Fedosy Santaella and Roberto Echeto Live Discussion

The Writing University website hosted a live discussion with Fedosy Santaella, a participant in the IWP (International Writing Program), and Roberto Echeto, at 2:00 (CST). This is the first conversion to take place entirely in Spanish. This is a transcript of the English version. For more information, visit their websites:
Fedosy Santaella | Roberto Echeto

Special thanks to our Live Discussion translator, Sara Gilmore. Sara is a translator from the Spanish, currently completing an MFA at the University of Iowa. She also is one of the co-editors of eXchanges journal of literary translation, (http://exchanges.uiowa.edu/exocity/). Currently, she’s working on translating the poetry of Antonio Gamoneda and Blanca Andreu.

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Live Discussion: 

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Miriam, Venezuela: Greetings! Thanks for answering my previous questions. How might we recognize “Venezuelan literature” today? Is Gustavo Valle, for example, part of ‘Venezuelan literature’? How does it differ from other literatures? Is there anything in particular that sets it apart?

Roberto Echeto: The truth is I don’t know how to distinguish Venezuelan literatures from other literatures. I think it’s as extensive, diverse, and full of good, bad, and mediocre works as that of any other country. Perhaps the only way in which it differs is the specific way the language is used, but I’m not sure that’s enough to characterize it one way or another. At least in my case I don’t like to talk about a “Venezuelan literature”. That I’m Venezuelan doesn’t mean I have to limit myself to Venezuelan issues or not engage in issues from any other continent or any other planet.

Yes. Gustavo Valle is part of what we call (for lack of a better name) Venezuelan literature. Even though he’s lived in Spain and now lives in Argentina, he hasn’t lost the vocabulary or Venezuelan rhythms, the manner in which we use Spanish.

Fedosy Santaella: Miriam, I don’t think that a “Venezuelan” literature exists. It’s all just literature. We (still can) read books from all over the world, we see movies from all over (we can still do this too), we go online (still able to), we live in a global, virtual world. Is a Venezuelan or Columbian or Argentinean literature possible in this context? Perhaps chronicles for news and even literature no longer exist for local things? Certainly Gustavo Valle writes literature, and in my opinion, really good literature. But don’t listen to me, my taste is my taste, and some people might think it’s not the best. That said, I’d still recommend Gustavo. I hope my recommendation isn’t harmful to him. Hahaha.

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Doris, Rodesia del Sur: My question concerns the wonderful poetic tradition in Venezuela, and whether this tradition establishes any sort of bridge with contemporary narrative. Also, do young people from Venezuela read poetry? Thanks.

Fedosy Santaella: I read poetry, especially if the authors are Venezuelan. I’m fascinated by Elenora Requena, Cecilia Ortiz, Milton Quero, Ramón Palomares, Eleazar León, who is a giant among giants… In my opinion the union between poetry and narrative is fundamental. Every time I feel stuck with a narrative, I read poetry and it recharges me. Poetry unlocks the words.

Roberto Echeto: Again, I can’t speak for all my contemporaries, but I suppose most do read a lot of Venezuelan poetry. Especially José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Vicente Gerbasi, Fernando Paz Castillo, Antonia Palacios, Eugenio Montejo, Rafael Cadenas, Armando Rojas Guardia, Eleazar León, Hanni Ossot, Yolanda Pantin and so many more. Reading poetry is vital for a narrator. There are tones, rhythms and cadences in it which, in general, don’t exist in prose. To this we can add that good poetry offers narrative a constant renovation of language, a re-semantization of words.

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Elena Broszkowski, Caracas, Venezuela: Fedosy, ¿Could you tell us a little about the Los Hermanos Chang website and what you’re trying to do with it? I have the impression that it’s very appreciated among Venezuelan writers and its humor is so unique. Regards, I love that you and Roberto are doing this discussion.

Fedosy Santaella: Hi Elena:

Los Hermanos Chang [The Chang Brothers] (http://www.hermanoschang.blogspot.com) is a literary magazine-blog (or perhaps its focus is literary humor, or who knows what) that’s been online four years already. The magazine comes out every two months, the work is solicited, and it was created by José Urriola and I, who also serve as the editors. But we also count on the fundamental support of Roberto Echeto, as well as collaborators like Enrique Enriquez, Carlos Zerpa y Joaquín Ortega among others. The magazine always has a theme, usually each issue is about a business. We’ve had a funeral home, an events agency, a mariachi office, a nuclear plant, etc. We editors get in touch with the collaborator by mail and we don’t say anything except what the business is, and from there the collaborator is free to do what they like. Freedom is fundamental for our magazine. The freedom to create original and juicy texts, but always of quality. Oh, I almost forgot, the Chang brothers are two Chinese gangsters who live in Venezuela, and one day they got in touch with us (José Urriola and me) and made us their front men. That’s why we’re always starting up businesses. They launder their money in these businesses (the Chang brothers trade bearded women and lethal weapons like chopsticks with poisonous steel points). Venezuelan writers like Armando José Sequera, María Celina Nuñez, Jacqueline Goldberg, Edda Armas, Israel Centeno, Oscar Marcano, Salvador Fleján, Rodrigo Blanco, Adriana Bertorelli, Eloi Yague have collaborated with Hermanos Chang, as well as many others who I apologize to for not naming here. With luck, Hermanos Chang has become a point of reference for online Venezuelan literature; we think some people may have been tortured just to make them say nice things about it. Because, as far as we’re concerned, this fame doesn’t have another explanation. By the way, in the last issue, the Chang Brothers made several members of IWP participate in their project. So, we had a magnificent international issue that we’re so grateful to all our friends for who were at Iowa last year.

