Transcript

A talk with Luisa Etxenike

Luisa Etxenike
podcast@latrobe.edu.au

Audio

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 16.1MB].

iTunes

Visit this channel at La Trobe on iTunesU.

Transcript

Lilit Thwaites:
Well, we’re very privileged and very fortunate to have visiting us here at La Trobe today Luisa Etxenike, a Basque writer from Spain, and someone who has already received many awards and recognition for her novels and her collections of short stories. She also finds time to write opinion pieces on a weekly basis for the Basque Region version of El País, the national paper, and runs all sorts of creative writing workshops, organises sessions with visiting writers on an annual basis in San Sebastián and is generally very active in promoting cultural events generally, and writing in particular. So, welcome Luisa.
Luisa Etxenike:
Thank you, Lilit. I have to say that it’s really a privilege for me, being here today, with you and I have to thank you and thank the La Trobe (Spanish) Program for this opportunity.
Lilit Thwaites:
So, if we could perhaps just start the conversation by asking you a little bit more about Luisa, the person, and where you feel that you fit in in the environment of Spain at the moment, both as a regional situation and as a member of the European community.
Luisa Etxenike:
Well, Ezra Pound said that reading was the art of reply. I think writing is the art of reply too and being a citizen is, in a way, but an art of replication and an art of contestation, a permanent contestation. In a sense I would say that I identify myself with someone who puts question marks in many, many places. In my country, in my world.
Lilit Thwaites:
Could we go back to your early years and when you had a sense perhaps that you might end up being a writer or working with words generally.
Luisa Etxenike:
Well, I think the fact of being a writer, the first step in this career, or in this activity, was my very early contact with two different cultures. And two different languages. So my mother language is Spanish, I was born in the north of Spain, in the Basque country. I had also very early contact with Euskara, the Basque language, but I attended a French school. So in a very particular period of Spanish history, because I was a child under the Franco dictatorship. So I was educated in freedom, surrounded by a dictatorship. So I think that the confidence, or the power of ideas, the power of words, not only to change the world, which seems easy, because everybody wants to change the world, but to do this much more difficult thing – that is, to change ourselves, inside, I think this confidence started at that moment in my childhood. So I was a very constant reader since my very, very early age. So I think that this is the conflict in a sense, between cultures or ideas, and on the other hand, this conflict leads to options, leads to opportunities, leads to a constant interrogation and that, I think, is the fertile land for writing and for culture.
Lilit Thwaites:
One of the things that in a sense highlighted and brought it home to you from a very early age was reading two versions of the same events.
Luisa Etxenike:
Yes, because we had history books in French and history books in Spanish, obviously, saying different things. Different versions of the same facts. So I very early understood therefore, that you always have a duty in your life, is taking a position, making an option, so more important to decide what is the truth, is to decide in what side of things you want to be. This idea also of versions, I think, is a definition of what a story is, because to start telling one thing needs first to decide through what point of view you have to tell things. So I think that my personal, political, moral reflection, has always, or very easily and very quickly to me, been represented also by a formal or literary option. But of course I published my first book when I was in my late twenties, but I think everything was very early in me, sort of preparation, a seed, of this writing, was very, very early in me.
Lilit Thwaites:
And the first literature that you formally studied then was not in fact Spanish literature so much as French literature?
Luisa Etxenike:
Yes.
Lilit Thwaites:
You have also translated French and you continue to translate French literature. Did that influence you in your own writing?
Luisa Etxenike:
It’s difficult for me to talk about French literature or Spanish or English. I don’t think in general terms, just authors. For me, the discovery of Flaubert was not a determinant, or Marguerite Duras, for example, or other authors also. But also Fauna (?no idea, Matt; certainly sounds like “fauna”, and I can’t think of any author whose name souns anything like this), or Garcia Márquez, or Vargas Llosa or Juan Rulfo or Luis Martin-Santos, an excellent Spanish writer, also from San Sebastián. So I think the influence was, of certain authors have had a very strong influence on me from French culture. I would say that the intellectual attitude and also the formalistic concerns, so in this sense I think my literature, not my literary language, because I’m more connected to Spanish, and I would say in a sense, even more with English, this speed, this capacity of rebellion that English has, or Spanish has, that French has not, because French is a more structured, or more … French accepts the rules more easily than English or than Spanish, but I think my intellectual attitude has been absolutely informed and influenced by French culture.
Lilit Thwaites:
You mentioned the word, rebel, rebellion, in there, and in your early twenties you had studied law by that stage, you had qualified, and you went to Central America for a period, and that again was incredibly influential for you.
Luisa Etxenike:
Yes, I think I started my writing, my literary writing, I think for two reasons. The first one was obviously a rebellion against social conditions. What I found there was something that changed completely the idea of the world I had before, because I live in Europe, because I live in a small city, in a sort of little bourgeois milieu and this social system, so unfair, so cruel, in many ways, changed my mind completely. So I thought that I had to answer to this, in a way, and for me a way of reply, of presenting and representing a contestation, was literature, because I think that literature is always proposed, the antipodes of justice or dictatorship, or censorship etc. But to write, you have to own literary skills also, you have to know very well the material part of the thing. You have to decide, in a way, the voice of your writing, the sound of your words, and the revelation came through the accent – in this country they speak Spanish, but with different music. So there, for the first time, I had the thought, very simple, very silly in a way, that I could use and change the music of my language. So in a way, I started to think about tone, about style, about different voices, dialects, etc. etc. My career started in Guatemala and I started to write my first book, which got a literary award in Spain. I was published quite easily and then my career started.
