With Gladness Comes Generosity

52 Weeks / 52 Interviews: Week 34: Giannina Braschi

 

Banana

 

Born in San Juan and based in New York, Giannina Braschi is a cutting-edge poet, essayist, and novelist. She was a tennis champion, singer, and fashion model before she discovered writing. She holds a PhD in the Spanish Golden Age and has taught at Rutgers, Colgate, and City University. She has written on Cervantes, Garcilaso, Lorca, Machado, Vallejo, and Bécquer. Author of the euphoric poetry collection Empire of Dreams, the Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing! and the philosophical new work of fiction United States of Banana, Braschi has received grants and awards from National Endowment for the Arts, NY Foundation for the Arts, El Diario la prensa, PEN American Center, Ford Foundation, Reed Foundation, Rutgers University, Danforth Scholarship, and Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Her collected poems inaugurated the Yale Library for World Literature in Translation. She writes in three languages—Spanish, Spanglish, and English—to express the enculturation process of millions of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S.—and to explore the three political options of Puerto Rico—nation, colony, or state. Braschi dedicates her life’s work to inspiring personal and political liberation.

  


When the government proclaims war against terrorism—it proclaims war against the awakening of the masses

Monkeybicycle: The United States of Banana is a conversation between yourself, contemporary and historical world figures, as well as literary characters about Puerto Rico’s current political climate. Why did you choose to dialogue with Hamlet and Zarathustra?

Giannina Braschi: Because I always write about my friends. And Hamlet and Zarathustra are my friends. Because we are prophetic, apocalyptic, and revolutionary. What we have in common is our brotherly love—we carry dead bodies on our backs—and we never give birth, although I am in labor most of my life. I knew Hamlet would give me the poetry, Zarathustra would give me the philosophy, Segismundo would give me the plot, and I would handle the politics. Together we would liberate Segismundo from the dungeon beneath the Statue of Liberty and liberate Puerto Rico from the United States of Banana.

Mb: The language used is extraordinary and has a very musical quality to it. This is also your first novel written wholly in English. What is the role of language in your work?

GB: I’ve studied music all my life. I’ve sung songs in foreign languages and learned those languages through those songs. I memorized T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land from tapes before I (mis)spoke English and discovered in Eliot’s dramatic shifts my own music—the anonymity of the voices that come from no where—the Greek chorus that captures the conscience of the people. Zarathustra said poets have not discovered the tones. But I have discovered the tones—I speak in tones—in tongues–and from different cultural registers. I mix languages. I mix genres. I mix myself with eccentrics.

Mb: Philosophy, literature, and politics collide through the monologues and dialogues that make up the book. Can you talk about the confluence of these three in your work. Does one inform the others, or are they, like the characters, in a constant dialogue?

GB: The characters Zarathustra, Hamlet, and Giannina exemplify the unity of philosophy, literature, and politics. They encounter each other in the streets of contemporary New York, recognize each other, and don’t stop walking, talking, and contradicting each other—but all dealing at the same level—no one thinking he is superior to the other. We see how the powers of the world are shifting and we shift with those shifting powers. We watch the collapse of the Twin Towers as the fall of the American Empire, and we rise into a new world of multiple possibilities where we meet prisoners of war, terrorists, ambassadors, kings, queens, and presidents. It’s a world in which philosophers, poets, and lovers are in power.

Mb: This is perhaps the funniest and most enjoyable postcolonial novel I’ve ever read. Though it deals with very serious and heavy events, such as the destruction of the World Trade Center, the immigrant experience, and revolution, it never loses sight of its humor. What does humor do for us in the face of tragedy?

GB: Tragedy is all about losing. And humor is all about gaining perspective. Humor returns our gladness. And with gladness comes generosity. Humor returns us to the light and makes us light—it kills grudges, buries bodies–buries revenge—buries blame and guilt—fear and dread. Laughter, like hiccups and sneezes and farts and burps, relieves us of severity.

 

Colonize your colonizers–they say–learn from those bloody bastards. Which bastards–I ask. The American bastards–they colonized your colonizers–Spain and England–and look how phony they look–like prairie dogs–following the Bushes in the oil fields of Iraq.

 

Mb: The novel deals a great deal with the american empire and the future of Puerto Rico. You describe its options as Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy. What do you believe the future holds for Puerto Rico?

GB: Puerto Rico will be Wishy. Some people you will never discover, unless you create them first. Like Cervantes created Don Quixote and now we meet Don Quixotes in the street. Or like Tirso de Molina created Don Juan and now we say that guy over there is a Don Juan. Likewise, some countries you will not discover unless you create them first. I liberated myself from the eternal dilemma of Wishy, Wishy-Washy, or Washy. The United States of Banana is a declaration of independence.

