May 27, 2020

Unpublished self-portrait of Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio | Babelia

Made for a tribute prepared in 1997 by the magazine Archipelago, this interview sees the light for the first time. Uncomfortable with the result, the author of Alfanhui He withdrew it and, in return, wrote his most autobiographical text: The forging of a pen.

The interview took place at the Madrid home of Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio on Thursday, June 19, 1997. The Puerta del Sol thermometer marked that day at 35 degrees. In our first meeting, on Wednesday, Ferlosio had asked me: "Do you usually eat at noon?", But having risked a rather weak statement, he was obliged to add: "It is that the first session we should do twelve at six in the afternoon, and although I usually dispatch lunch with some pots, you, at your age … ".

On Thursday we started promptly at twelve and there was no interruption to eat baby food. We realized, of course, four flutes that I had bought at the Boccatta's on the corner, but still speaking for a second. At half past four, I collapsed, asked for truce and checked that I had used up the tapes. Ferlosio was still so fresh. And it is that at my age …

Every interview is unjustifiable unless you provide some hard-to-reach information about a notable writer although for some little known reason. It may also be that article that the interviewee would never write, either because of shame, or because of a sense of responsibility, but that he would like to write or even wish anyone else would write. I have tried to gather both justifications in a single interview and in the pages that follow the reader you will find the phrases of Ferlosio that I found most significant about these four issues: intellectual affinities, stages of his literary work, reticence about fiction and one of his core themes that we will provisionally call and in memory of Walter Benjamin "circles of destiny and character."

In the space reasonably granted by Archipelago For the interview I have summed up three hours of recorded conversation, as many handwritten notes and a notebook of personal notes that Ferlosio had the generosity to offer me as a memory aid for the final writing. Needless to say, that word, "generosity", It is the one that best defines a writer whose artistic ability is only comparable with the moral courage that quickens it. It is true that literature shines by itself and all moral support is enemy, but if the energy that makes literary prose shine flows from a good spirit and not from a crippled soul, then sympathy is added to the admiration and with This is achieved excellence. I would like to have contributed to the portrait of an excellent man.


"We are going to settle once and for all this glassy affair to never dig into it again. I pay myself to be very little gossip, both with respect to others and myself, not even with the journal of such an incomparable writer as Kafka I have been able to do something other than zapping.

From my childhood I remember with pleasure life in Italy and how we slipped through the pinnacle of the Villa Aldobrandini (Anzio). Since adolescence I was my father's favorite, perhaps because of our affinity towards letters. One day, when I was over 18, he broke into my room and snapped at me: 'Rafael, do you think you can write iridescent formula? Iridescent formula! ' It was from Ortega. We shared a hatred for "the beautiful prose" that did not free me, as we shall see, from falling into it.

By 1946 I joined the group of friends of my brother Miguel, but I broke up with them the day they decided to storm a Protestant church. It seemed a lot to me. So I spent two years alone, until I constituted a fratry with Aldecoa and the Arte Nuevo group, which were Alfonso Sastre, José María de Quinto, Medardo Fraile, somewhat later Fernández Santos … At Aldecoa's pension, around 1951 , I began to read what I had written about Alfanhui. Being almost all theater men, they had a great admiration for Jardiel Poncela and began to sit down with him, but it seemed to me to be the most odious, arbitrary and stupid being imaginable, so I also retired quite a lot from them.

Juan Benet had some relationship with that group through José María Valverde, who brought Gambrinus to Víctor Sánchez de Zavala. Together they set in motion what they called 'the free University of Gambrinus', whose gathering I occasionally went to. I also read my horrible poems to Valverde. My father did not appreciate him. He said: 'These who want to make disciples'.

In 1953 I got married and started writing The Jarama. I was a self-taught, without influence of people, although many people have had more authority over me than they supposed. For example, Sanchez de Zavala had enormous authority. He was a very intelligent man but I took a grudge because when I immersed myself in the universe of grammar and we started to meet together to talk about language issues with Carlos Peregrín Otero, Carlos Piera, Isabel Llácer and others (he called it 'the circle linguistic of Madrid ') one day he told Carmen Martín Gaite, in the middle of the street, that he was studying with Piera, Llácer and others, but without quoting me:' You can't work with amateurs'. He had excluded me.

So I kept working on my own and sank into amphetamines and grammar for fifteen years. I didn't want to see anyone. In those years a writer came to visit us almost every day, who was bored sovereignly, but I turned off the light in my room and Carmen Martín Gaite told him that he was sleeping and that he could not wake me up. There he waited, in the dark, sometimes hours, until he left, so he could continue with mine. I got to be six days and six nights without stopping. I swallowed a whole tube of Centramine or Simpatina, which were very bad.

