Interview with Rosa Beltrán
By Jade Arroyo
Rosa Beltrán is writer, journalist, translator and professor at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Among her most outstanding works are the story collections La Espera (The Waiting, 1986) and Amores que matan (Killer Loves, 1996), the essay “América sin americanismos” (“America Without Americanisms,” 1997), and the novel La corte de los ilusos (The Court of the Deluded, 1995). She was a featured lecturer at the latest San Miguel Writers’ Conference.
Jade Arroyo: What’s your opinion about the literary panorama in Mexico? How do you see it, and what is missing?
Rosa Beltrán: I found that the generations born after the 1960s (which I belong to) and writers born in the 1970s are protagonists of a new literature, very rich in resources, and a mature literature. Many of us started to write when we were very young. We had a good tool box and we had more avidity to learn the tradition where we came from.
Since my generation, a boom was born: the historiographic novel. This is born from the tradition of telling about ourselves as individuals; we had a wider notion of a border, like the influence of foreign music and art. The Mexican condition has many faces. Another feature is the revalidation of humor.
JA: What ideas do you want to convey in your work?
RB: More than ideas, I think it is about the style. I believe you don’t look for style, you find it; it suddenly tells you what you didn’t even know you wanted to say when you were writing. I believe the words themselves are what tell you who you are. Only after having published several works do you become aware of that, which is always there, like a constant. In my case, that’s been a continual rethinking of myths (as much historical as family myths), the relationships between couples, the mother: What happens if the mother is not a sacrificing, loving one? What happens with the idea of a non-dysfunctional family? Is there such a thing? All those themes are present in what I write. It has been a process of discovering myself, of telling myself.
JA: How did you feel about participating in the Writers’ Conference?
RB: Very honored to be part of the group of writers who come to San Miguel de Allende. It is evident that this is a large congress and its relevance to North Americans is wide, and I think it was important that a group of Mexican writers participated and that both cultures could mix. The ideal is to blend the English-speaking public into the Spanish-speaking experience. It is curious that we conquered a foreign public from San Miguel de Allende.
JA: What is the final goal of literature?
RB: For me, there is none. Literature doesn’t make us better as a society, but it does turn us into more complex beings. Literature is a tool: We narrate ourselves as a biological need to know who we are. The question of who we are is answered when we tell our stories.
JA: Does Mexico have a literary identity?
RB: Clearly. We have a very strong literary tradition. We are many Mexicos; we are very different in the DF from people from smaller towns. Mexican literature is widely known in countries like France or Germany, or even farther, but not so much in the Anglo-Saxon culture. I believe this has to do with the stereotypes that endorse ideological prejudices.
JA: Do you think something gets lost in the translation?
RB: Sure it does, but things are gained, too. Works like One Hundred Years of Solitude surprise and amaze us. This book was translated by Gregory Rabassa, one of the better translators of the Latin-American boom. They surprise us and amaze us not only for being the amazing works they are, but also for the excellent job of the translator.
JA: Can you tell us a little about your new projects?
RB: Actually, I will be reading some short stories that appear in the novel I’m working on right now. This novel follows Darwin’s theory of evolution, about this predator species that we are, and about something Darwin himself anticipated: the involution. It is a sort of advance for my new book.
JA: How do you see Mexican society nowadays?
RB I believe there’s not another option for surviving other than being pessimistic. The difference between the optimist and the pessimist, according to Schopenhauer, is that the optimist believes we are in the best world possible, and the pessimist knows it. I think Mexican society has always had an extraordinary strength, a capacity to overcome catastrophes, bad government, corruption. Nothing is the same at a time where everything has converged into a vortex. But here we are. And artistically, we are in a blooming era.