Saturday, February 24

Hernn Daz: “Philanthropy is a form of moral greed”


The Argentine writer presents ‘Fortuna’, a choral novel about loneliness where four texts by different authors are interspersed that complement and contradict each other

The writer Hern Díaz.Javier Barbancho

He was born in Argentina, grew up in Sweden and was educated between Buenos Aires, London and New York, where he arrived 25 years ago to do a doctorate in comparative literature and attend Jacques Derrida’s seminars. Today, cured of the virus of theory and the “intentional obscurity” of academic writing, Hernn Diaz (1973) lives in Brooklyn, is a professor at Columbia and directs the Revista Hispánica Moderna of the Hispanic Institute, the former Institute of Spain founded at the New York university 103 years ago. And he is also a successful writer in his favorite language of creation, which is English. With his first novel, In the distancepublished in Spain by Impedimenta, was a Pulitzer finalist in 2018. now presents Fortune (Anagram), received in the United States as one of the best books of 2022.

Yeah In the distance was a western primitive in a territory yet to be adjudicated, without cows or cowboys or guns, Fortune It comes close to another North American founding myth, that of great financial capitalism, deployed in that city made of money called New York before and after the crack of 29. “Seeing both novels together it is evident that there is a continuity of interests, examining certain American stereotypesbut there is no plan.

It all started with an emotional texture, and in both cases it was loneliness”, explains Díaz, vigorous and cordial despite the jet lagged, at his hotel in Madrid. “I wrote my thesis on isolation in modern literature, and it’s a subject that continues to interest me. We are all deeply alone and at the same time trying to touch the world and touch others. That constant attempt to communicate, to be part of something that it’s not us, it’s a form of intimate and silent epic that moves me. I find it miraculous and tragic… And I’m sorry if that was a bit intense”, he rushes to apologize.

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The two leading figures of Fortune -Andrew Bevel, the stolid heir to a dynasty of financiers, and Mildred, prodigy daughter of a down-to-earth Albany family- represent two particular ways of loneliness that reconcile and complement each other in a singular marriage. Of their affective and power relationship, Fortune gives up to four successive versions, written by four different authors: a novel inspired by both; the rebuttal story of that novel commissioned by Arthur Bevel to a young and talented secretary after the death of his wife; the version of the secretary, who has become a prestigious writer over the years; and the diary of the last days of Mildred’s life.

Four texts that overlap, complement each other and contradict each other and whose differentiated author the writer has rigorously considered. To the point that, to make sure you erase all traces of your own writingwrote four different style manuals, with specific instructions that when the time came he shared with the translators of the work: in the Spanish case, the also writer Javier Calvo.

“I wanted to erase my presence and for each of these fictitious voices to be as credible as possible,” he justifies. An unusual exercise among today’s writers. “For a few years now we have been experiencing a confessional turn in fiction, with the first person in the foreground. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but in terms of the presence of the self I am at a diametrically opposite pole,” she clarifies.

Daz claims in Fortune the role of women, traditionally absent or subsidiary in the narratives of great fortunes: “I wanted to examine that absence and question the myth of the self made manwhich is always a man.” And in his clinical exposition of the relentless mechanisms of finance capitalism, a implicit questioning of the North American philanthropic model.

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Patronage has a long history, but in more contemporary times philanthropy is a form of moral greed. Once you have satisfied all your other appetites, that you have accumulated all the wealth you wantedthe last luxury good to buy is a good conscience. It seems suspicious to me, although paradoxically I have benefited from it. This same novel has been written with the help of various foundations. But it would make me much happier if these people, instead of choosing their projects for their own vanity, paid their taxes like everyone else, and there was a more equitable system of redistribution.”

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