From “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Fall 1995, Vol. 15.3
By Edla Van Steen, Translated by Adria Frizzi (the quote from Avalovara is from Gregory Rabassa’s trans.)
Osman Lins died on 8 July 1978 without having been able to answer the questions submitted to him by Edla Van Steen for her series of interviews with Brazilian writers. What follows is a collage created one week after his death by his wife, Julieta do Godoy Ladeira, from the interviews Lins had given over the years and, in a couple of instances, from fragments of his own articles. Julieta made a point of looking for answers that could fit Van Steen’s questions without any type of adaptation on her part. The result was, in her own words, “a kind of revenge, a way of fighting still, with Osman Lins, against time, his illness, his absence, of making him participate in [Van Steen’s] book as he had planned, with his ideas, his literary conception, his words.”
EDLA VAN STEEN: In one of your biographies I read that you lost your mother when you were still a baby and that, in a way, you became a writer in order to re-create in your imagination the face of your mother. If this is true, does it happen through the female characters? Which one is closest, at least emotionally, to the image you’ve always looked for?
OSMAN LINS: My father, the descendant of landowners whose property, they say, went from Cabo de Santo Agostinho to very near Rio Real, on the border with the state of Alagoas, had a small tailor shop. Being a tailor is a nice job. Almost all manual jobs are very nice. The only thing is that, in general, it pays less than being a plantation owner. This man married a woman I never knew, who came into the world, it seems, with the sole purpose of being my mother. Having done this, she died, a year after getting married. Stupid. I always thought this gave me a sort of responsibility. That girl died in order for me to be born. I couldn’t crumple my life into a ball and throw it out. I never saw a picture—she didn’t like photos, even though apparently she was pretty. It seems that this fact left a mark on me. The theme appears in O fiel e a pedra (The Balance’s Hand and the Stone), in Nine, Novena (in the story “Lost and Found”), and in Avalovara, whose hero roams the world like a madman looking for something he never lost.
I’ve already had the opportunity to say that my mother’s death shaped my life as a writer, since it seems that a writer’s job, metaphorically, is to construct a face that doesn’t exist, an imaginary face. This may have led me to compensate in some way, through the imagination, for that absence. I’m not exactly saying that I was traumatized, but I do have the impression that this fact left a mark on me.
EVS: What was your solitary childhood in the interior of the state of Pernambuco like? Who encouraged you toward literature during your adolescence, if you were already writing short stories when you were fifteen? What books were you reading at that time?
OL: That’s right. This is how Ataulfo begins one of his sambas. And if he, the master, begins a conversation this way, his solution can be imitated with no hesitation. That’s right, I’ve been involved in this business of writing for years, since my teens, I could almost say since childhood. A childhood I spent practically alone. I was raised by my grandmother and other relatives. This led me to a very introverted type of behavior, very self-absorbed, with a certain tendency to converse with myself. I had a great ease with words. Around fifteen years of age I was already trying to write. Not that the environment was favorable. It wasn’t. The small town of the northeast of Brazil where I was born (originally called Cidade do Braga, later Santo Antao then Vitoria and now Vitoria de Santo Antao) boasted and continues to boast two glories: that of having been the scene, in 1624, of the first victory over the Dutch—thus beginning the Pernambucan Restoration—and of being the biggest producer of cachaca [sugarcane liquor] in Brazil. When I moved to Recife, at sixteen, there still wasn’t a library there, and to this day there exists no bookstore, even though its Department of Philosophy is already functioning, of course. In spite of these handicaps, I carried two stories in my suitcase, along with my first shaving brush and a wooden egg to darn socks when they got worn.
I learned very early to live inwardly and invent phantoms. I spent hours reading anything at all: I can almost say that words (and a dog, whose name, by the way, was Veludo) were my siblings. The real siblings came late.
Of course I rarely read anything good at that time, and I regret not having come across certain books at the right time: Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe. The ones that came at the right time were the books of “sexual education,” like Gamiani, Ninon de Lenclos and others, which made me dream constantly of scandalous nights and bacchanals in convents. At the same time, those men and women had an interesting trait in common: no remorse. Flesh, for all of them, was something festive, exalting, a gift to be enjoyed with all of one’s being. (I wonder if this is why many years later I would create my book Avalovara, where love, carnal or not, holds such an important place, in that couple who take off their clothes and make passionate love on a flowered carpet, throwing into the description of this act and of the woman’s body all the resources available to me as a writer.)
