When Maria Negroni (1951) lost his mother never imagined that the episode would be the spring of what it is today the heart of damage (Random House Literature), a book where fiction, poetry, essays and testimony fit.
The combination of various literary genres allows the Argentine writer to use different ways of expressing language to reconstruct a determining character. At times endearing, at times confrontational, Negroni publishes one of her most personal and devastating books.
How is a book as personal as the heart of damage?
The origin of the books is a mystery. Retroactively is when you can figure out how something started because at first you have no idea. Writing is a kind of productive blindness, we never know what the end result will be. That being said, what triggered the book was the death of my mother. It began to write itself and then I couldn’t stop. On the other hand, I had no idea what I was going to do with this book, because it is a very bare work. At times I thought about saving it, but finally changed my mind. One makes plans and life solves other things.
Why did you decide to publish it?
I knew an editor at Random House in Buenos Aires, during a book fair. She asked me that when she had a novel she wouldn’t stop letting her know. I decided to send it to her and to my surprise a few hours later she called me and she told me that she would publish it.
But it is more than a novel, there is poetry, testimony, it is something hybrid.
I have never believed in literary genres. The labels that one puts on books often obey a need of bookstores, libraries, publishers or the market. Actually, the only thing that counts in a book is what happens at the level of language, in that sense every good novel or essay is close to poetry. Among all the genres, poetry is the one that has the most possibilities of directing itself towards what escapes us, that is why good poetry is close to silence.
There are hard, endearing passages, but also confrontation.
Words are complicated creatures, they can be tricky, they are insufficient, they are deceitful, dangerous, harmful, cruel. In the book, the narrator’s voice remains on purpose, in the place of her daughter. In general, the children are the ones who complain, they are the rebels, the disobedient, the ones who misbehave. I think that art is very close to childhood, it is a kind of game where there is a place for everything. Children can be cruel too, although in an innocent way, they don’t have the cruelty of adults. Contrary to what is believed, love is a very complex feeling, made of many things. When I write “My mother was the most damaging and fervent occupation of my life”, it is a mixture of admiration and love, but it is also a reflection on how she affected me. The book is a kind of literary autobiography, how I came to be the writer that I am from that childhood… in the end I don’t know if the memories are real or I made them up.
In the book you write: “There is no more fidelity to the facts than to miss the course or wander.” What relationship does it have with memory or concepts such as truth?
The truth is the most dangerous of lies. It is a concept that should be taken with a grain of salt. Thinking that one has the truth can lead to authoritarian thinking. In general, poetry and literature are not interested in truth understood as an unquestionable or fixed concept. Literature is interested in asking and questioning. Regarding memory, I think it is a fiction. You think you remember, we all have moments in our lives to remember and we repeat them until we start to change them. Memory is a construction, that’s why the epigraph of the book says “I’m going to create what happened to me.”
The book establishes a bridge between motherhood and language. In the end both give us identity.
That is why it is called the mother tongue, the first contact we have is with the language that the mother teaches us, and language has to do with the origin, with the separation from the mother. Human beings begin to speak the moment they understand that there is a split between them as children and the world of the maternal womb that they have lost. Any writer or writer is nourished by two things: the mother language and the books that are the continuation of the mother by other means.
How did the figure or memories of your mother change after writing this book?
I can’t answer that because I don’t know. It is very difficult to read yourself. I suppose that the character that the book builds is in turn rebuilt by each reader. When people read the book they imagine a character that is not necessarily related to my real mother. Each one brings their own experience and relationship between her and her mother.
Do you perceive a change in the way mothers or motherhood are now written?
Yes, I perceive that women’s writing is more widespread, there is more and it has more space than before. Women bring to literature our own way of looking at and experiencing the world. Personally, I am interested in the relationship that each writer establishes with her instrument and that is the language, I am not interested in the themes. The most important thing is to see how many of those books reach an interesting literary level.