With amphetamines, it was normal to work hard on all four days, then sleep a whole day with a wonderful drop in tension. And then I took my girl and spent three days with her. We were going to see pictures; He liked El Bosco a lot because, as she said, 'he has a lot'; Y The stigia lagoon of Patinir. This one hanging from the wall (The triumph of death of Brueghel the Elder) was his favorite. I did not want to show it to you, because of this nonsense of parents to avoid our vision of death to our young children, and it led me to The hay carriage, which is next door, but it hunted me. It was very hard to fool. It became his favorite painting.

After three days I locked myself up again. First I took two Centramines to get going, then four; the second, third and fourth day were the best and in the last two came the descent. I stayed awake without taking pills; the cerebral excitement was of such category … Then he fell down. They were fifteen years, from 57 to 72, of maximum grammatical intensity; I've never had a better time. I have always written or read in the light of the bulb, so it was five thousand nights, more or less, that I devoted to grammar and amphetamines.

In 1970 I went to live on Prieto Ureña Street, where I succumbed to disorder and animalization, almost to destruction. I went back to the monkey. Amphetamine (now using the extraordinary Dexedrina Spansuls) is (at least imaginary) very industrious. I became fond of tools and glues (it was the great season of epoxy); I drew furniture, like the rampant vargueño from which I developed many models, which I was later unable to build. The entire floor was covered in trash except a small path that led to the tool cabinet. I made crafts, played with screws, with glue, made manufactures with plastic pipes and various useless carpentry … When they took me out of there were whole bags full of plastic tubes. Sometimes I lost consciousness, crawled on all fours and growled, and didn't even understand the screws, I didn't know what they were. He gave me a soldering iron and I burned my left arm; It was five hundred or six hundred degrees. I reached the extreme of degradation. I had what I called 'olfactory hallucinations'. So the chemistry locked me between two fronts (the amphetamine and the epoxy) and had me besieged almost a couple of years until the owner of the house saved me, who gave me 400 thousand pesetas to recover the floor .

Two other notebooks of the writer.

Two other notebooks of the writer.

Calligraphy began to shoot me until it broke down, sometimes almost completely. You will see. (He shows me some notebooks with scribbles, incomprehensible stripes, smudges; in one of them he unravels the word “number”, a line that falls until it occupies the entire page). Now I have regained calligraphy. I believe that calligraphy saves Alzheimer's. Calligraphy, now I have it very well.

In those seventies and without leaving grammar completely, I began to read a lot of history, never separated from sociology. He had begun to write the chronicle of the barciale wars at the end of 1969 as an entertainment, but then the Barcial was growing a lot. Only known The testament of Yarfoz, but there are about a hundred times more; I don't know if I can ever edit it because I would have to work hard to get something clean from all that. I also wrote the notes for the Victor de L'Aveyron, and then I prepared the first two Garden Weeks. The third week is started and is about "the figures." Nor have I had the courage to develop it and arrange it for editing.

In 1980 I moved to the Glorieta de Bilbao. There I prepared the edition of Yarfoz, with much effort because I was interested above all to give the history of begging baboons, which forced me to write many new parts. I also wrote some libelos of those that have appeared The national army, Until the gods change, and maybe someone else. The celebrations of the discovery of America forced me to write Those wrong and damn Yndias. Have you read it? But it is unbearable …!

Already here, on Agustín de Rojas Street, I have been writing and cleaning up the last things, the essay collections edited by Destino, the articles of EL PAÍS and the magazine Keys, and I have ready to publish Castilian and the constitution and a new volume of essays where the article on beauty goes, the rant against sports, things about liberalism and the economy … Anyway, all that.

Literary stages

"First I incurred in" beautiful prose, "then I wanted to have fun with speech and finally, after all the years of grammar and amphetamine, I found my tongue.

Ferlosio, on the right, with his friend Agustín García Calvo, in a photograph placed on a painting of his house. On the flap they carry the sheet they made for one of their colloquies on grammar. Superimposed, photograph of his widow, Demetria Chamorro.

Ferlosio, on the right, with his friend Agustín García Calvo, in a photograph placed on a painting of his house. On the flap they carry the sheet they made for one of their colloquies on grammar. Superimposed, photograph of his widow, Demetria Chamorro.

In Alfanhui I did what I hated the most; something that was between Azorín and Miró (there is a devastating example in chapter XV of the first part). I was writing a chapter every night, very quickly, and it is full of monkeys like that 'iridescent formula' by Ortega. As to The Jarama, The first thing to say is how it was written.

