Literature
Misc 06/07/2021

Which dead writer would you interview?

Some thirty authors talk to their past references in 'Entrevistas de ultratumba' (Interviews from Beyond the Grave)

4 min
Arthur Conan Doyle to Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927.

BarcelonaThe idea of having a conversation with one of your creative totems who have disappeared -recently or centuries ago- has motivated one of the most unique books of the summer, Interviews from beyond the grave published by Libros del Kultrum. The book's editor, Dan Crowe, brings together nearly thirty writers. "We all talk to the dead", he explains. "What kind of wicked desire fuels the need to interview someone who raises hollyhocks? We want the deceased to provide us with information, to reveal secrets to us, to explain to us what they were unaware of in life". Perhaps because the interviewer "needs to think that the dead person knows more than the living", sometimes the interviews end up drifting towards "advice and help".

"We know these are fictional, and yet we create our narratives", Crowe admits. And so does the story itself, which is nothing but an erratic sequence of stories arbitrarily strung together by the living and the dead". The book abounds in questionnaires to novelists and poets, although some artists (Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp), actors (Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas) and musicians (Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon) are also interviewed.

1.
Jaime Gil de Biedma

"Spain is an archaic country, from the Old Regime."

"Spain is an archaic country, from the Old Regime"

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Gènesi, ascensió i mort  d’un gran poeta

"Did you know that your work still scandalizes?", publisher and translator Andreu Jaume asks Jaime Gil de Biedma. "I'm very amused that it happens", he replies from beyond the grave. Do you really still go on like that? I like the fact that I'm still being read, but I've always said that Spain is an archaic country, from the Old Regime, that it hasn't had a real romantic revolution and that, as a result of this, it is very limited when it comes to judging individuals".

The author of the poems of The Persons of the Verb and of the diary Portrait of the Artist in 1956 also discusses his intimate life: "I have never been able to talk about my homosexuality in public", he says. As you know, my poetry is deliberately ambiguous in this respect. Due to political circumstances I made a virtue out of necessity and I think that, in this respect, censorship made my work more complex, because the experience I speak of is universal in scope, it goes beyond gender.

2.
Henry James

"I was attracted to men, of course I was".

"Men were attracted to me, of course they were".

L'escriptor Henry James

"Were you attracted to men?" Cynthia Ozick, one of the most prominent American novelists of recent decades, asks Henry James, author of Portrait of a Lady and The Aspern Papers. "I was attracted to men, of course I was", he replies. "If I had to choose only one man, my favourite is dear Jonathan Sturges, a spoilt little devil whose love echoes unhindered to this day".

Later, Heny James argues that "the art lies in the expression, not the person", and recalls that after hearing the spectacular performance of a singer of the time he had no desire to be interested in "her private little voice". When Ozick tries to find out some details about friendships, enemies and some of the writer's artistic failures -such as theatrical ones-, James tries to shield himself: "I claim infinitely and firmly the universal cremation of any epistolary. My inkwell has too often spilled a torrent of gibberish out of mere cordiality".

3. Jane Austen

"A kind of imbecility was demanded of us women".

"I was born in an age and a time".

"I was born into a very particular time and social class, and was brought up to obey, please, and take care of housework", says Jane Austen after the writer and filmmaker Pilar Ruiz explains to her that women continue to suffer great inequality in the 21st century, to which must be added the precariousness in the field of the arts. "From the age of 12 they made us wear corsets", she continues. "I remember that day as if I had entered purgatory. Women were required to be a kind of imbecility, a weakness that was considered charming in my environment".

The author of Pride and Prejudice, who lived from 1775 to 1817, explains that in her entire career she earned barely more than 600 pounds. "I should have liked to have enjoyed success during my lifetime, for then I should have had the financial stability that I never had", she admits.

4.
Arthur Conan Doyle:

"Sherlock Holmes suffocated me".



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Sherlock Holmes, en una il·lustració del segle XIX

"What is this monstrosity?" Arthur Conan Doyle asks another novelist known for his detective novels, Ian Rankin. "It's the Scottish Parliament", he replies. The question serves to Rankin to remember that the creator of Sherlock Holmes was "unionist". The conversation quickly drifts from politics to literature. You have done a lot of harm", Rankin reproaches Conan Doyle. Your policemen were so clumsy they didn't know anything. After your books, for decades, the fictional detective in England had to be an amateur, a Miss Marple [Agatha Christie's creation] or a Lord Peter Wimsey [Dorothy L. Sayers' character]".

One of the funniest moments in the exchange between the two Scottish authors is when Rankin asks him if he has seen the film adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes novels, or if he is familiar with versions of the character by other novelists such as Michael Chabon. "Let's not talk, please, about these wars", he asks him. "Sherlock Holmes was suffocating me", he admits at the end. I wanted to write fantasy and serious fiction.

5.
Anaïs Nin

"Her sex and mine, her soul and mine, matched perfectly".

"Her sex and mine, her soul and mine, matched perfectly".

Anaïs Nin

Known for novels such as En una campana de cristal, Anaïs Nin had Cuban and Catalan family roots, lived a large part of her life in Paris and wrote in English. "It is in moments of emotional crisis that we reveal the greatest truths", she confesses to Wendy Guerra, who walks through Havana with one of her authors of reference. "I understand how necessary personal revolution is when one cannot take refuge in creation, in an illusory world", she continues.

On the incestuous relationship with her father when they met again years later in Paris, Nin admits that she was unaware that this "attractive and captivating home" had a blood link with her: "His sex and mine, his soul and mine, were a perfect match. There was only one problem, that he was my father and the world was not ready to accept us in those circumstances".

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