Sunday, January 16

Rafael Chirbes, the diaries of the novelist who “could not be a writer without Marx”

“No one is the owner of the present if he does not keep the past in the safe”, Rafael Chirbes notes on July 30, 2000 in the first volume of his Diaries (Anagram, 2021). The late Valencian writer prepared the daily notes that he took during his adult life for a posthumous edition whose publication has not been without controversy in the Spanish cultural scene.

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“What is truth in literature? What is truth in media times in which what is said about a book publicly matters, and not what is inside a book that is read in private, in the silence of each one? “, Chirbes notes on September 22, 2004, as if responding from the grave to the comments generated by the first volume of the newspapers, which has seen the light six years after his death. “The most interesting are the references on writing and reading, as the writing progresses, reading is perceived as an inquiry and an obsession to name things that officially resist being named,” he reflects after reading the newspapers. Aina Vidal, predoctoral researcher at the Open University of Catalonia.

The work, with its usual harsh tone with the reader, reviews the years prior to the publication of his first novel Mimoun, which saw the light thanks to the patronage of Carmen Martín Gaite before the editor Jorge Herralde; the stormy love life and the stalking of HIV; the writer’s readings and the films he admired, as well as his journalistic work on food criticism and travel chronicles. But also the memory of his parents, defeated by the Civil War, and the Valencian landscapes of his childhood. Vital coordinates that place the readers of Rafael Chirbes in the plane of his late and excellent literary production.

“Chirbes is very difficult to read at times precisely because of how hard it is and how little mercy it has for the reader”, reflects Violeta Ros, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Valencia (UV). “We are increasingly interested in knowing how writers work, what personal and aesthetic problems they face and how they solve them, it is a material that can be read in parallel to their novels”, reflects José Martínez Rubio, professor in the department of Spanish Philology from the UV.

The first few passages on sexuality and the threat of the AIDS pandemic are especially harsh even for a reader accustomed to Chirbes’s prose. “With AIDS, in addition to all that remarkable catalog of prejudices, an element of reality is introduced: now you play Russian roulette, a fuck is a bet on life and death, without knowing how many alveoli in the magazine of the weapon carry projectile, “writes Chirbes on January 28, 1985, when in Paris,” which has succeeded San Francisco and New York as the capital of AIDS “and where his partner lives at the time,” deaths from the mysterious disease grow the geometric progression “.

The author’s sexuality runs through the newspapers and his first and last novel (Mimoun and Paris austerlitz). “He was very discreet but he said it all from the first novel, his whole world was in Mimoun. From an LGTB reading, it is a precursor for this reflection on AIDS, the fear of abandonment and not having an old age and the contradictory relationship with loneliness, “says Martínez Rubio.” The exploration of a generation of homosexuals who lived among freedom and fear, “he adds.

In the newspapers, as in his novels, the intimate memory of the defeated of the Civil War also emerges. On August 12, 2004, the writer reflects: “In the photos from the late twenties, my mother appears dressed like any of the girls from the modest classes of New York who star in the films of those years, her hair at the same time. garçon, square neckline, wide heel, Charleston skirt … Barely a decade later, in the postwar photos, a sad and mourning old woman appears, it would seem that forty years have passed between one photograph and another, and that they have done so in reverse form; that time has run swiftly backwards, and the woman in the postwar photo is the young girl’s grandmother, dressed in that low-waisted skirt made fashionable by the girls who danced Charleston. ”

“The memory of the father and the mother is moving, with a memory of the hunger that was inherited, that is in his novels with the construction of the characters and the situations, it is a personal memory”, explains Violeta Ros. The newspapers make an ellipsis between the period in which a Chirbes appears tormented by his incipient writing career and the final years of his life, already fully consolidated as one of the best storytellers in Castilian. Jose Martínez Rubio maintains that, after the success of novels such as Crematorium, adapted into a hit television series, or On the shore, “Chirbes in recent years has begun to read a lot, to read backwards”.

Thus, his novels The long march, The fall of Madrid or Old friends They had already given many clues about historical memory practically a decade before they began to open mass graves of the Franco regime and to legislate on the matter. “That is why Chirbes is more successful in Germany than in Spain,” says researcher Aina Vidal. “I think that Chirbes is a late and badly vindicated author, like many things in Spain,” Violeta Ros said. “He is ignored until he publishes Crematorium, although before it was read a lot in France and Germany, “he adds.

The political scientist Francesc Miralles highlights the passages in the newspapers about the relationship with his mother, “the longing and the process of how his mother loses memory from visit to visit, which are very close to the nucleus of The good handwriting“.” The most intimate Chirbes writes from the constant frustration of the permanent conscience of being on the side of the defeated, with a depressive and melancholic tone, but also of resistance that is seen in these newspapers “, argues Aina Vidal.

“Even after death, he continues to be annoying because he goes against the current and connects with the debates of the present,” explains political scientist Francesc Miralles after reading the newspapers. “You just have to see what kind of opinions he has about the style and behavior of other writers in a cultural world that stands out for its collegiality and complacency; evidence that he militated in a different tradition, more critical of both content and forms, very rare in a latitude in which since the Transition it has been considered that we have a weak institutional framework, be it political, cultural or economic, and what prevails is stability and cohesion, because criticism is dangerous “, adds Francesc Miralles.

From a Marxist point of view – “I sensed that I could not be a writer without Marx”, Rafael Chirbes wrote on May 10, 1985 – and with an endearing bad temper, the Valencian writer delves into his childhood and his fears, in his role as narrator and in the time that he has had to live. “Chirbes was always a person who did not have debts with anyone, something that is not frequent,” says researcher Violeta Ros. Posthumously Rafael Chirbes has managed to anger and dislocate some and enthuse many with his diaries. And it is only the first volume.