Questions already answered (the typhical questions of interviews)

About Regarding Roderer

-How did you inspire the story and the heroes of “Regarding Roderer”?

-Can we read Your novel Acerca de Roderer like book about  intellectual antagonism?
Yes indeed. This makes for the dramatic tension between the two main characteres. But it is also a contemporary version of the Faust myth.

-In Your novel Acerca de Roderer and La mujer del maestro You wrote about old myth (Prometeus and Faust). Is it right that writers always tell old stories?
Not as a general statement. It is one of the possible ways to look back at the past with the hope to say something new about those stories when restoring them in a contemporary setting. But there are many other ways to try new insights in literature. I do belive 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.

About The Oxford Murders

-In both The Oxford Murders and The Book of Murder the narrator is neither a policeman nor a detective but rather an “innocent” who becomes embroiled in the events. What do you prefer about using an amateur investigator?
It is a way of avoiding the stereotypes of crime writing. It gives a different insight, some freshness to a literary field full of cliches and common places.

-The novel has no clear resolution. What do you hope your readers will take away with them?
The novel is a reflection about damage and punishment, and also about the puzzling ways that different and even opossite conjectures can be plausible explanations for the same facts. The readers, hopefully, will find a different kind of crime novel, a psycological drama, a little aside of the conventional rules of a whodunit, which leaves for them to decide (not open) the ultimate question of responsibility.

-For novel Imperceptible Crimes You won the Prize Planet. This is Your most successful book. How did You write it?
In a literary sense many people think that my first novel (Acerca de Roderer) is still my best book. But it is true that Imperceptible Crimes has been read much more widely... In fact, I wrote it 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«. What happened is that an educational site proposed me 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.
After writing the first chapter, this project suddenly collapsed, by economical reasons, and I found myself with the beginning of a novel and all the time to develop it in a more sophisticated way. This was what I did during two more years and when it was ready I sent it to the Planeta Prize... The rest of the story surprised me more than anyone: this novel about maths and almost bloodless crimes got an incredible success. It has been translated by now to twenty six languages, it sold eleven editions in England and there is going to be also a movie, directed by Alex de la Iglesia. Maybe part of the attraction is that I really enjoyed writing it, and part of this joy gets to the reader...

-Imperceptible Crimes  is novel about crimes of an assassin in series in Oxford. This book writen in good tradiition of english crime novels, but there are a lot of inovations...
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.

-Your novel “Crímenes imperceptibles” was made into a movie by Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. Do you like this movie? Did it catch the spirit of your novel?
Yes, I liked most of it. The actors were superb, John Hurt did a great job, and I also liked Elijah Wood very much. I think that the movie followed the main lines of the novel, with some variations, many of them ruled by film constrains and simplifications. But in general I do think that it is quite faithful to the spirit of the novel.

-What were the working titles of this book?
“Imperceptible Crimes” (The original Spanish title: Crímenes Imperceptibles) and “The Oxford Series” (which was my working title till the end).

-Which is your favorite line from this book?
As a writer I rather prefer paragraphs over lines. I enjoyed a lot the ending of this one:
‘What do you imagine the fourth murder will be like?’ he asked. ‘A death in keeping with the ancient solemnity of the tetraktys?’ He looked around as if searching for inspiration. ‘I seem to remember that Seldom liked bowling, at least one time,’ he said. ‘The game wasn’t very well known in Russian then. In his lecture, he compared the points of the tetraktys to the layout of the pins at the start ten pins on the first ball.’
‘Strike,’ I said.
‘Yes, exactly. Isn’t that a magnificent word?’ And he repeated it in his strong Russian accent, smiling strangely, as if he was picturing an implacable ball and heads rolling.
I also liked :
‘Yes, the most subtle and enduring trick was to convince everyone that magic does not exist. I myself just used this handkerchief. But for true magicians, the handkerchief doesn’t conceal a trick, but a much more ancient secret. So remember,’ he said with a mischievous smile, ‘always remember: magic does not exist.’ He clicked his fingers and another goldfish jumped into water.’ Magic does not exist.