The solitude and constraints of my first years, mitigated by the presence of Laura, my father’s sister (who is, transfigured, the Teresa of O fiel e a pedra), and my paternal grandmother, Joana Carolina, whose rural and, in a manner of speaking, symbolic life I told in another book, were also offset by the presence of a man like few others in this world: Antonio Figuereido. For those who didn’t know him, this is just a name. For me, he’s everything a little boy’s heart could dream of. He can be found, disguised, in O fiel e a pedra under the name Bernardo Vieira Cedro, living adventures very similar to some of those he actually experienced. He was always telling stories. He was my first book, my initiator to the art of narrating, just like old Totonia was Jose Lins do Rego’s first literary influence. But he, Antonio Figuereido, couldn’t have encouraged me to write. The one who did was a man with whom I studied for years, back in Vitoria, a teacher, austere, and bald—I believe—from the instant he was born, the ex-seminarian Jose Aragao, who transferred from the ministry to teaching and never confined his literary preaching to the classroom. He knows that, to a great extent, my decision to devote myself entirely to letters, to write a few books—good or bad—good, if possible—is due to his encouragement.
Yes, at sixteen I published two stories in a Recife paper. Then I gave up on this business of publishing stories in newspapers and decided to write a novel.
EVS: On what specific occasion did you decide to accept your calling?
OL: Calling? Is there such a thing? I reflected on this quite a bit in Guerra sem testemunhas (War without Witnesses). There’s a chapter dealing with this issue. There was a time when something a poet said seemed beautiful to me, that he wrote for the same reason a tree yields fruit. Only much later did I discover that affectation was humbug: man is of necessity different from trees and must know the reason for his fruit, and it is his prerogative to know which ones to yield, besides considering who they are destined for, not always offering ripe ones, but rotten and even poisonous ones instead. Thus I undertook at the same time both the critique of the purpose and the nature of what I supposed to be the calling. I completely changed my idea of the act of writing and I stopped feeling marked, forever obliged to fulfill an imposed destiny. The exhortation to advance, evolve, create a work, remained: I became more lucid, more aware; and if before I was ordered, now I ordered, I had chosen, I have always chosen, every day, in many ways. I didn’t carry with me pencil or paper when I was born. Nobody is ever born with a sword, or a machete, or a stoup, or a harpsichord. Naked, unknowing, we all come into the world empty-handed, with an aptitude for countless skills and the competent use of whatever utensils in the future. When man admits to being the instrument of a calling, he swells the number of those who—with the same tendency to appear linked to passing and dubious realities—claim to be guided by the aura of inspiration in the composition of their books. When, on the contrary, we refuse to be the bearer, the instrument of a calling, when—for good or bad—we choose, defining ourselves in our own eyes, we expand the role of the consciousness (that consciousness psychoanalysis burdens with alibis) in the making of our destiny, and we enter in a more positive way our condition of humans, of craftsmen of the world. We bring a little closer to us that dreamed-of life in which man, without denying the mystery of his condition, restores himself with faith and trust to the fruition of his freedoms and the acceptance of his responsibilities. Let’s talk about the decision to become a writer. How did it happen? It’s hard to say exactly. Naturally it wasn’t from one moment to the next, but what’s certain is that I never hesitated between following literature and committing myself to any other career. None of the other ways of justifying our passage on Earth inspired me. It didn’t seem to me, for example, that being mayor or manager of a firm made much sense. I weighed my strengths, probing myself, until—with the measure of illusion without which we undertake nothing—I committed myself to literature, took my vows, swore loyalty, turning what had once been sporadic into an endeavor from which there was no return.
How long did it take to write something that was not simply an exercise? One day, chatting with Vicente, my barber (and an excellent tango dancer), I asked him how long it had taken him to learn how to sharpen a razor blade.
-Ten years—he answered.
