That old business that always comes back. Love and its consequences – the couple, marriage, family, sex – are still very present in the literature reflecting on how we understand affections and ties today. The Argentine Tamara Tenenbaum, the Mexican Aura García-Junco and the Peruvian Jaime Rodríguez have published recent essays and novels on the subject. Within the framework of the FIL in Guadalajara, they sat down with EL PAÍS —in Rodríguez’s case by teleconference— to analyze the literature that is rethinking monogamy and the rest of the patterns of romantic love, thinking about motherhood, parenting or traditional masculinity.
Question: In García-Junco’s essay there are explicit references to art of lovingby Ovidio. How does contemporary love literature dialogue with tradition?
Aura Garcia-Junco: Ovid in his time was very transgressive. For example, with super strong female characters. Now it seems retrograde but it helps us to see through time the things that have been a continuum and those that have to be broken. It seemed to me the best place to start from in this history of love literature
Tamara Tenenbaum: There are many super interesting texts that can be taken up and discussed with them. Ana Karenina, Madame Bovary, the infidelity novels, the novels of Voltaire. In the 19th century there are a lot of adultery novels, which tells you that they were thinking about the subject through those things. Now, for example, we live in a time when many people write divorce novels.
Jaime Rodríguez: There are many people against reviewing according to which novel. The most paradigmatic example is Lolita. I think it is more interesting to add layers of understanding, of interpretation. Reviewing universal literature is the only way I think we can generate new literature with other representations of love and affectivity.
P. Is it possible to work on these issues outside of the essay or self-fiction, beyond the literature of the self?
A.G.J.: I think that if you want to think, in this case relationships, sometimes it is better to write an essay than to write fiction. Because sometimes the idea can be too far ahead of the fiction. Fictions have to be more open. There is a risk of turning a fiction into a pamphlet. Then there is the rise of the novel of the self that many times renounces narrating as a polyphony that allows more points of view. I think for example of Ana Karenina, where each character demonstrates a very clear psychological position and at the same time never loses the thread of fiction.
Three authors back with love
Tamara Tenenbaum. Buenos Aires, 1989. Narrator, poet and journalist. She is the author of the recent essay The end of love (Ariel)
Aura García-Junco. Mexico City, 1988. Writes narrative, essay and is a translator. His latest essay is The day I learned that I don’t know how to love (Seix Barral)
Jaime Rodríguez, Lima, 1973. Narrator, poet, editor and journalist. His latest novel is Only we are left (Galaxia Gutenberg)
J.R.: There is still much more straightforward fiction than autofiction. But I do believe that there are things that can only be told from the self and that depends on the degree of risk that you want to take as a writer. Although to me, as a macho man, I am more interested in the subject, for example, of romantic love and its toxicity in literature. Having allowed these forms to prevail in what we understand as love literature. That topics such as hunting a whale are considered universal literature and a relationship of mothers and daughters, as they appear in Fierce attachments Vivian Gornik, for example, is women’s literature. As writers, we would have to start thinking, from our condition as macho people, how not to fall into these parameters with which the literature of love and lack of love has been built beyond whether it is self-fiction or not.
P. What examples of novels do you think are already breaking those patterns?
A.G.J.: For instance, Kill yourself love, by Ariana Harwicz, seems to me like a novel that could hardly have been written in another century. It speaks of a very rarefied motherhood and at the same time of a brutal and violent romantic relationship. I also just read Hot by Luna Miguel, which breaks the conventional structure of the essay to talk about female sexuality.
J.R.: I was thinking of a novel that was published three years ago. Asymmetryby Elisa Halliday. It is the story of a young editor, 27, who begins to have a sexual bond with a much older author, one of the most important of the publisher, Philip Roth, in his 70s. It is not a novel of denunciation in any sense.
T.T.: I agree. He has a very subtle thought about a relationship that is obviously asymmetrical, but with many edges. Because she is a young, pretty girl, with all the doors open and he is an old man. Asymmetries go everywhere. He works very well a lot of subtleties in relation to power and sexuality from a place that interests me a lot and that is not that of the denunciation.
P. What examples have you found in poetry?
J.R.: Luna Miguel also has a book called Male poetry really extraordinary. Use the voice of your ex-partner, who would be the poetic voice, to write the poems. She appropriates her partner’s voice to sometimes speak of herself. It’s also a really brilliant mirror game on masculinity. And on the other hand, Anne Carson and The beauty of the husband they seem like a brilliant answer to Birthday letters by Ted Hughes, who writes to Silvia Plath. They are the quintessential monogamous literary couple. And we already know how that ended. It is a book that fascinated me when I was very young, it marked me a lot. And now, in that work of reinterpretation, he exudes a deep masculinity that can be quite toxic, that kind of constant subjugation, disguised as love and devotion. It seems to me that in those two books put in relation it opens a very interesting reflection on these things that we are talking about.
P. To what extent do these reflections on affective relationships suppose a certain privilege of the middle or upper class and how could this influence your literature?
A.G.J.: Yes, I am thinking, for example, of what Brigitte Vasallo says about in which spaces inclusive language is considered relevant or a priority. It is difficult to talk about non-monogamous relationships in spaces where violence prevails that has a lot to do with very fixed gender roles and there is a lot of literature that talks about this. For example, in contexts where there is a lot of drug dealing, gender relations become very fixed. Outside of certain circles it becomes even dangerous to talk about certain types of relationships.
T.T.: I think that in general it is rather the other way around. When Foucault tries to find an explanation for Victorian repression, he dismantles the Marxist hypothesis that it is something that the bourgeoisie put together to keep the workers under control. He says that the repressed are the bourgeoisie and that the workers have a much freer sexual life. What happens is that there is not a speech about that necessarily. Not a theoretical elaboration on his part. And, of course, all literature today is elitist, at least in Latin America. Access to literature and discussions about literature is already something that is not for the masses. Perhaps it was at some point and today it is not.
J.R.: How important is transversality. It is difficult to understand this type of thing, I say it as a Peruvian immigrant in Spain, without thinking, for example, of racism or colonialism. Talking about being a macho man in Peru cannot be the same as doing it in Paris, for example. I believe that decolonial thinking is very important to think about these issues from Latin America.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.