We’ve Never Been This Virtual Before (Twitter, May 22nd, 10:16am): An Interview with Margo Glantz
Ever since the quarantine, the possibility of reading and writing seems directly related to the abilities of those who remain isolated, in their own place, distant from readers but close to the power of memory: a space where personal and important things are kept. There resides an isolated self, curiously away from those who also stay at home without any contact with the outside world. It is within this context that Margo Glantz has written her opinions about the current world in short passages that quickly spread through social media through her Twitter account (@Margo_Glantz).
Unfortunately, we all share the threat of the pandemic, COVID-19, which paradoxically has forced us to connect with each other without leaving home. Most of us are doing this through social media. With the speed and brevity of online messages, at 90 years old, Margo Glantz—recognized as one of the most relevant authors in Mexico–, an Emeritus Professor at UNAM (the National Autonomous University of Mexico), visiting professor at several American universities such as Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, and Princeton, and winner of numerous awards and recognitions—is inspiring us to think, once again, with the few sentences she writes in each of her tweets. Twelve of these tweets, written in less than a month, are like twelve rings that move us quickly through time, or twelve pilgrim tweets, like short passages that take us to diverse and real spaces. At this moment, her writing helps us think and travel beyond the confinement of the pandemic. Here, we’ll be talking about all these tweets:
Tweet 1, April 25th/ My days go back and forth
Claudia Cavallin: At this moment, do we turn history around again, like Nietzsche’s Eternal Return?
Margo Glantz: Well, I’m not that philosophical. It’s a side philosophy, or rather a philosophy that comes from a daily distribution, where the days that pass are always Sundays, or Mondays, Tuesdays, or Saturdays, and they can also be very sad days like “Gloomy Sunday,” the blues that Billie Holiday sings with that indescribable voice that makes Sunday even sadder and lonelier. This also refers to “La semana de colores” [The week of colors], the title of a beautiful story by Elena Garro, where, “Purple and silent Fridays filled the house with cracks,” “Fridays were days full of thirst,” and sometimes it even dawned on Thursdays.
Tweet 2, April 26th/ Is democracy democratic?
CC: If in Greek “democracy,” neither women nor slaves were citizens… Are we still in a hopeless democracy, where women and people with the lowest financial capacity are targets under the reign of a dictatorship, and of a phallogocentric logic?
MG: Well, there have been very prominent feminist movements in recent years in Argentina, Mexico, and many other countries. These are movements that, in a sense, have been overshadowed by the coronavirus. Despite not being a living organism (oxymoron) that invades us and performs to a certain extent (and I’m not exaggerating) in favor of totalitarianism, the virus restricts individual freedom and helps various governments expand repressive measures. As a consequence, among many other results, the quarantine aggravates domestic violence, even though there are people who deny that this violence exists. “Herd immunity” is heavily researched by epidemiologists—it is fundamental to health and favors the group mentality.
Tweet 3, April 27th/ Every day, I walk half an hour in my house, feeling like I’m climbing Mount Everest or as if I were Sisyphus pushing his eternal bundle uphill, or like the Danaides, always carrying jugs of water full of holes. #Tragedy2020
CC: Using the hashtag #Tragedy2020, can we better understand our current tragedy if we move away from the quarantine, walking at home while strengthening our memories with Greek mythology that pushes us up on a stone mountain?
MG: Well, it’s an attempt to give the perpetual globalized confinement a name or a metaphor, as we’re all universally forced to be in this situation. Resorting to Greek mythology or to literature is one of the ways to help us understand deeper about these living experiences (apparently, I’m talking about myself).
Twitter 4, April 28th/ Pandemic Triple: Virus, Fear, and Solitude
CC: These three angles of the pandemic form a triangle of isolation. How do you think we might go out again after being locked up in such a deep and dark cell?
MG: I’m not perfect. There are many prophets who predict the post-pandemic future, a future that’s hard to envision. Although in some countries, people are able to go out as an immediate remedy for confinement, eating hamburgers in McDonald’s or lining up to buy clothes at Zara. We don’t even know what the future consequences of the virus will actually be on physical individuals, not to mention how the virus will impact our social beings.
Tweet 5, April 29th/ Zooming, streaming, webbing — I’m lost doing all these things
CC: We are in a system of seeing ourselves as tiny moving pictures on the screen, together and at the same time separated. Is it a new form of reconstructed socialization, or is the real social bond lost when we don’t share public spaces, such as the market, the plaza, and the library?
MG: Well, like all technological innovations, telephones, televisions, Internet, faxes, cell phones, Skype, etc, there are always positive and negative sides, and these inventions favor virtual encounters, faster communication between people, and group calls (until a symphony concert achieves bringing all the musicians together but letting each of the musicians take turns playing each of their music). However, now, due to the pandemic, we’re forbidden to travel. We have to be content with a precarious way of traveling by sitting at home, in front of a screen. At the same time, (and what I’m about to say has become common)—besides the fact that Zoom and other outlets deform our images, making us lose our actual bodies, and with the possibility of contacting each other this way—we become holograms, or ghosts like Justine from Bioy Casares’s great novel, The Invention of Morel. I remember Sister María de Agreda, a conceptionist nun, an advisor to Felipe IV who, locked in her convent, could bilocate and travel in hologram image and appear as “The Blue Lady” in New Mexico and Texas to catechize the Native Americans in those regions. Although, to be frank, I would prefer to travel in person, in my own flesh and bones. However, we know very well that travel at this moment has been a major way to spread the virus.