 
 

Read more from / about Giannina Braschi here. Buy a copy of United States of Banana here.

 
 


Edward J. Rathke is the author of several books, one of them published [Ash Cinema, KUBOA Press 2012], two more coming out soon, as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine and regularly contributes to The Lit Pub where he also edits. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.com.
 
Advertisements

Entrevista: Giannina Braschi

Image

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
El Yo-Yo en los Estados Unidos de Banana
BEATRIZ E. RAMÍREZ BETANCES
CRUCE
 

Giannina Braschi estuvo en Puerto Rico hace varias semanas para presentar su nueva obra United States of Banana. Aproveché la ocasión para entrevistarla, ya que hacía mucho tiempo que deseaba hacerlo. Braschi es una de las escritoras puertorriqueñas más exitosas a nivel internacional y sus escritos son de carácter experimental. En esta entrevista dialogamos sobre varios aspectos de su obra y su perspectiva como emigrante puertorriqueña.

BERB: Siempre te he querido preguntar sobre tu primera novela en SpanglishYo-Yo Boing!”, que es publicada en el 1998 un años después que Rosario Ferré publicara en inglés y en Puerto Rico eso fue un escándalo cuando ocurrió, sobre todo por su editorial en el New York Times. En tu caso, y tal vez mi percepción está equivocada, no ha sido tan escandaloso, ¿no?

GB: Radical, sí.  Escandaloso, no.  Rosario me preguntó lo mismo: “Giannina, por qué no te atacaron a ti y me atacaron a mi?”

BERB: Y ¿por qué crees que no?

GB: Yo vivo en Estados Unidos y para mí es casi una necesidad ir de una lengua a la otra. Si a lo mejor estuviera en Puerto Rico no lo hubiera hecho,¿entiendes? No es una cuestión de hacerlo por el mercado.  Es sobre el proceso del emigrante a través de las lenguas. 

BERB: Pero el Spanglish es muy puertorriqueño.

GB: In spite of my family and in spite of my country, I’m writing the process of the Puerto Rican mind—taking it out of context—as a native and a foreigner—expressing it through Spanish, Spanglish, and English—Independencia, Estado Libre Asociado, and Estadidad—from the position of a nation, a colony, and a state—Wishy, Wishy-Washy, and Washy—not as one political party that is parted into piddley parts and partied out.

Yo escribo en distintos géneros literarios también.  El imperio de los Sueños es poesía y ficción. Yo-Yo Boing! es una novela pero también es drama. United States of Banana es ensayo, cuento, drama, y filosofía. 

BERB: Desde el primer libro de poesía Asalto al tiempo hay experimentación con el género.

GB: Sí, siempre estoy experimentando. Y así seguiré, porque me gusta. Me gusta retarme. No voy a escribir novelas latinoamericanas a la manera de García Márquez. No me atrae.

BERB: Además de la mezcla de géneros y la mezcla del código, lo otro es que mezclas voces dentro de tu obra ¿por qué?

GB: Porque a mí me interesa coger las voces, las conciencias de los pueblos, de las multitudes.  Cuando tú escuchas mis voces son voces que no tienen identidad, que salen de las esquinas de Nueva York, no son nombres concretos, son voces anónimas del pueblo, que salen y dicen su angustia.


BERB: Pero también hay un personaje siempre presente, una voz femenina fuerte.

GB: Lo que adoro de Rembrandt es que siempre se autoretrata a través de su vida.  Desde su infancia hasta su vejez.  Y los más bellos autoretratos son de su vejez. Por eso está mi personaje Giannina desde El imperio de los sueños hasta United States of Banana. Pero hay muchos personajes que son como los coros griegos. Expresan las voces de las mayorías como las protestas en Zucotti Park donde las mayorías están empezando a decir lo que sienten y lo que piensan.

BERB: Sí, como los letreros de protesta de Occupy Wall Street, que la gente escribía mensajes que a veces eran personales y a veces generales.

GB: Exacto.

BERB: Sí, es cuestión del signo. Esa es otra cosa que trabajas en tu escritura, el signo. Y me llama la atención que no hablas siquiera de la palabra, empiezas desde la letra. ¿Por qué?

GB: Exacto, es la grafía. También es que me detengo en las letras, busco significado en las palabras. Yo estudiaba con mi abuela y ella de cada oración sacaba una pregunta. Me hacía cuestionar lo que leía.

BERB: Y tu primera obra la publicaron en Barcelona en el 80. Esa no se consigue ya.