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Sandra, Caracas, Venezuela: I’d appreciate it if you’d elaborate on the fact that writing isn’t only writing but also the act of re-reading, erasing, re-writing, until one finds what they really want to say. Is this process absolutely necessary? And, if so, is it directed only toward perfecting form or is does it also explore content? Roberto Echeto: Writing shouldn’t be called “writing”. It should be called “re-writing” and its most precious tools should be the eraser and the drawer. The eraser to erase and the drawer to store something for awhile that was written with naïve illusion.

This process isn’t only necessary: it’s THE PROCESS (in capital letters).

You re-read, erase, re-write, erase, and re-write in order to perfect the form and so that content comes to light with absolute clarity. In writing, form and content are so united that it’s almost impossible to determine where one ends and the other begins.

Yes. Writing exhausts and hurts.

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Effie, Israel, Tel-Aviv: You write in three different geners (Children books, Short stories and Novels) - Is there any relationships between the three? And if there is, what each genre is covering that the other can not? Is it a matter of 3 different mentalities? Ways of expressions that you practice as a writer?

Fedosy Santaella: My dear Effie. A thousand greetings. Listen, I believe there’s a certain unity in all the elements because they all pass through my hands. That is to say, if you revise my children’s stories, my short stories, and my novels, you’ll see that several constants run throughout: humor, playfulness, games with language. Nevertheless, with children’s literature I’m able to play more, and without a doubt, must think a little more about my readers. That said, I do think children’s literature exists, and that it’s possible to write and study it beyond commercial interests.

Roberto Echeto: Even though it seems this question is for Fedosy, I’d like to offer my point of view. I write stories, novels, essays, articles, scripts for radio…. The only relationship I find between everything I write is an immense need to communicate with others. Perhaps a person develops “various mentalities”: one to write stories, articles, scripts…Nonetheless, I think that all of them are united by a common imagination and set of similar concerns.

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Whitney, Chicago, IL: Have you adjusted to a life of being seen once more as a below-average dancer?

Fedosy Santaella: I don’t know how to dance, Whitney. But there in Iowa, the few times I did, I was a star. There’s a saying that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But I’m a terrible dancer, seriously.

Roberto Echeto: Hahahahaa. If it’s possible, I’m a worse dancer than Fedosy. I didn’t dance even at my wedding.

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Juan Carlos Herrera Mujica, Iowa City (Department of Spanish): The University of Iowa's Spanish and Portuguese Department has taken firm steps in the development of a future MFA in Spanish Creative Writing.

As professors of Creative Writing in Venezuela. ¿How crucial do you think is the development of this program in Spanish for the the university that historically founded the concept of the writers workshop? and ¿How do you think this will after the future of writers workshops in the United States and for US-Latino writers?

Saludos,
Juan Carlos Herrera Mujica

Fedosy Santaella: Juan Carlos, I think answering that might require a greater understanding of the situation of literary workshops in the U.S. However, I understand that every year there’s more demand for Spanish language learning, and that every year there’s more Hispanics living in the U.S. I do think that every effort that contributes to bringing attention to Latin American writers in the U.S. is important. So, if the MFA focuses part of its efforts on bringing to light literature from these parts, well then, that seems wonderful.

Roberto Echeto: Yes. I think an MFA in creative writing would positively affect American/Latino writers who wanted and were able to do it. A language is a universe, a tradition and a way of seeing the world and interacting with it. Everything that enriches life, stimulates cultural exchange, fosters respect among people, and helps them make their way in life should be supported.

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Gustavo, Buenos Aires, Arg.: Fedosy, Roberto, my question is:
What is being written about today in Venezuela, and what hasn’t been written about yet, or what hasn’t been wanted (or able) to be written? Thanks!

