The writer Luis Caroca: “The heroes and the sacred cows will continue, you shouldn’t mess with them”

“Sometimes the Mapocho vanished and split into arms, sank and reappeared between large tracts of cultivated land. Suddenly the ocean appeared. A delta of brown, almost black waters, with all the filth of Santiago encrusted in the sea. Hundreds of seagulls flew wildly, screeching hysterically or dug their feet into the muddy sand, rummaging with their beaks in search of food among the many remains of garbage, branches and plastic bottles.

Fragment of the book “The Fleers”

Luis Caroca (Santiago, 1970) is one of those atypical Chilean writers, far from the spotlight, whose biography, by express request, is limited to the previous information. In an exclusive interview, we talked about “Los Esquilmadores”, his literary debut, a storybook published by Palabra Editorial in 2021 and which immerses us in a disturbing, strange atmosphere, with secret interconnections, obviously, because the stories they dialogue with each other, with a good dose of hilarity and irony, perhaps even lucidity and bitterness, when we refer to the literary field, that fickle oscillation between light glory and presumed oblivion.

– How was the book born?

– “Los Esquilmadores” is a handful of stories that can perfectly be from 2018 or 2019 and whose themes and topics could have been thought of much earlier, beyond its publication date in November 2021 by Palabra Editorial. In this sense, the advice of the writer Eugenia Prado Bassi was fundamental. Like I said, it’s a bunch of stories, but it’s also a bunch of rocks thrown in the air.

– The first story is sketchy, but highly evocative, almost like a horror story, hazy and sinister. Also, thematically, different from the rest of the set. How was it born? Why go to the top?

– It comes from the verb esquilmar. That is, a literary work can be created from one word. With all that that entails: weakening, depleting, impoverishing, destroying, ruining, sucking up a source of wealth, exploiting it more than necessary… Think of the problem of water, of monocultures. He is also robbing a city, a country, people. A power robs a small country because of the wealth it has. The bank shears people with usury, a company does it with its workers… In short, it’s a symbolic story that doesn’t need a place or a time, almost like a dark and foggy western. In relation to the order of the stories in the book, nothing is accidental. Perhaps the key lies in what happened to the character Dr. Huerta. In the story that bears his name, the narrator tells us that the doctor meets the writer Prat after reading Los equilmadores and Laberinto. That is, the stories that begin and end the book. So I could perfectly well say that I didn’t write them, but rather that the writer Prat wrote them. This would explain why the story of the same name has a different theme and writing from the others, as well as giving the book its title. As I have already said, it is a foggy, dark story, like a photographic negative western, in an indeterminate time and place. Totally symbolic, with a cold and sharp language like a knife.

– Gautier, Céline, Mauriac, Musset, Tocqueville and many others. The intertextual presence is remarkable. How many of your readings show up in your writing exercise?

– A lot and a little. In the sense that one is what one eats, drinks, sees, etc., but also what one reads. Precisely, reading is what I am most thankful for in formal education. So clearly my readings manifest themselves explicitly with the mention of some work or some writer, but also tacitly… And little, in the sense that, in writing, there are moments and associations that sometimes escape the imagination of the rationality and take the path of intuition. But returning to the intertextual question, in the case of the book Los equilmadores, I believe that the question goes beyond mentioning a name. The observant reader will notice a few subtle winks that prove it.

– What are your literary influences? I found, I could be wrong, some reminiscences of Manuel Rojas with respect to certain dry and crude descriptions, I am thinking of the stories “Los Esquilmadores” and “Laberinto”.

– To speak of my literary influences, I should modestly trace the history of literature from Greco-Roman antiquity to the present day, quoting writers by continent or country or trend. Undoubtedly a long and winding road as the song says and that, in a conversation that wasn’t an interview, the names would emerge by themselves, reportedly, flowing … For what I prefer, for now, not to give names. And in the case of Manuel Rojas, I would just say that Laberinto is a story set in southern Chile, Patagonia and that it might have some dialogue or atmosphere or passage to Rojas. With adventurous exaltation, of struggle, of a free man…

In turn, in the story “Los equilmadores”, there is a thirst for justice. It is known that in Rojas his anarchist ideas influenced his work. In my case, the characters are more self-reliant, adventurous in and out. As for the dry and raw descriptions, it should be remembered that these two narratives were written by the character Prat. In the remaining stories the question is different, with another tone. More urban, city dwellers, than a personified Santiago in which the Mapocho River scars his face.

– Sometimes I have the impression that the stories that make up this book are clippings from larger texts, united by themes and characters. How was the creation and selection process?

