RUI ZINK INTERVIEWED BY RITA RAY ON FEBRUARY 2 & 3, 2015 AT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY, NEW DELHI – PART 2
Portuguese writer Rui Zink was born on June 16, 1961. "Writes books, gives lectures, i magines things." - Rui Zink in his own description. He continues to write one story after another, novels, plays, graphic novel and much more. His language has become beyond its own boundaries. The structure of his written text also goes beyond conventional grammar. A different world came to life in subjective language. 'Torkito Tarjoni' has been published on the occasion of his upcoming 60th birthday on June 16. Presently a lecturer by profession. His first novel was ‘Hotel Lusitano’(1986). Zink is the author of ‘A Arte Superma’(2007), the first Portuguese Graphic Novel. Also his ‘Os Surfistas’ was the first interactive e-novel of Portugal. He is the author of more than 45 published books all over. Zink achieved prestigious ‘Pen Club’ award on 2005 for his novel ‘Dádiva Divina’. His several books has been translated in Bengali like ‘O Livro Sargrado da Factologia’(‘ঘটনাতত্ত্বের পবিত্র গ্রন্থ, 2017), ‘A Instalação do Medo’(‘ভয়, 2012), ‘O Destino Turístico’(‘বেড়াতে যাওয়ার ঠিকানা', 2008), 'Oso'('নয়ন') etc.
continuation of the previous issue…
FEBRUARY 3, 2015
RR: Rui, let’s finish this. I want to talk about the plays you wrote because yesterday you said that you are more drawn towards drama and the last anthology of the stories that you published you said that all of them have something in common which is the dramatic element, each of them can be performed as a play. So, and connecting up that with your Felizes da Fé, I would like you to now say something about the plays you wrote. I know you wrote a lot of plays but you just published one of them, others are still unpublished.
RZ: Ok. Last year Brazil, a famous in professor, author and folklorist died (Ariano Suassuna). I didn’t know him but through a friend I managed to see in youtube one of his interviews. Watching him, he physically reminded me of my father: here was this ninety years old man talking very happily about life and about his works. His most famous play is Auto da Compadecida, a sort of folk version of Gil Vicente in Brazil. And, at a certain moment, he said: ‘I love the clown, I always wanted, as a child, to be a clown because I thought that being a clown was the most wonderful thing in the world.’ Now, as you know that there is a comedy with Gene Kelly, The Pirate, an American musical about this actor pretending to be a pirate in order to impress a girl. And there is all this mixing up and confusion and laughter, because he looks like a pirate but he is not a pirate. And then he is arrested and about to be hanged and the governor says: ‘Whoa congratulations! You are the first pirate I meet that actually looks like a pirate. All the other pirates I met look more like accountants’. So, for me these two stories intertwined because they tell me about the difference between the clown and the accountant. Nowadays we live in a time where accountants rule. They are sort of a grey shadow over our own lives and they are proselytizing. They are trying to convert us all into accountants. Actually, by the way, they are not real accountants. They are pirates. And I think that being a clown is actually a sort of resistance to these invasions of greyness into our world. And if you notice, I am now quoting the Yellow Submarine by the Beatles where the Blue Meanies invade the Pepperland. Many people I admire and connect with also have this profound awe towards the circus and the opera. The moment Ariano Suassuna said he always wanted to be a clown he won me. Twin souls. Actually, the opera is the same as the circus, only a little bit more uptight. OK, it’s a highbrow circus, but the concept of opera and circus is the same. It’s total art, everything shamelessly put together. Everything you can put into that soup you put. It has everything. It’s a melting pot of all things that are there, the special effects, sounds, noises, smells, whatever you can you add. Now, in the 20th century all the experimentalism, all the –isms – Futurism, Surrealism, Modernism – all these have one thing in common: they are intertwining different arts. Actually, métissage – mixing is one of the main tones in the 20th century arts. The second one would be crossing borders. Now a footnote: in the United States in the 19th century the cowboys, for people from New York and Boston, were no longer real Americans. They were becoming something else. ‘They are becoming Natives. They are no longer us’. And the joke was on them because nowadays the main symbol of America are… the cowboys. Think about Fellini, he too loved circus. His first great movie ‘La Strada’ is about life in the circus, or circus as a metaphor for life, and the good guy is the clown. When I was 12, I was selling ice-cream at the opera and I saw Ghost Ship by Wagner (Der fliegende Holländer), and it was a surprise. It looked very much like circus to me, only with more songs. For me circus is fascinating for this sort of complete but a bit chaotic world. So, for me theatre and words in performance are natural places to be. I am the same person when I am talking. I am the same person when giving a lecture. I am the