Javier Marías Interview: Let the Past be Past

“There is a great incapacity to let the past be past.” Spanish novelist Javier Marías has been hailed as “one of the most original writers today” and is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In this extensive video interview, he talks about fiction as a refuge and about his home country Spain – then and now.

Marías believes that only in fiction is it possible to tell a story which is as it is without anyone being able to question it. Some kind of truth lies in literature, he argues, as a lie is always something concerning the truth, and there is no truth previous to a fiction: “And then fiction creates its own world as it were, and then it belongs more to invention than to lies.” In continuation of this, Marías is sometimes happier in his fictional world: “You rest in fiction… it’s a good rest from the real world.” His recent novels take place in the past, and he feels that there used to be a different, less superficial way of being in the world, a “sense of modesty or sobriety that seems to have been lost in the last twenty years or so.” This, he argues, also makes us incapable of accepting ambiguity and the fact that we consist of both good and bad: “People are not aware of their own contradictions anymore.”

“Spain has been an anomalous country for too many years, and now it’s normal. It’s just one more European country.” Spain came out of the Spanish Civil War and straight into Francisco Franco’s nearly 40 yearlong dictatorship (1936-1975), and the youth of Spain seem to have a hard time understanding and accepting the “cowardice” of the past – why people didn’t simply overthrow or kill Franco. This, Marías continues, is due to their inexperience with what dictatorship actually is: “They think: “Oh well, we would have done it.” No, you wouldn’t.”

Javier Marías (b. 1951) is one of Spain’s most celebrated novelists, whose has been translated into numerous languages. He was born in Madrid, but – during the Franco regime – he spent parts of his childhood in the U.S., where his father taught at higher education institutions. Among his novels are ‘All Souls’ (1992) (Todas las almas, 1989), ‘A Heart So White’ (2012) (Corazón tan blanco, 1992), ‘The Infatuations’ (2013) (Los enamoramientos, 2011), ‘Berta Isla’ (2018) (Berta Isla, 2017) as well as the ‘Your Face Tomorrow’ trilogy (2004-2009) (Tu rostro manana, 2002-2007), which was hailed by the Guardian as “the first authentic literary masterpiece in the 21st century.” Marías is the recipient of prestigious awards such as the International Dublin Literary Award (1997) and the Prix Formentor (2013). Marías is also a columnist for El País as well as a respected translator of e.g. Shakespeare, Henry James, and Nabokov. Moreover, he operates the small publishing house Reino de Redonda.

Javier Marías was interviewed by Synne Rifbjerg at the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in August 2018.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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