El sol después
Interview to Liliana Heer by Vujica Ognjenovic
Serbian version published in the Literary Supplement of daily Vijesti
Montenegro, April 26, 2011
Translation from Spanish into English by Macarena Cordiviola and Gert De Saedeleer
V. O. What was the challenge to write the novel El sol después?
L.H. The challenge was to manage consecutive and simultaneous levels, to explore in the characters the layers of time in constant transformation, to make the reader aware of a vast becoming present thanks to the montage of the scenes. The second sentence of the novel is a key defining the tonal structure: “Scarce details, just frames that make possible verbal passages: instant emotion”. I wanted to make the macro coexist in the micro: the resonance of a society affected by war and the multiple faces of love.
V.O. One of the themes of your novel is the illusion of love. What is your opinion on this?
L.H. From my point of view, the most complex aspect of love is the power to resist an intimate boycott. Love is known to have a logic similar to war: it appropriates at an excessive cost what belongs only irrationally to it, denying the consequences of that violence. Well, in this novel Nicole and Jota* are facing the innumerable twists and turns of their feelings. There is neither will nor lack of will, the protagonists go from one extreme to the other: dialogue-silence, motion-stillness, devotion-escapism. They reveal a flashing memory and changing impressions triggered by partial cover-ups. The sensitive flows until it absorbs the daily routine while their interaction alerts, shocks, smashes the predictable.
*Jota in Spanish stands for the letter J.
V.O. Your novel has an unusual layout. What can you say about it?
L.H. I wrote El sol después as if it were a composition. In music every sound is an independent unit. In prose, as in poetry, occurs something similar: the words, the descriptions, the dialogues, the voices are all instrumental variations. Therefore, the importance of the interruptions and the need of constructing a sieve that allows game instead of blind obedience. The idea was to manipulate the words of our Argentine language as if it were alien. I bore in mind that in the Serbian language don’t exist any articles and that both nouns and adjectives decline, which means using less prepositions and thus generating a greater condensation of images and tones.
V.O. In this novel you are quoting verses of the song Blues for my former love by White Button/Bijelo dugme: “I will never go back/ To my hometown/ No one is waiting for me there/ And all faces are long gone from my memory/ And their names are long gone too...”
L.H. The lyrics of the song are repeated by Nicole who left behind her past without knowing it. The protagonist's mother is a disappeared Argentine guerilla; Nicole grew up considering it quite normal that kids have one mother and several fathers. She was ignorant of her reality: the fact that her mother’s friends were taking care of her as if they were one large family.
This excerpt of the song by Goran Bregović seemed ideally to me as it is a metaphor of what’s been lost beyond the man-woman relationship. The song continues but I preferred to exclude the paragraph concerning the topic of love: “Only at times, in winter/ I remember you/ You, my former love/ Some old sentiments/ Something whispers in my heart and I know/ That I’m all alone in this world”*.
*Translation of the song into English according to:
V.O. One of the main themes of your novel is the complex issue of identity. Why is this such an important issue in today’s modern world? Or is it a theme of all times?
L.H. Maybe more in today’s world than in other decades, identity is an ever changing concept, which means it can be approached from various points of view. In Argentina during the year 2010, same-sex marriage was signed into law. This means sexual identity can be chosen and this choice is respected with its according legal rights. Something similar happens to the protagonist of El sol después when he meets Nicole. Jota choses to be no longer an engineer, carreer he adopted in his early youth after the death of his friend who used to play the drums. Jota decides to get out of his seclusion, to live his affections: he chooses to feel again.
V.O. Nicole and Jota travel to Serbia where most of the novel happens. Can you explain what attracted you to place the action in the Balkans?
L.H. No other setting could have hosted the protagonists in such a complete way as the Serbian setting has. Two devastated souls and their work in progress. The old Yugoslavia: a country that has gone through various metamorphoses and has been able to survive uncountable changes, exposed both to internal conflicts and to the mercy of violent international interventions. Nicole and Jota travell to Serbia -borderland with Bosnia-, they live on a barge, they are witnesses of the war’s consequences in society. There is intertextuality with Ivo Andric’s novel The Bridge on the Drina and with Peter Handke’s essay A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia.
V.O. Your novel has an expressive and poetic style. How do you develop your own style of writing? Do you have any literary role models?
