A conversation with Antonio Sáez
Regarding Al norte la montaña, al sur el lago, al oeste el camino, al este el río [The mountain to the north, the lake to the south, the road to the west, the river to the east]: Oriental culture plays a very important role in your book, maybe even more than the concept of space. What is your experience with this culture?
In Japan, I found a culture that has become classic, and spoke out in an ideal way, although that culture is already dead nowadays. However, I didn’t notice that death. Beauty wipes off the question over if it exists in a living or dead space. We only have a culture in the guise of museum, in its widest sense, whereas in Japan we were constantly stumbling upon it, in a dish, in a garden, in somebody’s movements on the street. It is about a meeting, and this meeting hurts us, and that has aesthetic consequences. The words a European person can use to write about that preserve that pain.
Which is the importance of aesthetics in that context?
In my work there doesn’t exist such a compact culture or cultural structure. My encounter with Japanese culture amazed me, because it became clear that they don’t limit themselves to aestheticise life, which they also do, but they do something else: they keep the original plenitude of aesthetic manifestations and thus create an aesthetic existence which includes the sacred. And in that existence, all features of human space that are affected by Japanese culture of the imperial age are also sacred.
Reading your book produces, at times, the final feeling of silence, of arriving to an unfathomable place for the reader, where words run the risk of being too many. From this perspective, to which extent do the ideas of “paradise” and “silence” look alike, from your point of view? Do they keep any relation?
It is true that words become unnecessary in paradise, so it is clear that I don’t have a place in paradise. I can only attain what a man–and his readers–can attain with words, or with the utmost effort he makes with words. The language I use demands silence and sound at the same time. Perhaps the silence that sometimes took control over you was your own silence, the one you perceived while reading my book, a silence allowing for thinking, or in better words, for abandoning oneself to thought or to an unusual feeling. In other words, this book gives you the opportunity to abandon yourself to what is to come.
For a Spanish-speaking reader, it is difficult to read this novel and not remind Borges, though in a nuanced way, without all the literary background of that author, who doesn’t appear with that intensity in the novel. Has it been a conscious reference in this book?
There is no book written from Borges that isn’t imbued in his spirit to a higher or lower extent; or otherwise it wouldn’t be worth writing it. Borges is always present.
Another underlying subject in the book is the concept of “tradition”, and the possible differences of that concept in the Oriental and Occidental worlds. Can you go further in that idea?
Europe has been articulated against tradition, whereas Far East culture, and especially Japan’s, has been expressed according to that tradition. However, we have to use this word in two senses: in Europe tradition is a burden that crushes new movements, whereas in Japan tradition implies the enduring keeping and practice on and infinite beauty.
Melancolía de la resistencia [The Melancholy of Resistens] has something of Kafka and Beckett. What is the function of the diagnosis of power that is developed in the novel? And what is the role of irony?
In this book, power doesn’t bear the elements related to the trascendental meaning of power; it only refers to human being’s limited will, with which they pretend to dominate their context. Irony is the natural state of the spirit in the face of that stupid aggression that any kind of dictatorship is. In the novel, the presence of irony also points to what extent that power, the desire for it and its consecution is pathetic, limited and hopeless, particularly if it is compared with the infinite force going well beyond all what human beings imagine as regards land.
After your visit to Extremadura, how does your vision of this land fit into your works’s “worldview”? What social or cultural aspects have called your attention?
First of all, the fact that Extremadura remained intact for so long, its nature’s freedom, had a great impact on me. I observed the fact of the historic disappearance of misery, and I was logically glad that it had disappeared, but at the same time, I was overcome with a blurred feeling of anguish, when I asked myself how would the population keep its current dignity. I still could discover all what is for me human value in some sentence, in a gaze, in the inhabitants’ relation with culture of yesteryear. At the same time, I noticed a common worry when talking to people, the worry of “what is in store for us in this world which, though lacking moral instances, works as if it were perfectly greased, but in a devilish way”. That is exactly what worries the characters in my works.
You told us you were coming to Extremadura with the aim of building (or rebuilding) an idea that came up with an Internet search, where you found a text about the extermination of the last Extremaduran wolf. This subject unites a contemporary and, we could argue, eco-literary perspective with the underlying resistance to Extremaduran rural world. Can you tell us something about the symbolic meaning of this idea and the text?
That’s correct, before travelling to Extremadura I found a text, or rather a piece of news, saying that Extremadura had get rid of the last wolf. I wasn’t looking for cheap or romantic symbols, but a historic way by which I could express my shock. Because wherever I went in Extremadura, I was shocked. I was shocked by the idea of that dry and scorching air that makes life impossible for long months. I was impressed by the past of that human attitude, with which the inhabitants responded and keep responding to the fact that life had barely offered, and barely offers, natural resources. Accordingly, the text I’ve written about the base of my visit doesn’t meander into the factual world of reality, for I’m not a journalist. Extremadura gave the land for writing. Its air, its atmosphere. The same happened with the story I knew here, which was elaborated by me, passing through the sieve of my imagination and became a literary work. I can’t say anything about the symbolical and allegorical meaning, because it allows for no translation, explanation or conceptual development of what it means. It is symbolic in order to irradiate, with the eternal force inherent to all symbols, knowledge of the land, of man: about his defeat and grandeur.