-Who would star in the movie version of your book?
Gael Garcia Bernal as the young student and Ed Harris as Arthur Seldom. I am not sure about the women.

-Which songs would be on the soundtrack?
Sorry, I am not a very musical guy.

About Math and Literature

-How do You find balance between mathematica and fiction? Do You find similarities beween mathematica and fiction?
I find some striking similarities in the creative process and I wrote a whole book about this, called Borges and mathematics. The main analogies are described in a short essay I wrote that is also translated to English under the title Short story as a logical sistem. I am including it attached.

-In Your literary work we can find that You respect well known mathematicians Gödel and his last theorem. Why?
Because it puzzled and amazed me for a long time, and I wanted to transmit something of this amazement to common readers without any mathematical background in a literary context.

-After having studied mathematics how did you decide to become a writer? Which was the appeal of literature to you?
I was always a writer, maths came much later in my life. My father was already a writer and 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.

-In which ways the knowledge of mathematics has influenced your way of writing and the choice of your stories?
Maybe in some precision about the plot, the choice of words, the exercise of permanent correction, the search of certain transparence in the prose, the aim for armonies and  elegance...

-Mathematics or literature, which is more beautiful for you?
Both have aestethical appealings for me, but i feel more at home with writing. I think that i have more interesting literary ideas than the few original insights i had in maths.

-Do you think than intelligence could be a “curse” for some people? How should you explain that?

Of course it can be a course, just think on a clever woman that many times has to hide her intelligence not to be considered defying the guys she likes. Also, many people with strong mental faculties find very boring usual conversations, and tend to jump ahead and disdain slower thinkers, so they can become lonely people.

-Which are the differences between human intelligence and mathematical intelligence?
Human intelligence deals also with everyday ' s problems and human pasions and the tricky ways in which reality complicates things.It needs intuition of the human nature and procedures, and of the ways that people react and things can be solved.  Mathematical intelligence deals with an abstract world, much more similar to a Platonic sky of ideal objects, that you can fix as long as you want to study, to find their quiet patterns. So you need different abilities in both sides.

- Which is your opinion about the ancient Greeks Mathematicians?

They had a tremendous influence in the development of mathematics as it is right now. Just think of Euclides as the begginner of the logical foundation through axioms, and of Pitagoras school. Fermat was reading Euclides Aritmethic when he first thougt of his famous conjecture as an impossibility to extend  the Pitagorean triples switching 2 by any bigger positive number... And this conjecture has been proved twelve years ago. So you can see the path all way down...

-How can you explain the development of “mathematical literature” nowadays? Which is the reason that the public get interested about Mathematics?
I am sure that "mathematical literature" already existed if you are patient enough to search in libraries. I am of the opinion that all books are at all times in all good libraries. All of a sudden there is something that stands up to the attention of a broader audience and then some of them are enlightened because of sociological or marketing reasons.
In my case, i was not awared of anything like mathematical literature when i wrote my books. Mi first novel, Regarding Roderer, that already mentions Godel's theorem in a hidden way, was published years before this new wave and nobody talked at that time  of a new phenomenon. Also, my third novel, The Oxford Murders, appeared in my country before the Da Vinci Code, and it was much later that the connection with this book and others like The parrot' s theorem or Uncle Petros and Goldbach conjecture was established. So you can see that it is just the eye that pick from time to time stars in the sky to make a pattern.

- There are people who believe that science is going to an end nowadays. What is your opinion about that?
I don' t agree at all, science is having a very exciting moment, with new developments and ideas in very different areas, and with new insights about old philosophical problems. Just look at cosmology, or at nanotechnology, or to the Genoma decodification or to the new deveolpments in  parallel subatomic computing, these are wonderful challenges to human intelligence.