-You hadn’t learned yet after seven or eight years in the business?
He answered that he hadn’t and that he considered himself fortunate, because what makes something hard to learn is that it has secrets, and a secret is worth more than something everybody knows. I was willing to learn, if necessary all my life, a few secrets of the art of writing. Nobody is born knowing, and I was going to try. On my side I had youth, patience, and a relative scorn for things that can be bought.
When the decision finally took shape I was already working in an apparatus called the Bank of Brazil. Upon making up my mind, I tried to arm myself to keep this apparatus from swallowing me. It’s almost impossible not to advance in the Bank of Brazil. But I succeeded. To escape I took advantage of the declared hostility of the organization toward anything reminiscent of gratuitousness and life: poetry doesn’t receive its endorsement.
In the beginning this hostility frightened me. Later, on the contrary, I discovered that the Bank of Brazil was only a microcosm of my country, and that nowhere else, not even in the academic world in which I worked for a few years, would I find an environment truly favorable to the writer. Not that this is apparent or immediately perceived. No. Only little by little does the writer realize his resemblance to the sheriff of some westerns, who sees his potential allies disappear one by one until he comes to the conclusion that he’ll have to face Wicked Bill and his band alone. That’s why I wrote Guerra sem testemunhas, to study the writer’s confrontation with our structures. Resolve, blind faith in himself, combativeness—these are some of the qualities he must develop and which you’d never think he would need. But there are others still.
EVS: Was your first novel, the one written at twenty-something, destroyed or do you still have a copy? Did anyone discourage you from publishing it?
OL: I still haven’t had the courage to throw it out. It’s not worth talking about. One of these days I will tear it up. But I still haven’t found the courage; for me it’s a little like a picture of myself at that time, a photograph. When I published Os gestos (The Gestures), I even went through it to see whether there was anything that could be used, but there really isn’t. There are no partially dead works. They die all at once. But that book was useful as an exercise. I was twenty-five. I didn’t want to try another novel until I was thirty. I wrote a few short stories and, suddenly, I felt that my hand was getting steadier. The embryo of a new novel was forming, emerging, and a kind of inexplicable anger, the desire to throw myself into a bigger story, not exactly a novel, but something less passing than a story, a work that would absorb me for a few months, a work of thirty or forty pages, a novella. Next thing I knew I was writing a novel which occupied me for a year. It was O visitante (The Visitor).
EVS: O fiel e a pedra began as a novella and then became a novel. How and when do you determine the genre? Could you define short story, novella, and novel? Does it make sense for literary genres to persist in contemporary literature?
OL: We need to allow more breadth to the question that leads to this controverted issue of genres, asking, for example, what is meant by fiction. What should we mean by fiction? I think it’s the establishment, through the written word, and with an emphasis on the appearance of things, disorganized and reorganized by the author, of a personal vision of the world, not infrequently absurd and almost always unusual, which however becomes confused, under the weight of the writer’s genius, with the universe we all inhabit. The designation of genre seems academic to me, it doesn’t matter. And the existing ones aren’t always satisfactory. For example, I designed the pieces in Nine, Novena as narratives.
EVS: Your work seems to be divided into two phases: the first, until O fiel e a pedra, and the second one, beginning with Nine, Novena, where the structure, the architecture of the novel, becomes your primary preoccupation. Do you agree?
OL: It isn’t like that. Here’s something funny. The true trajectory of an individual, of an artist, of a writer, when he follows it in a superficial way, is immediately clear. The author gives a manifest direction to what he does, and this direction is easily apprehended by observers. When this activity is carried out more in depth, it can give rise to a perfectly opposite understanding.
O fiel e a pedra represents the point toward which everything I did before converges and the point from which everything I did after departs. It’s a platform of arrival and departure, but on a much broader terrain than simple structure. It is the crossing, as a writer and as a man, of a fictional and political threshold.