same person when I am writing. And I am the same person when I’m just sort of dealing with words and also doing happenings in the streets. This group basically started with three people and then eventually some friends would come by if they woke up in time and we used words in two ways. Mainly it was a parody of a demonstration, only absurd. Take the Stop Time series, for instance. We were fighting against March, because why move on if we were having such a good time in February? And we didn’t like the Prime minister, so we did a demonstration supporting him – but supporting him just a bit too much. Saying that all he needs to get things right is our love. We also did a march of poets’ statues and in the end there was contest to see which was the best poet and would have his/her face on a 20 escudos bill. And for me that is very circus like, although for other people it can be very highbrow. Whatever works, right? I love touching my mouth with my hands. I love putting high heels on my shoes. So, for me, the novel I am about to write, my future novels, maybe they will eventually be 3D, maybe they will be holograms. I have this longing for doing something that all of sudden jumps on the face of the readers and all that. So what I learnt from, what I do a few times is to apply my main rule, which is: try to find beautiful simplicity. And then my inner nature, which is chaotic, shoots in every direction and I try to tame it or, sometimes, to untame it. I think my gang and me we did about 50 or more street happenings and we stopped doing it when it stopped being challenging, when people started to get used to it. When people started saying, ‘Oh, I know what this guys are up to! These guys are doing theatre!’ Because for me the fun of it was when people were clueless about what it was.
RR: You mean, if the audience enjoys it you no longer care for it?
RZ: Well… For instance, one of my favourite street shows was I think in ‘86 and that was when Visa Cards arrived in Portugal. So there was for the first time alluring marketing, a teaser add. There it was this big billboard with a businessman smartly dressed and this saying: ‘Dou you know this man is smiling?’ The guy looked like James Bond guy smiling, very comfortable with himself. The model of the European we Portuguese wanted to be. So the guy kept there for months, always smiling, and finally it is revealed why the smirk: the jerk is smiling because he has a Visa Card! That was the introduction in Portugal of this posh neo-capitalist world where you are supposed to be the boss. Everybody wants to be entrepreneur and boss, right? So we copied it out only with a little twist: I went up the street smartly dressed too, with a tie and a suitcase like every businessman downtown. Only I had a chain attached to my neck and, holding that chain, was a master figure holding a sign with the words: ‘Do you know why this man is smiling? He is smiling because he has a master’. Then I also held a megaphone, which I had found out was a greal tool: even though I was shy, with the megaphone I could suddenly jump and speak out my mind, chanting non-stop slogans. And then in the midst of my walk there is this monster, sort of enormous octopoid. This monster was designed by Rigo, now a very well known artist based in San Francisco, with his brother Gilberto’s help. It was very fun to do these things by then because, even though it was humour that people would not entirely get, it gave them food for thought. Few years ago I saw this movie about Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon, and that is a similar kind of humour. It’s humour that sort of puts people off balance because it doesn’t explain itself. However, the ultimate goal is to give pleasure to people. Even if they didn’t get it, at least they go home and have then chance to say, ‘Wow! I saw some weird thing today’. So, we are giving them something we hope it’s nice, only we are also not making it easy for them. The clues are there but you can’t explain absurdity. Then, I won’t say that I changed, but I always longed to do also something that was not so sacrificing to the moment and lost forever. Like any conventional artist, I longed to do something that lasted a bit. my stage persona, most of the times was purposely amateurish but others were more classical, and many times with a moral point of view. Nowadays, it’s in fashion to say it’s not up to the artist to be moralistic. I disagree. I completely disagree. Why not? For instance, the play Anjinhos is about guilt and responsibility. And that is very clear on the play. Some people will do anything not answer for their actions. These are the main ideas in the play and across the different sketches and combination of different stories intertwining of these stories. People fleeing responsibility and passing the guilt to others. And my second novel Apocalipse Nau was actually a play before it was a novel. I never explained it in a afterword that it was a play. I learned this the hard way, because if I tell critics how to read the book then they forget that I was the one telling them…
RR: No, when you read the read the novel it’s got a very scene by scene structure it has got. When I read it, it was a year back, I thought, oh my god! This has got the structure of a play.
