Have a conversation with Luis Alberto of Cuenca (Madrid, 1950) is like playing a professional ping pong game: he answers each of the questions with astonishing speed and skill. The poet, one of the greatest in recent times in our country, has also worked as a literary researcher at the CSIC, philosopher, columnist, translator, essayist and editor.
The former Secretary of State for Culture recommends reading “especially the classics, authors who are permanently alive and are always young”. “Not only the Greco-Latin people, but also the indispensable figures in each one of the cultures and languages. I encourage you to read the classics in their own languages,” he points out in a talk with EL ESPAÑOL in Malaga where he values Homero equally , Raymond Chandler and Philip Kerr “.
During the interview he also talks about Edgar Allan Poe, “a dazzling author who lived only 40 years, as well as one of the best storytellers along with Guy de Maupassant, Antón Chejov and Emilia Pardo Bazán”. According to this lover of aphorism and haiku, the author of The Raven “us locates terror in everyday life. That’s what gives it that strength. A monster in every way“, he highlights.
The Madrid intellectual will visit Malaga this Thursday to talk about training in humanistic subjects at the La Malagueta cultural center. Before, this scholar and hobbyist in equal measure with one of the best private libraries in Spain hold a conversation about literature, politics and current affairs with this medium.
Many of the poems in his new book, After paradise (Visor, 2021), are written in the worst moments of the pandemic. What are you more afraid of, death or ignorance?
I am more in favor of being a living ignorant than a wise dead man.
You have gotten sick, you say from the worst virus: love.
One is infected with love very often, and the truth is that it is a very incisive virus, which pierces you and pierces you. Nothing can be done against that virus. Love is invincible.
Precisely, love or its absence have starred in some of his best verses.
Love and heartbreak have been two of my favorite subjects. Maybe I am a poet of love, yes sir.
“Sharing dreams with the immortals of literature is a way to enjoy immortality,” he says in the poem. Dreams of eternity. What have books saved you from?
They have saved me from everything: from depression, melancholy, sadness, horror and anything bad that can happen in the world. Books are absolutely life-saving, a last resort in times of severe stress or severe melancholy. In my life, books are a healing and healing element in large doses.
Tintin is one of its references. In fact, you like superhero movies and thanks to you comic book artists are awarded Medals of Merit in Fine Arts.
I love that you bring that topic up for me. When I was Secretary of State for Culture, the first medals were given to cartoonists. It was a moral obligation that I felt at that time to recognize a sector of Spanish creation as important as the guild of comic artists has been. It fills me with satisfaction. Tintin is an icon of the 20th century and one of the most important characters of this century along with those of Walt Disney, who is a man I admire very much. The Franco-Belgian line has been one of my fascinations along with American drawing from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
You will be shocked by the news that thousands of Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke books have been destroyed in Canada for being racist and discriminatory …
I’m terrified. I think that those who can burn in the name of political correctness those albums can burn people alive at any time, the fruit of their total intolerance. It’s insane. We are living in a moment of deprivation of liberties because of political correctness. Above it happens in a free country like Canada and not in a dictatorship. That happens is to open my flesh in horror.
We are living in a moment of absolute crisis: of values, politics, economics.
Especially not to place oneself in history and at the precise moment. There is no doubt that in Tintin in the Congo there is a kind of paternalism towards the natives there on the part of the whites. But the comic was published in the 30s. That happened at that time. It is as if we judge slavery with the eyes of a citizen of the Roman Empire. Obviously at that time slavery was not censored as it is now. You always have to put yourself in the place and at the time in which things are judged.
This historical revisionism is a bit boring, right?
Fortunately, there are many young people who are in the trench of no political correctness. It is not a question of people today, but it was incubated in the 70s and 80s in American universities and now it comes to us like a great acid rain that tortures us all.
What could we learn from the Greek classics?
History is the teacher of life and the classics the teachers of all that something noble and worthwhile may entail. From the classics we learn to be better, to use our intelligence better and to console ourselves in times of distress. It is a multipurpose. Do you know those knives that are good for everything? The same are the classics.
He recently recalled in an interview that he was 24 years old when Franco died. What do you think that Pablo Casado entered a mass in his honor in Granada by mistake?
I imagine it will be a mistake. I have been in politics at a much lower level than Pablo Casado and I know to what extent the agendas are a mess. No wonder there was a problem with it. There is so much that must be taken into account to carry the agenda of a politician that there may be mistakes.
What a mistake … Well, he dedicated a poem to José María Aznar. What Spanish politician would you dedicate it to now?
I dedicated it to José María Aznar because he was a friend of mine and he loved poetry. I read that poem once in front of him, he liked it a lot and he always told me to dedicate one to him. So I decided to dedicate this one to him. At this time I would only dedicate it to someone who asked. But I cannot tell you names because at that time that request has not occurred.
