Mexican novelist and poet Carmen Boullosa has been internationally acclaimed. Her works have received praise not only from reviewers but also from leading Latin American writers of our time, including Alma Guillermoprieto and Carlos Fuentes.
Boullosa recently visited Houston and gave a question and answer style lecture at the University of Houston's Honors College Commons. She spoke easily and freely in a wonderfully improvisatory fashion. At times, her eyes, following the magic of her words, glowed in a frenzy of excitement as she gestured towards the inner depths of her artistry.
“We are really excited with the visit of Carmen Boullosa to the University of Houston,” Anadeli Bencomo, Chair of the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston, said. “Her writing is so sensitive—when you get into her novels, you disappear. You don’t want to brush your teeth, you don’t want to eat. You are in this world and she takes you there.”
In her lecture, Boullosa spoke with grace and flexibility while describing the role of literature in contemporary society. In the beginning, she cautioned against reducing literature to a singular message, a thread she followed throughout her discussion of literature.
“As a novelist and as a poet, I do not think that one gives a message,” Boullosa said. “Because in order to give a message, you have to work with text that has one layer and has the point of one arrow.”
“This is the difference between writing a pamphlet and writing a novel,” she explains. “In the pamphlet, there is one message. But, in the novel, you want to imply the complexity of an issue or of several issues. You want to fly arrows, not against one target but against the mystery of life.”
“I want to convey,” she said. “I want you to join me in the adventure of trying to understand and to accept that this is not black and white—every seed you understand only creates more questions and doubts.”
Boullosa also explored the intersection between the history of Latin America and their confluence on the Latin American classics. She intimated her high regard for Juan Rulfo’s classic Pedro Páramo.
“The whole tragedy, force and also beauty of Mexico or what the Mexican revolution meant, you won’t find it better than you find it in Pedro Páramo,” Boullosa said.
She also explained the complexity of the novel noting that the government in power had at the time lauded Rulfo’s novel as a grand product of the Revolution.
“But the novel is so anti-revolutionary and the party that was put in power never noticed this—that the novel had its own spirit.”
The novel, Boullosa argues, has multiple functions. In addition to showing a moment in Mexican history, it demonstrates concurrently universals of “how the Mexican mind works, what is the Mexican identity, what is the Mexican imaginary.”
Boullosa also lamented some of the effacing consequences of modernity on this tradition.
“Now we are in a sea of back and forth,” she said. “That is the sign of our century or our era—we live in several centuries and several places at the same time, and I think it is a very free-thinking momentum but also very dangerous, because it creates a relativity of ethics, a relativity of the sense of self and the body of the human being.”
The old literature, Boullosa observed, plays a very important role. “That literature is there to tell us that any one of us is irreplaceable and that the value of human life is immense and the value of the tree is immense.”
“Nowadays, we are like the animals of the past to say that we matter. In this back and forth, we become disposable—and literature is never disposable.”
In closing, Boullosa responded to a question about inspiration. Ever complex, Boullosa did not locate her interest in inspiration itself, but rather, in sources of inspiration. And to this, Boullosa offered a litany on the importance of work, curiosity and joy.
“I am curious about more things that happen and I really do enjoy things of life that really give me inspiration. Joy is important. And I do think I praise everyday more, the capability of being happy and of being joyful, because that will bring things to your brain.”
“It is an attitude—an attitude that I would describe like if you were always running because you are aware that the world is spinning, so you have to run in order to keep up and that gives oxygen or spirituality.”