RZ: Exactly. But you know how to read. Most critics don’t. Sometimes they are… That’s why I like so much university papers. Because the university essays try to understand and to grasp. But a review in a newspaper, at least in Portugal, is more about a power surge. It all comes down to: does the guy like you or not? I had a few bitter experiences thanks to my big mouth. I remember once, I was in my third year doing my thesis and some guy, who was journalist, asked me, ‘So, what is your PhD thesis about?’ I said that it was about comics and literature. And he was like, ‘Wow! It’s about comics as literature? Wow!’ And I kept on explaining. Two weeks later he published an article in a business newspaper saying, ‘Of course! Comics are literature’. He was about to ruin my PhD. And since I had four more years, I nearly felt the need to go in another direction. Granted, the idea was not completely new anyway but that guy didn’t know zilch and immediately he went and published what he learned from me and marked his territory and I got very annoyed. Anyway, I learned my lesson. For instance, with the comics’ version of Anjinhos. I named it differently and told no one that it was a play before becoming a graphic novel. Thus, not a single critic realized it. With Apocalipse Nau, nobody – the critics – ever noticed or realized that it’s a play and that I added later a narrator and turned it into sort of a clash between the narration and the dialogue’s tones. I was by then very interested in private and intimate life matters, so the dialogue is very sharp and sad. Not funny at all. And I just added a narrator that comments it as if it was a football match, just to spice it up, and this narrator is a devil and not a very competent one. Now, if you have a Christian background you will see that the story I am telling could be called The Last Supper because it’s father, mother, baby Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Victor, the secret lover is the Holy Ghost and Joseph is the cuckold. But because I didn’t tell it nobody ever noticed both obvious things: that it’s a play and staged upon a Nativity tale.
RR: Films are very important for you. The creative writing workshop or the lecture which you gave in Jadavpur three years back, you said, all of your friends including you wanted to be film directors and then you realized that all of you cannot be film directors. And then you decided to be a writer. And you talk a lot about films.
RZ: Yes. I talk lot about films not only because I see them but also because I am sure that the students saw films. I am so not sure that they read books. So I try to find a common ground. Something they can relate to. If I say ‘Did you read this book?’ they will nod but I will suspect they are clueless. I think my generation, everybody that was born after 1950, at a certain moment, especially the young students, intellectual types, urbane types, had this longing for becoming a filmmaker. I just said a while ago that nowadays mixing is the keynote to arts, mixing and going beyond the frontier, the artist as a frontier’s man. Now I presume writers born after 1950 who wanted to tell stories at a certain point of life they wanted to be filmmakers. Because films are the utmost art of the 20th Century. There were no films in 19th century but there was literature. There was literature in all those centuries. But some people will argue and this is very arguable that it was much better than nowadays. It was much more rich in language because that was the thing, Now, we live in a time when words lost lot of their value and writers lost their moral high ground. Like, ‘I am a writer, people know me, thus I have a civic duty to defend people’. Saramago happened to be that kind of writer. But very few besides him, I don’t think that any other Nobel recipient in the last fifteen years plays that tune, that sort of anachronistic Tolstoian ethics. I actually sympathize with it. Because I myself am a 19th century man. I read 19th century books, they formed me, I belong in a way, and I can sympathize with Saramago’s idea of the writer as prophet, the writer as a moral voice. Today I was giving this workshop in a very short time and I was not tired. I will be there for a couple of hours more. Of course the students are tired. But I feel like telling them: ‘Look, I have so many interesting things to say, it’s going to be good for you. And, actually, I should not be telling this to you because it took me years to learn, to find out by myself or by hard reading, and now I am giving it to you for free in a compact workshop. So do please be grateful, you silly bunnies.’ And I get the sort of disappointed because they have a life outside calling for them, and they need to rush and check their smart phones and hope I stop bothering them. So, yes, I sympathize with the pathetic figure, the pathetic grandiose figure of Saramago in his last years. But now the words are at a loss and the actual literature is very marginal, not only to other art forms but also to bookstores, to mainstream channels. Look at the Booker prize in England, a few years ago I think they changed the jury. Before it was a jury of peers, of writers and scholars. Not always good, sometimes pompous asses, but at least literate people. Now it’s a jury of tennis players and pop stars because they want the jury to ‘express the feelings of the people’. It’s more democratic, they say. But that’s not democracy. Art should not be democratic in that sense. Art should be democratic and accessible to everybody but not demagogic. Art is not a reality show or a political campaign. Art cannot be just repeating old formulas and attending the uniform taste. We will all end up mimicking soap operas. Why? Aren’t there enough already? So my point of view is that literature has to fight back a bit. But I don’t want to fight old forms. I love old things, I just don’t want to repeat them again and again. Didn’t I talk about circus? Didn’t I talk about opera? Yes! Now, what is film but the third corner, the third element of the triangle? Film is basically circus or opera or both. So I wanted to be a teacher because I spent a lot of time in school as children do. I wanted to be a writer because I got interested by what Dostoevsky do with words going into your soul. And, of course I wanted to be a filmmaker because I saw a lot of films. I saw like three films a day. And, since I was asthmatic, in Summer nights, the worse for me, it was very good to go to a late night show and then to the hospital for an after-hours aminophylline shot. I was a cinema buff. Then I learned very fast what happens in countries with not much money and too much people pretendin to be filmmakers: that it can be a great excuse to grow lazy. ‘Ooh, I would be better than Spielberg, but I don’t have the money to shoot, so I’ll have another drink.’ A friend of mine would come and say, ‘Let’s play snooker’ and sometimes I said, ‘Wait a bit, I am finishing filling my daily quota of words’ and he would sit there, smoking a cigarette or something and wait until I finished. Then I’d say, ‘OK! Let’s play snooker’. And my friend told me 20 years later he was so patient because he was impressed: ‘Wow! You were so disciplined!’ How many of our friends, when we were twenty, wanted to be writers? Two hundred! And then, of course many respect that I am still writing. They don’t admire so much the success, I think, as they admire the drive, the stubborn capacity to keep going. Actually, that’s the major quality for a writer, to keep on, to be stubborn. Because writing is not that difficult. It’s just putting words and thoughts together! But of course some people at a certain moment realize that they have something else better to do. There was this Portuguese poet who died a few years ago, Manuel António Pina. He had this very funny article about this young poet who comes to him and says, ‘Hi! Can you read my poems?’ And then he would talk about the poems and the young man would say: ‘Look, you are a great poet; I want to write poetry too, but sometimes, you know, I don’t feel like writing poetry’. And Pina answers back smiling, ‘Wow man! If you are able not to write, grasp that chance! Go for it. Lucky You, you young bastard.’ That is the thing. If you can live without writing, Great! You have a much happier life. Also because in a way writing is sin. Once I saw an Elton John concert and at one point he started sneering ‘I hate Celine Dion. I could strangle her’. And then he explained why. He said, ‘She is is always fit because she is a singer and she is singing, dancing and moving for hours in every show. Me too I would be fit if I was doing that! But no, I am stuck by this piano. Of course, I am growing larger and larger because I just have to be sitting down.’ And being a writer is basically having to be sitting down. But what people want is the glamour about being writer. The long hair, the pipe, the awards, the respect, the cat by the quaint typewriter. Not the actual thing. Lazy people are very good at looking like artists. Usually they are very slender. They look very nice and poetic. But then they do nothing. And I do. That’s when I found out also that real writers look like me. Workers at a sweat shop. They look like this sort of fat peasants, tough muzhiks from the steppes.
RR: So, now that you are in India and you frequently talk about Bollywood. What actually is your interest in Bollywood? Do you really watch the films? In at least one book I found Bollywoodian technique, Dádiva divina. So, what is your take on it?
RZ: First I find them very funny and very enjoyable.
RR: When did you first start seeing your first Bollywood movie?