Fedosy Santaella: As long as writers are more honest and freer, they’ll write whatever appeals to them. It’s important to be a little careful with the repetition of repetition of repetition. To not get swept up trends, to not feel like we must enter the canon of those who want to tell us what to like. As long as we’re honest, as I said before, we’ll write whatever we truly like. There’s not enough horror novels, for example. And don’t try to tell me that horror isn’t literature.

Roberto Echeto: In Venezuela, they’re making really good literature. A lot of essays about our political and social future are being written. Novels, stories, and lots of poetry are being written. The subject matter is really varied, just like anywhere else. There are love stories, erotica, detective stories, political thrillers, historic novels… There’s a desire to analyze our problems through writing.
To say this is new would be silly. What is relatively new, for the momentum it’s gained over the last seven or eight years, is related to publishing. A lot of books have been published, book stores opened; a lot of reading groups, analysis groups, and workshops have surfaced, giving our country’s literature a breath of fresh air that wasn’t so common before.
I don’t think there are limits (at least visible ones) for what can be written and published.

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Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: To both writers:

Living in a country where the tone of revolutionary slogans is high, does this make your language recede to themes where it can invent its own body with a sophisticated and at the same time undamaged texture?

Fedosy Santaella: I’m not sure I understood the question very well. But I would like to say that an author isn’t obligated to get tied up in political issues in their writing. If they do, that’s fine, but the important thing here is the story being told and the writing. My last novel has a strong political component, but it goes beyond the national. Let’s say that I tried to make the gaze more Latin American, more universal, if that’s possible. However, I think that no matter how much you try to distance yourself from current issues, your writing will always reflect your existential situation. In some way the present is reflected. In the violence, for example, or the character’s neuroses. They’ll always be something there. Just distancing yourself from reality says something about it. You’re reacting against something you don’t like, and that’s already a reflection or response to reality.

Roberto Echeto: That’s right. There’s nothing worse than becoming an echo of a language that’s dirty, frayed, and full of hate.

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Roberto Ampuero, Iowa City, US: There is no doubt that the current political and economic situation in Venezuela is fueling tensions between Venezuelans. Usually narrative is close related to political events. My question: do you and your colleagues include the current political situation of Venezuela in recent works, or do you feel you and your colleagues need a certain historical distance (or prefer allegories) to represent in your/their fiction the current political situation of your country?

Thanks very much,
Roberto

Roberto Echeto: I can’t speak for my colleagues, but, as a reader of many of them, I can say that in a good part of their narrative they’ve preferred to create a distance with respect to the political, economic, and social situation of our country. And yes, in contemporary Venezuelan narratives there’s a little of everything: allegories, stories that tell of other times and places, fantasy, humoristic, pornographic stories… In literature there’s more than one way to portray the facts. In my case I can say that I take elements from the environment around me (for example the absurd and the violent) and I try to give them back to this reality in the form of stories full of humor and cold anger.

Fedosy Santaella: Hello Roberto. I think, just as Roberto said, that most of our colleagues have distanced themselves from politics in their literature. And if they deal with it, they talk about it indirectly. Why? I don’t have any idea. I think maybe it’s a Latin American tendency, or even a global one. I also think, Roberto, that this whole political and economic process in Venezuela is so complex, so overwhelming, and so recent (even though more than ten years has gone by, we’re still not sure where we’re going) that we haven’t been able to assimilate what’s happening. Literature, in that sense, is slow. However, politics and its thought, its analysis is very present in the essay, in the article, that is to say, in journalism. My novel “Las peripecias inéditas de Teofilus Jones”, has a strong political element, but in my case, I wrote a satire with a lot of science fiction of chaos or dystopia. Satire and science fiction allow me a distance that helped me to feel good while I wrote. To have fun, let’s say. But at the same time that I had fun, I was able to talk about the reality of the continent. I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself. If I tried to write a novel about the current political situation of Venezuela, I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t know, I try to think about it and I get bored. I haven’t been able to find the fun side of the stupidity of the present. On the other hand, when I modify it, when I project it to other places, when I put in imagination and humor, then it starts to get fun. And once again, if I don’t have fun while I’m writing, then it doesn’t make sense to write.

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Miriam, Venezuela: When trying to find a balance between the word and the story: How do you achieve it? Is this balance imperative? What makes you search for it, what signs appear? Or does it emerge naturally? In this respect, do you have a strategy you could reveal to us?

* Could you show us a few ideas or images that define the concept or notion of “Venezuelan Literature” today?

Roberto Echeto: When trying to find a balance between the word and the story: How do you achieve it?

Sometimes the balance comes on its own because the story shows you how to tell it. Sometimes the balance doesn’t emerge on its own and you have to juggle on a tightrope made of words and more words.

Is this balance imperative?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. It all depends on the effect you’re looking for. If you write fantasy, for example, it’s not a bad idea to use an extensive vocabulary to talk about the details. In those kinds of stories, being very careful when describing realistic elements allows the narrator to be convincing when it comes time to show supernatural elements. In this case, the balance between word and story plays to the reader, their surprise and their fright.

