Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Parrish Lantern’s Q & A With Andrés Neuman

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I first came across the name Andrés Neuman, via “Granta - The best Of Young Spanish Language Novelists”, and the short story After Helena, I later found out one of my favourite writers Roberto Bolano had said of Neuman that “He has a gift. No good reader will fail to perceive in these pages something that can only be found in great literature, that which is written by true poets. The literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and to a handful of his blood brothers”. This aroused my curiosity, so when I was offered by Pushkin Press the opportunity to not only read his first work, but to interview this wonderful writer, how could I not say yes.
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First a bit about the author, Andrés Neuman was born in Buenos Aires in 1977 and later moved to Granada (Spain). He has a degree in Spanish Philology from the University of Granada, where he also taught Latin American literature. He was also selected as one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists and was included in Hay Festival’s Bogotá 39 list. He has published numerous novels, short stories, essays & poetry collections and in 2002 he received the Hiperión Prize for Poetry for El tobogán, and Traveller of the Century won the Alfaguara Prize and the National Critics Prize in 2009.
Now over to the Q & A
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1) In one of the essays in Roberto Bolano's book, 'Between Parentheses', he has stated about you that “No good reader will fail to perceive in these pages something that can only be found in great literature, that which is written by true poets.” As a writer of poetry & fiction what comes first? Do you perceive yourself like Bolano, a poet who turned to fiction, or are you a novelist first?
I’m afraid I can only be under the expectations that such a quotation suggests. Let’s admit that from the beginning. Now, regarding poetry and fiction, they came more or less at the same time in my case, as two parallel ways of the same exploration. I think that the link between poetry and narrative can be tricky. On one hand, certain “poetical” novels can become just a nightmare for the reader, if by so we mean a book without a relatively strong plot nor good characters. But, on the other hand, all narrators that I admire have a certain level of poetry in their style, in their approach to language and images. So perhaps a balanced answer would be: poetry comes always first, as a general attitude of strangeness towards the language and of imagination itself; but, in order to work, a novel also needs some other tools which belong mainly to the narrative experience.

2) “Love as a metaphor of translation, translation as a metaphor of love” this statement brought to mind what Lawrence Durrell said about his tetralogy, The Alexandria Quartet “The four novels are an exploration of relativity and the notions of continuum and subject–object relation, with modern love as the subject.” Have you read this book and what did you mean by “love as a metaphor"?
I remember having loved Durrell’s project, though actually I didn’t read the four books. But yes, I do think that love can be an outstanding literary laboratory, since indoors (and in bed) we can intensively observe any conflict, including social or political ones. Regarding Traveller of the Century, the novel tells a love story between two translators, Sophie and Hans, who can’t stop translating everything: words, gestures, intentions, silences. In the beginning, they don’t know that the other is a translator too, but they connect through their obsessively translating approach to reality. They start to get more intimate, until they settle the routine of locking themselves in a bedroom in order to translate poems and fuck, fuck and translate poems (not a bad plan I think!). And they start to realize how similar can love and translation be. Loving someone implies putting the other person’s words into ours; struggling to completely understand them and (unavoidably) misunderstanding them; founding a common, fragile language. Whereas translating a text implies a deep desire towards it; a need of possessing it and cohabiting with it; and both (translator and translated one) end transformed.

3) Your Blog Microrréplicas, has been described as one of the best literary blogs in the Spanish language, how do you see the role of blogs in promoting works of literature and how do they compare with more traditional methods of promotion?
New (and free, it is democratic) ways of promotion are great, but I’m much more interested on the literary possibilities of blog and digital formats. I mean, blogs and others can be also daily writing experiments. They allow us to rethink the limits of what can or can’t be said (a friend of mine once told me: “the day I opened my blog, I felt that I had bought myself a whole newspaper”) and, even more excitingly, the inner limits of formal genres: very often I’m not sure if what I’ve posted is a column, a story, a mini essay, a prose poem. I consider my blog as a part of my literary work, neither below nor above the books. In fact, I don’t believe in the opposition between digital and traditional. What fascinates me is precisely the dialogue between both media. Internet is also a mine of memory (which includes all our analogical past) and an infinite machine of re-reading the tradition from a fresh point of view.

4) You worked as a teacher of Latin American literature; if you could choose just one book to teach, what would it be, and why?
Mmm, what a cruel choice indeed! Among the hundreds I could mention here, let’s choose a not too well known one. A wonderful and fun book of micro-fictions: Falsificaciones, by the Argentine narrator Marco Denevi. Pretty much in Monterroso’s or Arreola’s style, that’s a perfect example of how Latin American literature usually consists in enjoyably deforming worldwide icons and history. As Borges pointed out, an Argentine writer usually feels free to play with Western literary tradition, maybe because Argentina (and Latin America) belongs only peripherally to it.

5) I read an article on your favourite reads and noticed that, apart from the Spanish language books, there were French and English. If you are fluent in these languages, would you consider translating your own works and what does having others translate bring to the books?
I wish it was fluency, but I’m afraid it’s no more than curiosity. I do love foreign languages and I think they teach you a lot about your mother tongue. What is poetry about? Maybe it’s about looking at your mother tongue as it was a foreign one. That’s also why I enjoy so much translation. When I like an English text, for instance, I can’t help to imagine how it would sound in Spanish. But I would definitely not be able to translate my own work. And it wouldn’t be healthy either. A translation needs a someone else’s mind, an outside point of view which takes the book somewhere else. Translators have to suspect of every single word. So, when your book is being translated, you learn many unforeseen meanings on it. As if the author wasn’t you. That’s a little miracle.

