FÉLIX CORONEL AND THE AMERICAS CONNECTION

May 15, 2018

 

(Pedra de Toque): What do you expect from a publisher? What does “communicating an author” mean nowadays?

(Félix Coronel): Dammit… This one was straight on the jugular. What do I expect? Should I answer sincerely or in a politically correct manner? I case I can be frank, I don’t expect anything. Unfortunately the publishing market is prostituted (I actually think it’s always been), and new authors with great talent have little or no chance to have someone to safeguard them. In the other hand, from those who find a publisher who really bets on their capacity, they can expect… Bills.

Ok. I explain. A publishing project (it’s not only about writing, but writing, creating a publishing project, revision, graphic project, including cover, format, type of font, amount of pages, etc., releasing, distribution, sales, anyway) requires a certain investment. And in case this investment is not covered by the author, it must be covered by the publisher. What to expect from one who wants to gain a good money, from one who wants a good feedback from the invested capital? Perhaps it doesn’t answer to the question, but it gives us the picture of the reality in Brazil. I only know a few “Mr. Publishers” who would bet on new and unknown authors, even the unknown ones being very talented. Nowadays, a new author may “show” their art through the social media. They can also prevent from falling in the hands of one who will suck their precious little money with print-on-demand kind of methods and so on. There are other possibilities. When I decided to release my first book, I had only the printing office, my PC with Photoshop and the predated checks I used for the first printing of a thousand copies. I had no idea what selling books was, nor marketing, how distribution works, or anything.

But I was stubborn. And I went to the streets selling my book. A bag with thirty copies, not to weigh too much, and a lot of walking. I dedicated full-time to sell this book. After much effort and many shoes with holes, I managed to pay for the predated checks. I bet again on my stubbornness. This time, it was a printing of five thousand copies, so there I was again in the streets, in the whorehouses, the churches, the pubs, trying to sell my book; “Uivos” [Howls] sold a total of twenty thousand copies, in a period of two years. I suffered, I cried, I slept in squares benches, felt cold, hungry, everything. Today I only have two copies in my library. And I don’t give them, don’t lend them, don’t take them not even to show.

If I learnt streetwise stuff then? Obviously. Zé Saramago was releasing his book at the Public Library of Paraná, in Curitiba. And I was releasing mine in the Eleutério’s Bookstore. A blatant, blindingly difference. I was this poverty deserving tears. He? Surrounded by the “intellectual” elite.

But I sold more than him. While he was “having fun” with the well-to-do ladies, I was selling each copy entitled to a draft beer in a famous bar of the city (I was friends with the owner of the bar and with the unworthy ladies that frequented it). To summarize: I sold 130 copies and he sold miserable twenty. For an autograph evening the numbers are memorable.

Obviously, he became a Nobel Prize, as I’m still the same dreamer and poor-devil.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Was it the Argentinean or the Brazilian Félix who achieved such a success that isn’t compared with any prize?

(Félix Coronel): There is not an Argentinean or a Brazilian Félix: there’s a Félix who absorbs the best for himself, and discards everything that doesn’t match his way to see the world. There’s a Félix who enjoyed (since I don’t drink anymore) drinking a 25-year single malt, but there’s also a Félix who sits down in the sidewalk to share his lunchbox with a beggar. The world may not be separated by territorial limits, flags or idiosyncrasies. I think it’s much more than this.

 

(Pedra de Toque): What are the differences for you between translation and free authorship writing, whether in prose or in verses?

(Félix Coronel): The difference is abysmal. When we translate, we try to respect the original text, or the source-text, but also adapt it to the target audience. In the adaptation or translation there will always be a very slight touch of the translator, as a co-author, who can diverge from another translator, because the interpretation differs, and too much.

This doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It only shows the different perceptions about the same subject.

An example are the translations/adaptations made by Afrânio Peixoto in haikus by Matsuo Bashô. In his book “Trovas Populares Brasileiras” [Brazilian Popular Ballads], he gives the haiku the “5-7-5” format, as it’s known today (five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables).

However, Basho wrote in kanji, which is a language composed by ideograms. Everyone knows that an ideogram doesn’t represent phonemes, but concrete meaning. There isn’t a comparative form, and Peixoto forgot the Zen side of it all.

The haiku forms an inherent part of the Buddhist Zen philosophy, the search for “Satori”. It’s the perception of this exact moment, the true nature of reality of oneself. Peixoto says in the preface: “Japanese people have an elementary form of art, even simpler than our popular ballads: it’s the haiku, a word that we in the West don’t know how to translate, but with emphasis, it’s the lyrical epigram. It’s composed by brief triplets: verses of five, seven and five syllables, a total of seventeen syllables. In such molds, however, there flows emotions, images, comparisons, suggestions, whispers, desires, dreams… of untranslatable enchantment.”