RZ: I try to make short answers but you don’t let me. Let’s do a flashback. I have this tradition: for the past 15 years I have been spending Christmas in Germany with a former high school friend, a character larger than life and that works at a steel factory and all that. And we enjoy our gatherings, it’s like our Christmas treat. We are no longer friends, we are family. And in these Christmas vacations we are very lazy. We drink lots of beer. We have nothing to do and it’s snowing outside and so we go upstairs to the living room and see a nice Bollywood film. That is like our guilty pleasure. And he has the largest collection of Bollywood films I have ever seen. Even when a bit Kitsch, they are actually very enjoyable and they have one serious quality: most of the times they make you feel good, as old musicals from the American ’40s used to. Nowadays it’s difficult to find an American movie that makes you feel good. But you go to a Bollywood film, even if you have some deep tragedy in your life, you get some ice cream, a big bowl of ice cream, you get a big three hour Bollywood movie and you go up and down hills. A rollercoaster of emotions. It’s better than going to visit a guru. Or a psychoanalyst. Or getting a lover. It’s outstanding. Bollywood films came to Portugal I would say in 1975. I don’t know if they came with the immigrants, from Mozambique. I am not sure if it was with them, what I know it they came with democracy and suddenly we had all these movies, most of them trashy, very trashy. You had all these soaps and the hyper-sentimental operas but they caught the imagination of people. Especially they caught the imagination of the modest people, people with not much education, not many means. Many were my neighbours. So my friends from my street, some of them went to see Bobby. And they came back sobbing. Guys who were not cinema buffs like me were seeing Bobby 14 times. I was summoned to see it too.
RR: Did you see Bobby?
RZ: I am not sure. I think I saw Bobby. I can’t remember where. And I think I saw Bobby maybe twice. But I didn’t like it that much by then because tiny me was ‘an intellectual’, a 14 years old intellectual. Very highbrow in my tastes. I was more into Bergman, Pasolini. I actually went to see a Pasolini when I was 13 and it traumatized me for life. And I remember going to see ‘Teorema’ and understanding zilch, but I went to see it because that was the thing to do. Oh, how boring it was. What a sacrifice, sometimes, to be an intellectual. But it was my duty. I would see all sorts of documentaries or alternative films and lots of French movies and all that. Fellini too – now, that was a pleasure! By then Bollywood films for me was like, ‘Well, they are OK, but these are films for the non-educated masses’. What I remember very well is, I was 16 or 17 and I would go with a couple of intellectual friends, my girlfriend and I we would go, you know, kids with glasses, at 6:30 pm to this Indian owned cinema near Largo do Camões. We would go there to see, like, an Ingmar Bergman movie at 6:30. And before there was a Bollywood movie, and the thing is that sometimes the Bollywood movie took a bit too long. So, we had to wait. And there was a moment when the two audiences would cross at the same cinema, the 3 p.m. audience and the 6.30 p.m. audience. Now the 3 p.m. audience at that time were mainly people who didn’t have to work at that hour, which means many of them were prostitutes and their pimps. They would go there and I knew some of them, some of the big dangerous people because I lived downtown. So these people looked like a Travolta movie, the guys with big sideburns and very high heels and very macho and the women very very flashy. But, that was their time off. Now, some of these were the guys who were able to sell their mothers for money.
So what happens is that we, young intellectuals, were these bold people who knew all about life. We were about to see complicated films about real life but we were bourgeois-looking kids with intellectual-looking glasses and all that. And when they were coming out their eyes were wet. They were all tears moved by a beautiful love story that maybe didn’t end as it should. And it was such a paradox! The people who had the hard life and went to see the sentimental movie and people who had no hard life at all went to see the intellectual, hard movie. I still remember vividly that funny sort of crossroads and someday I am going to write about that. So, that’s my story with Bollywood movies.
RR: OK, Rui, thanks a lot, we will end here.
ঋতা রায় (১৯৬৫) ইংরেজিতে স্নাতকত্তোর করার পর পর্তুগিজ কবি ফির্ণান্দু পেসোয়ার ওপর গবেষণা করেন। পঁচিশ বছর দিল্লি আর কলকাতার বিভিন্ন বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে পর্তুগিজ ভাষা ও সংস্কৃতি পড়ানোর পর গত পাঁচ বছর ধরে বিভিন্ন ভাষার সাহিত্য বাংলা, ইংরেজি ও পর্তুগিজে অনুবাদ করে চলেছেন।
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