To DBC Pierre, and to my dearest translators Myrthe Van Der Bogaert, Noel Hernández, Lisa Thunnissen, Andrea Rosenberg, Julia Chardovoine, Susanne Lang and Bruno Arpaia.
Patty Jansen introduced me to the audience at Humanity House, part of the CBF. Then I went on stage ALL BY MYSELF (there were three seats but neither Patty nor Eline sat down, which I found strange). I said in English: “Hello, you can call me Xilo if you want. I’ll read the begining of my novel. I hope you enjoy it – even if you don’t understand a word”. They laughed.
(On my way back to the hotel I reflected upon the talk given by DBC Pierre, where he said that his first attempts at writing a novel were horrible because he was thinking about the reader and what the reader wanted. Only when he stopped doing so did his writing become honest, solid, authentic. At this point I asked myself: why should my writing be accessible if not many people read us anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to be demanding on the reader, so those who seek and praise easy-reading literature would be put off? What do we need these readers for anyway? We certainly don’t need them to be better at writing.
Even though social media means that we write and read more than at any other time in history, few books are read -I think literature should be an exercise of deep breathing, while what you write and read on the internet is just panting: swan songs drowned by the sound of buzzing flies- I’m talking about reading entire books because on the internet we get distracted by following a link to somewhere else after only three of four pages.
When I won the Mauricio Achar Prize they praised my novel for its “experimentation with language”. I’ve just received a link today, November the 5th, to a discussion on my Campeón Gabacho. One of the contributors said that the great critic of my work hasn’t been born yet. This is because his old and archaic generation isn’t qualified to understand my literature: only the young could do it.
He’s right. In my work I attack old novels that are dull, lifeless, and rotten with dead worms. Where the all-too-decent and inanimate words are similar to those used by a whole generation of novelists who by default resort to undemanding literature.
They don’t give different words a chance because these don’t sell. They think about the market and what the reader wants, as DBC Pierre did when he was younger. That’s how mere craftsmanship becomes a substitute for art, and writers turn into mediocre scriveners. Today I realise that most of the older generation of writers in my country lack the guts to bet on the difficult, to leap into the void of finding their own style. They are afraid of shouting at the world because that would be “in poor taste”. They praise and reward art within the canon. Art that is beautiful, palatable and marketable, even if this art is about death and destruction. Just as in the UK, where they don’t want novels where nothing happens because these don’t sell.
The market is everything
And yet, despite how challenging the language I use is, the rights of my novel were almost immediately sold for translation into five languages: Dutch, Italian, French, English and German. I’m still surprised, as well as deeply grateful. My novel isn’t an easy read. All my translators have struggled with it, and for this reason I profusely admire them.)
When I finished reading they all clapped (or that’s what I thought anyway, because the Dutch are really decent people). I didn’t know whether they understood my words. When I got down from the stool Lisa (my Dutch translator) congratulated me and said she really enjoyed my reading, especially the voice of the black woman. I was happy and, finally, despite the mild cold I seem to constantly carry around, I felt like going out and getting soaked by the rain or even by the sea.
(Additional note: Club Seven is a nightclub with weird music where they all dance really well. One of the translators told me jokingly: “don’t go yet, I want to see you dancing salsa, haha.” I replied “oh, I don’t dance salsa, haha”. She doesn’t know that I don’t dance in public and the only salsa I like is the one I have with tacos al pastor.)