The Chilean writer Diamela Eltit (Santiago de Chile, 1947), author of indispensable works such as Never fire never, received news on Friday that she did not expect at all: among 71 applications from seven different countries, she was the winner of the FIL Prize for Literature 2021 “for the depth of her unique writing that renews the reflection on literature, language and power in the turn of the century ”, as detailed by the jury. That the award comes from Mexico has a special meaning for Eltit: after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet where she lived in Chile – “the interior exile or insilio”, as she calls it -, it was the first country where she resided as a cultural attaché of the first Democratic government, between 1990 and 1994. “After living 17 years with a curfew, in which the young people had no night and the soldiers with submachine guns were the owners of the streets, it was extraordinary to arrive in a diverse country like Mexico, where the You speak were liberated and the native peoples and their living languages were those who inhabited the public space ”, recalls the writer at her home in Ñuñoa, a traditional neighborhood of the Chilean capital where modern buildings have replaced the wide and low-rise buildings .
Question. At what point does the award find it?
Answer. We are in an exceptional moment in Chile. In fact, we are still under a state of emergency. These are complex and painful times due to the number of people who have died from the pandemic, mostly from popular sectors. In politics, the constitutional path has opened a strong modification with respect to the last 50 years. There is a sum of signs that are reflected in the constitutional convention. They are modifying, enigmatic times.
P. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about this process facing your country?
R. I am not pessimistic. The great problem that Chile is going through is the attempt to standardize the country within inequality. Therefore, I see the convention as the place where changes will be made towards social realities much better structured than the one we live in. The convention and its own conformation speak of diversities and mismatched identities. In this conformation lies the utopian germ of what one thinks Chile should be.
P. You write a new novel. How does the contingency impact your current work?
R. I work on the literary question, but very attentive to the events that surround us. I write, but that goes on another line. For me, literature is flight lines in relation to all contingencies.
P. What do you mean by vanishing lines?
R. The act of writing has to do with desire, and that desire produces writing, which is outside the regulations of everyday life. We all write a dogmatic daily, but in writing the daily is suspended and other spaces are opened. The literary letter escapes from the everyday, crossed by all the obligations. With literature you enter another space that has to do with desire and the bureaucracies that surround the social life of each one of us are suspended.
P. His work, as stated by the jury, “is a voice drawn from the most urgent questions of contemporary times in times of pandemic, migrations, depredation and environmental devastation.” Is literature possible without political or other commitment?
R. The great commitment of literature is with literature. Authors cannot be thought of as agents of social change. I wish literature was capable of changing the world, but it will change it along with all other social forces. The great work of literature is to influence within literature itself. In my case, that I work fiction, you can generate a reality through metaphors, not necessarily real in the literal sense of the term. It is very interesting to be able to illuminate the real through the metaphorical.
P. What issues concern you as a citizen and writer?
R. In the social sense, as a citizen, the issue of inequality. The inequality that invades Chile and the continent is violent, because it generates a lot of violence due to the dramatic asymmetry. We are in a very savage system of the neoliberal position, very irrational, which has been given a rationalist discourse by, basically, economists. That seems dramatic and painful to me. As a writer, on the other hand, I am from small spaces, I am more neighborhood. I work in small spaces, not large spaces. Neither the great issues nor the great dilemmas. I am concerned about the complexity of the subjects who live on the same street, for example. I am interested in subjecting and giving poetic category to these small nuclei of life.
P. It is a time of great upheaval in Latin America. What role does literature play?
R. Literature operates on readers. It is a very unique space because it has to do with loneliness, with the eye and the imaginary, rethought by the imaginary of the reader. Literature has the amazing characteristic of generating almost visual images with the letter and it is its great role: it transmits language and, as we know, the more language you have, the better.
P. What do you think of the current Latin American literary scene?
R. The Latin American literary scene has always been powerful. What has happened now is that the multiplicity of publishers democratize the invoice of the book and many more people come to the book. Some authors? I don’t like naming authors, because it necessarily means naming others. As there are many, I would not like to commit an act of injustice.
P. There is a boom feminist authors in the region …
R. I think this new feminist stage is very good – in Chile we speak of the fourth feminism – which has fought for fairness. In fact, in Chile the constitutional convention is joint. This equity, however, is not even close to the rest of the country. It is a territory to be built. And, therefore, without discussing the contributions of feminist movements, from my perspective, the very fact of talking about women’s literature continues to maintain binaryism. If there is women’s literature and there is literature, where is the literature? In some ways, the West has always been binary. The problem with the binary is that one pole is inevitably placed on another. Man-woman, tall-short, white-black. There is always a higher pole and the ghetto is enlarged. These small reduced ghettos are expanding under the label of novels or poems of women. But not necessarily all women write the same, because there is aesthetic diversity.
P. You have spoken of the need to “debiologize writing” …
R. Because being a woman doesn’t guarantee anything, but neither does being a man. What is literature? It is writing. My idea is that these ghettos, no matter how large, break down. And that a democratization of the letter is reached and, for that, it is necessary to debiologize the letter. At the moment the letter is genitalized.
P. He has also criticized the “literatures selfie”. Could you explain this concept?
R. The neoliberal system produces neoliberalism: the emphasis on the market, buying and throwing away. The market works with the present and its lag, which is seen especially in the field of technology. For this process to occur, the subject must be left alone in front of the object, because neoliberalism has put the object and the subject very close, as if they were the same. All this operation is possible by the me. It is a dismantling project of the community vision. Is he me in front of an object world, not a us. In this context, the idea of selfie: the photographed is alone, without a community, because there is not even someone to take your photo. It is you in front of yourself. The only possible community is with yourself.
P. And what, then, is the “literatures selfie“?
R. We cannot think that literature is left out of this process, because it is a whole system: there is nothing left out. Then, many scriptures turned into a monotony of the me, but the versions about our own life are multiple. This literatures selfie has been very reducing for the literary axis, although the same market has requested it: literature selfie where the reader cannot elaborate his own life in the life of the other, because that life is restricted by being told in a linear and absolute way, with a me which is never absolute. What writers, poets, should answer, is instead: I am not myself, but someone else. Or as García Lorca says: “I am no longer me.” That literature selfie it is very uninteresting literary, although on the understanding that people can write whatever they want.
P. You have said that the FIL Award was unexpected. What was your reaction?
R. First was the astonishment of feeling that this stay in Mexico was coming again, because the award is given by Mexico. Then think about all the years that have passed. I felt like talking to the girl and the teenager I was.
P. And what would today’s Diamela have said to the girl and adolescent that she was?
R. That is a very very personal conversation. [y ríe].