Maybe you want to write a fantasy story in which the real elements (like, for example: the carpets, lamps, character’s clothing) aren’t as detailed as the supernatural manifestions. It’s another way of tackling the same matter and will probably produce a different effect in the reader. It’s in the writer’s hands to decide what to do.

What makes you search for it, what signs appear?

Sometimes you look for this balance because the relationship between the words and the story should be evident. Sometimes you just go with the flow.

In this respect, do you have a strategy you could reveal to us?

My strategy is the same as everyone else’s: write, read what I wrote, erase, re-write, re-read, erase again… Have a beer, read once again, cross out, erase, rewrite until I find the tone that best goes with the effect I’d like to cause in readers.

Could you show us a few ideas or images that define the concept or notion of “Venezuelan Literature” today?

Basically, Venezuelan literature is good, like so many other literatures in so many other countries. However, I don’t think it’s right to put into the same sack the work of people who are so different, so diverse, with so many different interests. There’s a little of everything. There are short stories, novels, plays, poetry. There are love stories, detective stories, historical stories, erotica, humor, drama…For several years now a lot is being written, and publishing has taken off in a way that has filled us with an optimism that might be somewhat exaggerated, but, without a doubt, is different and greater than in past decades.

Maybe our historical circumstances (full of excesses and the absurd) has awakened something that was asleep inside us.

Fedosy Santaella: This is a search I’m always engaged in. Stories are very important to me, I like telling stories. But if I focus only on the story, then I suppose I’d be nothing more than a joke-teller. The word, language is fundamental. I think that every story project should also be a language project. I can’t tell the story of the Duke of Rocanegras (I’m talking about my novel) with the same language that you tell “Las peripecias inéditas de Teofilus” (my last novel). The story of Rocanegras happens in the past and furthermore Rocanegras is a far-fetched character, we could even say a Mannerist character. To write this novel I used language in line with the historical setting and the character. Then, to write the novel of Teofilus, which a dystopia, I used language that was more direct, less formal, but baroque in its constructions. So, the balance for me is in thinking a lot about how to get the story and language on the same plane of signification.

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Ana Merino, Iowa City, IA: A hug from the city of ice and corn…
This question is for both of you.
What’s the situation of the comic in Venezuela?

On one hand in terms of domestic production and on the other, in terms of strong influences from Anglo and Hispanic countries…European countries…What do the young people you meet read? Local production, Manga, superheroes…alternative. And you? What comics have marked you and why?

Well, since there’s a lot of questions here, please answer the ones you like best. Thanks so much!!!
Ana

Fedosy Santaella: Hi, Ana:
It’s a pleasure to receive your questions. Warm memories from my stay at Iowa connect me to you, your students, Félix, and the fantastic Halloween party we had at your house. But let’s get to it. The situation of comic production is that it’s all handcrafted. That is to say, there’s no comic industry. I know that some time ago there was a magazine called Zuplemento. I also understand that soon they’ll be a comic exposition at the Universidad Metropolitana. I know there’s lots of young people who are very invested. But in terms of market, the truth is it’s really poor. In the 80s there was a certain fever. Fierro arrived, the famous magazine from Argentina, and so did El Víbora, from Spain. Some bookstores carried material by Manara, especially. Things were going well, but something happened. It become difficult and expensive to carry magazines, and the trend lost ground, or was limited to Graphic Design Institutes. Wow, now that I’m thinking about it what’s happening here in Venezuela is like the Middle Ages. The comic, like culture, hid itself in Graphic-Design-Academies-Monasteries. I hope someday they’ll come out, and contribute to the Great Comic Renaissance in Venezuela. It’s sad to think one is living a dark Middle Age in their country, don’t you think?

As far as influences. American comics have been very present in recent years. There’s no denying that movies like Sin City have been a powerful promoter of the comic. In fact, I’ve seen Sin City books in respectable bookstores and, in addition, other Frank Miller works. Of course Manga has a place. We also enjoyed Dragon Ball and all its variations here for a long time. The cable channel Animax has also been a good influence. Obviously there are hardcore groups of Animé and Manga fans. Anything related to Akira and films like Ghost in the Shell is well-known. Batman is here, of course, it also makes it to a few bookstores. Still, I repeat, I think most people still consider the comic to be something of lesser importance. There’s a long way to go before Alan Moore or Frank Miller are understood as great artists and that their works are true works of art.

We could talk about this for quite awhile. But I’ll close by saying that I was marked by “El Incal” de Moebius and Jodorowski, “Batman” by Miller, Alan Moore, all those morbid things I read in El Víbora, and of course, Milo Manara.

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