L.H. I remember a book by Gérard Pommier, named L’exeption féminine (the female exception). The author refers to the Open that would be beyond any generic conventions, an affection attentive to sound and to its plasticity, a creation that privileges the craftwork of empty space, the abyss.
I conceive a book as a libertarian prison, as a kind of “no-place” that appeals, expels, invites to lose oneself and transforms: “But where danger is, grows / The saving power also”, wrote Hölderlin. That’s to say, beyond a strictly referential sense, I prefer certain authors who undermine rigid concepts and expose the reader to the tension of contradictions. These readings are my chosen roots. Readings that are permeable and beyond the guarantee of common sense. Books by authors who choose the bareness of language, their Promethean impulse, the “uncreated conscience of my race” as Joyce defined it, that passion longing to be awakened and to reveal its immediacy; authors who are hesitating, self-critical, wary of inspiration, in charge of a voluntary servitude.
V.O. What can you tell us about contemporary literature in Argentina?
L.H. It’s a vast topic as every month many books of several genres are being published in Argentina: novel, short story, poetry, essay. Generally speaking, it exists a tendency towards autobiographical fiction with different pursuits: from the private diary to the construction of universes that bring together global and national political episodes, for instance the novel El mañana (The future) by Luisa Valenzuela. Last year, for the celebration of the Bicentenary of Argentine Independence, some classical works have been re-edited and several comprehensive anthologies -for instance 200 años de Poesía Argentina (200 years of Argentine poetry) by Jorge Monteleone, the author of the afterword in El sol después- have been published.
Personally, I feel part of those writers who find a way of telling the impossible. Borges, of course, Antonio Di Benedetto, Libertad Demitrópulos and her novels that are marked by the desire of maintaining alive the polyphonic language of the Argentines.
V.O. Have you stayed in the former Yugoslavia and what impressions have you experienced?
L.H. I was in Yugoslavia twice, in 1997 and 1998, taking part in the International Writers' Meeting in Belgrade. I noticed the great interest people have in learning about Argentine literature, similar to the interest we have in authors from the different Balkan provinces. I remember that, in 1998, novelists and poets from twenty-six countries took part in the Meeting and it was focused on two subjects: The writer in the multicultural world and Continuance of Serbian Culture. The last topic referred to the eight centuries of existence of the Hilander Monastery and the centenary of the poet Desanka Maksimovic. Those days were unforgettable, under the threat of a NATO bombing against strategic Serbian military zones. I remember that, a few days before the Meeting, Belgrade had suffered the consequences of a terrible earthquake. It was during the night. Everybody thought the bombings had started. Every single person had the chance of knowing how he would react. From that moment on, the expectation of horror increased and did not diminish till a 96 hour truce was declared on Monday 9th of October. Years of suffering, mourning, separation from families, friends, habits and cities, bans and a severe economic crisis gave the Yugoslavian citizens a Dantesque training: to keep waiting, the worst threshold.
Sharing a moment of great risk opens the circuit of devotion, the paradoxical feeling of a distant intimacy, that minimal intact territory the word preserves: as if the little act of talking, reading, evoking, sharing something from the universal aesthetic heritage -ideally indestructible- changed fate.
The Meeting took place not only in Belgrade but also in other cities. I had the opportunity to read my texts in Vajevo, Novi Sad, Smederevo -where Peter Handke was given the Silver Key- and to travell to Montenegro where I read
V.O. You are a renown psychoanalyst. Considering psychoanalysis as a method seeking to grasp the unconscious meaning of human behaviour, to what extend has your knowledge as a psychoanalyst enriched you as a writer?
L.H. As a reader I always have been interested in books that break with the traditional, predictable and well-known forms. Psychoanalysis is a profession that teaches to read in between the lines, it doesn’t seek to adapt patients to the establishment. Beyond the norms, psychoanalysis works with the patient's desire and his ways of jouissance. Knowing how to handle one’s own form of jouir is one of the best ways to boost one’s subjectivity. Psychoanalysis and literature came together inside of me. I’m going to tell a little about my past: my attraction towards psychoanalysis is a response to an early necessity. I started to study driven by an inquiring eagerness to understand the keys that control the human way of operating. The aim was to discover the motives to lose reason and the struggle for regaining it. I wanted to investigate the contradictions between public and private scene, behind the scenes of violence, authoritarianism, arbitrariness and intolerance that an individual harbours. In one word: gain access to the maze of pathos. I tend to believe that if one persists in what he desires, at some stage the desire seems to come true. Psychoanalysis and literature are two practices destined to deal with uneasiness, what’s more, it’s about knowing how to deal with the death drive, that hard core we all possess, completely alien to the concept of progress.
