José María Merino: “There are no swallows, but there is garbage everywhere” | Culture


José María Merino, on March 26 at the Penguin headquarters in Madrid.
José María Merino, on March 26 at the Penguin headquarters in Madrid.SANTI BURGOS

José María Merino is 80 years old from A Coruña, but his history as a writer associates him with Leonese people of his generation (Luis Mateo Díez, Juan Pedro Aparicio). He is an academic from the RAE. His passion for the story led him to compile the best stories of the twentieth century and to become bestseller that forgotten story of the best of Spanish fiction. The dark shore (1985) is one of his great novels, like The visions of Lucrecia (nineteen ninety six). Almost all his books are in Alfaguara, where we talk. Between us, his latest storybook, Anthropocene News, fictions about the drama of our time: the destruction of the climate with which we live as if the life of the earth were eternal and it turns out that, as he says, “there are no swallows, but there is garbage everywhere”.

Question. Everything is fiction, but everything that counts is possible.

Answer. What I tell exists. The Pacific Garbage Continent is true, and it’s bigger than Europe! The death of the bees, the trucks that go with them around roaming to pollinate, they exist too. I have a little house in Valdemorillo and I see the trucks that come to pollinate. There are things that are fantastic and they are true. I imagine things, but they go in that vein. I have not wanted to make a fantastic book, but to respond to the possibilities of reality.

P. Does the future scare you?

R. Man, I’m so old… But it does scare me, because I sympathize with those who come behind. I have a five-year-old granddaughter and I see what ignorance there is in the face of the deterioration that can affect human beings so much. I have written a book with my climate concerns, with the change that we see every day. We no longer see swallows in Madrid in spring, we see three or four. And what I say about bees is true. But there is garbage everywhere.

“It snowed more in Madrid than it has ever snowed in León. It’s crazy

P. It seems that to make the book I have put my ear to the earth, to listen to its messages of help …

R. The repercussions of climate change on temperature are evident, in these absurd storms that do not know where they come from, in the recent snowfall, which has cut down I don’t know how many trees … I used to see these snowfalls as a child, in León. They were normal in winter. In January it snowed more in Madrid than it has ever snowed in León. It’s crazy.

P. What worries you most about the messages of the earth?

R. I am concerned that life-saving technologies are leading society into mysterious alienation. That having an important economic level there is the misery that exists in the world. That it is not investigated in the fevers that, apart from the pandemic, affect humanity. Where is this species going that two hundred thousand years ago began to have symbolic thinking, invented music and numbers? Because I don’t see her improve, not only morally but in her fraternal relationship with other human beings and with the rest of life on the planet. I do not see it.

“Except for health professionals, society has behaved in a deplorable way. It moves, it goes out, it wants demonstrations, fuss

P. And this moment, how do you see him at 80, who has just turned?

R. Disappointing. Greed, that monster in us, has not been resolved, and that makes me pessimistic about the future of the species. I lived confinement almost like a dream, writing. A character in one of my texts today says: “Reality does not need to be credible.” And it is true. I think implausible things, but reality beats me when it becomes plausible. This pandemic is multiplying, these bug crown they mutate, we are living a kind of Middle Ages. We have more elements to fight it, but it turns out that for certain parts of humanity that fight matters little. The feeling I have is that what is happening has already happened to humanity, and we are not acting better than our ancestors.

P. Do you find that society has not been able to face something so serious?

R. Except for health professionals, society has behaved in a deplorable way. It moves, it goes out, it wants demonstrations, a commotion. There are the waves, one after another. And then there are the politicians. Facing, fighting.

P. Does literature relieve you of these disappointments?

The feeling I have is that what is happening has already happened to humanity, and we are not acting better than our ancestors

R. I believe that the grace of fiction allows us to better understand reality, human behavior. Literature shows us how we are, for thousands of years. Look at Pérez Galdós, for example: love, jealousy, heartbreak … literature is the document that calms a little the uneasiness produced by the dark reality.

P. It serves to escape from this world, he said. But you go out looking and find yourself, as you say in your book, with the garbage …

R. What about the garbage is incredible! I have a collection of balls, of lentils made of plastic, which I have collected in Cabo de Gata. I looked at it and thought: “What is this?” There are thousands and thousands of lentils that had almost the same category as sand. How is it possible that, in these virgin beaches, in spite of everything, everything is full of that presence that plastics leave behind? That plastic will destroy the sea. It is the rubbish.

P. Even in the cybernetic you find a threat to the life of nature.

R. It is that we already cybercommunicate. One day a real artificial intelligence will get us out of the way. The mobile serves to save lives, but it is also loaded with stupid things. For the life of inventions one day they won’t be needed neither the plug nor the umbrella. Everything will be declared obsolete, including the humanities. Everything is in the books; Well, one day they will say that books must also be declared obsolete … I went to a library. The director told me that they were measuring the books. And because? “Because as they say they will cease to exist, it will be necessary to see what use we make of these rooms.”

“One day an artificial intelligence that is real will get us out of the way …

P. Describes with humor the different destructions that reality is faced with …

R. It is because I wanted humor, irony and satire to help the reader not to think that whoever writes is a mad apocalyptic. And no, I’m trying to say, “I’m not apocalyptic, I’m just like you.” What is not normal is that all this that affects us in such a way is not being told to alert men of how their culture is being destroyed. First there was the denial of climate change, and there you see plastic destroying food. And there you see overpopulation, the destruction of the earth, the end of the future of libraries, the deterioration of human commitment to time and to the land with which it lives.

P. He once said that literature serves to escape from this world. Well now you have gone to another world, with fiction, and have come back horrified.

R. I am a little horrified, but maybe it is the fruit of the years. Lope de Vega used to say that there is nothing that feels more like discovering than the secret of the years, the secret of age, the secret of what time gives with its passing. And the secret of the years is not making me funny.


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