During my military service I had commmitions from all the Spanish regions, the vast majority of workers. There, first in Bab Tazza, then in Tetouan and finally in the Mehalla de Xauen, I became familiar with popular speech. I already knew the Extremaduran rural forms, but not those of the rest of the old Crown of Castile, from Asturias to Almeria. Only the Catalans, who were twelve, spoke in their language; They had a spokesman for foreign relations, a boy named Caparrós, perhaps a trade clerk.

I systematically aimed the turns, the constructions, the words that caught my attention, and accumulated in a list long lines of "idioms" and syntactic retaliation. On such a warp was woven The Jarama. If I went back to that novel, I could point out what conversations were invented for no other reason than to make room for this or that item on my list, because the novel's conversations were going towards that particular turn. It was speech that built the characters, some more rural, others more urban, all built by their speech.

It is a procedure that maybe you can remember Lope's when he writes a comedy to illustrate a popular song, but it has nothing to do with it. The coplilla of Olmedo's knight, For example, it is worth more than all of Lope's text. As an Italian said, oggi sarebe stato a cinematographer (so they say in Rome, cinematograph), 'today I would have been a film director'. It was a bellaco. A monopolist that prevented the rise of the nobles. In Fuenteovejuna they rape all women except heroin. I remember that outraged Buero Vallejo, and rightly so. Now there is an announcement on TV where a couple is seen in bed enjoying sin, but then some children come in and it turns out that it was a marriage and they were enjoying virtue. That's what Lope does in Fuenteovejuna, reassure good consciences; Sin on one side and virtue on the other.

After the barciale wars I have not written any more novels, and I am glad, because if I had written them I would have been subject to what is socially expected of each one of us (because of that 'we must be something in this world), and I was disgusted by the grotesque paper of literature. So when it fell into my hands the Language theory Karl Bühler immersed myself in what the Catholic Church calls "a retreat to devote himself to high ecclesiastical studies." They say it of those annoying priests or insumisos to those who withdraw a season of the circulation. It could well be said that I am in "high ecclesiastical studies" since then.

To write fiction, something very special has to happen to you and I have other issues to think about. These things absorb me more: a letter to my cousin, an article about Bousoño, about beauty, a criticism of Adorno (this man never understood what the purity), the weight of history … But in essays and articles, although there is little fiction, there is still literature, as in the history of the fair automaton that appears in If the arrow is in the bow. There is always literature, I think.

Recently, however, I wrote some fiction, but it didn't just … It's weak. I'm a little embarrassed, I'm an uneducated person. You will see … (Start taking out folders and notebooks from the shelves. There are hundreds of folders, hundreds of notebooks. It shows them on the outside and then on the inside. On the outside, a label informs about the date of writing and the content Inside, thousands of typed pages, thousands of pages written in a clear and precise letter, give an idea of ​​a colossal work, perhaps unsystematic, but orderly, how many interrupted, incomplete, pending revision books or – more probable – finished but not to the full satisfaction of its owner, will there be in this house? Two hundred?).


"I have many objections to the novels as they are written today, but above all to fiction as it is conceived now. I will give an example: the English made that horrible movie about Lord jim, of Conrad, with that manager, Peter O'Toole, where they completely confused the main idea of ​​the novel. The essence of the story is how, little by little, the information that Lord Britons are receiving about Lord Jim is moving away: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Borneo … so to disappear into the unknown. The news is always objective and external, we never enter into the privacy of Lord Jim. But the English of the film psychologize the honor and present it as if Jim wanted to 'regain his self-respect', to prove to himself that he is not a coward. That is abhorrent. Honor is not something internal, but external, referred to the other men. Honor is a relationship of loyalty with your neighbor, it is not 'fail yourself' but 'fail others'. What Lord Jim can't stand is to have failed the Muslims, not himself! Your sin is objective, not subjective. The reception of his adventures must be equally objective.

Demetria Chamorro, widow of the writer, last Thursday at home.

Demetria Chamorro, widow of the writer, last Thursday at home.

This outrage, committed against an extraordinary novel, is an increasingly widespread attitude, that is, the substitution of objective virtues for psychological and individual elements that "explain" the action. That's why I don't read current novels, the few times I do I find myself more and more frequently these abuses of psychology.

I have nothing against the psychological novel, but it is very difficult not to fall into excesses. It happens even to Dostoevsky. In Crime and PunishmentFor example, there is a scene that describes up to six mixed feelings of Raskolnikov. He is alone, in his room, and he is torn between six simultaneous passions! However, does anyone know what a 'psychological disturbance' is? That is an arbitrary invention, nobody can know how a feeling is defined linguistically, it is a completely confusing field. Conversations with the commissioner, on the other hand, are magnificent; there the characters are defined outward, with speech, and that is the important thing in a narrative: expose how each character wants to appear before the others.