V.O. Since psychoanalysis is intended to have a better knowledge of the human psyche, do you use it to create the characters in your novels and, if so, to what extent?
L.H. I started reading Lacan in the seventies as I needed to write a long text in which I formalized the hymns of the Odyssey. I still retain those years' atmosphere: the harsh times in Argentina and the new perspective that writing meant to me. Writing as a way of survival. I would like to emphasize the benefits the combination of psychoanalysis with literature has given me: the possibility of understanding the complex mental structure and the logic of sublimation. For the last thirty years, due to a special empathy with subjectivity, I have been creating a gallery of unprejudiced and captivating characters, closer to what is tended to be hidden than to the formal imperatives.
V.O. Every successful artist, especially a writer, is somehow a psychoanalyst. Your book confirms that this is very useful to you. During the process of writing, do you make use of psychoanalysis spontaneously?
L.H. From my first book with short stories Dejarse Llevar until my recently published novel Hamlet & Hamlet, I have always dealt with certain subjects: death, insanity, incest, betrayal and its consequences, crime, variations of evilness. I have always implemented procedures, expressions, techniques and artifices from cinema, theatre, music, painting. For a psychoanalyst who writes, it’s easy to assign the most private anecdotes to fiction.What has been experienced ought to be domesticated because, if it ends up being an autobiographical striptease, it might turn out to be interesting only to a private circle; I’m referring to the risk of losing the literary value. It requires complicities to take one’s share of his own belongings: “Candles, candles” writes Joyce in the only text he didn’t publish during his lifetime: Giacomo.
V.O. In psychoanalysis, the patient has to tell his life story without hesitation as it wells up from his memory. What are the confessions of today's common man about? What bothers him most? What is he searching for?
L.H. In today’s world maybe more than in other times, the possibility to be listened to has diminished notoriously because of the great amount of activities carried out daily, the pressure to fulfil demands, the urge to undertake challenges and to be updated with politics and arts at the same time. The psychoanalyst is one of the few professionals who is willing to listen without the compulsion to intervene with his own subjectivity. Who else would listen to complaints, protests, suffering, conflicts, obsessions, dreams without expressing opinions, comparing, suggesting, that is without identifying himself with what he’s hearing?
Regarding the motives for consultation, there are many but they could be classified around two main structures: hysterical neurosis and obsessive neurosis. With different disguises, dissatisfaction and the sensation of impossibility persist inside individuals.
V.O. Nowadays almost everyone needs a shrink or psychoanalyst. However, that seems to be more the case for people from urban areas than from rural areas. Why?
L.H. It’s difficult for me to answer that question without making sociological speculations. However, I’m going to risk the following hypothesis: in rural areas, the stereotypes tend to become naturalized, people are usually identified with a role or aspect that often coincides with a physical defect or a feature of character. I don’t believe there’s less suffering than in urban areas, maybe there is both less consciousness and less possibility to get access to psychological treatment. As new health centres for psychological problems are being opened, the attendance grows. In Argentina, probably more than in other countries, the need to incorporate psychologists and specialist in different types of behavioural pathologies into educational, medical and juridical teams has expanded.
V.O. Your last novel Hamlet & Hamlet has recently been published, can you tell us briefly about it?
L.H. My last novel Hamlet & Hamlet is the settling of scores between a son and his father. It takes place in Elsinor in the XXI century. The nine chapters have been illustrated by Miguel Rep -a renown Argentine artist. The plot evokes the different versions inspired by Shakespeare over the years. Also, the profiles of the characters -Claudius, Ophelia, Gertrude, Yorick, Horatio, etc- are portrayed in greater depth. Their bonds have been modernised, the tension between the characters and a different version of “The Mouse Trap”-play inside the play- create new lines of interpretation emphasizing the absolute contemporaneity of Hamlet. Regarding the style, I desired to write a kind of kaleidoscopic novel in which theatre, cinema, painting, psychoanalysis and philosophy all come together without rivalry. I found in Hamlet a turn of the screw to break with literary conventions.