how it is told and not on what is being told. Words, as Victor Klemperer said (though in other context), are like small doses of arsenic: only in the end its effects can be noticed. This notion implies a great responsability for the writer and that he knows where the elements subyacent to the novel’s architecture are leading to.
 
Indeed, we employ language in order to get closer, but in doing this we give life to a body which, in last term, becomes an impassable borderline. Always a means: not the goal.
Sometimes, a deep question must be addressed, defying time –with the employ of verbs, for example– openig the door to totally new experiences: without the development of a plot, but notwithstanding generating perdurable sensations. This is the case of poetry (which, of course, lies also beyond the verses).
 
 
Anyway, memory steps in, and also the small stories, even the History, and the very personal experiences, too.
 
It’s hard to say which proportion of each element should take part in a novel. Sometimes it’s memory, as a dormant element, that mingles with the plot I’m working in. Our perception is a delicate filter and other elements transit and linger in it, as things we’ve read and which accompany the creative process of a novel. But, naturally, all this is an analysis made after the act of writing, which in my opinion has highly intuituve components…
 
 
On the other hand, I think that in every epoch a portion of the literary mass dissolves into frivolity. Genres in themselves are not trivial, nor trascendent. This difference comes from the writer’s approach. G. Eliot’s “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists”, for example, is a fierce criticism of the trivialization found in some novels of her time that became parodies of literature. Even today this happens, of course, and there’s also the difference between mere entertainment and the literature that questions, investigates, formulates proposals. For example, Mémoires d’Hadrien or G. Vidal’s Creation are novels that could be classified as historical fiction, but others have barely some kind of rigour, no to speak of narrative vigor. Literature is always at risk of trivialization, but not only as a consequence of frivolous approaches, but also of the presumption and excesive academiscism with which some writers face their work. Sincerily, the sacralization of literature is as damaging as its trivialization.
 
Both phenomena drain literature of its propositional character. Of the possibility of delivering that which matters. They have to do with making literature the occasion for a personal rethorical shine. Who gains with literature as an empty advertisment (the best kind of advertising, by the way)? This is curious. Lacan asserts: “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think”… This is the territory of true writers…
Undoubtedly, there must be writers that have influence the way you face your work, because of their own process of creation, and bacause of other reasons…
 
There are many influences in my work. From the Latinamerican “Boom” authors to modern Spanish authors like Muñoz Molina or Luis Matero Diez or the English writers that inspire them. But I’m skeptical on this subject. When someone asks writers about their influences, we answer mentioning authors that we desire have been our inspiration, and not the authors which truly have influenced our work. This is a labor destined to readers or critics. This happens because a writer’s education comes not only from the books she/he has directly read, but also in a indirect way, from other works which are present in the former ones. A young writer which has not read The Iliad can be influenced by it if she/he has read, for example, the main books of García Márquez.
 
Once the text is delivered, the true fruitful event happens between the text and the reader…
 
 
In my opinion, the only plausible dialogue is that with the reader. But dialoguing with the reader is not the same as discursive intertextuality. The first is much more inestable, but also richer, because here we cannot register the scope and the effects of it. Each novel is a message in a bottle and the writer does not know its final destination, and can only hope that the story will arrive, will be received without much distortion, and that it will produce the desired effect in the anonymous reader, with whom he won’t ne able to argue about. The second appeals fictitiously to a reader, conditioning him/her, considering him/her as a sort of autorictas, a socially legitimized reader, able to deliver an opinion. This is rather a reader-critic, whose opinion may be interesting, but who cannot be the first recipient.
 
There’re also other languages to read…
 
I don´t think that other arts have influenced my work, or al least not in a evident manner. Painting and music, for example, are esthetic pleasures and sources of a knowledge which lingers in a personal record, from where it can surface in my work.
 
It’s clear the way in which the personal viewpoint of the author transcends, beyond technique, beyond all the conscious resources, and escape from her/him through their own work. Bellow commented, when asked on the writers and their types, that it’s not reasonable to consult a fish on ichthiology. Thus, the mistery of the work´s process is offered to us… Questions do surge… With a novelist…
 
On the genesis of each novel; more yet, on the technical aspects of it… For me, this is the most entertaining and reflexive part. Maybe, it has to do with the fact that I assist novelists in their work, and this is a job that allows me to look at the creative process from the very beginning to the end. A novel, ultimately, depends a lot on technique and a deployment of resources, even though the reader will not identify them.
 
 
Where are we going now…
 
I like to investigate different subjects and to tackle a text in distinct ways. That’s the reason why I’ve writen a political novel, a novel in the form of a journal, a novel on the subject of love and travels, a crime novel, a historical novel. Currently I’m working in a novel that has to do with the issues of identity and the past. Its location is Lima.
 
A new proposal, a new message in the bottle. Notwithstanding the fact that often the castways are those who search in libraries… 
 
 
(English translation by Roberto Zeballos Rebaza)
 
 

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