My books before Nine, Novena are really farther removed from the others in their treatment and general vision of things. As it happens, nevertheless, Nine, Novena doesn’t deny them altogether. On the contrary, through those books, through that platform, I moved towards Nine, Novena and the works that came after, following my own trajectory in the world, my quests, my conquests. You can see, for example, that in O visitante the external world hardly existed, while in Nine, Novena almost nothing exists but the external world. Is this a contradiction? No. I went from the interiorization of O visitante, through O fiel e a pedra, to the exteriorization, the plasticity of Nine, Novena. And it’s natural that it would go that way. Only with maturity does the fiction writer acquire the courage to look straight in the eye the external world, material things, the concrete. Written when I was approaching forty years of age, Nine, Novena expresses in a clear way the moment of this conquest, the crossing of that threshold. In O fiel e a pedra we have a problem of personal affirmation (a middle-class man confronting a landowner). In Nine, Novena, in a text filled with violence like “Retable of Saint Joana Carolina,” for example, the struggle of the central figure is no longer against a specific individual, it’s against the world. It’s against the land he inhabits. The narrative of Joana Carolina’s burial, which seems characteristic of aesthetic concerns, is constructed in a pounding rhythm, extremely violent, because it’s the narrative of a protest against the way the poor live and die in the northeast of Brazil. My paternal grandmother’s biography. If it weren’t constructed it would only be the story of a woman in Pernambuco. But this narrative is constructed in twelve tableaux or mysteries, each connected to the signs of the Zodiac. Therefore it’s no longer the story of a woman living in Pernambuco; it’s the story of a woman who lived in Pernambuco projected against the constellations, projected against the world, by which she became much greater and much smaller at the same time.
I suppose my work, looked at as a whole, shows coherence, as if each book were born of the other. But at the same time one is born of the other, it also starts a rebellion. I could even say, in a Freudian way, that my books reflect physical birth a little, paternity and the revolt of sons against their fathers, where the son is a continuation of the father, in the sense of asserting his individuality against him. This metaphor reflects the phenomenon with a certain approximation. Each work is a continuation of the other and at the same time it rebels against the previous work. This from the point of view of construction. Since I was very young, since my first works, I’ve tried to pay attention to what is being done and avoid the repetition of “tried and true” formulas. Be they mine or somebody elses.
When you read my books closely (not even that closely), you can clearly see that the architectural concern is not primary. I’m concerned with eternity, with the metaphysical—and I think about my responsibility towards my people. The primary structural concern is well represented by the nouveau roman, for example. I have nothing to do with it. The nouveau roman is done by intellectuals; it’s an extremely civilized literature. I can be somewhat civilized, but I’m more or less a primitive, a civilized savage, so to speak. I don’t belong to any club. I never worried about being avantgarde or not, I think that’s utter nonsense. I was always concerned with finding my own path. My fiction is akin to the restlessness of our century as far as artistic creation goes. But it doesn’t presume to be the illustration of any theory. Not even my own, strictly speaking. It expresses my personal experience with writing and the act of narrating to the world. This is the way it is for me: I only think about fiction. I began thinking about fiction in traditional terms. By thinking in a clear way about fiction and the world, my fiction and my world view gradually moved toward the realization of the exhaustion of traditional forms and on to the conquest of an individual vision, to the point of attempting personal creations. The architecture, the structure of Avalovara, for example, was a narrative necessity. The cosmos is orderly. Narrative, for me, is a cosmogony. This is how I think: there is the world, the words, there is our experience with words. And everything is orderly, it’s a cosmos. But the moment the writer sits down before a blank page to write his book, his narrative, words explode, and then he finds himself once again facing the chaos of the world and the chaos of words, which he is going to reorder. There’s going to be a new passage from chaos to cosmos. I tried this reordering in Avalovara. It contains all of my experience as a writer and as a man. It matured in my mind over a period of five or six years. It took me three to write it, working an average of ten hours a day during the last weeks. It cost me sweat, blood, and tears. But it was an exhilarating three years.
Visiting museums and looking at reproductions (I don’t know the Orient), we notice that Western art, in comparison to Eastern art, is extremely unimaginative. Especially the much praised art of the Renaissance: hardly mysterious, very correct, with its impeccable perspectives. This doesn’t stimulate me at all. The Romanesque rawness, the radiance of Gothic and our immense baroque speak to me much more. Situating myself, voluntarily and out of an increasingly stronger tendency, in the line of the imaginary and the ornamental, I try to exert on reality, through the novel, an action that is creative, in the wider acceptance of the word. The reality we deal with ordinarily, then, becomes richer, more stimulating. In Avalovara, as well as in The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, for example, I undisguisedly weave into the fictional context fundamental political problems, engendered and endured in our daily life.