-Do you think that there are similarities between a masterpiece of literature and a charming solution of a mathematical problem?
Sometimes there are, but also many times they are of a different class of beauty, i believe that people should be educated to appreciate the complexities, the subtleties, and what is deep and what is trivial in both fields...

-You have a Ph.D. in mathematical logic and you were a professor of the University of Buenos Aires. Now you are professional writer. How did you take this decision?
It was a difficult decision but at the same time something I had dreamed about during years: to have the time for devoting myself just to writing and to recover also the time for reading. I wanted to have my time back for reading as I used to do in my youth, I am reading now many of the books I had in an eternal waiting list… And I am also planning some more challenging projects for future novels.

-Your new book “Gödel (for all)” is about famous mathematician Kurt Gödel. Is it theoretical book?
It is a book that starts from zero, and  becomes deeper chapter after chapter. The first four chapters do not have mathematical proofs but we explain in detail the Gödel incompleteness statements and their philosophical consecuences. We also discuss the analogies (and distorsions) of several attempts to apply  Gödel’s results in social sciences. The second half of the book is a proof of the theorems, developed in the most possible “soft” way, without any mathematical technicality. And yet completely accurate. The general idea is that anyone with enough patience could read the whole book without any mathematical previous training.

-You have a Ph.D. in mathematical logic—what made you decide to become a writer?
I was always a writer, maths came much later in my life. My father was already a writer (although he never bothered to publish), my mother was a literature professor, and books were all over my house, as a part of the landscape of my childhood. I finished my first book of short stories before i was nineteen. In fact maths was the strange accident in my life. During my life as a mathematician i never gave up writing and i wrote my seven books in a kind of parallel esquizofrenic life. I also have  to say that I quited the university and my career of mathematician three years ago, and now I am totally devoted to my waiting list of novels.

-Are there similarities between mathematics and writing fiction?
There are many in some writers. For example, I wrote a whole 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 aestethical 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.

-Who is your favorite mathematician and why?
Kurt Gödel, because of the discovery of the esential incompleteness of arithmetic, and the limits of proof methods based in axioms. He is a perfect example of how close could be maths to philosophy.

-Who are your literary influences? The novel’s narrator mentions Max Beerbohm, Henry James, Italo Calvino, and Oliver Sachs among others.
Henry James, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Witold Gombrowicz, Truman Capote, E. L. Doctorow, Patricia Highsmith, Dino Buzatti and many others.

-There are echoes of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Was this an influence?
I didn’t realize of this conection, and I cannot figure out which are those echoes. But I have seen most of his films, and of course I admire his way of handling suspense. Probably, without even noticing it, I have absorbed one or two lessons. I am awared of his influence in one of the scenes of my previous novel The Oxford Murders, the one of the concert.

-Do you believe that all authors have a literary giant whose intimidating presence looms over them? Do you—like Enoch Soames—write for immortality or is there something else that drives you?
Many times this is the case, and the giant can be different at different steps of your career. Borges, for instance, is still an intimidating shadow for many writers in my country, and they have developed all sorts of estrategies, and absurd theories, just to overcome him. I don’t write for “immortality”, but I do try to write according to some kind of inner “truth” of the story that emerges along the way while you are working. For me this abstract “form”, this elusive “figure” to chase, is something of the same order of  a platonic, ideal, almost mathematical thread. It guides me and many times it rules me. So, even when I don’t have any expectations about the “longevity” of my work, I do have hopes about the permanence of these inner armonies for those in the future that could open my book.

-What is your favorite book that you won’t admit to liking at parties or literary functions?
Many books by Agatha Christie, unless Truman Capote were invited (he was also her fan)

About Borges

-What Borges means nowadays for argentinian writers?
He is an important reference and there are people that think that the literary streams in my country can be divided in a kind of for or against Borges. I don't agree with this binary simplification. Borges has been a literary cicerone through literatures all over the world and a master of style, but I don't think at all that there is a kind of aesthetical  tirany from which there is neccessary to be freed. I feel that he is a company and that he set up a high level with his writings, as an inspiring obstacle, for the writers to follow.

