Literature as a space of infinite possibilities


BOMB interview Gonçalo M. Tavares.

It is a neighborhood of strange, paradoxical, logical, or ultra-logical characters — very anguished or very playful. There is something about the spirit of the names themselves that gave life to the characters that inhabit my stories. I gave the name of a writer to a character, just as you might give the name of a writer to a street. There are various “Misters” who I visualize as possible characters, playful characters. Among those, Mister Kafka, Mister Pessoa, Mister Proust, etcetera.

I’m accustomed to saying that we don’t want the street to resemble the writer, but there is a link. In the first place, nothing is biographical. The characters are fictional and autonomous, they go down their own paths. But obviously, there is a link, even if it’s small, in the themes or the tones or the logic of the writing.

I may view The Neighborhood — which is a huge project, if I can finish it (I probably can’t) — as a kind of essay about literature, but fictional and with complete freedom, yet it is also a type of utopia, a neighborhood of writers and artists who try to oppose barbarity and stupidity. While imaginary, it is a neighborhood, so people can suddenly move in, and others can leave. The possible residents of the neighborhood appear in an illustration in the books, and there is an illustration of the neighborhood that provides a map of the project.


Mark O’Connell on Tavares for the New Yorker last year:

The “Kingdom” novels are all set in a hazily determined but strongly central-European (decidedly not Portuguese) location at a time of undefined war and occupation. All the characters have brusquely Germanic names — Lenz Buchmann, Joseph Walser, Theodor Busbeck, Hinnerk Oberst. We are given signposts as to our location, and yet, in an important sense, we don’t know where we are. His imagined world is clearly linked to the very real history of twentieth-century Europe, but it is made strange, and somehow universalized, by the withholding of detail we would ordinarily consider decisive. Such combinations of the particular and the inscrutable are crucial to Tavares’s work, and connect with the deep, intoxicating estrangements of his prose. This alienated recognition—the way in which something unfamiliar and unsettling can seem to carry the aura of irrefutable truth — is, for me, one of the hallmarks of serious art. His books may be bleak and unnerving, but they are, for this reason, exhilarating in the way that only the work of a powerfully original artist can be.

[Via Literary Saloon]