In summary: Peixoto (who must be turning with so much disregard!) opened the doors for Guilherme de Almeida, and later, Paulo Leminski, to create the triplets with the highly Brazilian rhymes, but with nothing to do with the Zen thing. The other “wicked” man was the Mexican Octavio Paz, and his haikus in Spanish.

Beware, I won’t give further explanations. I don’t despise anybody. Quite the contrary. Through the observation and study of the work of each of the mentioned men I came to my own conclusions. Both as a translator and as an author of some simple lines that some call prose and poetry.

I’ve been translating many things by Pablo Neruda, by the Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal, all in all, I confess that in several opportunities I saw myself trying to “copy” certain shapes of thoughts combination. I resisted rigorously. I believe in my expression possibility. There will be in the authorial writing some influences from my readings, this is a reality. However, I believe that anyone whose craft is to be a translator and who goes for the adventure of writing tries by all means to get around from the writing parameters or manners of the translated authors. He will try to create his own style, his own way of communication.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Since when have you been having direct contact with Brazil, how do you compare Brazilian and the Argentinean cultures?

(Félix Coronel): I don’t compare them anymore. I gave up doing it the evening I had a terrible indigestion because of a feijoada (I didn’t even know something so good existed!).

During the twentieth century, Argentina was savagely “Europeanized”. There was a time when the average Argentinean read one or two books per month, and the streets of Buenos Aires had more bookstores than bars. Times change, cultures too. The education system changed, the individual parameters changed, the social behavior changed, the form of expression changed, anyway, everything.

In a simplistic, very simplistic fashion, it means that the Argentinean culture that survived to the political and social chaos from the beginning of the millennium emphasized Europe; Brazil emphasized the United States. In Argentina rap didn’t blow up so hard, but in the other hand one hears “electronic cumbia” at every corner. There was a kind of cultural downgrading, but this is generalized. The entire Latin America undergoes a chronic symptomatic stupidity. As we can realize, it was a very good plan drawn by those who implemented all the military dictatorships in Latin America in the sixties and seventies. But this will be a discussion for another opportunity.

Nowadays, the same mediocre outcomes obtained in the Brazilian public schools are obtained in Argentina. Perhaps even worse, if we take into account the demographic rate of each country. The enormous social inequality is also something to blame. I remind Gandhi: “The worst way of violence is poverty.”

 

(Pedra de Toque): Do you think knowledge globalization may lead Brazilian culture to collapse, if it hasn’t reached this point yet? Couldn’t we be more willing to learn about our land a little more than we do, instead of consuming much more of the “cultural product” from other countries, without dilemma and without so much disproportion?

The first question we should ask is: “What is culture?”. In every civil institution or group of cultural nature one speaks, logically, about culture. This is clear and evident, even for the most unadvised. However, there’s a point that wasn’t, isn’t, and if is not put in the agenda, will never be analyzed. This point regards exactly the essential meaning of the word “culture”.

For many, culture is the set of information about literature, art, general knowledge, anyway, all that makes an individual belong to the skinny 3.5% of the Brazilian population that reads an average of three (3) books per year, according to statistics submitted by several means in the 24th Biennial International Book Fair, carried out in São Paulo, in 2016.

As a humble evolutionary product of the primates, I usually say that culture is a two-faced woman.

The reason? It’s very simple. One of the faces, objective; another one is subjective. Culture shows its objective face in the cultural works produced by a social group whose unceasing creation represents for the common man that composes it the creation of its own world, the decisively vital space in which we move or evolve.

Or not.

All this will depend on the acceptance the social environment gives to such creation.

In the other hand, I consider the social group where there’s no expression and representation of cultural works creation, the presence of man becomes null. And this happens exactly because human being is a “social animal”, who needs to be around his equals to obtain his own development and because the identity of a social group is necessarily built by the cultural works, because only they can state to the man his essence and the meaning of his presence in this world: the presence of an individual, an element who can understand, transform and give meaning to his actions.

Therefore, human being fulfills his ideals as a human being by exerting the action of cultural creation or understanding a cultural work.

But sure, I need to add something: can we create our own culture and refrain from looking out thinking that what’s done in the big centers is better that our own productions?

That’s where culture shows its other face: the subjective one.

This face defines the achievement plan of man as an integral part of a cultural process. If human being recognizes themselves as being member of a social group for cultivating “certain” customs, for instance, only the understanding of their meaning will allow them to accomplish his plans.

Do you want clear examples?

Get ready: why do French people drink on average 80 liters of wine per year, and we, Brazilians, drink 2?

Why is “chimarrão” admittedly a typical drink of people from Rio Grande do Sul?

