Wednesday, April 10

Clara Obligado: “Borges was extremely boring” | Culture

Reading Clara Obligado is very different from being with her. His prose is so deep, digs so deeply into the recesses of memory and nature that one imagines a meditative, intimate being, almost an ascetic in full contemplation of the petals of a growing flower, far removed from the reality of life. Noisy Madrid terrace where we meet to chat. But it’s not like that. Close, smiling and talkative, this 72-year-old Argentine feels today as young as she could not feel when she fled the dictatorship and settled in Madrid. The queen of writing workshops, a disciple of Borges and recognized author, publishes All that grows (Foam Pages), a story of life and observation imbricated in nature.

Ask. Nature: can it be read like a book?

Answer. It is a good textbook and a great manual of wisdom because it holds up much more than we do. A ginkgo is ageless, but I am. It has no end of life, it does not expire, it continues to reproduce and the only way to end it is by killing it. We have a wrong anthropocentrism that does not serve to think well.

P. Flies however live 20 days. He says in his book.

R. I think they are resurrected (laughs). They are eternal.

P. Does what you left behind still hurt?

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R. The loss of a country is an amputation, like the death of parents. I am from Pampas and every time I see a straight line I get excited.

P. He also left behind his partner, a missing person whom he describes as “shrouded by algae.”

R. It was thrown from a plane, yes. In this book I move towards a thought in which death is integrated into the landscape because nature metabolizes even our mistakes. He was my partner and when I understood that they had thrown him into the river, into the estuary of the Río de la Plata, it was comforting. For me it is a very familiar river and to think that many missing people sleep there is a way of integrating it with nature that repairs me in some way.

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P. He arrived from Argentina and decided to give writing workshops when, as his editor says, there were only car workshops here.

R. I, like Don Juan, in castles and convents (laughs). I have given classes in prison, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, at the university, in different countries, for me it has been a gift. I do exactly what I like and I keep at it.

P. And who has surprised you the most? Prisoners or university students?

R. Is the same. If you awaken people’s amazement, literature sells itself because it is a great gift. I have worked with gypsy women who could not read and we made poems with palms and in the same way I taught in very complex universities and you find the same thing, which is astonishment. We are not that different.

P. And in the jail that he found?

R. Much pain, especially from women separated from their children. Very good people. I really want to read, the same as at the Circle of Fine Arts or at the University of Vienna. We all have our jail.

P. Can you learn to write?

R. You cannot teach yourself to be a writer. Being a writer is an anomaly that everyone carries with it. But to write, of course. I can teach you to read and read to you. That’s how far I go. Further, it is a problem for each one.

P. Millás often says that when someone tells him that he wants to try being a writer, he answers: you don’t tell a surgeon that.

R. Being a writer is not a good idea. Like all destinations that have something magical, it is very complex. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. I don’t push my students to be writers. If they want to be, I’ll accompany them, which is something else.

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P. And is it really a decision to become a writer?

R. At some point, yes, you have to change your life for a non-profit activity that demands everything from you. There are people who make a living from it, but it is 1 in 1,000. In general, you have to have a life that allows you to grant yourself a scholarship to be able to write.

P. What else do you give up as a writer?

R. To free time. I lack it. Literature is an uncontrolled possessive lover.

P. It says that we remember before naming. What do you remember?

R. I have an almost intrauterine memory, I remember myself looking at my feet or trying to walk. I didn’t have a happy childhood and I think you tend to remember a lot more than those with a happy childhood. Much of my literature comes from that area, from a preverbal area.

P. His mother had a motto: being able to be unhappy, why be happy.

R. I learned with her that there are people who like to be unhappy and you shouldn’t go against it. Is not my bussiness. Exile taught me to enjoy being alive. As long as I’m alive, I’ll be happy. It is a philosophical joy, I can be happy whatever happens.

P. She was a disciple of Borges. What did it teach you?

R. Most importantly, someone like him can be extremely boring on some serious levels. And to read on the bias. Borges gave me English literature and he did not play Shakespeare, Byron, which I took for granted, but De Quincey, Christopher Marlowe. But I could recite half a class to you in Anglo-Saxon and how could you interrupt Borges! We did not worship him. My generation was on the left and Borges on the right. Much of my generation has not read him. I don’t agree with him but he writes like the gods. It is good not to worship writers but to see them as people. The myth does not help.

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P. Do you have good writing friends?

R. Writers bore me many times. I always tell my students: try not to know them.

P. When she was young she felt old and today she was young.

R. Exile makes you old. We were old young when we arrived with life destroyed and a very important contact with death, which is typical of the old. We did not have youth, we were an annihilated generation. And today I feel very close to young people: in precariousness, life, feminism, drugs, sexual madness.

P. Has Madrid welcomed you well?

R. No, countries do not welcome. One does not arrive at the airport and one is found with a paella in one hand and an omelette in the other to greet you. If you are a rich Arab, Madrid welcomes you. But if you are an emigrant, Madrid does not welcome you. I love this city and I hate it too.

P. Why do you hate her?

R. I live in Sol and I am watching the city devastate. There are no neighbors in my building anymore, it’s all Airbnb; there are no more shops, they are all bars. You cannot sleep at night because the city has been given to drunks from all over the world.

That is why he flees when he can to Vera, in Cáceres, where one understands that he writes a little gem like Everything that grows.

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