Julio Cortazar and Latin America:
"We must fight against chauvinism"
His deep and nasal voice answers the phone, without intermediaries, just by lifting the receiver. Cortázar . His voice is serious, as is my image of him, where he is always forty years old; impossible to imagine him older (yet his biographers say he was born in 1914). He tells me he wants to see the magazine before agreeing to an interview.
Neither he nor we know what happened, but the magazines we left at the hotel never reached his hands. It's just as well: he suggests meeting at Central Park, at the opening of the First International Conference on Exile and Latin American Solidarity in the 70s, in which he has participated.
And there he was, drawing attention, even unwittingly: he was the tallest of all those present. And there he was, with his long accustomed copper beard and mustache, with the seriousness he displays in newspapers and magazines, and yet with a charm never imagined. There he was, Cortázar. A human like you and I, yes, with two eyes, a mouth, two hands, strengths, weaknesses, desires, longings.
The interview took place in a corner of the Anauco Hilton Hotel. Present were one of the magazine's editors, Jorge Madrazo, photographer Eduardo Gamondés and four or five of the writer's admirers, secretly (or not) immersed in the conversation.
He spoke slowly, warmly and his clear eyes scanned ours as his words opened in the center of our minds, remaining there long after spoken.
And he remained with us when night came and found us in different places. As an invisible presence wished for, always present since that first meeting.
ABOUT LITERATURE AND POLITICS
"Well, of course it bothers me to be required to give political opinions more than literary opinions, because I am a literary animal. Just as the French often refer to someone as a thinking animal or a philosophical animal, I am a literary animal. I was born to literature and slowly assumed this ideological commitment that you've heard of. That was the end of a very slow, very difficult and sometimes very painful process.
Since my true vocation is literature, there are moments when the political circumstances – the need to come to this Conference, to write articles with political content, to attack the Argentinian or Chilean Junta, to deal with cases of the missing, dead, tortured, or to answer some of the enormous correspondence I get, because people think that I can always say something helpful – well, there are times – I admit it because it's true – I become greatly discouraged. I say, "Well, am I ever going to be able to write a novel?" My ideal would be to have a year or two of tranquility, to write a novel that's been spinning in my head for a long time. That's why I'm becoming more of a short story writer, because those you can write on the plane, at home, on the street ... "
EXILE EVEN CAME TO FRANCE
"I've lived outside Argentina for twenty eight years, but I never considered myself an exile until the Videla coup. I never considered myself an exile, because for me exile is a compulsive thing, and I lived in France because I wanted to. Because it is a country that I like, where I feel good and where was doing my writing without difficulties or problems. And suddenly, starting with the military coup, I realized that I had become a true exile. That is, now I have the feelings that all exiles have, where negative thoughts are very strong, they weigh heavily. That led me first to reflect on the problem of exile. That's when I realized that if I or any other exile turns into the stereotype of negative thinking, that of someone who is smothered by exile, we are giving the winning card to the dictatorship that exiled us. Then I thought about the issue in no uncertain terms: it's crazy, it's illogical, it can not be scientifically applied, but instead of moving forward, I reversed, reverted the motion and understood exile in positive terms. I said it in Paris and made many people smile: I said now that Videla has exiled me, it's like he's given me a grant to write outside of Argentina. And my best to answer that exile is to give the most that I can give as a writer, and that's what I'm trying to do.
But for the exile who arrives completely broken, whether because he himself has suffered, even physically, before he could leave or because around him there is a lot of dead, disappeared, tortured, he can not be asked to begin his life in exile with a smile, saying "this is fine." No, because it's horribly wrong. For every man and woman who have kept their mind, it comes time to think about the new life that is beginning, it is at that moment that I urge to not fall into stereotypes and say "I am a victim, I am an exile, I have been unjustly thrown out of my country" which gradually lead to bitterness, and to an overwhelming nostalgia, I urge them to – after the first traumatic shock is over – to again feel a like a full man or woman. "
SOUTH PAREDON and then ...
"Yes, because what is the good of the nostalgia of five Argentine getting together, grilling meat, drinking mate, listening to Susana Rinaldi , Mercedes Sosa or Gardel (according to taste) and indulging in nostalgia for a past that we want to revive? I do too, but that does not stop me the next day from waking up in Paris, and getting in touch with a lot of people who are not Argentine and carrying out my work.
So it is a matter that is subtle, it is not very simple and clear, not all people are equally equipped in their mental or intellectual level. And a blue collar worker who is more limited culturally because of his status – because he wasn't able to study – that man is really the one who is most at risk in exile. If a worker has to live in Sweden, just the language problem is kind of a death threat. And that's where nostalgia, Gardel, your memories and your photos become the only defense. And I think all of us can do a lot through publications, events, meetings, to make them feel they are not alone".
"What for me is and has been traumatic, is a phenomenon in which not everyone thinks, and in the case of an exiled artist it's fundamental. It's what I would call cultural exile: it's terrible when you realize that in your own country there is a barrier of censorship that means, for example, that I can not publish more books in Argentina. Then the realization – and this is frightening for me – I'm in exile, but on the other hand, in my country, there are 26 million exiles in relation to us. I am separated from my readers, but my readers are separated from me: my last book of stories in Argentina could not get published because there were two stories that angered the Junta. And this is not just a personal matter: there are 150 magnificent Uruguayan, Chilean and Argentine writers that cannot be published in our country.
