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Carlos Fuentes
Carlos Fuentes
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Carlos Fuentes Interview (page: 4 / 5)

Author, Scholar & Diplomat

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  Carlos Fuentes

Is there an audience that you're trying to reach in particular?

Carlos Fuentes Interview Photo
Carlos Fuentes: I'm not sure. I am translated into 36 or 37 languages, so how can I account for the Lithuanian or Uzbekistanian reader? He or she cannot come into my conscience when I write or I would go bananas. So maybe I think of a small circle of friends, or I think of my wife -- I think of a very small group of people, if I think at all of anybody, except the blank page, which is my real interlocutor when I'm writing. A blank page is staring at me, and I say, "You cannot go on being blank for long, and I have to talk to you, and you have to talk back to me," and there we go. You start writing.

Is writing a dialogue with yourself? A dialogue with society?

Carlos Fuentes: Yes, with your own culture, with your civilization, with all the things you know, all the things you ignore. What you ignore is more important for writing than what you know, because what you know is known. What you don't know is what you imagine. That gives force to the writing. If it's not there, the writing is not very good, because you're just reflecting on things and imitating life. But when you're talking about what isn't there yet, or what is there but is hidden or forbidden, then you come into something more interesting.

How do you prepare for a life as a writer?

Carlos Fuentes: You read a lot. You read a lot. You read a lot. Reading is essential. You have to read a lot.

You have to love reading in order to be a good writer. Because writing doesn't start with you. It doesn't spring from nothing. It doesn't start at zero. You have to be conscious that there is a tremendous tradition behind you, a tradition that goes way back to the Bible and Homer and whatever you wish -- and Aztec myths. You have to see yourself as part of the chain of being, if you wish. You are part of a process of language and memory and imagination. To put it in a nutshell, I think that to create, you have to be conscious of tradition. But to keep the tradition alive, you have to create something new. That would be my formula.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

How do you measure achievement for a writer?

Carlos Fuentes: Certainly not like Dan Brown, I can assure you.

I think that writing is like a message put in a bottle and thrown into the sea. So whoever fishes that bottle out of the sea and reads the message, that is the "destinatary" (addressee) of the book. I mean, in other words, you cannot have a prefabricated audience, as a lot of best seller authors have. They know exactly who they're writing for. They pander to the tastes of that audience. That, for me, is not writing. That deprives writing of its mystery, of its importance, of its imagination finally. You have to be in ignorance, in a way, of the reader if you are to write a good book. You have to create readers, not just give them what they want. That is a big difference.

Not having pandered, not having sought out this great popular audience, how do you account for your achievements?

Carlos Fuentes: Total mystery. I am in awe at anybody who buys a book of mine. I want to go and buy it back and say, "Don't do it. Here is your money. Take it back." For me it is a great mystery.

You have so many cases of great writers who have achieved great popular success -- Balzac, García Márquez -- two examples. There are writers who have not had immediate success -- Stendhal, William Faulkner. But eventually they come into their own with time. Balzac and García Márquez will be popular forever. They are great writers, and they deserve their popularity. Stendhal was a failure, complete -- his novels. A lot of Faulkner was unread until he got the Nobel Prize practically, but the books were always great. The same year -- I think it was the same year -- Anthony Adverse came out, Hervey Allen novel, and Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner. The Hervey Allen novel was a huge bestseller, huge bestseller -- the great bestseller of the year. I think nobody reads it today. Faulkner is read throughout the world.

So you have to be very faithful to what you're doing. The rest is the gift of the gods. That's it.

Is it important to be a risk-taker? Do you take risks as a writer?

Carlos Fuentes: Absolutely. Absolutely.

One can write comfortable novels, become a best seller, make yourself simpatico to a lot of readers. That's not my way. I want to take a risk with every book I write, and pose challenges to myself and to the reader. Sometimes I'm not an easy read, but I want the reader to come along with me and realize that he's climbing a mountain with me, that sometimes it may be difficult and sometimes even useless -- I don't care. But I'm not going to make the path just easy by writing something that I know will be popular or easy to read. That's not in my nature. I would rather rewrite my books the way I have already written them than debase myself in some way and say, "Now this is easy. Munch it up. It's easy to digest." No, no, no. Life is hard, difficult. Thought is difficult. Situations are extreme, and you must make an effort with the writer to travel this road. It is not easy for you. It wasn't easy for me either. But maybe there is a reward at the end. Maybe there isn't a reward. Maybe you have failed. But if there is a reward at the end of a hard trail, then you've done a good job.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

In the 1960s, you were part of the great literary boom in Latin America. How important was that moment in Latin culture?

Carlos Fuentes Interview Photo
Carlos Fuentes: It was very, very important. We've always had a great literary tradition in some countries of Latin America, starting with the Indian cultures. The Aztecs, the Incas produced great literature. There is a folk literature, a verbal literature of the Indian people of the Americas.

Then we have a great colonial literature, starting with the chronicles of the conquest, which are our first novels, Bernal Diaz, Hernan Cortez. And a great colonial period, the great poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in Mexico. Then a not-so-good 19th century because we were very imitative of European models and fashions.

But then a recovery through great poetry -- Ruben Dario, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo -- great poets that brought the language to the fore and showed us their language and said, "It's your language as well."

From them sprang a generation of very good novelists, Borges, Carpentier, Asturias, Onetti, and we are their heirs. I mean,

We didn't come out of nothing; we came out of a very rich tradition. That tradition coincided with interest in Latin America, worldwide interest, because of the Cuban revolution. The Cuban revolution brought Latin America into focus after a long period of dictatorships and ignorance of what was going on. So there was this leader, Fidel Castro, and a lot of attention on Latin America -- and who are the writers in Latin America? It happened to be us. It could have been another generation that had preceded us, or a generation yet to come. We coincided with a historical event, which was the Cuban revolution, and with the Alliance for Progress and Kennedy and a whole new interest in Latin America. So that is the publicity of the affair. I think we also wrote good books, naturally. If not, we wouldn't be talking here. But the publicity moment was very good, and the books were good as well, so it was a very felicitous moment for our literature.

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