Thirteenth-century retables, as well as the stained glass windows of that time, show images and facts without concerning themselves with perspective and have an extraordinary power of communication, within the limits of their own space. The contemplation of these works made me think a lot and had quite an influence on the type of treatment I’ve given to the narrative focus of my works, especially from Nine, Novena on. The Divine Comedy (going back to structure) was written within a rigid scheme (before beginning it Dante knew how many verses it would consist of) and this scheme made it a true work of art, alive and meaningful for all human beings, even for those who haven’t read it. Not only because of the structure, of course. But it wouldn’t be possible to conceive of The Divine Comedy having been written in any other way, the content conveyed by any other form, it would be a completely different work. Dante, Rabelais, Sterne weren’t just concerned with building a structure. Any engineering student can do that. There is a misunderstanding that the Canadian critic Northrop Frye mentions in his Anatomy of Criticism. It’s the confusion between change and metamorphosis: change, typical of the false avant-garde, is easy and completely worthless, and it often becomes confused with plain extravagance.
EVS: Once Faulkner was asked what a reader who couldn’t understand what he wrote should do. Faulkner answered: “I recommend that he read it four times.” For many people Avalovara, even with the help of the notes that come with the book, is difficult to understand. You say that it’s direct, clear. Do you have any suggestion as to how Avalovara should be read?
OL: I’d say that the structure of Avalovara is like a cage of wild animals. Turmoil, anxiety, despair, everything that’s part of our condition. I’d like the reader to know this. Avalovara, as with any book at any time of my life, represents the best my creative and imaginative powers had to offer my fellow men, I would feel disgraced and I don’t think I’d do justice to literature or my readers if I did otherwise.
There’s nothing obscure about Avalovara. It’s as if I were trying to convey a dream, or several dreams, with the greatest possible precision. For this it was always necessary to find the right word, to form the exact sentences which would correspond to the ideas I had. Avalovara can be understood in different ways, learned on different levels and gain totally different meanings depending on the reader. It has happened. It’s characteristic of works of art. And each reader can read Avalovara as he likes. Nothing is freer than reading, fortunately. Avalovara fosters this freedom. It can be read in the order it was created, or story by story, without interruptions. Much of its meaning will be lost, perhaps. Its structure is not gratuitous. But this reader can reread the book as it is later, on another occasion, and begin to appreciate the meaning of that structure then.
EVS: Autran Dourado writes his books in shorthand and then makes a clean copy. How do you write, directly on the typewriter? Do you plan the book in your mind beforehand or do you find a narrative form while you write?
OL: I type, usually on the old typewriter I wrote all of my books on. I have an electric typewriter, but I use it more to copy what I have already done and to write newspaper articles. The electric typewriter makes a light buzzing sound, This buzz seems to rush me; I have the feeling that the machine is impatiently waiting for my sentence, my thought. This inhibits me. The old machine, with its silence, helps. It knows that writing is not easy and that there’s a right time for the creation of each sentence. Sometimes I make handwritten notes. I plan books beforehand, in detail, as in the case of Avalovara (I made three charts), or in a simpler way, as for the other books. There is always a basic plan or several basic plans with a natural margin for the imponderable. The Queen of the Prisons of Greece had a structure almost opposite to that of Avalovara. Avalovara’s plan, in a way, wasn’t influenced by time. The Queen of the Prisons of Greece, a novel written in the form of a journal, was dated exactly according to the days on which it was being written, since it’s a work strictly connected to everyday events. Avalovara pointed to cosmic order. The Queen, without denying the preoccupation with the universe and eternity, is more attuned to the quotidian, the temporal, the ephemeral. A contrast and a continuity. Characteristic of my restlessness. For me the act of writing is an act of discovery. Hence the necessity for an initial plan and a margin for the imponderable. Before I begin to write, it’s as if the world were black. Through writing, I gradually unveil the paths I want to travel.