GB: Asalto al tiempo está incluido en El imperio de los sueños.  El otro día hablé con mi primer editor Víctor Pozanco en Barcelona, y él está publicando sus memorias y me incluye a mí como uno de sus descubrimientos. Me dice, “he tenido una suerte de conseguir gente como tú, que los publiqué sin saber nada”.

Y yo le dije “sabías algo” porque otro de sus descubrimientos fue Cristina Peri Rossi.  El gusto es un principio de organización—who belongs together and how do we recognize each other.

BERB: Tú leíste en el Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

GB:  Sí, me identifico con los Nuyoricans, con los desarraigados, con los que no tienen raíces y las buscan. No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá, no tengo edad, ni porvenir, y ser feliz es mi color de identidad.

BERB: ¿Por qué?

GB: No quiero ser una raíz enterrada en la tierra.  Prefiero ser un perro que camina y tiene una voz a ser una raíz enterrada. Gertrude Stein decía que arrancas las raíces y resulta que no son tan grandes como pensabas. Prefiero ser un perro realengo, mover mi cola y cantar a la luna y orinar en las raíces y darles alimento, pero no quiero estar enterrada.

Sin embargo este último libro es bien puertorriqueño. De repente me pregunté, ¿cuál es el problema del puertorriqueño a un nivel colectivo?

BERB: Hay gente que dice que ya no es necesario discutir la identidad..

GB: Estoy de acuerdo que la identidad no es importante.  That is why I part and depart from a principle of inequality in United States of Banana.  Siempre he estado no identificándome con las cosas.  No busco  la igualdad con las cosas, sino la desigualdad. Pero cuando te preguntan constantemente de dónde eres y tú constantemente contestas: de Puerto Rico, soy puertorriqueña. No matter how many years you have been out, 25 years, 30 years, you return to your roots, and you always say, soy puertorriqueña. It is not a matter of identidad. It is a matter of origin. Nunca me he identificado con la identidad, sino con el origen. 


Originalidad quiere decir volver al origen. Originalidad nace siempre del origen y Puerto Rico es una nación que no ha tenido nacimiento. La identidad no es mi problema.  Siempre he estado identificada conmigo misma.  No creo que los puertorriqueños tengan ningún problema con la identidad. Los puertorriqueños saben quiénes son a todos los niveles. Es un problema de origen.BERB: En tu obra hay una combinación de una experimentación lingüística junto a la corporeidad, a la escatología. Ese comienzo de “Yo-Yo Boing!” de esa mujer buscándose los orificios, sus excreciones y luego a hablar de lo que hace a un buen poeta ser poeta, lo que es bueno vs. lo que es grande. ¿Cómo hilas esas dos cosas que podrían parecer discordantes pero que en tu escritura no lo son?

GB: Bueno, el principio es un Close-Up del personaje.  Empiezo por la piel, por el cuerpo y luego voy entrando en la psique. Yo-Yo Boing! es una búsqueda de la psique y es una guerra constante cultural con un americano  que se ofende por cosas que no me ofenden a mí—como señalar con mi dedo.  Y ahí había una carga cultural que no es la mía así que voy a afirmar mi carga cultural, contestándole.

Los puertorriqueños son maestros en entender, to understand, stand under the stand.  Estamos debajo, trying to understand this power structure that is on top of us.  My new book is about changing perspective from the point of view of the colonizer to the point of view of the colonized.

BERB: Ésa es la condición, uno entiende más al otro que lo que entienden a uno. 

 GB: Sí. En United States of Banana también hay una pelea entre dos yo.  El anglosajón y el latino.  “Si Segismundo siente pesar, Hamlet se inquieta” es el epígrafe que tomo de Darío. Estoy siempre en conversación con Darío y con Neruda y Vallejo.  Pero también con Shakespeare y Eliot.  Y por eso caso a Gertrudis, madre de Hamlet, con Basilio, papá de Segismundo. Y en el sótano de Lady Liberty vive Segismundo, puertorriqueño, en un calabozo, encerrado por el pecado de haber nacido.”

Links:

http://www.ny1noticias.com/content/principales/pura_politica/149439/giannina-braschi-habla-de-su-novela–united-states-of-banana-

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5UdS8DI-ks&feature=related

 http://www.revistacruce.com/letras/el-yo-yo-en-los-estados-unidos-de-banana.html

PEN World Voices Festival

PEN World Voices Festival Director Laszlo Jakab Orsos and Giannina Braschi at the penthouse at the Standard Hotel.

Karl O. Knausgaard, Giannina Braschi, and Ib Michael at PEN World Voices 2012 at the Standard Hotel in New York City.
Gabriella Page-Fort, Giannina Braschi, Tess O’Dwyer at the American Museum of Natural History celebrating PEN’s annual gala benefit.

