Georgi Gospodinov Interview: Literature Develops Empathy


“After all, we are made of books we have read.” Leading Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov – author of the widely translated masterpiece ‘The Physics of Sorrow’ – here talks about literature’s resilient quality and its close connection to science – and empathy.

Gospodinov considers the novel a “survival kit” as well as a “small Noah’s ark” for the reader: “It captures the non-durable. The durable things will stay anyway. Pyramids, Pharaohs, big monuments. I don’t care much about them. But the non-durable, the human in the first place is worth writing about.” In a time where the media rushes us on at full speed, literature offers us places to stop, “where the soul or the meaning, whatever you like to call this institution, can catch up with us.” Gospodinov finds that there is a strong link between literature and science, and in two of his novels, ‘Natural Novel’ and ‘The Physics of Sorrow’, he tries to intertwine the two: “I think both literature and science use the same body, the body of the language. And both literature and science work against the limits of our bodies and our biographical time.” Both, he argues, are instruments against this limitation of our body and time, and combined they can help each other.

“Empathy is a kind of existential minimum for us to be able to live, and it is essential for literature, too. Literature keeps producing and developing empathy.” Gospodinov argues that empathy is closely linked to literature’s ability to put us in two different places – or two different bodies – simultaneously: “Your body feels pain, because of another body’s pain.” In continuation of this, he feels that literature produces real memories: “Sometimes I remember the rains in Macondo or how I used to smoke Gitanes in the trenches of a world war…”

Georgi Gospodinov (b. 1968) is a Bulgarian writer, poet and playwright. Gospodinov became internationally known for his novel ‘Natural Novel’ (1999), which The New Yorker described as an “anarchic, experimental debut.” Gospodinov is also the author of the collection of short stories ‘And Other Stories’ (2001) and the novel ‘The Physics of Sorrow’ (2012), which won three national awards for best fiction 2012-2013 – including the National Literary Award Bulgarian Novel of the Year – and has been translated into more than 23 languages. Gospodinov is also the recipient of other prestigious awards including The Flower of Helicon Readers’ Prize for Bestselling Book (2012) and the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (2016).

Georgi Gospodinov was interviewed by Kim Skotte at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2018.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edited by: Roxanne Bagheshiring Lærkesen
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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