6) Amongst the poetry you've written, I see there is a collection of Haikus, what was the idea behind this? I've searched, and beyond places like Poetry Wales, do you have any collections translated into English?
I’m really interested on how such an ancient tradition as haikus, seen from our nowadays perspective, seems suddenly so close to us: thinking through images, persecution of fugacity, extreme briefness, capacity of spreading. That small collection of haikus you mention (that’s quite unusual, thank you!) is titled Gotas negras, it is Black Drops. It was an attempt to write very contemporary haikus, transferring their context from the typical countryside landscapes (mountains, lakes, leaves, butterflies…) to a strongly urban space (avenues, bars, buses, buildings, cellar phones…). Trying always to keep, nevertheless, the tone, gaze and meter of classical haikus. And no, I’m afraid there aren’t much more English translations of my poems. Maybe some Japanese translator will do it someday!

7) One final short question, my knowledge of Spanish Language Poetry is quite sparse, if you could recommend one established poet & one up & coming one who would they be?
With pleasure. I’ve always admired Óscar Hahn, one of the greatest living Chilean poets along with Nicanor Parra (who is perhaps best known abroad). Regarding new ones, please allow me to mention at least three: the Argentine-Byelorussian Natalia Litvinova, the Spaniard Luis Muñoz and the Mexican Fabio Morábito. If you don’t like them, I will return you the money.

Thanks Andrés, since this interview I’ve finished Traveller of the Century, and will post on it soon. In the mean time, I have been trying to encapsulate this book for people who have expressed an interest – it says on the inside cover “ A novel of philosophy and love, politics and waltzes, history and the here and now”. So who is this book for, as it seems to encompass everything – Do you like Philosophy ✓, History✓, Politics✓, Romance ✓, Translation ✓, Poetry✓, In fact it would be harder to find a reader that would not find this a wonderful, fantastic and a totally absorbing read.
Here is some of the praise garnered by  Traveller of the Century.
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"A work of true beauty and scintillating intelligence by a writer of prodigious talents … books as stimulating, erudite and humane as this do not come along very often" —Richard Gwyn, Independent
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“[With Traveller of the Century] Neuman has achieved the dream of every novelist: the Total Novel, a venture accomplished only by major authors like Tolstoy, Musil, and Faulkner.” —Miguel García-Posada, Abc (Spain)
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“Neuman was singled out for praise by Roberto Bolaño and it’s easy to see why: like that late author, Neuman combines love and intrigue with serious intellectual engagement. A novel of ideas somewhere between Kafka’s The Castle and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Neuman’s English-language debut is a rich deconstruction of the competing currents of history, less a postmodernist pastiche than proof that modernism is still alive in the Spanish-speaking world.”Publishers Weekly
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“One of the best novels that I have read in a long time.” —Santos Sanz Villanueva,Mercurio (Spain)
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“A masterpiece . . . Neuman is not only brilliant news for Latin American literature, but for European literature as well.” —Maarten Steenmeijer, Volkskrant (Netherlands)
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“The work of a master of narrative art.” —José RiÇo Direitinho, Público (Portugal)
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“[Neuman’s] Wandernburg is as mobile and conceptual as a Calvino city, as metaphorical as a Borges country, as cheerful as García Márquez’s Macondo . . . Neuman, with Traveller of the Century, has multiplied the literary language and created a classic.” —Daria Galateria, La Repubblica (Italy)
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“There are moments here of exhilarating beauty [in Traveller of the Century] . . . Andrés Neuman writes about history and literature and the relation between them with an intelligence that his American contemporaries cannot match. His first book in English must not be his last.” —Michael Gorra, The New Republic

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Andrés Neuman (Official)
Andrés Neuman(Wiki)
Words Without Borders (A.N)

Granta Audio: Andrés Neuman

Traveller of the Century (The Parrish Lantern)

11 comments:

Tony said...

Some great questions, and I'm amazed at how thoroughly they were answered - many Q & As with writers are very short. Good on Andrés for giving the questions the thought they deserved :) I agree about the poetry/prose idea too - I like my prose to be poetic!

P.S. I was a bit late with mine - I hope he still gets to them ;)

geosi said...

Wonderful questions and responses.

Rise said...

Very perceptive questions. And like Tony, I love the detailed answers and the recommendations.

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi Tony, yes I was pleasantly surprised with the answers,as to the poetry/ prose question, it's one that fascinates me, I've asked several poets/writers which way they see themselves & they answers do vary on which comes first.

Thank you Geosi.

Thanks Rise, wasn't sure whether to wave the translation flag a bit more, but in the end my love of poetry won through.

stujallen said...

wonderful questions and I m loving book so pleased I didn't ask any questions mine not be as good ,all the best stu

Parrish Lantern said...

Thanks Stu, the books good isn't it & I'm sure you'd have found some translation points to mention.

James said...

Thanks for the great questions for this interesting author. I got the book the day it was released in the US and I'm already enjoying it.

Violet said...

I'm intrigued by what he says about the translation process. I wish could read books in their original languages, because I'm sure translation alters something fundamental about texts. Sometimes a translation just works and I don't notice that "other voice", but too often I can feel the intrusion, the rendering of " this" into "that" and I know I'm missing out on something. It's hard to explain...

gina said...

Great interview, Gary.

Jacqui (@jacquiwine) said...

Thanks for tweeting the link to this interview. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What terrific questions and such enlightening answers from Andres, particularly his thoughts on the connections between translation and love. I've just finished 'Traveller' and will be pressing it into the hands of friends for months to come. I hope we get the opportunity to read a lot more of his work.

Parrish Lantern said...

Thanks Jacqui, it was amazing the degree to which he answered my questions. Especially as I recall being nervous about what to ask when I set them but he answered them thoroughly which I will always respect him for.