About philosophy

-Which writers and philosophers influenced at Your literary work?
Henry James, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Witold Gombrowicz, Jean Paul Sartre, and of course, the marxist way of looking at history and social movements.

-You interested in philosophy of mathematics. Which answers give us this field of philosophy, especially Wittgenstein?
I would say that what I grasped from Wittgenstein is that you cannot take anything for granted as solid knowledge, not even the rule of multiplying by number two. And also the importance of the games of language, and the aprovation-reprobation mechanism (as replacement of the impossibility of fixing a rule) in the social teaching and levelling of individuals.

About Vast Hell

-Your story Infierno Grande is about evil and mass graves. Unfotunately mass graves was part of Balkan's past in last 10-15 Years. In that way, Your story is universal, isn't it?
Sadly yes. What is also sad is that after twenty five years of these facts, many young students in my country don't get what  the story is talking about. People keep forgetting and repeating the worst  kinds of political violence.

About The Book of Murder

-Kloster seems to have elements of both Thomas Pynchon and Stephen King. Is there a “real” Kloster?
There is no “real” Kloster, although I have imagined some kind of male variant of Patricia Higsmith for one or two of his features.

-“La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” became last year a huge bestseller both in Latin America and many other countries. Were you surprised, since US and England have different tradition of crime novels?
Many critics pointed out that this was not an “ortodox” crime novel, I was glad to see that they share what I think about this novel: it is much more a story of suspense and ambiguity about conjectures, and even a story about esthetic points of view than a piling up of crimes.

-Can we read “La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” as novel about evil? Old story  talking to modern way?
This is certainly one of the main dimensions of the novel. Once again, as in most of my books, there is a theme coming from the past, that survives in different ways in present times. In this case the theme is  the desire of revenge, the Talion proportion, and the insufficiency of Justice to repair human offenses.

-Your novel “La Mujer del Maestro” was also book about writers, writing and relationships in literary circles. In “La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” you also describe antagonism and jealousy between writers. Did someone recognize Argentine writer’s scene or it is only fiction?
 You can recognize not exactly real characters of our literary “playground” but maybe some of the literary discussion I was involved in during last years, in particular one about tradition and “avant gard” literary movements, and also about causality and simulation of chance in literature. In this novel the narrator sosteins many of the points of view that I criticize in one of my articles “Un ejercicio de esgrima” (A Fencing Exercise)

-At the beginning of  the novel Kloster seems to have elements of Thomas Pynchon and later of Stephen King. Is it on purpose?
I didn’t think in any of these writers, I had more in mind the style of Patricia Highsmith. And it was important for the story that he had a past of long distances swimmer. I liked this also in a metaphorical sense, the struggle against oneself and against water in long distances is something that novelists know too well.

-Central theme in Your novel “La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” is idea of punishment. Seven victims guide to Bible, isn’t it?
Yes, I wanted to point out this curious fact about justice. The first proportion indicated in the Bible for punishment is the one that God reserves for himself, and it is quite uneven: seven for one. Of course, number seven in the Bible has the meaning of completion, not neccesarily the literal number 7. Still, this indicates that God was at those times quite a cruel judge. What I ask in my novel is if it is possible to find here something more that the will of crushing and menace domination, if it is possible to find some trace of rational justice in this lack of proportion.

-Your novel does not offer a definitive solution. And “La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” is based on hypothesis. One of them is that Kloster  is behind all of the deaths. What about the others?
There are at least other three possibilities: the figure of chance, the guilt of Luciana, and this daimon of inspiration that Kloster invocates in his claim for revenge.

-You told that “subtext” of “La muerte lenta de Luciana B.” is related to the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. Can you explain that?
What I said is that for argentinian people all this discussion about crime, retaliation and proportions for punishments have a second unavoidable ring, related with the 30 years old discussion in our political life about the way to punish the crimes of the militar dictatorship… But (deliberately) there is nothing about our political life in the novel.

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