In a newspaper, or in an epistolary novel, it is easier to verbalize the intimate state. Choderlos de Lacios, for example, transcribes in Les Liaisons dangereuses self-representations written by the same characters, and thus escapes psychology. Each character appears as he wants the remaining characters to see him. That the author wants to penetrate his word into something that is essentially confusing and ineffable such as feelings, etc., that makes me very nervous and I just closed the book. The only possible 'realism' is self-representation. The character has to manifest himself.

It happens that now there are more and more novelists who first invent the character scheme of the characters, and then apply it as if it were a mold. Moravia, for example, in The hipster, describes a child who martyred with a stick first to some plants, then to a cat, and finally to a child. This psychological gradation is an unbearable artifice. When on my way to the tongue I found Yarfoz I tried to explain all the characters from the outside, and by an equal. I have never been able to support writers who do not keep the same respect for all characters. There is a big difference between laughing with the character and laugh from a character.

The novels are governed by a set of conventions that I have called 'narrative law'. If you don't respect those conventions, the reader leaves you. For example, the challenge between Saladin and Ricardo Corazon de León. The English prince takes a command and using it as if it were an ax part a tremendous trunk. But Saladin takes his scimitar, throws a silk cendal or a feather cushion into the air (depending on the versions of the story) and falls the split zenith in two, or the cushion without a single feather flying. If you put Saladin's action before Ricardo's, then the story is absurd, idiot, because the meaning is: 'the subtle force is superior to the brute force'. These conventions are constant and inexorable. From the beginning of the story you know who cannot absolutely die, or can only die at the end, and who can survive. The narrative is a succession of events governed by law, but that 'narrative law' is less and less respected, perhaps by the influence of cinema and television.

Shelf with her wreckbooks.

Shelf with her wreckbooks.

Two summers ago I read several Spanish novels, which I strictly avoid. One I could not read because the typography seemed incomprehensible, began with the first lines of the paragraph bled without obvious need. The second was entertaining but suddenly a deux ex machina… And the third is also damaged in the end, although I must say that the descriptions of the Andalusian landscape seemed very good to me; Classic, with no contribution of novelty, but very vivid. Then I have not read more.

That as for the characters, but as for prose, I am very pleased with the hypothetical possibilities of written Castilian. That hypothetical complexity develops, I think, from administrative language, as I have recently seen in the chronicles of Chancellor López de Ayala whom I had as paratactic and it turns out to be hypotactic. I threw myself into the amusements of the polyarticulate phrase and of very long breath from The garden weeks and as a result of my encounter with the language. Some phrase cost me a whole day.

Hypotaxis is very vicious but can lead to catastrophic shipwrecks; I have a glorious shipwreck in Those wrong Yndias… This is the 'great path of the tongue, facing the' small tranquility of beautiful prose '. Hypotaxis is a galleon with all sails deployed, capable of taking advantage of even the slightest sigh of wind; The parataxis is a small cabotage boat for short journeys. I can't find novels that escape the 'beautiful prose' or vulgar applications of parataxis. The novels demand a lot of effort, a lot of work and good occurrences. That's why I resist writing fiction. But instead, I read eight or ten times Josefina the singer or Utica's surrender, and I never tire of reading them and reading them again.

Character and destiny

The first one that speaks of 'character and destiny' I think is Schopenhauer. Then Benjamin titled his brief essay, which is very good. I had my first glimpse of the matter with my daughter, when I was about three years old and took her to see the puppets of the Retreat. There was no need for anyone to start her in that game, or for anyone to explain what the good or bad character was, although she had never seen them. It was so obvious that it was clear and fascinating even for a three year old. Since then I called "character of existence" to which he has a destiny and "manifestation character" to the character character. It is a provisional denomination, very weak.

Nietzsche said that whoever has character lives a single experience that always repeats, lives in a consumptive time. Charlot or Carpanta are characters of character, neither born nor die, they never change, like the puppets of art comedy, they consume their time. On the other hand, the character of existence lives in a purchasing time, a time that leads to an outcome, is the character of avatar, of adventures, of agony, of destiny.

This difference between consumptive time and purchasing time can be extended to a multitude of activities, such as games and sports. If we distinguish between games and sports in agonies and anagonies, that is, between those in which there is a final victory because the agonist wins or loses, and those in which there is only consumption (or enjoyment) of time, then the agonists would be analogous to the 'character of existence' always struggling to reach his destiny which is victory or failure, and the anagonic ones to the 'character character', which is not sacrificed for any purpose but consumes its time. Between them there is that difference that Hegel called 'difference between happiness and satisfaction'. The anagonic games provide happiness, the agonizing satisfaction. The agonist's purchasing time is between a 'not yet' and an 'already!'; The consumptive time, on the other hand, is among a 'still!' and a 'not anymore'.

