Julian Rios Interview
Spanish author Julian Rios, who lives in Paris, was in New York recently, and we spent some time together. He is the author of several books including Larva, Poundemonium, and the new one is Loves That Bind. He also wrote two books with Octavio Paz, including Solo For Two Voices. Paz had just passed away a few weeks before we spoke. They had actually been writing some new work in the past year. Rios sees writing from Spain and Latin America as being of the same root. He has been a favorite author of mine for years, ever since I read Larva and some shorter works published in magazines.
It was my pleasure to finally meet him on the occasion of his newly translated novel, Loves That Bind.
by Alexander Laurence
AL: I just got back from London yesterday, and I realized while I was there that I was going to talk to you soon. Several of your books take place in London, and although you're Spanish, and have lived in Spain and Paris most of your life, you write often about being in London. Why is that the setting of some many of your novels?
Julian Rios: London is a kind of resume of the universe. New York is also. It happens that I knew London very well and it was a city that I liked. For me, the London that I like is not the "Anglo-Saxon" London, but, as I say, the resume of the universe, a kind of melting pot of different languages and different cultures. Different types of people have been established in London for many years, and they created their own cultures, whether it's the Italians, the Chinese, the Indians, the Pakistanis, etc. That adds up to a fascinating concentration of cultures.
AL: You are interested in the literary history of London too....
JR: I am interested in the mythical side of London because it is a mythical city. It's like how T. S. Eliot calls it "unreal city." It's more real than reality. You have the real city and the mythical side of the city that exists in novels. For me, in many of my novels, the important side is the London seen from a foreign point of view. If somebody is a foreigner, he feels at home with other foreigners, because nobody belongs to London and everybody is a foreigner in a sense. That is the question. In Loves That Bind for example, each day the narrator takes a different path in London trying to chase or to find his lover. Each part of London connects in a way with different views, experiences, remembrances, past loves, and literary allusions. There are many things there.
AL: Is the character Emil the same person as the other books?
JR: He comes from Larva and Poundemonium. He's the same character. He's called Milliaus: a thousand aliases. That's his name in Spanish. It belongs to the same cycle and different parts of my book, or multi-novel, if you want. In Larva, the language was more important; in Poundemonium, the life of Erza Pound and literary history; and in Loves That Bind, the characters are most important. I have just finished a new novel, Monsturary, where the characters are equally important.
AL: I noticed that you are interested in puns and multi-lingual words. Does that come from the influence of James Joyce and Arno Schmidt, or is it that you are a Spanish person living in several countries and fluent in several languages?
JR: Maybe it's not the Castillian but the Out-Castillian in me. I am a kind of an "Out-Cast." I'm outside my own country. I am from the Northwest of Spain. Galicia is a Celtic land. There's a situation in the world now where everyone is sort of a displaced person. If you go to an airport in any part of the world, you have the global village there, the immigration, and everybody is moving, even if you have your own roots to some land or culture. The world is moving into that direction which is the direction of uncertain situations. We don't have any fixed point of view anymore. In my novels I choose London as a setting, because I like the idea of a labyrinth as a city. I found in that situation, when you have foreigners with other foreigners, you are home without a home. You can't go home again. There's no home anymore, or every part is a provisional home.
AL: With Larva there was this sense of a multi-novel, that it doesn't end with a book. Can you explain your sense of novel? I know that I have spent much time reading Maurice Roche's work, especially CodeX, and I'm surprised that he even links the word "novel" to it because it destroys all the conceptions of a regular novel.
JR: You think of characters and plot. I am against this kind of experimentation. I always insist on a double-track. In the circus it's like riding two horses at the same time. Of course you are a writer and you're writing, you're not filming, then you use words. For me, the use of words is very important. I need the sensuality of the word. I want the word to have flesh. One of my books is called The Sensual Life of Words. At the same time when I write a novel I am telling a story. I don't like books that are only interested in a verbal pyrotechnics and flashes without content. Plot, characters, and telling a story are very important to me. In Loves That Bind, you will follow a real story about love, and a sad one I think. Some people read intellectual things but a novel is also a notation of the heart. A recent reviewer said that I was part of a generation of new novelists born after Franco, and Franco doesn't appear in the novels. In Loves That Bind there are four or five concrete allusions to Franco. The time of the novel, 1973, Franco was still around. I am not writing from a stratospheric situation. I am definitely connected to my times and everything that matters in political and individual terms.
AL: Since you are known for writing Larva, people see you as a forerunner to the hypertext. It is a very difficult book to read.
JR: Larva has many sides. If you read the last part of the book which is made up of notes, meta-narratives, that's only one part. Larva is a very complex work, and maybe it is a premonition of experiences we have now. We cannot control everything when you use computers. Larva was written before the computer age, but the first Spanish readers had the sensation of a computer work: that you could open windows and go there, and go backwards. That means a new approach to reading. Hypertext is always in the text. The texts of Joyce and the other great authors are really hypertexts. You can really open windows infinitely.
AL: Is the new novel, Loves That Bind, a simpler approach to writing?
JR: The structure, at first glance, is much more traditional. Each chapter consists of one day. The book takes place in one month. The setting is London in 1973. I learned something on this novel: I learned to seem simple when I am much more complicated. I want to seem accessible to everybody, so they can understand, and at the same time, I want to disguise the difficulties on the surface. I am very happy with that. If you want to stay on the surface and come away with an impression. The majority of the readers will read it one time and get an idea and an experience, but if you have more time you can see things that you didn't see things the first time. It's important for a book to have real readers. I found it important to have a sensuality in writing and communicate that, and also to keep in mind that reading is an intellectual activity. Everybody tries to seduce the reader. I was reading a review today and the critic was embracing the novel and comparing it to Tarantino and Pulp Fiction. For me, a novel which is the equivalent of Tarantino means it is the opposite of a real novel. A novel should convey an experience so different from cinema. The problem is writers trying to tell stories like filmmakers.
AL: Some younger readers are more influenced by visual media. They like film and pop culture and music and TV and can relate to that instead of Modernist literature.
JR: Zamyatin, the Russian novelist said "The future of the Russian literature is in its past." That seems to be against progress. I understand that the century is almost over and we are leaving the 20th century. Look backwards and see how many beautiful novels this century has produced. You have Nabokov, Joyce, and Proust. Many critics think that the 19th century was the big century of the novel. The 20th century produced many great writers if you look back. Right now we have many programs, many publications, but not many good writers. Writing needs time. Publishers are pressuring their authors: "Give me your next novel!" Many writers are producing like copycats. Writing needs time for maturation and style. No new author needs to remake Ulysses. But they need to take the moral example of those writers who did things with dedication and time and hard work and emotion. This time, the fin de siecle, is very characteristic, and the same as the last one. Very simple naturalistic novels were produced, and so were realistic works without ambition. Every work was conservative and conformist. I think that will be the end of the century.
AL: Have you been writing for a long time?
JR: Maybe too young. When I was a child I wrote poems and I wanted to be a writer. But the important thing for me is to work against facility. I used to be an easy-writing person. I soon learned a writer is not only a person who writes something but a person who doesn't write certain things. That is very important, because everybody has these great or fantastic ideas. We have to realize that a writer is someone who refuses to write some things.