He likes Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s way of doing politics.
I love Isabel and she seems like an extraordinary person. I only have praise for your management. She is a woman of the street with unusual intelligence and insight and admirable quickness of reflexes. It is one of the great policies that we have at the moment in Spain.
Do you really think that in Madrid there was a problem of communism or freedom?
Well I do not know. In any case, it is something that could use you to get votes. And in politics and in democracy, what you have to do is get votes.
How are you doing the reeds?
Since I don’t drink … We abstainers are very dangerous. I advise you to have a good tortilla skewer to lower your blood alcohol level.
He says of Spain that it is “a place without a future, a handful of disunited and sterile land.” What do you understand by country?
I understand the homeland as the place where our elders grew up and where in some way the life and existence of the beings that preceded us were drawn. That always creates very strong bonds. When I wrote that poem I really thought that and I still do. I hope that I am wrong and that this nostalgic poem can turn into something much more joyful; and that we Spaniards can be immersed in a common enterprise, each one from our ideological trench. Spain is one of the few countries in which the flag cannot be carried in certain ideological spaces. In Venezuela or in Cuba everyone uses the flag. Here we have only left it to an ideological group. It’s a mistake. The flag belongs to everyone. In general, the Spanish left has always been a patriot. That total rejection has emerged very recently. In the 30s they were super patriots.
Today the façade sanbenito is hung on anyone …
That’s like in Franco’s time when they hung the red sanben on everyone. It is wrong in one case and in the other.
Returning to poetry, in 2009 he received the Manuel Alcántara Poetry Prize for Evening walk. What did the Malaga poet and columnist teach you?
I have learned a lot of things. He strikes me as one of the coolest people I have ever met. I have been on many literary juries with him. He’s a very smart and resourceful guy, and a man capable of writing a new column every day. As a poet it seems miraculous to me. It has some poems of deep Andalusian roots, rooted in the copla, delicious. He handled the hendecasyllable very well and has memorable sonnets. A great guy Manuel Alcántara.
You are joined by a person, the director José Luis Garci, with whom he makes the radio program Midnight cowboys.
It is an endearing and charming meeting of four elderly gentlemen, who come together to forget things and to have to look on the internet everything they do not remember. It is a gathering of a coffee recorded and without any type of script, although we are talking about the iron script. We had a great time and that good vibes are transmitted to the listener. Above as a culmination I recite a poem.
Many people have used his poems to flirt. Even many read Breakfast at her wedding. Is popular not governed by quality? Have we gotten over that debate yet?
I wish I was outdated once and for all, but I see there is still some idiot who thinks that popular culture is inferior to great culture. They are absolutely complementary. Its two areas of action can be combined. The cultured and the popular must be united. I have always tried to reconcile both.
Don’t see the commotion that was created when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature …
Dylan is one of the greats and a leading figure in creativity in the 20th century. Nobody knows the winner this year. Why don’t we award the Nobel to exclusively literary men? Dylan is a great lyricist. I, who have done a lot of song lyrics, have realized that literature is one thing and song lyrics is another. For example, Leonard Cohen had in my opinion even more literary status than Dylan.
The Canadian singer-songwriter was obsessed with Lorca. He was recently given the Lorca Prize for Poetry. It feels?
You feel immense satisfaction. With Federico I began my poetic journey. Juan Ramón Jiménez and the Machado brothers have also been my teachers. He always carried his complete works of Aguilar with him everywhere and traveled with them. I knew all his verses by heart. its Tamarit daybed I find it fascinating. In all his work he talks about his very personal, non-transferable and unique problem. That he is so universal talking only about him seems great to me. It is an incredible thing that he represents us all without making any concessions to something other than his own self. He is one of the people who spoke the most narcissistically about him and yet he represents all of humanity.
They say it has one of the best private libraries. What are the greatest treasures?
People going home. It really is a house with very appetizing books to read: a lot of first edition of strange things, a lot of world literature. The library reflects my cosmopolitan desire and my desire to know all things, not just those of my homeland. There is a lot of universality, fantastic literature and comics. My library is nothing more than the portrait of my own self. You would meet my own face there.
He has always fled from localisms. That is brave at a time of the rise of nationalisms …
Nationalism is an absolutely aberrational thing, as well as a bummer. Being a lifelong Madrilenian, it does not occur to me to believe that the capital is better than Paris, London or New York. All places have their charm. One should not practice the exclusion of the rest for the benefit of one’s own.
The left has been very tepid with nationalisms in recent years …
It is a feeling that I share. There was one good thing about the classical left: it rejected any nationalism and tended towards internationalism. However, there has now been an unnatural alliance between the left and nationalism. It should be fixed somehow. I know many people on the left desperate and tearing their clothes with that pact between nationalism and the left.
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Luis Alberto de Cuenca: “Books have saved me from depression, sadness and anything bad”