Tweet 6, May 1st/ I read Maneras trágicas de matar a una mujer by Nicole Loraux, a marvelous book #Tragedy 2020
CC: Going back to ancient Greece, do you think there is deep heroism in tragedy when the death of a woman can be used as proof of the most deeply concealed injustice? A few days ago, the death rate during confinement, due to the pandemic, increased more for women, and only then do we have new ways to prove domestic violence…
MG: As I mentioned, the Greek tragedy is one of several examples, and the way Nicole Loraux renders violence in her work is enlightening: The woman is invisible in Greek public life and her greatest glory is to be a good wife and a good mother (childbirth is her most heroic achievement), and she is to die silently in the gynoecium. Even though the soul has a woman’s body, as is shown by Giulia Sissa, another great scholar of the Greek culture. The man belongs to the polis, the woman in her home. Acts of civility in Greek democracy are mainly masculine. In tragedy, most of the men die in the war. They have wounds, ostentation and flagrant demonstration of their heroism in their body; their blood is spilled, and the women would in return commit suicide (they hang themselves: Fedra, Yocasta, and Antígona). And their blood, a distinctive element associated with women (I’m referring to Michelet’s spying gaze at his wife and Barthes’s critical essays about her), is rarely visible in tragedy. Some exceptional cases are the spilled blood of Clytemnestra, Deyanira, and Cassandra.
Tweet 7, May 5th/ Mirrors are selective, and I thought that among them, equality exists.
CC: Talking about narcissistic looks in the mirror, are short messages on social media networks, such as Twitter, new kinds of mirrors that reflect an immediate and uneven beauty with their images?
MG: I think it’s obvious, both on Twitter and on Facebook, maybe more obviously on Facebook, that narcissism is glaring with an almost harmful need to love oneself. It’s a daily selfie in written form.
Tweet 8, May 5th/ In tweets we are all great: superlatives are coming down
CC: So, Twitter is the product of democratization in these narcissistic media outlets, where interrelation, exchange, communication and global information are not subjected to either grammatical hierarchy or media censorship?
MG: What these social media outlets instigate and demonstrate would be, again, one of the excesses of narcissism. I’m often struck by the unapologetic mania of showing enthusiasm for something without any reasons, simply adding a superlative to the sentence: it’s great, it’s awesome, it’s phenomenal (I’m not an exception), without trying to reflect on that superiority. Suddenly, we are all “great” and “extraordinary”...
Tweet 9, May 6th/ Treacherous algorithms
CC: Ironically, the overcrowding of numbers in making certain decisions on the screen now requires us, as human beings, to demonstrate that we’re not artificial beings. Do you think that in the future, literature will abandon libraries and end up living in the digital database (inside tablets, smartphones, etc.)?
MG: I have no idea. For now, this quarantine seems to cut us down to this. Otherwise, we already know what it’s like. With the appearance of Google and Wikipedia, the usage of libraries has decreased exponentially, in a way that is commonly known. But it’s important to restate this fact.
Tweet 10, May 7th/ The pandemic threatens and hinders access to books and cultures in general, and that’s one of the immediate consequences of totalitarianism
CC: I’m thinking about the previous question. Would there be any kind of relationship between pandemic censorship and other types of restrictions imposed by the State in this new literary world, far from libraries?
MG: One of the first things that occurs in totalitarian regimes, as we saw with research, such as Hitler and Stalin et al., is the act of abhorring culture, of banning and burning books. Nowadays, although governments don’t prohibit books, the crisis of bookstores, to a large extent, the fact that publishers and independent bookstores are going bankrupt due to the pandemic, leads books and culture in general to become prohibited zones.
Tweet 11, May 10th/ Hologram Mothers/ It was said that we’ve become holograms
CC: We are all these beautiful, three-dimensional and colorful images. But in reality, we can easily be erased and transgressed. I remember your writing in Y por mirarlo todo, nada veía [And looking at it all, they saw nothing] (2018)—could one question be if mothers are just a dream, a hologram, or an absence of Sor Juana?
MG: In Y por mirarlo todo, nada veía, I tried to show how the meaningless proliferation of news and the almost endemic impossibility of ranking and practicing irony contaminate and disable us in our efforts to keep a healthy mental distance.
Tweet 12, May 11th/ Every time I hate the virtual world more, I fall deeper into it
CC: Lastly, going back to Twitter, the place where we also read from you: in the virtual world, in which the valuable is combined with the banal, the relevant goes along with the unimportant. Will the writer’s credibility continue being our best path? The path to omit hateful discourse and reaffirm the value of short-form writing?
MG: I like social media. I’m an irreversible Twitter addict. Not writing at least one post a day seems almost like a mortal sin. But at the same time, it also exhausts me and many other forms of virtual outlets seem abhorrent to me. And like I said, we start to lose our body more and more violently. We’re turning into phantoms and holograms.
Translated by Jenna Tang
Claudia Cavallin is a writer, journalist, and university professor, and she serves as Media Manager of Latin American Literature Today. She is the author of the books Ciudades de película: Ficciones urbanas del cine, la literatura y la música (Editorial Académica Española, 2012) and Espectros de la palabra. La metáfora en Borges: los juegos del lenguage que hacen posible la configuración de un universo de imágenes recursivas (Editorial Académica Española, 2012).
Jenna Tang works as a literary translator and she is fluent in four languages. She was born and raised in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. She received her MFA in Fiction from The New School in New York City. Her translation from the Mandarin Chinese has been published in Restless Books’ international anthology And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again.
In our sixteenth issue, we celebrate Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, who in 2020 became the first indigenous writer to receive Chile's National Prize for Literature. We also feature dossiers dedicated to the work of Andrés Neuman, Latin American literary criticism, and the Latin American essay, plus a bilingual selection of texts from Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature commemorating Gabriel García Márquez, the first Latin American author to win the prestigious Neustadt Prize.