“…I miss the possibility of Buenos Aires. And by missing its possibility I can miss my own hometown without the uncomfortable bits, without all the impossibilities, the proximities, the complexities and familiarities. The parts that can hurt.”
Fernando Sdrigotti is a writer, editor and occasional translator. Born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1977, he was expelled by the economic crash of 2001. He lived in Dublin and Paris before settling in London in the early noughties.
Fernando’s writing, in English and Spanish, has appeared widely online and in print, and he has been a senior editor at Numéro Cinq and a contributing editor at 3AM magazine. But he is best-known as the founder and one of the editors of the well-regarded online literary journal Minor Literature[s]. His first book in English, Dysfunctional Males, was published in early 2017, through La Casita Grande Editores, USA. They will also publish his second collection of short stories, Departure Lounge Music, in late 2018.
(Self-)exile and displacement, the trajectories born out of a life in permanent transit, are some of Fernando’s recurrent themes, both in fiction and criticism. And they were the ‘provocation’ for this recent interview with him.
You once wrote with great clarity and sentimentality about the absence you felt within you of the country where you were born, and especially of missing Buenos Aires – oddly, given you hadn’t lived there, you refer to it as ‘homesickness’. I wondered whether you really do think of it as home? And do you sometimes feel a similar longing for London?
You’re referring to a fictional essay (or essayistic fiction?), called Notes Towards A Return, that I published with Numéro Cinq first, and that in a revised form is part of my forthcoming book, Departure Lounge Music. What I had in mind was both reflecting on the homesickness that sometimes I feel, and ‘confessing’ to the little acts of simplification – betrayal if you want – of my own self I’ve had to perform in order to become ‘legible’ to English-speaking readers. Who knows where Rosario is? On the other hand, Buenos Aires is a better brand. I’m constantly juggling this kind of thing in my writing and life, because people always ask me if I’m from Buenos Aires, probably because it’s the only place they know in Argentina!
With regards to the homesickness side of this essay: for me it’s unbearable sometimes. The reason this is the case is that I don’t think my homesickness has any resolution. What would happen to all my life in London if I went back home? I’ve lived the last 16 years of my life, the majority of my adult life, in London. This is as much my home as Rosario ever was. If I left, I’d miss London like I miss Rosario now. In other words: there’s no possible home, and that’s the problem. And deflecting the homesickness towards Buenos Aires helps not only with the simplification – to become legible – but to make my homesickness more bearable. For the simple reason that I can pretend, at least in writing, to miss a place that has much less importance in my life than the place where I was actually born, and where I lived the first 25 years of my life.
The travel writer, Colin Thubron, quotes this nomad adage: “Some people are born in the wrong place and spend the rest of their lives looking for the right one.” This is often the curse of those of us who were uprooted early in their lives. Do you have a strong sense of place, of belonging, anywhere?
Some days I feel like I belong in London. Other days – to misquote one Conservative hag who was doing a bit of migrant bashing – the feeling is that I don’t belong anywhere. Because I think for many Argentine people the sense of belonging is rather complicated, considering the fact that we have a large immigrant influence. On the other hand: I don’t buy the dictum that Argentines are the most European country in Latin America – it takes one migration officer to figure this out. My impression, then, is that in order to become Argentinean, to figure out what it is to be one, for me, it took a process of departure. For me, being Argentinian is to be in this constant state of homelessness – it might be a bit of a hysterical position, to be fair. But maybe I needed to exist in between places, repair in some way the departures of my own ancestors towards Argentina. I don’t know.
“For me, being Argentinian is to be in this constant state of homelessness…”
You have written,“Mother tongue is not a home. It is not a coming together but an act of forgetting…” You’re a prolific writer in English but do you feel you are a different writer in Spanish?
I am a completely different writer in Spanish, one that easy gets lost in his ability to manipulate the language, and neglects a bit the message. My first book in Spanish, written between Argentina and my first years away, is a bit masturbatory. I hid behind my knowledge of – and comfort in – the language in order to mask everything I wanted to say, perhaps because it felt too close, perhaps because I wanted to be ‘clever’. My second one was already processed through my own experience with English, written after living in Ireland: it is very to the point, synthetic, which is how I try to write in English simply because I’m not that comfortable in it. That said, I’m not sure I can write in Spanish any more. I just don’t feel the need to; I’ve lost the thirst for it. At least in this moment, I don’t think I can commit to a long project in Spanish.
You’ve also noted, of writing back in Argentina, “I know the surroundings so well that the only possible option is to run away from them.” Having lived so long in London, do you not feel the same there?
Well, I can get tired of London (that stuff about getting tired of London equals getting tired of life is bullshit) but I don’t think you can truly get to know this place, ever. It’s a massive monster that keeps surprising you all the time. Also: the British are a rather cryptic bunch. It’s not easy to get to know them. That has many disadvantages – like never being invited to dinner – but the advantage is that you can’t become over familiar with them. I don’t think they themselves know very well who they are.
As an editor, do you notice a difference in the writing of those who are ‘rooted’ in a place and those who aren’t? And is there an emerging ‘nomadic’ literature from the developed world?
Yes, it’s a complete different thing! Each one has its possibilities, its problems, its own aesthetic. And this is why we launched Minor Literature[s]. My impression was, back in 2013 when we started, that there were few places attuned to this ‘nomadic literature’ as you rightly call it. I think things are changing now. More and more burrows are opening up, holes where this literature can exist. And also, something that I enjoy seeing a lot, some of the places where ‘rooted’ literature is allowed to germinate are becoming used to the fact that not everyone who creates literature does it in English, that English might not be their first or even second language, that they might not be located in any of those perceived centres of the world. Even publishers in the Anglosphere are beginning to look at books in translation with less aversion. In some way it is as if they were catching up with the world around them!
Will you remain in London, do you think? Or is your life here threatened, post-Brexit?
Brexit has been a kick in the balls. My life here isn’t directly threatened because I acquired a British nationality a while back, and so did my direct family (wife and daughter). But I surely question myself whether I want to stay in a place with such an insular drive. You see, I was ready for life in a problematic place (this country still hasn’t come to terms with their Imperial past, for example) but I’m not sure I want to live in a place where nationalist jingoism is given such a free reign. I always thought the British were better at keeping those things controlled, probably because they have the Spectacle of the monarchy to keep them entertained, and channel their patriotism, for good and bad. But now it’s as if we had moved a rock and all these nasty bugs had been left out to run wild.
So things have changed since the referendum.
Things have changed, yes; there is more space for intolerance right now. And many nasty discourses have been empowered by Brexit. Including the discourse of those who think the EU is the panacea of all the world ills, and go marching down the road with their EU flags, while people keep drowning in the Mediterranean.