1. You are the most translated Argentinean author in the world, and from this September, when your book “The Woman of the Master” gets published in Macedonia, you'll become familiar to yet another potential fan public. Did you know anything about the Macedonian literary milieu before?
To be honest, I don’t know very much about Macedonian literature, except for the obvious name of Zivko Cingo. I don’t recall translations of your main contemporary authors to Spanish…
2. Although you've got broader world fame after the film adaptation of your book “Oxford murder”, the true literary conoceurs consider the novel “The Woman of the Master” your real literary pearl. What is this novel really about: the ethics of creating a masterpiece, evocation of the myth of Prometheus, intriguing intervening between the maestro, his devoted pupil, and his wife, demystification of the writer’s life and the “secrets of the trait”?
“The Woman of the Master” is a novel that was mostly appreciated by other writers, maybe because of the subject. The main themes are those you mention: first of all, the Prometheus myth in a contemporary setting, the literary life of Buenos Aires nowadays. I tried three different angles about this myth. The most obvious is the stealing of the wife, as a methaphor of the stealing of the fire. But for the old writer the myth is also related with the uncertainty of the day of our death, which gives human beings hope to start ambitious enterprizes. And for the young aspirant it means the challenge to dethrone the master, as Prometheus challenged the divine hierarchies.
The second theme is the relation between private life of a writer and his works. In fact my novel is a variation of Henry James’s The Lesson of the Master. But all the relations between characters are changed and twisted. It is not any more the master trying to cheat the young aspirant, but the other way round.
3. As the title reveals the woman seems to be the main character in the novel, the “élan vivre”, the infatuation, or epitome of the maestro for the character of the young writer. Although the maestro’s wife takes away the sighs of other men, all the same fears that she will be forgotten when the author finishes his novel. Has the woman always been a necessity in a writer’s life only as fictive inspiration, an idea, or an inspiration for life?
If I look backwards to my fictions, women have been very important, as they are in my own life. I don’t have real deep conversations with men, they are for me more of what I know. In the case of “The Woman of the Master” the character Cecilia gives in the very beginning a sexual tension to the plot. In a relation with a woman there is always the expectation of something else going on, beyond words, even in the most trivial conversations. I just cannot imagine life without women.
4. Your other novel, “Regarding Roderer” is considered the best Argentinean novel in the decade it was published and soon found its way to the top of Argentinean literature. How did you inspire the story and the heroes of “Regarding Roderer”?
I first thought of it as a short story. Again this novel deals with a myth in a contemporary setting, in this case, the Faust myth. I use this device of looking back at the past with the hope to say something new about those stories when restoring them in a contemporary setting. I do believe that there is margin for originality in literary creation, in spite of all the stories that have been already told. The wheel of human life keeps moving and categories that seem steel, like love, death, madness, are note really the same in each time. So in fact one is never really telling the same story, because also the perspective of the readers, their increasing irony and knowledge are defying the repetition.
I had first, as a powerful image, one of the last scenes, when the two characteres meet after many years in the Olimpo Club and they have a kind of repetion of the first game of chess, in which they compare the life achievements of each one. That was the scene that gave me the inspiration for all the subjects, and also the tiny light at the end of the tunnel while I was writing.
5. Yet, you became world known after the film adaptation of you novel “Oxford murders”. With this novel you invite the reader in the whelm of a new genre of mathematical fiction, although the story tends to follow the classical criminality genre. What are the things that draw your attention to this genre?
In fact, I wrote “The Oxford Murders” almost by accident, as an interruption of a very difficult and ambitious novel. It was an idea that I was toying with when I left Oxford, but I thought I would write it in a distant future, once I had finished “the serious stuff”. But an educational site invited me to write a novel in episodes to be uploaded online one chapter each week. I immediately remembered the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which started that way in the newspapers of the time, and I was tempted to create a new version of a “logician” detective, with bits of mathematical thinking and the contemporary knowledge about limits of the reasoning systems. That is why I thought of it as an “epystemological” novel.
