"You can’t teach how to write well. yes to read"

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six books of Vivian Gornick have appeared in Spanish during the last seven years, as if to compensate for the late discovery of the New York author. Viewed as a whole, Gornick’s translated work seems to draw an arc from strict life experience to strict abstract thought. fierce attachments, the title that opened the cycle (Sexto Piso, 2017), talked about mothers and daughters, poorly ventilated apartments, fights with neighbors and sexual encounters. Instead, The situation and historyGornick’s latest book to arrive (also published by Sexto Piso), deals with the textures of literature, the sincerity of first-person narrators, and the possibility of failure in art. Of course, that scheme is only partly true: fierce attachments It was, in addition to memory, an essay. Like The situation and history It is, in addition to essay, memory.

The situation and history It is more or less simple to explain as a thesis: Gornick maintains that, to judge any book of testimony, memory or personal chronicle, it is necessary to find what that text says about the human condition, beyond its anecdotes. The direct object and not the circumstantial. To give an example that is not in Gornick’s book but that any Spanish reader will recognize: if we took the works of Jorge Semprún about Federico Sánchez, what should really matter to us is not the historical portrait of the PCE nor the author’s life as a spy, but the painful orphanhood that is sensed in its pages, the loneliness of declassification, the regret for pride… The adventure of Semprún clandestinity would be the situation. And his intimate helplessness would be the story.

«I don’t know Semprún. Sounds a bit like an Albert Camus character just as he describes it,” says Gornick, from his home. On the screen, a bright bedroom appears and an 88-year-old woman with a joking air.

And what does reading well consist of? There is no formula that answers that question, but rather a succession of cases in which Gornick, the teacher and essayist, teaches by example. In The situation and history texts by some of the authors that Gornick already discussed in Pending accounts: Joan Didion, Natalia Ginzburg, Marguerite Duras, DH Lawrence… Lawrence’s case is interesting because, although his texts are identified as basically misogynistic and anachronistic, Gornick does not give up differentiating the noble from the ignoble. The author maintains that, in his novels, Lawrence exposes himself in his truth and in his anguish, no matter how much his vision of the world grates on us in 2023. However, in his first-person texts, He is nothing more than a chinchón anecdotist.

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