‘Writers must keep following their original calling regardless of what happens along the way’
Bernardo Carvalho is a Brazilian novelist, journalist and playwright, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. He has been correspondent for Folha de S. Paulo (one of Brazil’s major dailies) in Paris and New York, and editor of the paper’s literary supplement Folhetim. His books have been translated into more than 10 languages and published in many countries. In addition to Aberração, a collection of short stories published in 1993, he has written 10 novels, most recently Reprodução (Reproduction, 2013), published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras, as have all his previous titles.
Bernardo Carvalho was in Pakistan in February for the Karachi Literary Festival. Excerpts from an interview:
Tell us about your literary influences, which writers have inspired you, and what motivates you to write fiction so prolifically?
I have had many literary influences. And I’m still very influenced by the good books I read. I like the idea of being endlessly contaminated by books. I could tell you of a few authors, just to give you an idea, but they are not in any way defining figures of the kind of literature I ended up writing. Their works are not only very different from mine but you can say that they differ a great deal from each other too: Thomas Bernhard, Guimaraes Rosa, Faulkner, Marguerite Duras, Peter Handke, Fernando Pessoa, Borges, Bulgakov and Kafka. The recurrent element that inspires me so much in their works is basically their freedom, their courage to go on and do what they want, against all odds, even if sometimes it seems crazy and impossible.
You have dabbled both in journalistic and literary writings. What do you enjoy more? Also, has being a journalist helped your literary career and vice versa?
I became a journalist by chance and by necessity. For a time, it was how I could make a living. But it has never been my career of choice. Literature, as I understand it, has nothing to do with journalism. In journalism, it is enough to relate. In literature, there must be some degree of invention.
What is the current state of South American literature? What are the contemporary themes and subtexts that writers there, especially in Brazil, are exploring?
South American literature is very diverse. On top of that, we speak Portuguese in Brazil. We don’t speak Spanish, as in all other South American countries. So, we are not considered part of the same literature, we are not part of the same culture and the same tradition. But you won’t find a uniformed literary movement inside Brazil either. It is very individual. There are lots of people writing nowadays, from different backgrounds, with different goals and different aesthetics – each author in his own singular way. It has become very difficult to generalize.
You seem to spurn post-modernism. Why is that?
Actually, I don’t. I just don’t like labels. And post-modernism is not a very clear one. You can never know exactly what people are talking about when they talk about post-modernism. It can be a lot of things, some of them totally contradictory.
Has your extensive travels and time in New York and Paris transformed you as a writer?
I like the idea of not belonging. So, travelling became a tool to me, it gave some meaning to the feeling of being a foreigner everywhere. I always felt displaced, even in my own country, so travelling could only be my natural state. And it became a very creative state to me. It inspires me, gives me new ideas and pushes me to writing.
How was your experience at the Karachi Literature Festival?
It was very pleasant. The debate I participated in was very interesting and lively. And I met very nice people there.
What advice would you give to upcoming fiction writers?
To keep following their original calling, no matter what happens along the way.