Talk delivered at Cheltenham Literary Festival

You could say that literature is a country made out of different countries. At the same time, different countries have different traditions and listen to different voices. A language is partly a way of thinking. Growing up in a country gives you the tradition of a language. When you read in the original or in translation you assimilate different ways of thinking that you translate into your own language. Literature is a country of sliding borders.

Often an author engages in dialogue with other writers from other countries, the writer's work might be an answer, a reflection, a reaction against or a development of what other authors have written before. There are a few authors that have been formative, or rather, deformative, in my writing. They are all foreign to the cultures I've lived in. I would say the main ones are Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras and Kathy Acker. At the time I started writing I was also discovering art. I liked art's immediacy, the impact of the image. There are many female artists that have interested me: Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Jenny Holzer, to mention a few. I have often immersed myself in a different discipline in order to write: art, cinema, philosophy. I often find these fields more stimulating than fiction. I like the idea of writing at a crossroad, like a prostitute. I supposed if I was to talk about a Hispanic writer that used to interest me, I would say Cortazar, for playfulness. If I was to talk about an English writer that fascinates me, I would talk about JG Ballard, endlessly.

For a long time now, I have been interested in the tradition of literary exercises. I am interested in the tradition of adventurous writing. I am interested in pulse, the pulse of writing. I am not so much interested in plot and characterisation. I am interested in something else, something extra. That could be ideas, symbolism, formal innovation, a subversion of narrative technique, writing in between genres, the inexplicable. I rather prefer a piece of writing with this something extra, than an accomplished novel (in terms of plot and characterisation) that lacks this something extra. I am interested in adventure and dissent. I suppose it's to do with the intensity of the text, the pleasure of the text. Pleasure interests me more than virtuosity. To me pleasure is to do with writing that refreshes the gaze, writing that makes you look at something in a different way, perhaps this is the "something extra" I am talking about.

There are many literary traditions. In our days, the novel as a genre predominates. I don't understand the hegemony of the novel. I think a short story, a poem, an aphorism, an essay, might be just as illuminating as a novel. I am not interested in writing that reproduces a realist way of writing or in journalistic writing. The market seems to favour C19th writing techniques. To me, this is just a tradition, amongst others. Other traditions are neglected by the market. The traditions that don't emphasise plot and characterisation are neglected by the market in a way they were not twenty or so years ago. There is something impoverishing about this situation. It is a kind of amputation. Maybe literature is becoming an amputated country.

Talk delivered at Cheltenham Literary Festival, 12 October 2003, organized by Instituto Cervantes.