Archive for March 5th, 2011

The Crisis of Earthly Values

There was an interview in Público the other day with Luis García Montero, who has a new collection out, titled Un invierno propio (Consideraciones), roughly translated, A proper winter (Considerations). Hispanophones will prefer to read the article in full. I have translated a few excerpts from the interview here because I think they’re interesting even if you never encounter his poems.

What does the winter allude to?

The winter refers to the crisis of values in which we are living. It is the cold of a helpless situation. We need to return to ideas and values. Because this is not just an economic crisis, it’s a crisis of values. It’s a crisis of ideology. The cuts are not just economic, they also affect solidarity. I wanted to make these considerations from the ethics that poetry has taught me. That’s why the poems have the will of aphorisms.


Why are cynics so dangerous?

Some years ago I wanted to expel dreams from my home, but afterwards it scared me because I became a cynic. I was left without a future. So I came to an arrangement with myself: I didn’t throw dreams out of the house, but they do stay in separate rooms. The cynic laughs at everything, he is unable to empathise with the pain of others. As they live in separate rooms, I keep an eye on my dreams in case they get too naive, or if they go off into barbarism. And they keep an eye on me in case I turn into a cynic. Behind a cynic there is always an act of giving up: everything is finished, nothing is possible, so, I spend my time laughing at everything. That’s why it’s important to point out that despite the winter there is warmth.


The book does not call for a retreat, but does it have a tone of revolution?

There’s something of that in it. My previous book, Vista cansada, was a working out of what had been my history. In Un invierno propio I use my baggage to give answers to the future. I’m worried about the society in which I live, because it seems to me that democracy is being liquidated.

And what can citizens do?

Citizens are losing political sovereignty. Politicians are more the financial markets’ representatives before the citizens than the citizens’ representatives before the financial markets.

What worries you most about the crisis?

The Church is worried about the crisis of religious values, I’m worried about the crisis of earthly values. Reactionary epochs always begin with an assault on the humanities. We have spent a long time living in a society marked by consumption. Mercantilism cannot be the guide for this country, nor can it be the face of Belén Esteban (Spanish TV personality). A serious news channel cannot be shut down to be replaced with a gossip programme. There is an alarming contempt for what is intellectual and cultural. Mercantilism assaults the values of the enlightenment and republican tradition.


Has history made us sceptics?

History has shown us how the State served to justify all ends and out of that came Stalinism and Hitlerite totalitarianism. What can never be justified is to renounce human conscience: the creation of a better world cannot bring us to believe that the end justifies the loss of dignity bringing us to crime or repression. It is just as important not to renounce one’s conscience as it is not to renounce one’s imagination. We have the right to imagine a better world.

As well as dreams, friendship or imagination, love is once again important in your poems.

I think feelings have a historical role. One poem about a general strike is as emancipatory as another about sexuality. We poets have recognised for a long time something that politics is now beginning to understand: the historical character of intimacy. An economic policy measure can be as important as one about homosexual marriages, equality between men and women, sexual liberation, and so on. Love opens your eyes to the world, it doesn’t shut them. Love is what gives us a social dimension.

Does ideology go before feeling?

We should stand up for feelings, and especially in this winter. I like the verses of Evgueni Stuchenko, in a poem for Che: “To the left, boys, to the left, but never to the left of your heart.” The new left will be built more for standing up for feelings that bring us closer to reality than through a defined rationalist programme, we already have that. To stand up for love is to accept things we don’t like in the service of others, such as paying taxes.

What worries you most at this time?

People who are too sure of themselves. They’re obsessed with essences. There is no such thing as essences. We should respect differences of sentiment. Essences are a plague and what really gets to me about them is that people try to impose them on others. But we’re nothing more than an elaboration. I am more myself when I go out into the street and I live alongside others, because what I do worries me more than what I am. Like everyone else, I’m selfish, partial, vain, but we can’t judge ourselves by our instincts but by how we behave.

Do you think the book tends toward hope?

I recall a saying of Eduardo Galeano: “Things are too bad for us to let ourselves be pessimists”. That is the basis for the wager for the future and for civic consciousness. We are coming out of the crisis via the worst of roads: which is throwing fuel on the fire that started it: neoliberalism and untrammelled speculation. Literature, without being a pamphlet or an order, has to become an alternative to the panorama that unfolds before us.

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March 2011