Revista Digital Universitaria
ISSN: 1607 - 6079 Publicación mensual
1 de febrero de 2012 Vol.13, No.2
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Mexico and the atemporal future
Interview with Chris Brown, editor of Three Messages and a Warning. Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
Gabriela Damián Miravete
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On 26 January, at a bookstore in Austin, Texas, was presented Three Messages and a Warning. Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, an anthology that brings together the stories of 34 Mexican writers, some well-known within the Mexican fantasy literature, as Amparo Davila, Alberto Chimal or Bernardo Fernandez BEF; and other authors identified as occasional and famous in other specialties, including Agustin Cadena, Oscar de la Borbolla or Claudia Guillen.

Published by Small Beer Press, owned by the authors of American fantasy and science fiction, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, Three to Warning Messages and a Warning had two editors: Eduardo Jimenez-May and Chris N. Brown. We interviewed Chris to know how these stories have managed to cross the border and cause dreams, delusions and nightmares in the English-speaking readers.

Tell us about your work as a writer. What do you like to write and why you do it?

I became a writer of fantastic fiction because it was the most effective way to express what it feels like to be alive today, when the narratives fed into our heads by screens and headphones define our consciousness as much as our tactile experience of “reality.”  I am especially interested in using the tools of genre as instruments of semiotic experimentation in that vein—pulp fiction for smart people. 

 What was your first contact with fantasy literature in general and Mexican fantasy literature in particular?

Fantastic literature has pervaded my life since childhood, starting with my German mother’s tales of Struwwelpeter, who chased thumbsuckers with his giant scissors and wild hair.  Like a lot of literary gringos, I discovered the South American fantastic in my twenties.  The Mexican fantastic entered my life much later, in 2009, when I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the symposium on “Mundos Paralelos” at the Festival de Mexico en El Centro Historico. I returned to the States more excited about the young Mexican writers I met there than I was about the famous Anglo-American writers with whom I shared the podium.

How do you experience Latin American literature? Do you read it in Spanish or do you prefer translations?

There is no substitute for being able to read in the original language.  I first read Borges in English, in the famous translation by Professor Donald Yates of the University of Texas at Austin.  When I later read my favorite story, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” in  Spanish for the first time, I realized the translation was much more academic than the Spanish—emphasizing Borges the logician.  Other translations overemphasize the romantic and fantastic qualities.  More recently, I read Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes in Spanish after first reading it in English, and was delighted at how much more enjoyable it was in the original—all the rhythm and humor that is encoded in the composition of the sentence.   I only wish I had more mastery of other languages to be able to read more widely—and more quickly.

Was your experience as a reader an influence in your decision of translating Mexican texts?

After meeting several young writers of Mexican literature of the fantastic, and reading their work, I felt that it was important to bring their fiction to the attention of English-language readers.  I believe Anglo-American science fiction has become very insular, and opening channels across borders and languages is can help fertilize new thinking on both sides.  I am excited to see I am not the only one pursuing the exposure of more international work.

Tell us a little bit about your work as a publisher in Small Beer Press and how is it like working with Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, figures admired by quite a few Mexicans...

This project happened entirely because of Gavin’s vision, when my co-editor Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and I approached Gavin with essentially the same idea, and he decided it was meant to happen.  He and Kelly are amazing to work with.  Their success at creating their own small press to publish work they care about, and ensure that it is treated so well by critics and readers, is astonishing.  Publishing an anthology of short fiction in translation is a brave thing for a publisher to take on, and Gavin trusted his intuition and made it real.

As a reader of the genre, I guess you celebrate the appearance of a book like Three Messages and a Warning. As a publisher, what does it mean to you?

It is very rewarding to have the book completed, and to bring Mexican authors I care about to an English-language audience.  I had no idea how much work would be involved in putting together a 34-author anthology of foreign writers and dealing with their agents and publishers and contract requirements—a challenging exercise in “cat herding.”

 What stories or authors do you think revealed a sense of "Mexican" (new or traditional, but with a clear hallmark)?

I think all of the stories are both totally Mexican, and totally globalized.  I tried to avoid stories that contained folkloric tropes that play to gringo ideas of the Mexican fantastic, seeking instead stories that reflect a more technologically-mediated society that is part of 21st century global culture. We even had a vigorous editorial debate about whether it was desirable to include Dia de los Muertos images on the cover (I backed down, because the design was so good).

 Do you spot, so to speak, a “Mexican literary identity”?

I suppose.  I see a literature that shares with our own a concern with the condition of alienation that characterizes contemporary society.  Of course it is uniquely Mexican, especially in its frustrated power paradigms, both political and domestic, but to me it is really just a Mexican take on expressing the experience of contemporary globalized culture.

Several women participate in this anthology. Tell us about the similarities or contrasts that you find with Anglo-Saxon female writers of literature of the fantastic.

Editing this anthology showed me aspects of Mexican gender culture I had not really perceived clearly before. I was astonished at how hard it was to get male writers to recommend female writers.  I was disappointed at how many otherwise wonderful stories by men contained gratuitous misogynies that made me put the story down.  And my eyes were opened by the gothic darkness conveyed by many of the women writers’ depictions of masculine power in a Mexican context.  I think Mexican women writers have cultural challenges to deal with that gringas could not imagine—and in those challenges must lie great opportunities for the use of literature as an instrument of change.

What role do you think American literature plays in the production of Mexican literature of the fantastic?

I think the influence of US literature on Mexican literary culture is oblique—Mexican writers digest influences from many corners, and do an amazing job of letting those influences percolate through a purely Mexican filter.  Mexican writers are quite competent to curate their own realities.

What about cinema?

Movies (and televisión) probably play a bigger role.  I think movies and television colonized the human imagination in the twentieth century, confusing our own perspectives with narratives manufactured by advertising salesmen.  An important task of the literature of any country is to break down and expose this phenomenon, and thereby liberate our lives from a superimposed Hollywood daydream.

From the Mexican perspective, American literature of the fantastic industry seems to be in good health. Could we apply any of you processes to strenghten ours?

I think the main difference comes from commercial factors.  It is much harder for American writers to get a book published, and when they do it is more likely to get printed in large enough numbers, and to get really marketed to likely readers.  So American fantasy is more commercial—which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Socially, American writers of fantastic literature also have access to highly developed collegial communities, both online and at conventions, that help provide access to mentoring and peerage that promotes success.

Tell us what you discovered about Mexico in the reading of these pages.

I think young American writers and artists should be migrating to Mexico to see the atemporal future. I think there are already some advance scouts of the twenty-first century beatniks I expect will see Mexico City as their answer to the Paris of the 1920s.

From the outside, Mexico appears to be one of those places where everything is possible, like the already hackneyed Artaud´s expression "is a surrealist country" echoes endlessly. During your visits to Mexico or your relationship with Mexican authors, including the development of this anthology, what was the weirdest thing that ever happened to you?

Driving from Tijuana into the desert with two cyberpunks and an old pacheco Baja poet, through the whispering mountains of la Rumorosa, past the ravines littered with the crashed cars of the 1970s, through a tiny section of Hell, past the narco highway, into the surreal Chinese-Mexican border town of Mexicali, all to give a reading of arid American surrealism in a puteria that required the writer to compete with the sound of Norteño blasting from the jukebox.—among other distractions.



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