Alberto San Juan: “Growing up is stripping off your costumes”

Why do you decide to rescue Benedetti now?

This arises from the anniversary of the death of Benedetti, at that time we were commissioned a recital tribute to him in Valencia where we talked about the double exile of those who fled the Franco dictatorship in 1939 and crossed the Atlantic to Latin America and later the Hispanic Americans when they went into exile to Europe to flee from the military dictatorships of the South. In the recital we have Mario Benedetti and Cristina Peri Rossi but there are also Cernuda or María Zambrano, all of them transmit to us how this double exile changes the life of one person until it becomes another.

You mentioned that the recital includes works by Cristina Peri Rossi. She stated in State of exile that «the mission of the exile is to fight against bad memory». Recovering his poetry does he seek to remember what happened in part of Latin America and in his own country?

Everything that is done to prevent oblivion is fundamental and always urgent in our country because there are very few who are alive from then to tell about it. In Spain we have a very big problem with memory because there is no consensus on the military rebellion of July 36, there is no talk that this was an attack on a legitimate democracy and meant the triumph of a dictatorship.

Do you feel close to Benedetti?

Yes, I feel close to him through his writings, it is what happens with those who publish work either through literature, music or any artistic expression. There is a work of Leaves of Grass from Walt Whitman where he says “this thing you are holding in your hands is not a book, it is I who is speaking to you at this moment”, there the author somehow is still alive. In that sense, I feel close to Benedetti because his vision of the world, his tenderness, his understanding and his humor unite me with someone who had a strong political commitment.

During the preparation of the recitals, are you connecting with parts of yourself that you did not know before?

Every time I am trying to connect with the public but through myself. Growing up is undressing all that are costumes, and if they are used, let it be for fun and not to hide. The novelty is being the only actor on stage, only with the guitarist, we are both constantly trying to connect with people.

The authors he recites are joined by a feeling of vital struggle against a dictatorship that represses voices and censors culture. In Spain, after the dictatorship, has censorship ceased?

It has not stopped having censorship The proof of this is that Pablo Hasél is in jail for singing songs that may seem aggressive but are still an opinion. It is unacceptable to put someone in jail for that, when we have the former PP minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, saying that the Franco regime was a time of extraordinary placidity.

And self-censorship?

There is a very tense environment and many people are afraid of losing their job, having difficulties in their professional field when their work is public. There is some objection that something can be said that damages the work trajectory.

Do we live in a time of silent exile in Spain?

It would be necessary to calculate how many people have left Spain after the 2008 crisis, how many graduates, university students and doctorates have had to leave the country.

Peri Rossi also talks about internal and external exile. Can one be exiled from oneself?

The journey in life is to connect with the essence that makes up every human being, to remove masks, characters that one consciously or unconsciously adopts to survive. What many of these exiled literary voices say is that after exile it is not the same again, you live with a tear or a wound that is never closed. This enriches and expands you, but also as Peri Rossi said, “starting is always breaking in two.”

Benedetti says in Wind of Exile that “the strange thing is that despite my helpless expectation I don’t know what the wind of exile says.” With the pandemic, do we live in perpetual uncertainty when looking to the future?

In any case to the contrary, uncertainty is narrowing because we know that every day we are closer to disaster and the end of our existence as a species, as a result of the social context that has caused the pandemic. The functioning of human society is unsustainable, if we do not change in 50 years this collapses because we live in a voracious and predatory capitalist economy.

Remembering José Martí, Benedetti says that “the truth is a homeland, homeland is humanity.” What is the homeland for you?

I understand it as a link that for me has to do with the neighborhood, the town, the family, with a sensuality related to colors, flavors, a landscape. The homeland in a sense of anthem and flag does not interest me in the least, I detest it.

Reading Benedetti, Peri Rossi or Belli, does it give us clues to understand the present?

To them and to Cervantes because the problem of the existence of power and therefore its abuse has existed for many centuries and is an unresolved issue. We still organize around a power that governs us rather than learning to govern ourselves or together. Although we call it democracy, neither you nor I can say anything about how to manage housing in Spain, our voice does not exist nor do we have any influence on it.

What would Benedetti or Cortázar say if they raised their heads and saw the world of now?

I don’t think they would change their speech much. The problem of the existence of power and the need for emancipation continues. With a novelty, today power has put the ecosystem on the brink of collapse.

Edward Said explained that with exile and the crisis triggered by political uprooting, there is a combination of creativity and sadness in the way of narrating feelings. Can pain and tears be more positive than happiness for creativity to emerge?

Not at all. No more. In my case. But at the same time, to the extent that pain is also part of life, it is also a source of creativity.


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