Writer and actor, rare bird. Carlos Bardem (Madrid, 58 years old) is, and in both cases with success. The Maverick Killer (Plaza & Janés) is his new novel. In the above, White mongo, a best-seller, he dared to do something few have ever told: slavery. Now you can hear it on Audible, narrated by himself. “For something I am both things at the same time, writer and actor,” he says. And a member of the Bardem clan, whose matriarch, Pilar, died last summer and left the mark of art mixed with commitment on him.
Ask. You are a rarity: an actor writer or vice versa, how do you eat that?
Answer. That is eaten with taxonomy: the art of classifying things and people. It is always more a problem of the one who looks than of the one who feels observed. I am an actor and a writer, yes, both sides of the same passion, which is the passion for telling. We need a narrative to make this chaos, which is life, understandable: that tale of noise and fury told by a madman, which Shakespeare used to tell.
P. Are you one of those who need scattered chaos to order it or, on the contrary, organize a chaos with what is already ordered?
R. I am a guy who lives in a permanent stupor.
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
P. Who does not!
R. And that is accentuating. I am 58 years old and I thought I had things clearer 30 years ago, when I was an idiot.
P. An idiot in what way?
R. When I thought I would come to understand things.
P. Or that the world was going to be better?
R. The world is better. What happens is that we are immediately imprisoned. When we put things in perspective we realize that we live better. Having studied History gives you that vision. The big changes are given by technology.
P. And because of the wars, which accelerated to destroy that technology …
R. And for wars that are only part of the business, a way of balancing balances very determined by technological changes. What I mean is that what used to change in centuries or millennia now changes in decades. The historical progress that this entails is undeniable. History is dialectical, a book Marxist tells you. There is undoubtedly a vector of progress in this advance.
P. But today? Too many people cry out for pushback.
R. What polarization and the rise of extreme right-wing populisms tell us is that there are people who are very scared. Today people, in their lives, witness three or four substantial changes: in the forms of social relationship, in their perspectives. That produces fear.
Fear suspends reasoning and intelligence. You are looking for lifeguards, not complex solutions
P. Okay, but why, in the face of this, many seek directly fascist solutions?
R. Because of the fear. Fear suspends reasoning and intelligence. You are looking for lifeguards, not complex solutions. Those exits, I understand, do not provide solutions, they provide culprits and alibis. And they take out of the drawer the flags, xenophobia, the persecution of the different …
P. You said: I understand… I don’t understand anything.
R. Well, nobody understands anything. But knowing that we are doomed to failure and stupor, we must not give up trying to understand.
P. Not anymore, if one doesn’t give up trying to understand, but I don’t understand anything.
R. Paradoxes … thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Pure dialectic: Carlitos Marx. Not understanding anything is a logical process that starts from not understanding many things. You don’t understand, I think, because you understand a lot.
P. Well okay.
R. I do not write to explain, I write to understand.
P. When you have written The Maverick KillerWhat did you understand?
R. What it says in a paragraph: that life is a doomed attempt to control the toilet and not shit on. You are born shitting yourself and you die anyway, what happens in between is existence.
P. And when writing White mongoDid you understand slavery?
R. It is a great reflection on absolute evil. The slave trade was. You can’t sustain that atrocity over time without complicity, as well as normal people, which brings us to Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil. Today, for example, we have reached a fatalistic acceptance of corruption and the impunity of the corrupt.
We live in a permanent understatement. If we go back to corruption and take a word like ‘bonus’ instead of ‘bribery’, we are going wrong
P. Or worse, a festive acceptance. Many cheer on those who steal: “It is good,” they say. See how I don’t understand anything …
R. No, no, you get it.
P. In absolute terms, perhaps we are better off. But when it comes to slavery, in relative terms, aren’t we still pretty much the same?
R. Between the slave regulation of the 19th century and the labor laws of today, there are improvements. But the precariat is a new form of slavery, no doubt.
P. It will be a matter of language. When a technology company almost repeats plantation schemes and wants to convince you that with precarious contracts it promotes entrepreneurs, that, what do we call it?
R. We live in a permanent understatement. If we go back to corruption and take a word like ‘bonus’ instead of ‘bribery’, we are going wrong. If we turn it around and call it that, ‘bribery’, people would understand much better. Or by satire, too, as I have tried in The Maverick Killer: give an explanation of what corruption is through the fiction of something that we understand better this way, in a novel, than through the news.
P. That’s what novelists and poets are for, right? To understand the truth by lying.
R. To create a nebulous territory that invents reality and gives a literary explanation, which we will not see in the media.
P. The truth of the lies, which Vargas Llosa would say: I quote a liberal to balance it with Marx, to whom he has alluded so much.
R. Alright. What I believe is in one of the most beautiful functions in literature. When the information, the media, tell you as a fiction, the fiction is forced to tell you the reality.
Between the slave regulation of the 19th century and the labor laws of today, there are improvements. But the precariat is a new form of slavery, no doubt
P. Olé! That has been embroidered.
R. We are in it. In telling what our favorite television shows or newspapers do not.
P. For example, that which has hardly been talked about in our country, the active role we play in the development of slavery. Why have no novels been written on that subject?
R. It is a debate that has been encapsulated. I had to get to college to start hearing about it. In our country, the slave traders were the rest: the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English. If you ask around what we think of when we hear the word slaves, they tell you: Kunta Kinte, Louisiana, cotton… If you count that at the time there were the great sugar cane fields of Cuba and Puerto Rico and that they were owned by Spaniards. That Spain was the last country in Europe to abolish it, everyone is very surprised. There are many reasons.
R. Very simple: the origin, the initial accumulation of fortunes present in this country or of families of people who are sitting in Parliament, come from there, from two moral cataclysms: slavery, which was the biggest business of the time in which they participated. from the bourgeoisie, to the aristocracy, the kingdom or the clergy, and the civil war.
P. And doesn’t it have to do with the fact that slavery, as an inheritance and sin, has not been visible on the streets? Until two decades ago, different skin colors were not common on our streets.
R. Also, although we had other visible signs. Every time you go to the north of Spain and see a palm tree on a farm, you know that it belongs to an Indian. Probably that Indian used slaves to return with fortune.
Death does not improve understanding of anything. I miss her more every day [a su madre, Pilar Bardem]. But I am lucky that, in addition to loving her as a mother, I admired her as a human being
P. Let’s talk about his mother. You who understood her in life and wrote a book about her, do you understand her better now that she is gone?
R. Death does not improve understanding of anything. I miss her more every day. But I am lucky that, in addition to loving her as a mother, I admired her as a human being. This took me years. His consistency and firmness in maintaining certain principles seemed incomprehensible to me.
P. For example?
R. Well, look, in my house we never go hungry for my mother’s ovaries: she didn’t stop working to support her three children. There were winters when we didn’t put the heating on at home and we had the electricity meter tampered with. That said, my mother always set aside some money for the Sahrawi cause. I did not understand why if we lacked money for certain needs we had to set aside some money for that. I grew up almost hating them. Until I understood that: no matter how little you have, you should always be aware of who owns less than you. It is what makes the world better. I have it clear. If we all do a little more for someone, we will have a better world.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.