EVS: How would you define a good book?
OL: Something that counters all that escapes us too quickly with a sort of eternity.
EVS: Is the story important in a novel? Do you think about the reader when you write?
OL: Avalovara is a novel made up of novels, of stories. All the stripped down art of our times, the art that rejects the ornament, that turns its back on the universe, on what is concrete, is in my view an art headed for death. Now it’s important to understand what we mean by story. The nineteenth-century novel transposed to our days? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s still done, but it doesn’t make sense, it’s an anachronism. The current, contemporary novel has a very distinct character: it doesn’t want to delude the reader anymore, it follows a line approaching the Brechtian line, it offers the reader not a simulacrum of life, but a text, a narrative text, which presents itself as a text and presents the characters as characters and not flesh-and-blood people. The Balzacian as well as the Stendhalian novel presented us with characters constructed with such exactness that they gave us the impression of living people. Contemporary novelists don’t try to delude the reader in this way, which is very risky and at the same time very fair, in my opinion. They say: look, I’m presenting you with a work of fiction, characters made with words. At the same time, with this stroke of the magician showing the other side of the top hat, they manage, try to manage, to involve and win the reader over to their cause, their side. This seems to me a more fascinating and fairer achievement.
Do I think about the reader when I write? I write for myself and the reader. For a reader, I imagine, whom I respect, and who changes according to the way I myself evolve. He, too, is a character invented by me, perhaps the most important of all, because to a large degree he directs my work, carried out with the chance of his seeing it in mind. The ideal reader, then, will be the one who is closer to this model, within the limits of possibility. Someone who is interested in the things of the world, who is familiar with the consecrated formulas but doesn’t consider them immutable. Who has enough discernment to understand that pleasant writing generally expresses an attitude of adulation and not respect; this reader will also have to know that the book, for his author, is something valid, essential, and not a game, a pastime with which a few hours of leisure were occupied. I write for my contemporaries. Perhaps the idea that a writer doesn’t write for his contemporaries is right, but I don’t know posterity personally. The man I know and about whom I can write is the one who’s living the same adventure I am. I do everything that’s possible to do with dignity for my work to reach this reader.
I also write for those who are bound to detest my writing for one reason or another; I must confess I write for them too. So they’ll know that they aren’t the entire world and that not everything is made in their image or in the image of whatever they choose.
And I also write for those who are never going to read me, but might nevertheless be reached by my work, since the reach of a book is not always limited to the act of reading, and it may very well expand through conversation and other means. Don’t we at times fall under the influence of an author we haven’t read yet? It’s possible. It happens.
EVS: Author of articles, essays, short stories, novels, and theater. Isn’t the position of mere fiction writer satisfactory?
OL: It is as a fiction writer that I look for the most adequate genre for the communication of each idea, of each literary creation.
EVS: Do you think a writer should participate in the political and social reality of his country? And wouldn’t this participation cause a sort of conflict for the fiction writer?
OL: In the Middle Ages art was strictly linked to religion because life was essentially religious. Nowadays we live in an essentially political time. I always say that even putting a stamp on an envelope is a political gesture. Therefore art, no matter what kind, can’t distance itself from this universe. It has to be impregnated with it and its concerns. In order to write, the writer reflects on the reality of the world he lives in. And by reflecting, he’s compelled to fight in some way. I think the conflict sets in when this way is no longer a choice but a directive.
There’s a passage in Avalovara that defines well what I think about this:
Is the indifference of the writer adequate to his presumptive elevation of spirit? In order to defend the unity, level, and purity of a creative project, even though it be a project regulated by the ambition of enlarging the area of the visible, does he have the privilege of indifference? It is necessary, yet, to know if, in truth, indifference exists: if it is not a disguise of complicity. I seek the answers inside the night and it is as if I were inside the intestines of a dog. Suffocation and the filth, as much as I try to defend myself, become part of me—of us. Can the spirit place itself above everything? Can I keep myself clean, uninfected, within the innards of the dog? I hear: “Indifference reflects an accord, tacit and dubious, with excrement.” No, I will not be indifferent.
