Luisa Valenzuela

Argentine writer

Luisa Valenzuela Levinson (born 26 November 1938) is a post-'Boom' novelist and short story writer. Her writing is characterized by an experimental style which questions hierarchical social structures from a feminist perspective.

Luisa Valenzuela in 2017

Quotes edit

  • he took me in his arms without saying a word, not even holding me too tight but letting all the emotions of our new encounter overflow, telling me so much by merely holding me in his arms and kissing me slowly. I think he never had much faith in words, and there he was, as silent as ever, sending me messages in the form of caresses.
    • "I'm Your Horse in the Night". Anthologized in The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories edited by Daniel Halpern (1986). Translated from the Spanish by Deborah Bonner
  • My only real possession was a dream and they can't deprive me of my dreams just like that.
    • "I'm Your Horse in the Night"

Interview (2022) edit

  • Those worlds erroneously called primitive have such rich cosmologies.
  • There are so many impediments and temptations to avoid writing. But self-censorship is never one of them.
  • I suppose El Mañana is my ars poetica.
  • In these times there is no bigger liar than hegemonic journalism! So good fiction does a great job of teaching us how to read between the lines and explore the complexities and contradictions of language which are often manipulated.

Interview (2018) edit

  • (What changes have you witnessed in Argentina in your lifetime?) Far too many. This is a roller coaster country, with good moments and very upsetting times like the current one, though the civic-military dictatorship was worse. But we have an incredible, almost miraculous capacity for recovery, which I hope will at some point still save us.
  • (Do you think hard times fuel creativity?) Let me separate this question in two. No, I don’t think that hard times necessarily fuel creativity. Often it silences you. Freud knew that very well. I had this ongoing discussion with Joseph Brodsky at the New York Institute for the Humanities; he used to affirm that censorship is good for literature but bad for the writer. But at home it could be seriously bad not only for the writer (who finally takes responsibility for his or her words) but also for everyone around us, even innocent people who appeared in our phone books. And, on the other hand, I did write a lot during those terrible times. But I was one of the very few, and it all started before the military takeover.
  • (Which other Argentine and Latin American writers do you appreciate? Or writers from farther afield?) Oh, the list is vast, a movable feast if we may say so. Cortázar is the one who is closest to my way of understanding the act of writing. And nearer to my heart. I admire Carlos Fuentes on the opposite extreme of the equation. That is why I wrote a book on both of them, Entrecruzamientos: Cortázar/Fuentes (Crossings: Cortázar/Fuentes). It is astonishing to discover how much they connect in their so different personalities. But if you ask me for a list, it can go from Clarice Lispector to Haruki Murakami, with innumerable names on the way.
  • (How does Argentine feminism differ in its objectives and its methods to its American counterpart?) Well, feminism in the States was overpowering during the eighties, while it was quite isolated here. But now the scale has flipped, and it is important to point out that finally, here in Argentina, women’s struggles are intense and out in the open and that force is taking over the streets in a very courageous and powerful way, as you might have well experienced. What is absolutely fantastic here is the power of the women’s movement—the fight is very intense at this point. But we do have a history of courageous and combative women; think of the mothers and the abuelas of Plaza de Mayo. And now the young people are really joining in the demands; it is moving and very heartwarming.
  • Writing cannot be taught, no, but stimulated, yes.
  • I never felt I had anything to say. Just the curiosity to explore

