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My friends at Faber have invited me to share five books that in some way helped me to inhabit the present and activate the invention of possible imaginaries, while writing my debut novel, Napalm in the Heart.

As Ursula K. Le Guin writes, the creative process is an attempt to ‘be realists of a larger reality’. As I have a restless body and find decisions difficult, I have created some transtemporal dialogues from the artists and works that have influenced my writing, as if they were my own mental Ouija board.

#1 Nan Goldin meets Hélène Cixous

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin

‘Love of The Wolf’ from Stigmata, Hélène Cixous

 

I imagine that Nan Goldin and Hélène Cixous meet. The former gives the latter her book of photographs. The latter gives the former her book of essays. At the moment of exchange, they confess to each other: ‘I read you, to take these photos’; ‘I looked at you, to write these stories’. I imagine that when Cixous concluded ‘sign my death with your teeth’, she had in front of her the picture of the bruise on Goldin’s face. I imagine that Goldin – when she captured those two men fused by their mouths – was thinking of Cixous. I link them because I think they are the ones who have formulated love in the most interesting way possible: far from clichés, binomials and affirmations. In dialogue in this way, Goldin and Cixous show that love is an irresolvable tension, a fragmentation of broken words, where each subject is a wolf and a sheep, and is impressed by the wool and the fangs of the other. Existing beyond polyamorous fictions and political renegotiations, returning to them is a breath of fresh air: they tell us that love is writing, that love is a repertoire of images that we have not yet burned.

#2 Maggie Nelson meets Mathieu Lindon

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

Prince et Léonardours, Mathieu Lindon

 

I imagine that the self is not a buoy, but a door. That the self is not an anchor, but a door. That the self is not a port, but a door. Maggie Nelson uses queer autotheory to show that talking about oneself is also an excuse to talk about the other: who breaks you down, who gives you life, who will – at some point – stop loving you. To love, against everything, as a response. Mathieu Lindon also wrote about this: Prince et Léonardours is not autotheory; it is a portrait of bastard desire, like Nelson’s, which claims its strength as the only possible option in the face of barbarism and destruction: ‘To console him, Prince tells him the future: they are in love, they are moving away from the war, and they are going together to another country where they will be happy.’

#3 Carmen Maria Machado meets Mariana Enriquez

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez

 

I wonder: do they read each other’s books, do they read them fiercely before going to sleep? Do they recognise each other as partners in something bigger and wider than their own writing? Have they ever called to tell each other that they share something but they can’t say what it is? Her Body and Other Parties and Things We Lost in the Fire seem to me to be the shadow and light of the same image. Both authors affirm with their writing that the most honest thing we can say about the present is that we don’t know. Against orthodoxy, against mimicry and referentiality, Machado and Enriquez demonstrate that genre writing (call it science fiction, call it what you will) is neither entertainment nor banality, but that it is expanding the limit of what is real and possible. They do not solve anything with their books, but rather extend problems to their radical limits – a task which is, I believe, one of the foundations of literature.

#4 László Krasznahorkai meets Svetlana Alexievich

Satantango, László Krasznahorkai

Voices from Chernobyl, Svetlana Alexievich

 

Tomorrow is today. The future is now. László Krasznahorkai’s novel places us in the world that happens after this very moment, where the end does not come: the end will not be an event, he tells us, but a process through which we find out who we are already. Alexievich’s choral portraits also contain something of the unfinishable and the endless – disaster can have so many names! There are so many voices trying to tell us that the world is ending very slowly and going unheard: we need to keep listening for them. Even if we don’t always understand, words will remain and we will be able to return to them. To listen, to write, to bear witness. Literature (a book, a poem, a film, a photo, whatever you like) will not save us, we know that. But we also know that to stop inventing is not a possible alternative; we cannot stop repeating to ourselves that we are realists of a greater reality.

#5 Clarice Lispector meets Carson McCullers

Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

 

The heart of my title comes from them. By this I mean: it was with them I learned the meaning of literature. And the meaning of writing. With Clarice Lispector, intuition. With Carson McCullers, craft. I discovered that there is not just one way of reading, and that the important thing, in the end, is to be able to feel something. And that is the most difficult thing: to feel things. I write to feel. What I like to do with my writing is not to tell stories, but to be able to create unique imaginaries, sensations that will haunt you beyond the book. I owe it to them. I continue to learn from them. The heart in the title, then, is a tribute, or an acknowledgement.

Napalm in the Heart is out on 4 July in paperback.
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Pol Guasch
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