EVS: What need did you feel to insert graphic symbols, the characters’ identifying marks in Nine, Novena and Avalovara? And why did you dispense with them in The Queen?
OL: I used graphic signals to characterize some of the characters in Nine, Novena and to characterize only one character in Avalovara. And even in Nine, Novena this device was not employed in all of the narratives. It was used where it made identifying the characters easier without a break in the rhythm necessary to the narrative. Without needing to be read like a name, but simply seen, like a hyphen, for example, the signal doesn’t interfere with the sentence and identifies well the actions of the characters. I used this device where I thought it necessary. And, as it happens, graphic signals in a text aren’t my invention. Dashes make dialogues clearer for the reader. And words, in Egyptian hieroglyphs, were separated by a given signal. Even to separate words, as can be seen in ancient Latin manuscripts, mere literary devices were not always used, but graphic ones. In Avalovara no existing name seemed adequate to me for the multiple character Abel loves, who represents for him the synthesis of all other women. First, I thought of using the circle with a point in the center to define her. Then I used a special type of circle, a circle with a point in the center and two small horns on top which open toward the infinite. It’s a symbol of life. In The Queen there was no room for any graphic symbol. Or at least I had no need to use any.
EVS: Do Lisbela e o prisioneiro (Lisbela and the Prisoner), A idade dos homens (The Age of Men), Guerra do “Cansa-Cavalo“ (The War of the “Cansa-Cavalo”), Santa, automovel, soldado (Saint, Automobile, Soldier) complement Osman Lins’s “world,” his attitude as a man, or should they be seen as separate attitudes?
OL: I tried to express my ideas, my worldview, in plays as well, and they mirrored my quests and conquests as a creator. There’s no incoherence or separation at all.
As for the newspaper articles, they are faithful to the line of conduct I chose for myself as a writer. I want, I find it necessary, to opine, whenever possible, primarily in the area of culture, making my ideas very clear and defining my position. Which, incidentally, is coherent, I believe, with everything I have done and written.
EVS: After so many years of being passionately involved with literature and the other intellectual activities, would you say that it was worth it?
OL: Being a writer is always a damnation. A damnation I wouldn’t trade for anything, mind you. In countries of a higher cultural level, obviously, the damnation is mitigated, because the writer finds a greater number of allies, known and unknown people who stand by his side, arm-in-arm with him. However, there is an important, albeit paradoxical, aspect to all this. It’s that societies need the writer, the production of literary works all the more when they reject all this. A society where the writer is more welcome, where people read more, where the cultural life is more intense doesn’t have as great a need for the writer. It’s already culturally well fed. It doesn’t have as great a need for other individuals to make up (with the sacrifice of their own lives, in a way) for its faults.
I deal with the difficulties of a writer with obstination, with clenched fists and teeth. I charge ahead and, one way or another, like it or not, I will leave my mark.
Earlier I talked about the damnation of being a writer. But I also said that I wouldn’t give this up for anything. I still want—I swear—to be nothing else in life but a writer. Mine is a free trade, a rare thing. Not only this. Mine is a trade that drives me towards other human beings and doesn’t betray or offend them in any way. On the contrary: it exalts and honors them. We reach out to those who are our brothers in the world. Literature, moreover, is a way of transfiguring the faces we love and making them last a little longer, just a little longer, in the memory of the world. Not to speak of the creatures that don’t exist, that never existed, that God, out of distraction or just to give us a chance, didn’t create and that only begin to exist through the power of words. We operate in a society which is, overall, hostile or indifferent to our work. But how to describe the joy of finding an attentive reader at the most unexpected times? And this thing is so strong that it overcomes the barriers of translation. I have found, even in foreign readers, reactions that are not too far from tenderness. Have you ever thought about the meaning of this? A human being, overcoming all barriers, including linguistic ones. Who else, besides the artist, knows this joy?
And everything I know in life, my relationships, my deepest and most enriching friendships, it all came through literature. For all this, folks, for all these ups and downs, for everything it takes away from us and everything it gives us, literature, with the passing of years, becomes for us more important than life.