– Some characters from the book appear in a novel I wrote and have not yet published. These characters expand and develop in this new book in unexpected ways. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the book is that characters like Prat, Huerta and especially Félix appear in more than one story. In the case of the latter, he retraces some stories in different moments of his existence, as a teenager who consumes drugs, as a poet in his twenties, or perhaps as a thirty or forty-year-old walking the streets of Santiago and Buenos Aires, buying books and meeting people. Always whistling a tune as he walks by. The song that I was stuck with in those days and that is never revealed. It will be up to the active reader to imagine a song according to context or personal taste. There are also a couple of characters whose names are never mentioned. They narrate the events from a certain anonymity, which, perhaps, gives them greater comfort and perspective on the events.

– Leo: “As Prat grew older, many literature students and young writers began to look for him. Such veneration makes me laugh, more than one said, since he had always despised those who went after the heroes of Chilean literature. Who is Prat really?

– Oh! The million dollar question. I am often asked by people who have read the book. Prat is a writer who suddenly becomes a pop icon, influential both for his work and for his image. Like so many writers (why name names) who have an entourage of young and old looking for the literary father. You always know people who were or are friends with an old writer who they pay homage to and blah blah blah…

– There are sardonic allusions to the literary clique, and also to a certain siutic world, but you always surround it, without naming specific names or situations. Was it meant that way? What do you think of the heroes of Chilean literature?

– Heroes and sacred cows will follow. You don’t have to mess with them. If not to read, re-read and, I imagine, continue to study his works. In relation to the national literary panorama there is everything, it has always been like this. People who write very well and low key. They go about their craft with admirable honesty and flair. Others, on the other hand, seem to care more about trivialities, since it is very common to read posts without support, without coherence, so to speak. Or that I’m in the wave of “good vibes” with fashion topics… There seem to be many people who publish on the simple whim of doing so, to see their name on a cover… In the story “Diáfana” something this is narrated with the character Uribelarrea Unzué, who represents an Argentine lawyer (he could have had another profession or nationality) who decides to become a writer and for this he holds a literary workshop with a well-known writer. A whim.

Also, in the short story “9:10” I mention the “dark quatic bipolars” who frequented the Goethe Institute in the 1990s as a representation of some deranged writers and masquerades, prone to tripping. It has always been like this. And I won’t name names because it would be giving importance to people who don’t deserve it. But these are things that happen in the Kingdom of Chile. The truth is that it doesn’t matter to me because I’ve been seeing it since I was very young, since the last century, as an attentive spectator.

– How are the images inserted into the book as a whole? I think these were part of a symbolic framework which aesthetically extends the themes dealt with in the volume, and which could well be summed up in the presence of the bestial.

– Indeed. The evocative images of the Chilean-French photographer Nicolás Folch, which alternate between the stories, give a special atmosphere to the reading experience. The same happens with the design and cover by Prado Bassi. Palabra Editorial’s work has perfectly captured the concept of whole, the union between text, image and book object, where the wild and deadly is complemented by the symbolism of the stories. As in the story entitled Vogel (German surname which in Spanish means bird). The beast is very present. A bull as a symbol of the deepest fears, dogs as a symbol of loyalty and also as victims of abuse by their masters. The birds, the color blue, the saving light that can emerge from dark moments, etc. There are layers of readings, first the stories and their arguments themselves, and then, depending on the type of reader, the interpretations. I’m not saying “another reading” because it’s very siutic, siutic academic.

– There is a character named Luis, who is described as “strange”, how much of you can be found in these stories? Or just a flirt, an ambiguous gesture between fiction and reality?

– It’s kind of like a cameo in a movie. A resource used by many writers. Miller is lined up as a central character in his books, so have Auster, Houellebecq, to ​​name a few examples. But in my case he is just passing through. That this character Luis appears helping the young Félix Delgado with informational work only shows one side of me, which is to be a music lover. Nothing more.

– What will readers find by reading your book?

– The answers I get are more and more varied when I ask readers which story they liked. Some feel identified with “Diáfana” because of her Buenos Aires environment, sexual attraction and her bibliophile. Others, however, with “9:10” because it shows something of the literary environment of the nineties. Or with “The Misfits”, also set in the last decade of the last century, where a couple of characters seek art and poetry to escape a work routine that makes them sick. In the end, that’s how it is. To the diversity of writers is added the diversity of readers. Each with its own view of the world. But answering your question directly, I would say that readers will find nine stories that can interpret men of different ages and times, with strengths and weaknesses. With temporary breaks in the lives of characters who, for the most part, are related to literature or who, at any given moment, experience pleasures, dangers, challenges and the occasional epiphany.

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