Mario Bellatin is in a league of his own. In fact, I’m not sure he’s even playing the same sport as most of his contemporaries. Experimenting with the limits of narrative and form and spearheading “The Dynamic School for Writers,” which aspires to blur the line between writing and other forms of art, Bellatin pushes literature closer to the brink with every line he writes. And it’s good on him, as they say.
He is a writer best considered in terms of his body of work as a whole, which I hope to do in a later post. For now, I thought the best introduction would be one in the author’s own words. The interview that follows was filmed in Brazil after the release of the Portuguese translation of Flores [sp] earlier this year. It’s in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles, but I’ve provided a bit of a guide below.
1) The interview begins with Bellatin recounting the creation of Flores (2001), a novel composed of vignettes about science, genetic manipulation, and broken bodies. Taking advantage of a writers’ retreat, Bellatin set out to pare down a vast collection of disparate texts, searching for the common thread that united them. He often talks about his work in this way: as one prolonged act of writing, rather than a series of independent publications.
2) In this section, Bellatin describes his creative process as the construction of eloquent silences, which he compares to the ruins left behind after war. This silence, he claims, is not a void, but a trace. Elsewhere, the author has referred to this process of stripping down his own prose – in a wry allusion to the Japanese art form – as his “no” method: no rhetorical figures, no poetic language.
3) Here Bellatin discusses a government program in which he participated in Mexico. In exchange for financial support, writers are expected promote literature in less developed areas of the country. Instead of giving a lecture, which is the traditional format for the engagement, the author opted to form workshops, in which each group of 15 would complete an entire book within 20 hours. This approach aligns with the philosophy behind Bellatin’s own school for writers in Mexico City; more on that to come.
4) In the final section of the interview, the author talks about the cultural isolation among Latin American countries. This sense of disjuncture is clearly most pronounced between Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries of the region, but the vagaries of the publishing industry make it difficult – if not impossible – for writers to get a sense of the work being produced beyond their national borders, even when there is no linguistic barrier to contend with. Ricardo Piglia recently published an interesting statement [sp] on the matter (thank you, LO, for the link).
For those who read Portuguese, a complement to the interview can be found here.