In Chile, starting on September 11, 1973 , a young generation was taken by the Junta and enrolled in fascist schools run by the military. Six years have passed and they have lived the critical age (between 12 and 18) under that regime, thousands and thousands of children and Chilean girls who, right now, believe in the Junta, believe the in the national security state, believe that all of us are traitors. They believe that Chile is a country unjustly attacked and threatened. It's not their fault, poor things, because in six years they have become the same thing that Hitler did with the Hitler Youth, or Mussolini with the "balillas". Well, that is for me one of the most frightening things, and we can do nothing, intellectually. Because here I can tell you this, but no one will listen in Argentina, nobody will read it, you can publish it but unless someone carries it in their pocket, no one can read it there. "
THE WRITER AND HIS COMMITMENT TO THE REVOLUTION
"I keep an open mind regarding writers' work. I think there may be pure writers who don't introduce any political message in what they do. I think that's possible, and that their work could be revolutionary if it is a creative work, which renews, that's beautiful work. All that I demand in such cases is that the person making pure literature show in their personal conduct that they are not escapists. That if he does not include politics in his work, it is only because his vocation is -for example- to write a sonnet in which politics have no place. But he has to prove it in his conduct, in his personal responsibility, that he is bound to write those sonnets.
Look, I have so much fun in writing pure literature ... Next year I'll publish a book, which I'm finishing, where there are one or two stories with political content, all the others are tales of fantasy. And I think I have the right to write them, because my readers know who I am. So why should I feel compelled to put politics in everything I write? My literature, then, would be very bad, I am well aware of this. Not every man is born for action, not every man – how do I say it? – has the physical skills to be involved in action. Not every man is born to be a soldier of the revolution. There can be a man of interior life, a shy character, which leads him to write a work that sings exclusively to the revolution. But I do not think you can demand an active militancy from everyone."
VIETNAM AND THE MANAGEMENT OF INFORMATION BY IMPERIALISM
"I think it's positive to denounce human rights violations which occur in socialist countries, if there's certainty of what is being denounced. Because, when it comes to violation of human rights in those countries I, in principle, I examine very carefully the record, because I know very well how information coming from imperialism changes and modifies things.
I do not forget that, for example, following the last stage of the Nicaraguan revolution in the Herald Tribune in Paris, you could find a discussion of how the Yankees prepared the American reader to be against victory (of the revolution). They spoke of the tyrant Somoza as the dictator, but when they spoke of the advancing (revolutionary) columns, it read "Marxist columns.” Every eight or nine paragraphs they let loose that word, so the good lady in Minnesota or Detroit would say: "My God, the Communists." So, when it comes to Vietnam, I am waiting to see García Márquez, who was there doing a survey, for him to tell me things. I do not trust press releases. But when in Russia and the other countries of the socialist orbit there are flagrant violations of human rights, I speak up."
A UNITED LATIN AMERICA: reality or utopia?
"I'll say it in a sentimental way, almost like Ruben Dario : in my heart, Latin America exists as a unit. I am Argentine of course (and happy to be), but I'm mainly Latin American. I am at home in any country of Latin America, I feel local differences, but those are differences within the union. That's on a personal level. In geopolitical terms, the disastrous policy of divide and conquer, is one that the Americans have applied for so long. Promoting nationalism and rivalries between countries to better dominate them, destroying Bolivar's dream of the "United States of South America" and encouraging the creation of different countries, proud, self-confident, and ready to make war for reasons that do not stand up to serious analysis; that is a reality.
And I think one of the major duties of the political left, of revolutionary writers, is to try by every means to fight this chauvinism, which makes an Argentine child in school learn that he is much better than a Chilean or Paraguayan child. Indeed, in my previous visit I spoke with everyday Venezuelans and their idea about Colombians, their contempt, hatred, terrified me. The same, of course, occurs in the reverse case. It is proof that divide and conquer works, that the Yankees continue promoting it as it suits them and local dictatorships are happy to help them."
THEN HE SPOKE ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH
"A day in my life is always a beautiful thing, because I am very happy to be alive. I have no intention of dying, I have the impression that I am immortal. I know I'm not, but the idea of death does not bother me, nor does it scare me. I deny its existence, so that helps me to live in a way ... how do I put it? Under the sun, sunny.
I am very glad to be alive, and there is a thing that few people think of: It is a wonderful miracle that we all are human beings, that we are in the top of the zoological scale, by purely genetic chance. Because you did not choose who you are. We come from a very long genetic chain and when I see a chicken or a fly also born of the same genetic chain, I marvel at being a man and not a chicken. I am a man, with all the good and bad that means. And I'm glad I have had a conscience, seeing with it as much as a conscience can see of the planet. And I won't say more to you."
He uttered those word after more than half an hour with us, telling us anecdotes and smiling, sometimes like a child. Yes, he is a human being like you and me, to speak he needs to move the mouth in the same way as you and I do. But he is Julio Cortazar .
© Viviana Marcela Iriart
Caracas, September 1979.
Published in November 1979
Semana magazine, Caracas
© Photos Eduardo Gamondés
Translation:©Julio Emilio Moliné