by Ioan Stoleru
Last evening’s event was one of the liveliest experiences played out on the stage of the Iaşi National Theatre. A guest of the FILIT evenings, Guillermo Arriaga spoke about literature and film, talked about hunting wild boars using just a knife, reminisced about meeting Quentin Tarantino, told dirty jokes and confessed he fell in love for the first time when he was two weeks old. “See here?” he asked, pointing to the top of his head, “this is Death licking you, because it wants you to be humble”.
The Mexican writer soon stops listening to the translation in his headset and at the same time some of those present in the audience become ad-hoc translators for their neighbours. The dialogue with Marius Chivu, the one interviewing Guillermo Arriaga, suddenly becomes more direct and more fluent. “I remember my parents telling me they visited this country a long time ago – it was still during the communist regime – and they told me so many things about Romania, that I’ve always thought «I have to go there some day»,” the writer says.
“The hunter who works as a writer,” as he likes to describe himself, is of the opinion that each author has a finite amount of inspiration – or of ink, for that matter. Around four litres, to be more precise, which they must use as parsimoniously as possible so that they don’t end up writing two good books and then being left with nothing else to say. “Look at what happened to Hemingway: he panicked that things weren’t coming out the way they should; the same happened with William Faulkner, who wrote the best part of his work between the ages of 30 and 40, and then wrote much less important books,” Arriaga added. “It is very painful for an author to see that, as he grows older, instead of becoming better, he realises that the guy who was 30 was a much better writer than the present one, who is 60. This is scary”. Arriaga is not scared, however, because he knows that if his inspiration runs dry, or if his ink runs dry, he can always become a professional hunter.
“I’ve always wanted to wrap film in a literary feeling”
Whenever he writes a movie script, Arriaga is often asked when he is going to return to writing literature, but his answer is always the same: “I never left literature”. “For me, writing a film script is as much literature as is the writing of a novel. I devote two, three years to writing a script, and I take care of the language with the same scrupulousness and precision as when writing a novel. This is why I consider that both of them belong to the same category,” the writer said. If his story is told in the first person and the writer feels he needs to enter the character’s mind, then he’ll write a novel; if the story can only be told in the third person, he’ll write a script.
Arriaga also admitted that he cannot adapt other author’s novels for the screen, because most of his works deal with his own life. “I’m very lazy, I don’t do research, I don’t even know the ending of what I’m about to write. When I try to pitch an idea and I am asked about what comes next, I just say I haven’t a clue,” the Mexican writer explained.
Since his life has changed and he has started to travel extensively, Guillermo Arriaga can no longer afford the luxury of writing at night, in the quiet of his own home. “For instance, two days ago I was in Rio, from there I flew here, from here I’m taking a flight to Chicago, from there I might go to India and from there to São Paolo. So, if I were to wait for strokes of inspiration, I would never write anything,” the author said, adding that nowadays he writes while on the train, in hotel rooms, on the plane and anywhere else – and he jokingly pretends to pull a piece of paper from his pocket to jot something down.
“I fell in love with women since I was two weeks old,” Arriaga tells the audience, confessing that when he was in school he started writing letters to girls because he was so shy. Suddenly he seems to become aware of how many spectators are in the theatre and he stands up to take a picture of the audience. “Everyone says I’m going bald. But I don’t. Do you know what this is?” he asks, pointing to the hairless top of his head. “This is Death licking you on the head. Death wants us to be humble, so it reminds us from time to time about what is going to happen to us,” he says, jovially, and the audience replies with laughter.
“The written word is key for what we are today”
An artist must go where nobody has gone before and bring back something that nobody has ever seen before. “The more profound the artist, the further he can go into the Abyss,” says Arriaga, after recounting an African legend. Marius Chivu had asked him to tell a joke, so Arriaga obliged by telling two dirty jokes, and the discussion returned to literature. Asked by the audience how come he never gave up writing, the author confesses that his belief is that civilisation developed due to the written word. “It is the written word that is key to what we are today, and so I worship it. What is the written word? Just ink on white paper. And to have the chance to change someone’s life only by using ink on white paper – the way writing changed my life – is so seductive that I can’t stop writing. To me, at least, it is a chance to communicate. Were I not a writer, I would not be here. So I write in order to be invited to Romania.”