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Torre Martello

Blog del Instituto Cervantes de Dublín

Virtual interview with Manuel Vicent and Ángel Harguindey

Virtual Interview with Manuel Vicent and Ángel Harguindey, Instituto Cervantes Dublin Library, 7th April 2011. Translated by Emer Cassidy

Manuel Vicent

Laura Martín
Good afternoon Mr. Vicent. Which book or author turned you into a reader and why? Which book or author turned you into a writer?

Manuel Vicent
For me, comics where what first turned me on to reading. After that, adventure books by Salgari and Jules Verne.  Later on, with Azorín and Baroja, I was hooked. But the authors who made me a writer, if I can say such a thing, were Albert Camus and André Gide.

David Carrión
Mr. Vicent, do you remember the first story you were ever told, and the first you yourself told?

Manuel Vicent
The first story was one of the tales in Heart, by Edmundo de Amicis. Another book which had a big impact on me was one given to me by my school teacher on the day of my first holy communion: “Lo que puede más que el hombre”. Those stories of an engineer, who regales a man from the country with the latest technological advances, had a big effect on me.

The first story I made up… On a footpath, with a crowd of children around me, around 8 or 9 years old, I invented a story about a crime, and that’s as much as I can remember. A gruesome, passionate crime.

LMartín
Good afternoon, Mr. Harguindey. The same question as before: which book or author turned you into a reader and/or a writer?

Ángel Harguindey
I have only written one book of conversations with Azcona and Manuel Vicent, and there wasn’t one single book which made me a reader, but rather, several, from the “Just William” series to Jules Verne, and Stevenson.

DCarrión
Mr. Harguindey, why would you recommend M. Vicent’s books to readers who are not native Spanish-speakers? In particular, his most recent novel, “Aguirre, el magnífico”?

Ángel Harguindey
Because it is a wonderful fusion between reality and imagination. In my opinion, the interest in Vicent’s most recent novels lies in that they are excellent chronicles of our time and our country.

Especially Aguirre, el magnífico, given its subject matter as a fictionalised biography of Javier Aguirre, it also stands alone as a wonderful and much-documented chronicle of the latter half of the 20th century in Spain

DCarrión
“Aguirre el magnífico” is pure theatre of the grotesque, or esperpento, and its protagonist like a character straight out of Valle-Inclán’s court of miracles. How could we explain that to a foreigner?

Manuel Vicent
Esperpento is a literary genre created by Valle-Inclán, which isn’t so much a caricature as a literary distortion which aims to portray the essence of the character in that distortion. For a foreigner, that distortion… I’m not sure if they could fully understand it.

DCarrión
We mentioned Valle-Inclán, however, I was under the impression, Mr. Vicent, that you were more akin to the sobriety of Baroja. Is that right?

Manuel Vicent
Although I lean towards a baroque style, I find I am moving away from it. As the years go by, I tend to write in a more concise way, placing all the importance on the verb, and not the adjective, and that’s Baroja.

LMartín
Is it possible to understand the history of the 20th century in Spain just that little bit better after reading “Aguirre, el mágnífico”, or will the foreign reader end up more confused than before they had started?

Manuel Vicent
It’s possible they could end up more confused, but that also means that they have understood it, because the history of the 20th century in Spain is an utter labyrinth.

LMartín
Mr. Vicent, in “Aguirre, el magnífico” you recount how the duke introduced you to the king as his biographer. Is that how the idea came to you to write this book? What sparked the idea?

Manuel Vicent
He was just being witty. But as time passed, and the years went by, that notion became the stimulus to write this Iberian triptych. It isn’t intended to be his biography so much as an Iberian portrait, a sort of triptych, where this character carries the central role.

DCarrión
Mr. Vicent, who would you like to be your biographer? Perhaps Mr. Harguindey would like to volunteer, or will you write your own autobiography? Or, perhaps it is already in print, with a little portion in each of your novels?

Manuel Vicent
I have written quite a lot in a genre which, these days, is known as autofiction, even though it has been around since literature first came into existence. The idea isn’t to write a biography as such, it’s more the retelling of personal experiences. And the reason to share them with the reader is that they are experiences which express worlds, feelings and dreams common to us all.

LMartín
Mr. Vicent, how do you feel about the screen adaptations of your books: Tranvía a la Malvarrosa and Son de mar? Are there more to come?

Manuel Vicent
I have no idea whether there’ll be any more, but I’m happy with them in any case. I haven’t been involved in the making of either film.

LMartín
Do you think “Aguirre, el magnífico” would be good subject matter for a film by Berlanga and Azcona?

Manuel Vicent
I think it’s more Visconti territory.

DCarrión
Two Irish authors feature in your book “Póquer de ases”, I presume they are two of your favourites: Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.

Manuel Vicent
Yes, one of them because he stretched the boundaries of literature. If I were to name three authors who stretched the limits of literature, nullifying the old style of bourgeois novel, one would be Joyce, who analysed the average man’s sub-conscious, spilling his thoughts, dreams and desires through the streets of Dublin over the course of a day, and that, when you look at it, is translating the world of Freud over to fiction. The other two I’d name are Kafka and Proust.

Beckett, who in some respects was a scholar of Joyce, expressed the humour in chaos and the absurd, as our last defence against chaos itself and death.

DCarrión
Mr. Vicent, quoting Samuel Beckett you have said “Life is a chaos between two silences”. Do you think literature can bring order and sense to chaos?

Manuel Vicent
No, I think literature adds more chaos to the general chaos. But high literature makes that chaos easier to dance to.