   

Russian sculptor Arcady Kotler and Giannina Braschi on the roof of the Standard Hotel at the PEN afterparty.

New York Times ~ Giannina Braschi

 

 

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

May 7, 2012, 10:09 am

Rushdie Brings PEN Festival to Close By

LARRY ROHTER

The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature ended Sunday night on a traditional note, with a lecture by the Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie, the target of an ayatollah’s fatwa in 1989, about the freedom to write. In recent years the festival has experimented with offerings that blur the distinction between literature and other forms of art or entertainment, and this year was no exception: the 37 scheduled events included one on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum in which three writers recited texts over a live musical performance by the Kronos Quartet and another on Saturday night that had five authors giving a thematic reading called “Messiah in Brooklyn” as they stood amid an installation at a gallery called the Invisible Dog Art Center. But since its founding 90 years ago, PEN America has aimed to be simultaneously a literary and a human rights group, with a focus on defending the rights of both writers and readers around the world, and Mr. Rushdie’s talk managed to address both sets of issues. “Originality is dangerous,” he said, a statement as much political as esthetic. And there was this, to conclude his remarks after pointed observations critical of limitations on thought and expression not just in China but also in the United States: “Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.” Not that there weren’t also moments of levity. In the question and answer period that followed the main address, the novelist Gary Shteyngart, born in what was then Leningrad and raised in New York, began his task as interlocutor with a jocular query. “An Indian and a Russian walk into a bar. Which one is inherently more free?” Mr. Rushdie wasn’t sure how to answer that one, but in response to other questions, he lamented both a certain human tendency to value material well-being over intellectual freedom, China perhaps being the prime example, and the headlong flight of post-Communist societies to intellectual pap. “It’s not inevitable that right will triumph,” he said after Mr. Shteyngart told of his recent trip to Beijing, in which one Chinese contact acknowledged limitations on his freedom of expression but pointed out that he owned a Buick Skylark and Mr Shteyngart didn’t. Earlier in the festival, a pair of panels had attempted to confront some of the same tensions.

The premise of a Thursday evening discussion called “The New Censorship” was that “as corporations move to the forefront in the quest for control over information and its flow, the battle over censorship has changed, and its newest champions are found not in the statehouse, but in the boardroom.” But the contradictions embodied in that thesis and the situation it describes, perhaps inherent, soon became apparent.

The Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi, the panel’s first speaker, offered a critique of 21st century capitalism in which she condemned “corporate censorship” and control. “Nobody owns a work of art, not even the artist,” she maintained, adding that “I write my thing and it belongs to the people.” But it was also noted that her latest novel, “United States of Banana,” was published by AmazonCrossing, which offers translations of foreign-language books but comes from the online book-selling giant that traditional publishers and some writers see as wanting to dictate and control the financial terms of the book trade and destroy competition. She didn’t see it that way, saying that without Amazon, her book may not have been published at all.

In fact, some of the most compelling personal testimonies during the festival came from three writers who have spent much of their careers battling long-established forms of state-sanctioned censorship: Gabriela Adamesteanu in Romania; Mahmoud Dowlatabadi in Iran; and Ludmila Ulitskaya in both the Soviet Union and today’s Russia. On Thursday Mr. Dowlatabadi, for example, told a story of being jailed by the Shah’s secret police in 1974; on inquiring of his captors what offense he had committed, he was told none, but that because many opponents of the regime had been arrested with his novels in their possession, that automatically made him a dangerous element. A Saturday afternoon panel called “Life in the Panopticon: Thoughts on Freedom in an Era of Pervasive Surveillance” also seemed to promise a different look at contemporary problems of self-expression and the free circulation of ideas. The original panopticon was conceived of by the 18th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a device that would allow a hidden observer to monitor all the members of any closed system without himself being detected — an apt comparison for our age of data mining for both national security and commercial purposes. The panel’s moderator was Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute, a libertarian advocacy organization whose donors include some of the country’s biggest corporations. His opening remarks and subsequent questions focused on the emergence of “the surveillance state,” largely glossing over the role that corporations play in the creation and maintenance of schemes of surveillance, and so it fell to other participants, like Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Scottish science fiction novelist Ken MacLeod and Ms. Adamesteanu, to bring corporations into the discussion. But Mr. Sanchez also noted that discussion of the politics of surveillance often resorts to “a language borrowed from fiction,” notably the adjectives Orwellian and Kafkaesque. Because “we are in the grip of the Orwell metaphor” of Big Brother watching us — and as Mr. MacLeod added, us watching Big Brother on reality television—we tend to think of surveillance as something palpable and centralized, rather than the amorphous system it has become. Because “technology has torn down the walls of the Panopticon,” the time is right for a new, perhaps even more ominous metaphor, he suggested.