In anagonic games, releases of very general laws are experienced, such as gravity when children slide along a railing, along a ramp with a cart, or over pine needles, and players enjoy them at all times and not Only at the moment of victory. This classification forces me to include among the 'good' sports some that are unfriendly to me because of their distinguished social character, such as skiing or bobsleigh, or those that are parachuted or from a bridge. But I have to recognize that even the rich enjoy games as if they were poor.

Drawing by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio.

Drawing by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio.

These games are anomic, have no rules, do not require effort, you just have to put a little skill and enjoy each moment. The agonizing games, on the other hand, require effort, provide a mock domain and their enjoyment only appears in the end in the form of victory, as a fatal destination or as a 'triumph of technique'. Throughout the game the body is sacrificed and made to suffer in order to reach a victorious end, an orgasm. The agonizing games obey very strict laws and there are usually referees who judge who has skipped them and who obeys them.

There is only, to my knowledge, a non-agonizing game and yet subject to rules, which is dance. It is without the slightest doubt an activity in consumptive time, without purpose, without victory or defeat, which is enjoyed from moment to moment. But, surprisingly, it is subject to rules. To explain the dance I have to go to the 'figures', who are in that third week of the garden that I don't know if I can ever publish. Also bullfighting is such a unique activity … But for now I write about sports (or maybe against sport), model of agonizing effort and body sacrifice.

I do not know when that taste for effort, for sacrifice, that hatred of the body began in Christianity. Of course it is not of Jewish origin, a people very inclined to sensual enjoyment and away from any idea of ​​mastery of the body. No doubt the hatred of the body penetrated Christianity through Hellenic culture, and surely a fundamental bridge was Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary Jew of Paulo de Tarsus and so Hellenized that he would have even lost the use of Hebrew. It belonged to what Joseph Montserrat in his excellent study called 'the Christian synagogue', when Christians were still a Jewish sect, in the second century. Before the destruction of the temple, 10% of the Roman population was Jewish and in the Trastevere there were up to seven synagogues.

The obsession with the dominion of the passions and the contempt of the body starts from Plato and perhaps through the Hellenized Jews it will reach Roman Christianity and merge with the Stoic current that was the most powerful. This Reef constantly uses the sports metaphor as a model of the strengthening of the soul. There the sacrifice appears as it is conceived in the current sport: the saint is an 'athlete of the soul'. Naturally, this is also the source of a conception of work as a form of 'ennoblement', of effort as 'overcoming oneself' and everything that constitutes the current social catechism.

Our society is now frightfully obsessed with agonizing games like football and with the characters of experience and destiny that are what the press calls 'winners', victorious athletes of their destiny, which they arrive after 'great sacrifices'.

I don't have much sympathy for those sacrifices. I remember that when I was a child, in Anzio, we slipped with a cardboard under the ass through the pinnace of a villa that my grandfather had bought with a wonderful pinewood … That was always the same, it never ended, you never got tired … No? There was nothing to gain, nothing to lose. "

The interview is part of the volume ‘Dialogues with Ferlosio’ which, in the edition of José Lázaro, the Triacastela publishing house publishes on November 20.


1. (No se puede reducir) una referencia muy específica sobre una disparatada interpretación de Adorno de la noción de "pureza" de las ciencias a la afirmación, puesta en mi boca, de "ese hombre no ha entendido nunca lo que es la pureza".

2. (No se puede transformar) mi opinión sobre el "derecho narrativo", que en Las semanas del jardín es meramente planteado como un dato de hecho, en una preceptiva literaria que yo apruebe y defienda, atribuyéndome, incluso, la afirmación de que el cine ya no lo respeta, siendo así que la industria cultural de Hollywood ha significado justamente el máximo triunfo imaginable de las convenciones del "derecho narrativo" y la catástrofe más destructiva para la narración, imponiendo de tal modo el esquema convencional, que todo está tan invariablemente predeterminado que en los primeros 5 o 10 minutos es difícil que no se prevea con bastante aproximación el destino prefigurado para los distintos personajes. Es el "derecho narrativo" exigido por el público, como un derecho contractual adquirido con el precio de la entrada, lo que permite tales adivinaciones. Incluso hay actores especializados en un destino fijo: por ejemplo, Borgnine casi siempre se sabe que va a ser "el que se va a morir".

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