Borgesland: An Interview With Susana Medina
“What has interested me most is that with the Internet people have access to one’s work immediately, I love the immediacy of it. On the other hand, I can put work in English, Spanish, essays, etc. If I publish in England, I can’t publish work in Spanish, if I publish in Spain I can’t publish work in English. I can share a world that would not fit in a conventional publication. Also, digital printing can help artistic independence because it makes it flexible and it lowers the price of production.”
By Ruben H and Monica Bergos
3:AM: In the poem ‘To Return to Iceland’ in Souvenirs from the Accident (2004), the reader can make out your intimate relation with Jorge Luis Borges, the author with whom, in a way, you have shared the last few years during the elaboration of your doctoral thesis.
SM: There is this poem where Borges said: ‘I did not know how to be happy’. Borges speaks about his life and in particular, his emotional life. His emotional life was disastrous. I read this poem when I was quite young. It led me to a rather early choice. To say, well, on the one hand there is writing, and on the other, there is life. And I want to live! Nevertheless life itself has somehow led me to reconcile myself with that imaginary world in which Borges took refuge, an imaginary world that transcends and transforms reality. ‘Blindness is not darkness, but another form of solitude’ said Borges. I believe that Borges, with whose work I have indeed shared a few years of my life, did not find happiness in his relationships with the opposite sex, although he absolutely found literary happiness. That type of happiness exists. It is something rather personal, but I suppose that I wrote that poem when I became profoundly deaf after an illness that lasted three years, during which I didn’t know what was going to happen. ‘To Return to Iceland’ arose from that experience.
3:AM: To return to Souvenirs from the Accident, in ‘Poem 66’, a horrifying and historical poem that transports us to that rancid atmosphere of Franco’s Spain, you speak of a Spanish Lolita that commits suicide?
SM: Lolita commits suicide, yes. Here we bring in the subject of ‘political correctness’. From a ‘politically correct’ feminist point of view, Lolita would be read as woman battered by circumstances who hasn’t been strong enough to survive. But that’s life. Suddenly someone can’t bear things any more and commits suicide. Is that politically correct? The case is that it happens.
3:AM: On some occasions, you have talked about writing as ‘an energy, as pulse, as rebellion’. What do you mean by this?
SM: Not necessarily rebellion in the political sense. A literary work might produce an effect that has to do with magic, with something that communicates forms that are not completely conscious. Like music, in a way. How is music translated? Can you speak about sociological music? That’s why I mentioned writing as pulse, that is to say, words can produce pleasure in an almost bodily way and this is an aesthetic pleasure that has to do with sound, with images, with how writing flows. I believe that energy in itself can be rebellious in the sense that there are types of energy that are not promoted. For example, formal experiments. As a young reader, when I read I never asked myself whether my favourite writers sold a lot of books or not. In his time, Borges hardly sold any books and later on an entire industry has been built around Borges. These are paradoxes of the market. It all echoes a brutal mercantile system.
3:AM: That ‘brutal system’ of the market of which you speak, does it evolve nowadays positively or negatively?
SM: It’s a rather complex subject. With the appearance of the Internet the truth is that I am very excited. Because people can put there whatever they want, so a very different hierarchy is created from the one concocted by the mass media or the mammoth publishing groups.
3:AM: Then, you feel comfortable in cyberspace?
SM: Yes, absolutely! What has interested me most is that with the Internet people have access to one’s work immediately, I love the immediacy of it. On the other hand, I can put work in English, Spanish, essays, etc. If I publish in England, I can’t publish work in Spanish, if I publish in Spain I can’t publish work in English. I can share a world that would not fit in a conventional publication. Also, digital printing can help artistic independence because it makes it flexible and it lowers the price of production. In this respect, I am thinking of re-editing Red Tales in digital printing.
3:AM: The subject of language often appears in conferences and interviews by Susana Medina.
SM: For me, living here, in England and writing for so long in Spanish has been problematic, since many people I knew simply could not read my work. And the Spanish people I used to know, didn’t read all that much, whilst English people who read, could only read in their own language. Now that has changed. To start writing in English has helped me to be in touch with people who are here and can read me in English.
3:AM: It could be said that transgression is very present in your work. How has your literary trajectory evolved around that concept?
SM: Well, I began in a rather transgressive way, because what interested me was a series of things that could not be said, could not be done, that don’t come out for economic reasons. Mainly I was interested in how they are said. Why can I not use this form, and why can I not experiment at a formal level if I want to? That phase appears in Chunks of One, Red Tales, Souvenirs of the Accident and Philosophical Toys and it is a way of saying what isn’t normally said.
3:AM: Let’s speak about your current projects. Slumberville is a novel that you have been writing for a long time and it seems that you want to continue with it.
SM: Slumberville is about dreams. It is most challenging to write about dreams, they are highly private affairs and they are ungraspable. I have transformed this into a kind of town or geographic zone. Dreams interest me very much, since they can even challenge your daily integrity. Actually Slumberville is written in Spanish although the title is in English. It’s forever unfinished. I have spent many years changing it, introducing modifications and I love it because it has rather amusing bits, rather strange, that I’d like to keep.
3:AM: This aspect of dreams, connects in a way with surrealism and the surrealism of Bunuel, another one of your artistic references.
SM: The surrealist movement is a movement circumscribed to a certain time and it doesn’t have the monopoly on dreams or irrational reality, which have always existed, before and after surrealism. What interests me in Bunuel is that he explores a series of themes that are not usually explored, or were not explored at his time. I have worked on the examples of fetishism in Bunuel. In a way, Philosophical Toys has a connection to this. It deals with our strange relation with objects. We like them but simultaneously we are critical of them. Humans create objects, therefore objects frequently have a strong human component. For example, that clock (she points at an old clock embedded in a box with two half-open doors, which is in a shelf next to where we are speaking), that clock is caught in a box as if on the verge of coming out, but it doesn’t come out because it’s trapped. It freezes an instant, because a second later it could be coming out… it’s like an egg about to hatch (…) My generation has a weakness for toys, for tiny things. I have many friends who buy toys for themselves and are forty years old. This generates in me an ambivalent reaction: on the one hand, I think that it’s positive to keep childhood within oneself and not to become too serious, something that seems sad to me… I believe that it’s important to keep a relationship with your inner fool, with childishness, with something pure. On the other hand, consumerism exploits this weakness. You might think that to be puerile is something subversive, but at the same time consumerism even encourages a type of infantile mentality. In short, you think that you have decided freely, that you want to be puerile so that a part of you doesn’t die, but those that sell products have decided that they are going to promote that attitude, precisely because thanks to you and others who have made that ‘subversive’ decision, a range of products now sells… (laughter).
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Susana Medina is a writer. Born in Hampshire, England of a Spanish father and a German mother of Czech origin, she grew up in Valencia and has resided in London since 1989, the city which has both inspired and nourished her, and where she has developed most of her literary work. With a tremendously restless vision, a writing which relentlessly traverses the borders between genres and styles, an omnipresent lucidity and an overwhelming honesty, Medina defines her literary work with a powerful assertion which presides over the entrance of her website: ‘Coherence is often confused with homogeneity. To be coherent, art should shoot in all directions.’ Susana Medina has written and published poetry, a novel, stories, essays and a cinematographic script. She has obtained numerous awards, amongst which the Max Aub International Short Story Prize must be highlighted. A doctoral thesis on Jorge Luis Borges, which has become a book — Borgesland — and the re-editing of Philosophical Toys — her first novel in English on the special relationship of Medina and Bunuel to objects-, have plunged the author into a phase of intellectual hyperactivity.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 20th, 2006.