There was an academical tesis in my country about the variations in my novel with respect to the classical crime novel, most of all around the figures of the detective, the criminal and the relation Holmes-Watson in my own pair master disciple. But I was not concerned with these aspects while I was writing. The only innovation I conciously tried was the discussion about the aesthetic of reasonings in different fields, including crime investigation, and the theorical struggle between the mind of a mathematician and the mind of a police detective.
6. It’s interesting that you have a PhD in Mathematical logic, and not literature. In which ways the knowledge of mathematics has influenced your way of writing and the choice of your stories?
I was always a writer, maths came much later in my life. My father was already a writer, and he encouraged me very soon to write, when I was a child. I finished my first book of short stories before I was nineteen. During my life as a mathematician I never gave up writing and i wrote my seven books in a kind of parallel schizophrenic life. I don’t think that maths have influenced very much my way of conceiving stories. In many of Hemingway’s tales there are descriptions of fishing abilities and no one would think that fishing is such a deep influence in his literature. In the same way maths gave me characters and situations for stories, but not really much more than that. After saying this, I have to recognize that I have some literary aesthetical preferences that are close to the mathematical elegance: precision of the plot, careful choice of words, the search of certain transparence in the prose, the aim for armonies...
I thought about the connection between maths and literature quite late in my life, the first time when I wrote a book about the influence of mathematical ideas in some of Borges short fictions (Borges and mathematics, Seix Barral). There are also more obvious connections in Lewis Carroll, Robert Musil, Raymond Queneau, Philip Dick. No matter the subject or the genre, there is also an analogy in the way that mathematicians discover regularities, patterns, figures, in a platonic world of ideal objects to later codify them in a written secuential text called “proof” and the way that writers find plots, voices, characters in a platonic world of imagination to later codify them in a written secuential text called “novel” or “short story”.
Both mathematics and literature have aesthetical appealings for me, but i feel more at home with writing. I think that i have more interesting literary ideas than the few really original insights i had in maths.
7. Which is your oldest love, the one for literature or the one for mathematics? How do you deal with this two seemingly very different passions, maybe something like a wife/ mistress relationship, or?
I would say now that maths is an abandoned wife. Because in fact I quit of University and research and teaching some years ago to totally devote to my writings.
8. Who are your literary influences? Do you find the same infatuation in the contemporary authors of today?
Henry James in first place, but also Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Witold Gombrowicz, Truman Capote, E. L. Doctorow, Patricia Highsmith, Dino Buzatti and many others. About contemporary authors I follow the works of Philp Roth, Ian MacEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro.
9. How do you choose the themes for your books? Is it possible for the author not to be yet prepared or look up to a certain subject or idea? Is it true that the great deeds are written in the autumn of the writer’s life?
I have many different ideas in a waiting list. I leave them alone for a long while and I choose the ones that persist more in my mind. The ones that keep “speaking” to me in silence during the time. I think that the most ambitious works of the writers require a balance between patience and will strenght and the full development of the own voice. This happens usually in the mature years. But also, many times, the best work of a writer are the first fresh novels. So there is no rule, just the hope and the attempt to write better “the next time”, as Henry James would say.
10. How do you explain the interest for writing and reading mathematical literature in the last decade or two? Could it be considered as a possible try for the logical mind to explain itself through fiction, or the more predictable and unexplainable instruments of literature help mathematics express its abstract side?
I am not that sure that there is a deep connection going on, maybe this is just a trendy moment of superficial interest for something that looks new and “weird”. But there are truly wonderful ideas in maths that could give philosophical general insights. I have written recently a book called Gödel (for all) in collaboration with Gustavo Piñeiro. We explain there for a non mathematician audience some of the attempts to derivate philosophical statements from Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. I have tried in some of my fictions to elaborate imaginary teories with roots in real maths.
11. Where do you see the equilibrium of the logic of mathematic and the uncertainty and fictiveness of literature in the course of your own life?
Life is the realm of chaos, of uncertaintity, of the unavoidable destruction of time. But art, as Henry James explained, provides us the possibility of stepping back, of stopping time, to select and give some kind of order, of sense, to this elusive flow of facts and thoughts. The will and projects of each human being is also a way of trying to give shape to something that is essentially out of control. I could only say that I am immensily happy each time I finish a book, they are for me like capsules of life that I could save in a shipwreck.
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