Interview with ‘’The Paris Review’’ (2001) edit

  • I always am quite disturbed when American reviewers call my fiction surrealist. I consider it realist in excess. Latin American writers think of reality as having a wider span, that's all-we explore the shadow side of it. But the real difference has to do mostly with the origins of language. Spanish grammar is different from English grammar. This means that we have a different approach not only to the world, but to the word. At times it is something very subtle, a more daring immersion into the unknown. "Un día sorprendente," to give a very specific example, doesn't mean exactly the same as "un sorprendente dia." In English, you cannot even turn around a phrase or leave a dangling participle. Joyce needed to explode the English language to allow its occult meaning to emerge; Cortázar just plays around with Spanish words and grammar for the same purpose. Ours is a much more elastic grammar. English is onomatopoeic, beautifully strict, clear cut. Spanish, on the other hand, is more baroque and allows for ambiguity and metaphor. Does it have to do with the speaker's character, or is character, as we may surmise, a construction of language?
  • Borges has this wonderful phrase in a short story: "La falta de imaginación los movió a ser crueles" (the lack of imagination moved them to cruelty). Though cruelty with imagination can be the worst of all-just think of certain torturers in our respective countries. As a tool, imagination should only be used by writers, in their writing.
  • (What do you think about the idea of women's language?) VALENZUELA: I openly fight for it. I think there is a different charge in the words-women come from the badlands of language. Women know a lot about ambivalence and ambiguity-which is why, I think, good, subtle political writing by women novelists is dismissed in Argentina. Women are expected to console, not disturb the readers.
  • You cannot make a writer-it is an innate way of seeing the world, and a love of language, and a lifetime commitment.
  • Fiction requires a vertical gaze-delving deeper into the non-facts, the unconscious, the realm of the imaginary. These are two very different ways of seeing the world. Fiction, for me at least, is the best way to say things. I can be much more clear-minded if I allow my imagination to take the lead-never loosing the reins, of course, but at full gallop. I also believe that, if you are fortunate, you can access the unconscious through fiction; in my case, elaborate ideas emerge in a very organized manner.
  • Otherwise the division is clear. You inhabit another realm when you are writing a novel. It's like being in love-being "in novel." At times, the need is unbearable. During those periods, I don't want to write short stories. On the other hand, I might get a spark or an idea for a story; then I need a certain willpower to start pulling the thread, with the exact tension and patience so as to discover what lies behind the glimpse. Cortázar said that when the moment came he had to go to the typewriter and pull the story out of himself as if he were pulling out some kind of creepy creature, una alimaña. It sometimes feels like that.
  • I believe fiction is a search shared with the reader.
  • (How would you compare contemporary literary life in Argentina to literary life back then?) VALENZUELA: Literary life then was passionate. Literature was really alive; it was something to be taken into account, both in the media and the public sphere. Now we run with the times. Individualism is rampant among the writers, and the media pays much more attention to politicians, starlets and comedians-one and the same-than to intellectuals
  • (Having lived for many years outside of Argentina, what is your conception of home?) VALENZUELA: I lived for over three years in France, one in Normandy and then in Paris. Practically a year in Barcelona. And ten glorious years in New York, from where I moved back and forth to Mexico and, at least once a year, with trepidation, home to Buenos Aires. I don't miss anything anymore, neither people nor places. Many writers say that language is their real home. I am all for that notion. During the last military dictatorship it was said that the writers who had left the country would progressively distance themselves from their roots until one day they would no longer be Argentine writers. It was a way of dismissing those voices, the only ones capable of being critical and objective about the regime. I, for one, don't need my roots deep in the ground; I carry them with me-like the aerial roots of our local clavel del aire. Anyhow, you can never really return home. Buenos Aires has changed so much that is no longer my city. It is a good place to clam-in and write, and the mother tongue is crucial. One thing I discovered in coming back is the importance of your own intonations as background noise. I left New York when I started dreaming in English, talking to myself in English, thinking in English. The Argentine language is a home I don't want to lose.
  • (Do you regret anything you've published?) A: There are so many writers who have burned or disclaimed their first books. Borges, for example. What a nuisance. I am very irreverent; I know no shame in that sense. It would mean some kind of censorship, wouldn't it? Of course, there are some books I like better than others-some books still surprise me now, as if someone else had written them. On the other hand, I often regret what I haven't written because I was too lazy or too cowardly. Writing takes real courage and commitment.

Quotes about Luisa Valenzuela edit

  • For Luisa Valenzuela, it is erroneous to associate Latin American fiction with the French surrealist movement and with oneiric representations of reality. According to her, Latin American surrealist literature does not exist. "...although this fiction we are here concerned with is described as surrealistic or surrealist as usually happens with non-Latin American readers, it is absolutely realistic literature as you well know, but from another point of view, which could be semantic; for is this thing called reality always scoping explicable limitations or could it be philosophical or metaphysical even pataphysical? In the supplementary reality to the one we were taught to perceive, there is a cosmoginy, a world vision shared with native Americans; nothing must escape your notice but you must also learn to look again with your eyes at the very edge of what is visible. You must learn to look at the world twice." (Note in book: "From an unpublished text by Luisa Valenzuela")
    • Marjorie Agosín "Reflections on the Fantastic" Translated from the Spanish by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman. In Secret Weavers: Stories of the Fantastic by Women Writers of Argentina and Chile (1992)
  • When I was recently on a panel with Louisa Valenezuela in Seattle, she said something very wise: "Everything you write has its own time of day and its own appropriate length."

External links edit

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