“Nostalgia,” by Juan José Morales
Dear Juan, I’d like to start considering the writing craft of your article because the content is more difficult, I agree, and requires a slow and meditated approach. So I’m using a roundabout way, I know, be patient, please.
I believe North American modern ‘literature’ stands in direct contrast to what I write and value. My understanding is that the usual, dominant chain author-agent-publisher, or rather publisher-agent-author, the author is the last one, takes into consideration a standard, poor reader. The target is a person with medium intelligence and low vivacity, scarce culture, generally inattentive, uninterested and bored, with insufficient patience and time. A big amount of ‘literature’ (amount in the literal meaning, kilos and kilos of books, short stories, flash stories, etc.) is devoted to this target and of course creates an ordinary standard of writing. This criterion unluckily dictates the rules of the market. I don’t like the airport-like style, soap opera-like standard, Woody Allen-like dialogues. I don’t think that the author’s duty is only to reach page 100 having already defined framework, scene, characters (better if the piece is focused on only one character, two maximum), conflicts (clear, neat as in Romanticism, good on one side and evil on the other side), dialogues (short), and story (simple, condensed), in order to save time and keep the attention of the fickle reader. Otherwise, he risks losing him, what a pity. And the final 100 pages are inertial like stones, often with a quality level lower than the triumphant first ones. Repetita iuvant, the Roman said, it is useful to repeat the things many times. This mantra is perfectly used, and as a reader you are advised about the coming story, the story in the process, and then the story just told. The same concept is repeated dozens of times, with a wording barely different, using a basic vocabulary because the target hates unusual words, by the way (I’d translate this last ‘by the way’ with the colourful Italian phrase ‘che cazzo!’).
In this panorama is there room for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, who wrote an impressive short story, “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship,” wonderful, powerful, strange, without any full stop? No, because his writing requires patience and attention, and of course just a hint of passion and culture. Or Orhan Pamuk, or José Saramago or Vasily Grossman, just to make other easy examples?
Your article, “Nostalgia” is a journey with its own pace, with pauses and accelerations, and I appreciate its rhythms first, the same music of the painful meditations. I like the wide space, the breath of the article, the different scenes around the world, and so many characters that are vital, a perfect chorus. Besides, important references that add value to the speech. “Nostalgia” is polar opposites of American standard ‘literature.’ I especially love the natural way the characters and the places appear in the account, aunt Felisa and Garcia Lorca, Miguel and Pepe, for example, or Peal de Becerro or Cazorla or Cuesta del Carmen. Everything is terribly evocative, intimate. Let me say there is Love, and this is a great asset.
So, also in terms of writing craft, “Nostalgia” is a highly good piece, dear Juan, a whole with a strong voice.
About nostalgia, coming back to the subject of the article, I have to say that I’m aware I have nostalgia for the present too and the future. For the present because I cannot grab, fix it; for the future because I feel inadequate to face it, and I’m sure that also in the future my estrangement will be commanding, blurring all the other sentiments and wasting opportunities. Present and future are lost lands, as my country. Nostalgia is more than “homesick” and concerns life, even though homesick is so hard for a Sardinian old man torn away from his island, his relatives, no doubt.
So I was thinking about this issue and your questions, Juan, and at the end I only found a “religious” answer, a reason I’d like to explain and share.
Oh, yes, I remember the siesta in Sardinia, the summer light filtered by the shutters, the silence, and the time magically still. What was that all-absorbing feeling? The consciousness to be very close to heaven, I think. Now I don’t want to talk about the Catholic Paradise indeed. I’m speaking about a blessed status of the soul, warm, in peace. And when I recollect “the perfect day” of my life, I was in the Alpes with my wife and my first daughter, 2 months old back then. The location was Cerignole, on a Sunday afternoon. We were young, poor. We had a FIAT 500, 17 years old. That day, the breeze of the valley, the colours, so astonishing, bright, the fragrance of the air, the temperature, everything was perfect, Juan, so extraordinarily perfect that I still remember every detail, the bench and the grass, the trees, and the light. And fullness more than happiness, sure. I remember it with sweet pain because that status was intense, magical, and unique. Unique. We were close to heaven, I believe, there was a hole, a passage.
Is nostalgia a matter of time or place or happiness? Not only; nostalgia measures the distance of our life from the Lost Paradise and in this sense it is not sentimental. There is a heaven we know; a perfection of the colours; the right music; there is an ideal place and status. And we are far from it, and our sense of loss, imprinted in our genes, is our existential drama.
Now you can ask why I spoke about a particular geographical strip that understands nostalgia, correct. I believe that in Paradise there is the sun, Juan, not grey days. It is neither a racist speech nor a marketing approach (“In hoc signo vinces,” in this sign you will conquer, said by Constantine before the battle of Milvian Bridge), but a strong consciousness of beauty and brilliance. We feel this sentiment more strongly than other people because we were born under the sun, the vastness of a beautiful day, the infinity of light, the transparency of the sea. I repeat: if you don’t know the magic of the siesta, how can you speak about nostalgia? So this sense of loss is stronger, more dramatic.
I’d finish this hard speech with this quotation by John C. Eccles: “I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition… We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.”