Álvaro Pombo, winner of the 2012 Nadal Prize.
“This Crisis is Counterspiritual”
The recent winner of the Nadal Prize calls for people to “take to the streets to denounce institutionalized egoism”
El País: Pombo: “Esta crisis es contraespiritual”
Carles Geli reporting from Barcelona January 7, 2012
Here he goes. Tireless, he cites quotes from one philosopher after another early in the morning although it’s been just six hours since the conclusion of the award gala for the 68th Premio Nadal, which he won for El temblor del héroe (The Shaking of the Hero), about the worries (or lack of them, rather) of a certain Román, a retired university professor who isn’t the least bit concerned about the misfortunes of others, as dramatic as they may be, and which he criticizes in one way or another. “I’d thought about titling it El furor heroico (“Heroic Fury”), in honor of Giordano Bruno, for that delirium to achieve divinity, beauty, the good, but I left it as it was,” drops Álvaro Pombo (born in Santander in 1939), who has an aquiline nose and a beard on a booming chin, a face like a reflected half-moon from a reflective short story; he has defined “the poetry of the good”, and it pervades his almost thirty titles. And he’s not tired of it all despite the limited effect his sermons have had on Spain society. “Yes, my Román is tired and frustrated with the world; I am not, which might mean I’m an idiot; I have spikes, but I enjoy good health, and perhaps that’s what lets me keep thinking about the Platonic world: I believe that we should do good, otherwise we’ll be unfinished creatures; the problem is that today we’re really installed in a philosophy of unfinished business, of letting everything flow really quickly, everything on the Internet…what I don’t know is how to redirect this; that’s why I write, because the novel is fizzy with its dynamite: you can do emotional experiments without causing too much damage.”
Pombo admits, nevertheless, that he feels “pretty much alone” in his crusade in Spanish letters. “I see it more in English fiction, in Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch, Graham Greene…in Spain, perhaps the person who’s closest would be Javier Marías.” It could be that what Pombo has denounced many times is not alien to him: the predominance of the paralyzed intellectual, like Román, who feels “blocked up” after his retirement, “without feedback, flirting with boredom” and also a young digital journalist for a site symbolically named The Non-Current, “which could interview me, as well…yes, the intellectual paralysis of Spain is notable, and in part it’s because of our politics, which have intervened badly: our political discourse is paralyzing, as well, with the repetition of slogans and over-discussion of topics; today, here and in Europe, the conservative discourse seems less paralyzing – perhaps because it’s not monolithic? – than the social democratic movement, which has not thought to rethink labor and the duality of the rich and the poor…”
“We don’t have any intellectuals like Ortega y Gasset.” The author of The Platinum-Iridium Meter, a reader of essays, drops Ortega y Gasset’s name twice; he quickly clarifies that he also monitors two or three other good authors – “Villacañas, Pardo, and Marina”, but he does so in the context of a society where “we cannot make exquisite culture, where everything has to be divulged because 50% of youth would need someone to explain Plato and the steam engine to them.”
The economic crisis has not facilitated the solidification of the liquid society that Pombo has already advanced (“much earlier than Kundera and Bauman”) in Relatos sobre la falta de sustancia (Stories on the Lack of Substance) in 1977. The crisis has accentuated this: “this crisis is counterspiritual; the philosophy of the personal salvation of the soul rules over that of the city, and is so distant from that of saying that I don’t save my circumstances, I won’t survive…we can see it now: Ortega continues to be seminal.” Solutions? “I can’t accept everything as it is; we have to take to the streets and denounce it, but we can’t leave the discourse like this either; we have to get up, and to get lively, and that’s why I joined Union, Progress, and Democracy; for that and for Fernando Savater.”
Hard times require a different kind of literature. Pombo admits that he has changed his way of writing, shortening it, as if it were dictation. “Now I make my works much more brief; in Spain we have constructed a very large and heavy kind of fiction; The Shaking of the Hero [which will be published February 2 by Destino] will be a short novel, 200 pages long, to avoid becoming a sprawling reflection; it’s a bit like the works of Henry James, following the Borgesian idea of having self control and a powerful image,” he says while, without realizing it, he shakes the table. Like he shakes his readers.