The reader is not a ‘customer’: Bernardo Carvalho at DLF


bernardo-carvalhoBorn in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo Carvalho worked in Paris and New York as a foreign correspondent for the Brazilian daily newspaper ‘Folha de Sao Paulo‘ in the early 1990s. His 1993 debut, a collection of stories entitled ‘Aberracao,’ was nominated for the country’s most prestigious literary award. Nove Noites (2007) (Nine Nights) and Mongolia (2003) are some of Bernardo’s most appreciated works.

The reader is not a ‘customer’
Bernardo in his 40-minute lecture revealed and decoded a number of factors and aspects that govern authors’ method of writing, and dictate readers’ choice of selecting books. Unfortunately, today, the ‘market’ defines and decides what kind of literature to be ‘sold’. “Literature should travel well. It must mean more than business.

English language has acquired an unprecedented hegemony today and ‘peripheral’ literatures that go against the English model of literary style and aesthetics are not earning a worthy space,” says Bernardo. He deplores the treatment of the reader as a ‘customer’ forced to comply with the capitalist logic of a global mass market that reduces literature to a ‘commodity’. “The poorness of style in English made Samuel Beckett eventually adopt the French language for most of his writing until death. Today, a writer who is defiant is doomed to survive in limited literary circles. As a writer, I want to avoid the facility of style and trap of exoticism. Literature can be experimental too. The narrative could be bland, direct, and abrupt, and follow a different syntax to express,” explains the author, who finds the idea of ‘identity’ ambiguous and limiting. “I was born in Rio during a period of dictatorship and military rule which I found extremely hard to identify myself with. When I write in Portuguese, the bland still makes sense but when translated into English it is only bland. On the contrary, the French translation flourishes it to an extent that it becomes hard work to revise and it doesn’t read like my work anymore,” laments Bernardo on his paradoxical relationship with language and translations.

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