The individual recedes to, I’d say, “infra-human” states and behaviors, when he or she remains apart from the meaning of the cultural world that surrounds them. If the meaning, in turn, is for cultural works, he/she gives a kind of signal, a kind of trademark, to this entire group, making it not only an understood meaning, but also a communicated meaning.

Therefore, one may establish the social and historical character of culture.

Anyway, excuse me.

I think I’m exceeding my own thinking capacity.

In several opportunities I’ve read here and there that “man is a historic and social being”.

The human beings are historical because they have the power to create culture; therefore, they understand themselves and communicate it to other human beings. This is the very meaning that incarnates in the cultural creation. Culture is, thus, the own history of the social group.

 

I have dual nationality: I’m Argentinean and also Brazilian, with too much pride. However, I feel uncomfortable when Brazilian men want to have their say about life in Venezuela, for example, but cannot see the leaks in the public school their children attend. Not everything is to blame on governments: a great part of the evils that affect us arise from the perfidious option to practice the “jeitinho Brasileiro”.

The neighbor’s backyard is always more beautiful than ours, my father used to say. And he was right. We need to be more aware of the social knowledge and less didactical. We need to act more. I remember Paulo Freire in the “Importance of the Act of Reading”: […] It wasn’t, for instance – I often say -, the bourgeois education what created and informed the bourgeoisie that, by reaching to the power, had the power to systematize its education.”

 

(Pedra de Toque): It’s exactly what the question is about, culture as a modus vivendi: if French people enjoy wine, people from Rio Grande do Sul enjoy Chimarrão and from São Paulo enjoy coffee, who would be interested in “changing” this “natural” or “cultural” state of affairs?

(Félix Coronel): The answer is obvious: the interested ones are those who want, somehow, to interfere with this “natural state” of culture and obtain profit from it. Let’s see: culturally and traditionally, the distilled drink per excellence in Brazil is cachaça, from North to South, and I know both extremes very well. But if you go out on a Saturday night, you will see a thousand youngsters consuming any fake whisky… with energy drink.

The only genuinely Brazilian energy drink I know is guarana, and there will be those who talk of catuaba. I don’t mean the soda, but the root, formerly used by natives when they got into the jungle in hunting incursions.

Fake whisky manufacturers gain because through the modification of the “natural state of affairs”, they managed to include their little poison and replaced the sugarcane brandy. The energy drink manufacturers gain because they managed to put in the market an unbearable drink, that the guys like to mix with the drinks they consider “strong”, anyway.

I could spend hours mentioning things like that. But I will try to summarize the question. We consume what’s foreign for lack of incentives to what’s produced here.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Try to summarize each of your books chronologically. What does each one address?

(Félix Coronel): 1997: Contos de Amor e Loucura [Love and Madness Short Stories]. Short stories based on things I saw – and lived – by walking around in life. Sometimes, it seems to me that every form of love ends up tragically, so to speak. I don’t believe in the perennity of happy states. Not even of tragic states. There aren’t copies anymore. Not even to me.

1999: Uivos. [Howls]. Howls is a book based on a series of French writers from the 1700, or so, that I found by chance in the National Library of Buenos Aires, about werewolves. I bought the idea and, years later, when I was observing my dog Xirú (a very lively Akita), I noticed the more primitive the dog is, the closer to the paw the little finger of the dogs is. Let’s consider that Akita dogs are only wolves domesticated by the Akita mountain region Japanese people. There are two types: the Akita-inú, or Japanese Akita, and the American Akita. My Xirú (“my partner” in Mbya-Guarani) was Japanese, and he only didn’t speak. I was given him by a Japanese family from the North of Paraná. The American Akita is a hybrid, of major size, but already more canine than wolves.

He’s an extremely primitive dog that doesn’t bark, and he chooses whom to serve. He was my school to understand many irrational things.

The book was written at a highly disturbed time of my life, at which I drank vodka, but in a socially non-tolerated amount. The time lasted little, but it left memories. It’s about the existence of an breed of animals of prey similar to dogs, but with different capacities and methods of communication. When I was asked in a TV program from Curitiba about the time it took me to write it, I answered frankly: “a hundred and eighty bottles of vodka”. It was up to the interviewer to know how long it took me to drink this much. That night I actually learnt how slow people are. How come they dared to read something that hadn’t a single paragraph written with the head in place? Crazy people, nobody understands.

2002: Cala Boca, Moleque! [Shut up, boy!]. It’s a chronicles book the chief editor of the paper where I wrote daily didn’t want to publish. Whence the title.

2003: Como é que é? [What did you say?] Also chronicles the chief editor didn’t want to publish along the publication year.

2007: Ideias Soltas. [Loose Ideas]. A set of short stories, chronicles and poems written during that year.