LMartín
Mr. Vicent, in “Viajes, fábulas y otras travesías” you take us on a journey across Europe in 1985. Speaking about Ireland you say “I began to love this country the following day [after my arrival] at 9 o’clock in the morning”. Why? What has become of that love 25 years on?

Manuel Vicent
Without a doubt it was discovering the characters on Grafton Street.

It felt like I had seen all those people before in films set in the west: those red-heads that  take shots at outlaws… and Maureen O’Hara making a turnip tart.

DCarrión
You mentioned recently in the Juan March Foundation that as we get older, the only thing we remember is our childhood. I have happy memories, but I wouldn’t go back “to that place” if you paid me. Would you?

Manuel Vicent
It’s not necessarily about going back, but as we lose our memory, the brain’s hard-drive takes over, the cogs still clogged up with the slime that is our childhood.

LMartín
Mr. Vicent: tell me if I am quoting this correctly: Literature is memory rotted down with imagination over time.

Manuel Vicent
I think that’s exactly right.

LMartín
Beauty masks destruction. Beauty and corruption go hand in hand. Which one wins in the end?

Manuel Vicent
Well, I think it’s a question of dialectics. The synthesis will always win. A moment of beauty is worth a lifetime and we should make the most of it.

DCarrión
Mr. Vicent, where is your abode at the moment? Closer to Villa Alegría (Happy Town) or Ecce Homo on the corner of Virgen de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows)?

Manuel Vicent
I’ve made a mammoth effort to leave behind Ecce Homo on the corner of Virgen de los Dolores and return to Villa Alegría. I’d say it’s closer to Villa Alegría.

DCarrión
Mr. Vicent, your most recent book has come out in print and in digital format at the same time. How are you finding the experience? I imagine the majority of sales are still from print. Do you buy electronic books? Thank you very much.

Manuel Vicent
No, not ever. And I’m not sure how the digital sales are going.

Helen Cunningham
Good afternoon Mr. Vicent,
It’s not possible to visit Spain without coming across the Duchess of Alba in the gossip magazines and on various TV shows. Now you have written a book in which Jesus Aguirre, the duchess’s second husband, is the protagonist. Is the duchess happy with the book?

Manuel Vicent
It appears not, but what I can say is that from my point of view as the author of the book, the part with Jesús Aguirre as the Duke of Alba is the book’s least interesting and most insipid side.

Jo
Manuel Vicent, welcome to Ireland. Which Irish writers do you like? Thank you.

Manuel Vicent
The answer is very nearly topical: Joyce and Beckett essentially. There are more writers here per square metre than anywhere else in the world. Obviously beer is a highly literary product.

Joe
Manuel, in your short story “El caballo amante”, the protagonist writes verses of poetry whilst listening to the cries of passion of his wife and her lover in the downstairs bedroom. What do you do to stimulate your imagination whilst writing?

Manuel Vicent
It depends on what I want to write and on my mood, but what really gets me writing is having a storyline which prompts me to waste time.

Eduardo José
Dear Mr. Vicent, I have just seen your film “Son de mar”. I really like the actress. Do you think I could have a role in your next film, obviously, alongside that actress? Thank you. Thank you very much.

Manuel Vicent
I’ll suggest it to Leonor, as long as you are tall, slim and have green eyes.

Patricia
Hello. I like cookery books. Why have you written about food? Thank you.

Manuel Vicent
Because in a way eating is like a mystical deed, from a literary perspective. And because there has always been great literary tradition around what we eat.

Pawel
Hello Vicent, what is the life of a writer like? Is it very lonely? Thank you.

Manuel Vicent
Loneliness is the writer’s landscape from within which the writer observes the outside world.

Colm
Ángel, what are your criteria for deciding what to publish? Do you like Dublin? Thank you.

Ángel Harguindey
From all the possible topics, I usually choose the ones that interest me the most, personally. If I have just one criterion, it’s to always write in favour of the subject or the person. At this stage of the game, if something doesn’t interest me I have the privilege of not having to write about it.

I find Dublin a very welcoming city, with very friendly people, and civilised dimensions. For those of us coming from a city of speculators such as Madrid, it’s very attractive.

Colm
Manuel, why have your books not been translated into English?

Manuel Vicent
Ask the editors. I don’t know, honestly.

Anna Bajor-Ciciliati
Good afternoon!

I have five questions for Mr. Manuel Vicent:
1. Where does journalism end and literature begin? Which of the pairs of opposing ideas: objectivity-subjectivity, fact-fiction, or transience-universality do you see as the most important in marking the dividing line?

2.. Is there room for fiction in journalism? Or is being faithful to the facts an absolute obligation for a journalist?

3. Do you identify yourself with the idea of “literary journalism”?

4. Are there higher authorities in the world of journalism to whom you look up to? If so, who? As for your literary inspirations – who do you consider the most important?

5. Are we currently experiencing a “crisis” in journalism?

Thank you very much,

Manuel Vicent
1- Literature begins when a writer, or a journalist, takes three seconds to choose between one adjective or another.

2- There is a faithfulness to the facts which, with time, and as memory fades, becomes  fiction.

3- I think journalism is the literary genre of the latter half of the 20th century, and including up to the present moment.

4- In journalism, the only higher authority I have are the facts, the stance of reflecting reality with little in the way of adjectives and lots of verbs. My literary maestros would be Camus, Stevenson, Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Tomas Mann. In article writing, the genre in which I work the most, Josep Plá and Julio Camba.

5- As regards analogue, or print, journalism, probably. But as regards journalism as an attitude, in reflecting the facts as they come about and reflecting them to the reader as a chronicle, that will never go out of fashion because it’s embedded in our dreams.

Thank you all for participating in this interview

Related links:

Manuel Vicent will also be our author of the month throughout the month of April.

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