The unbearable lightness of the news pushes me, once again, to curl up in literature: shelter, parapet, chain mail and aspirin. This week, the Romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu won the 2022 FIL Prize for Literature, which the Guadalajara Book Fair awards to authors in Romance languages and is considered one of the main international literary awards.
Cărtărescu, who was born and grew up in Bucharest surrounded by the iron curtain, landed in our language with a story, which shakes as much or more than a slap: the roulette player. They are a bunch of pages, full of compact paragraphs that look like bullets, that tells the story of a revolver gambler, who makes a living looking for death with Russian roulette.
the roulette player he dazzled those first readers of the Romanian, who ever since have sniffed every line he wrote with the anxiety of an addict. So much so that it has become the star of one of the most promising young publishers: Impedimenta, which also gave its readers the discovery of Hernán Díaz, an Argentine who had only published in English, until that house translated it and made it known.
Cărtărescu is considered by critics to be the most important Romanian writer today, he has won the most important literary awards in his country and is a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now, with the 2022 FIL Prize for Literature, he joins an Olympus that also includes the Portuguese Antonio Lobo Antunes and Lídia Jorge, the Spanish Enrique Vila-Matas, our Margo Glanz and the Italian Claudio Magris.
Although he is mainly known for his narrative, Impedimenta recently brought together several Romanian poems in a compendium inhabited by ferns, dragonflies and beetles. There you can hear the footsteps of a young man amazed by the Beat Generation, to which he read contraband. In Cărtărescu’s poems, beatniks are everywhere, named or quoted, or we find them winking at us.
In that same essential compendium of his poetry where the naive joy of a prose writer venturing into the slippery lyric is appreciated, and he himself recognizes it: “A bad poet does no harm to anyone. He doesn’t set off bombs or insult people.” Bad? That’s what he thinks, but he doesn’t care. In a recent interview he acknowledged: “I don’t know how to write poetry. Sometimes I can write, but I don’t know how to write. And if someone asks me what rules I follow, I can’t tell them. I do it instinctively. You can’t have sex with rules.”
The 2022 FIL Award-winning author is married to Ioana Nicolaie, herself a poet. Together they began their walk through life and literature when, in the time of Nicolae Ceausescu, “even children’s and cookery books” were censored. And, although they remember those days with sadness, they continue to believe that “a poem or a love song could be very dangerous for any regime.” They, with verses, broke down the wall.
The Romanian insists on the role of artists as guarantors of freedom. “The real writers and intellectuals never collaborated with the government. Quite the contrary, many were against it and were dissidents”, he maintained. In this case, not only is a work and a life being recognized, but also a position against power. In Romania, more than thirty years after the revolution, ideological censorship persists “not only from conservatives”, but from “extremists on the other side of the spectrum where progressives dominate”.
Faced with the triviality of the current, there is always substance in literature; it’s a safe bet. A simple appointment becomes mine, for example; in a mirror of a reality, even the Mexican one, which, apparently, is not very different from the homeland of the novelist with a failed vocation as a poet. “I write because it is the essence of my being. The artist produces for the public, for himself, for no one. I will write even if there is only one reader in the world.”
Read, by the same author: “Happiness is a forgetfulness that lasts a week”
Edition: Estefania Cardeña
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”A bad poet does no harm to anyone; he doesn’t put bombs or insult people”