Lilit Thwaites:
If we could talk then now briefly about Luisa, the writer. Certainly with the works of yours that I’ve read, a number of key ideas, themes, words, spring to mind – responsibility, silence, in contrast to that, the power of words. Would you like to just talk a little bit about some of those aspects?
Luisa Etxenike:
Well, I think I learnt to start with fear. I think the biggest, the hardest, the strongest enemy of human happiness is fear. So in my literature, I want to be of the antipodes, to fight against fear is a main and principal concern. The antipodes of fear is the possibility of happiness. Because fear is also a very lonely feeling. It’s extremely difficult to communicate. The impossibility to communicate is an equivalent of loneliness. So I try in my books to think about this, to make question marks on it, and give the possibility of an answer, of a solution, of a remedy. I think that we live in an over-saturation of messages, words, images; and instead of being better informed, more aware of things, we are under-informed, and more and more indifferent to things, because too much words means cacophony. Too much images means banalisation. So silence is a way of giving room to words, to have their resonance, they need place, they need room to express their sense. So for me, my literary writing, or the literary style I prefer is just few words surrounded by silence, like strings in a guitar, need the box, only the case, only the resonance case to make the sound audible. And responsibility – well, we have been too long, for a long time, accepting that art can only have very fertile relationship with market, ad market, with money, or with narcissism. I think it’s time, because our world is not easy, to think that a new form of engagement is possible and necessary in art. I’m not talking about the old version of engaged art. I don’t think a novel for example, has to be a loudspeaker for an ideology. But I think that in a novel we can represent that we are concerned by reality and also prefer a form of solidarity with human suffering. So in a way I prefer – I don’t think it is a duty – but for me it is a responsibility to prefer visions that are not indifferent, that do not place the reader as voyeur of human suffering, or visual representations that don’t place ourself in the obscene position of a simple spectator.
Lilit Thwaites:
Two of the other fairly common threads in your work are violence, and I suppose you could call it gender issues of one sort or another. I mean, interestingly a lot of these things that we’re talking about somehow as we’re talking about it, highlight the fact that in many ways your characters and presumably, your reader, in reading, go through a process of self-examination if you like, or transformation, hopefully. They’re all linked in that way, but the violence and the gender issues are often intimately linked.
Luisa Etxenike:
Yes. Well I am very, very worried about the fact that violence against women in many countries, including mine, don’t provoke in society, I think, a very, very strong reaction. I think it is necessary to represent violence against women, for example, in a very pertinent, impressive and expressive way. So I use my interrogations and my literary knowledge to try to find the way, and also I think it’s important to represent gender in a way that could be useful in the future. Sometimes we write for the past. I think we always have to write for the future. This in Spanish is not very easy, because gender is very marked in Spanish, I have already written several short stories and also a novel using this technique of a rebel gender. So when you don’t know if this character is a woman or a man, you can’t use stereotypes as an alibi for accepting in one case things, but not in the other case etc. A way to fight also against stereotypes, who are in many ways, criminal, I mean in a little way, criminal, I think is very important. That’s why not only gender issues but I would say different representations of gender issues is extremely important for me. Concerning violence, it’s the same. I live in the Basque country. Unfortunately for the last thirty years we have been suffering terrorist violence. So I am obviously particularly concerned and aware of the consequences of violence on people, on happiness, on future, on morality. My writing often talks about violence and also because violence is dark, beginning, for a transformation. At the end my characters are freer or stronger to fight against this darkness of violence. One of the most unacceptable things for me is the fact that someone or something could hurt us in a way that this print remains on us all our lives. I can’t accept that. I think it must be possible for a human being to have the opportunity of surprise, happiness, discovery, for a white page, always white pages, empty pages to write happiness, to write surprise, to write discovery of life. So that’s why violence, for example, or violent people can make the first sentence of my books, but not the last sentence.
Lilit Thwaites:
And I think your most recent novel, which won a prize, is a perfect example of many of those, because at the end you are left with the feeling that the main characters, despite the horrendous situation they’re in, have turned things around, things can start to change for them.
Luisa Etxenike:
Among all human feelings, I think that hope is the most related or the best related to the human condition. And the one that most precisely explains what life means in substance, but also in form, the process of life is the territory for hope. That’s why my books often end with this possibility of hope, of transformation, of overcoming suffering. In Spanish we say “la esperanza es lo último que se pierde” [the last thing we lose is hope] but I don’t want this to be a cliché. I want this to be real. I want to represent it as real, possible, literal in my books.
Lilit Thwaites:
A perfect note to end on. Thank you very much, Luisa.
Luisa Etxenike:
Thank you, Lilit.


No results found. Try searching again:

Search for ...

Find an expert

Search our experts database.