2014: Guaratubanas. This one had bilingual edition, in Portuguese and Spanish. It’s composed by haikus and poems written that year.

2016: Seleção de Haicais. [Haikus Selection]. It didn’t have hard copies; consists of haikus and haibun.

There are two projects yet, Discípulo da Estrada [Road Disciple] and Seleção de Poemas [Poems Selection], but God only knows when they will leave the drawer.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Discípulo da Estrada must be boiling with your current trips between Brazil and Argentina, isn’t it?

(Félix Coronel): No. “Discípulo da Estrada” has writings (haibun and haikus) I produced in a good phase of my life, when I lived by the sea in Guaratuba. You may have noticed that most of the religions have a kind of rosary in which each bead is a prayer, or something like.

Christians have the rosary, Buddhists also have, Muslims have the misbahah and so on. The function of this instrument is not decorative. They have tried, since old times, to have the mind in blank, and realize that the Universe forms part of us and vice-versa. The Christians can reach this state through continuous praying, the constant repetition. Arabians too, through the unceasing repetition of the süras. From a simpler point of view, “Discípulo da Estrada” shows what I have learnt from this.

I travel continuously between Brazil and Argentina and always by car: never by other means of transportation. This allows me more contact with people, stopping wherever I want and looking at the landscape or drinking chimarrão or fresh water with any person, by the road. I get fed by this. Every two months I go for a round trip of about 3000 miles for professional and personal commitments. Who knows in the future I write something about this wonderful experience of traveling across Argentina, Paraguay and part of Brazil.

 

(Pedra de Toque): What are your creative and productive research sources? Where do you search for more ideas for your work? Do they come from other books and authors or from your own living? What is the predominance?

(Félix Coronel): I’m a highly observing individual. And I also read a lot. I have a mini-library in my office’s toilet. Basically, to give an example, the passing of a car too close to the sidewalk is already an idea. I like talking and listening too. I lost the mania of memorizing passages by famous authors because, at bottom, we read, but we only apprehend what is actually significant for our everyday life. Yes, I know the theory is simplistic. The thing is that I’ve learnt to be simple too. I hate that fateful sophistry: “Mrs. so and so said this or that.” I mention what moved me at some moment, or meant something for me at that moment. And the quoting is generally to complete some thinking I have already made. Likewise, I write based on my ideas arising out of what I’ve noticed, what I’ve lived, what could actually have been or was. I also like to travel too much: stopping and talking to people. You will never be able to say you know Brazil only for having visited Christ the Redeemer. You will know it truly when you are able to distinguish the Northern accent from an accent from Rio Grande do Sul, for instance, or when you have eaten galinhada at the bottom of a favela. That’s where chronicles, short stories, poems, etc. come from. Living together in this so agitated external world is for me an inexhaustible source of ideas.

 

(Pedra de Toque): What do you think about these courses of “writing”? Do you think it’s possible to “teach how to be a writer” in a course?

(Félix Coronel): Everything goes, but not everything is convenient for me. This is in the Bible, popular literature.

Nobody teaches to be a writer. This is chitchat of those who want to gain some money from those who are full of illusions. There is, for sure, some writing techniques that are very important. For me it was worth reading the material used in the courses of journalism, for instance. I didn’t study this profession, I only read the literature recommended by the teachers. But it had some functionality when I wanted to create my own form of communication. And this is to be noted: I’m not a writer. I only write. People usually say I’m a writer. And people say things one shouldn’t take too seriously.

Writing is synonym of work, rereading, revision and correction. In the other hand, I think it’s worth teaching how to structure a thought in a paper sheet. However, if we follow exactly what was taught, we run the risk of losing originality, this seducing thing of creating upon what’s already established.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Félix, what is life?

(Félix Coronel): I will answer with a part of “Life is Dream”, by Calderón de la Barca, written in 1636:

What is life? Frenzy.

What is life? Illusion.

A shadow, a fiction,

The major good is small:

For all life is dream,

And for being dream,

Dream is what it is.

 

(Pedra de Toque): When Calderón wrote this we hadn’t even weaned, we need a new Renaissance: what is life, Félix?

(Félix Coronel): A washing machine without manual. You learn how to use it as you spoil good clothes. What is life? I don’t know… I just know it’s beautiful and short. Too short. We should have more time to fall in love more often and with different people, time to delight more raining days playing with the dog and more sunny days feeding dolphins. I’m still in this crazy adventure of trying to discover what life really is.

 

(Pedra de Toque): Ok, receive our hug, which is the only untrue thing we have in store at Pedra de Toque.

 

[You can find some of Félix’ books on www.estantevirtual.com.br (Estante Virtual), and http://www.institutomemoria.com.br/detalhes.asp?id=235 (Editora Instituto Memória)]

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