Rui Zink is a Portuguese author, translator, professor and even a painter, that frequently uses humour as a means of expression. He assumes himself as the first in many things, in his home country — the first one to open up creative writing courses, the first one to complete an interactive online book, the first one to propose for a paid interview and the first one to write a book on the financial crisis. In an interview with mART, while he was in the territory to take part in The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival, the author said he is preparing a book compiling a series of short-stories about the territory that do not intend to add anything, other than offering a “fresher” pair of eyes looking into the region.
By Luciana Leitão
You returned to Macau for The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival. Why? Is Macau special?
Because I was invited and I accepted. There was a will for me to return, which means I was not too intrusive — and I accepted, which means I was not disappointed, quite the opposite. I found it fascinating. And who does not realise that Macau is fascinating and that China is marvelous, and that it is a privilege for a Portuguese to have this gateway, doesn’t really have a clue.
Why is Macau fascinating?
For starters… The image I found — my images seem easy, but I take quite a while to work on them — is of a paper ball, small, compressed, the size of the palm of a hand and, out of curiosity, you pick that paper ball and carefully, without tearing it up, you start unfolding it and, once you unfold it, you realise it is a world map with three metres large and two and a half metres long and you never had imagined that it would have that size, if you hadn’t unfold it. In terms of size, Macau is quite small, but you can find many cities and many worlds here.
There are different sides of you — you are a writer, teacher, translator, opinion maker. Which is the side of you that fits you best?
I believe I am an improved Miguel Sousa Tavares [a Portuguese writer and pundit] or a shorter José Rodrigues dos Santos [a Portuguese best-selling writer]. Basically, I am a guy that talks and writes.
Regardless of the medium?
The medium does not matter. Long before the online existed, I was already teaching a course called Marginal Literatures, exactly about that, about the absurd which is to think that the word is only the aesthetic word, when it uses a paper support. I am not a democrat of April 26, I am a democrat of April 24 [April 25 was the day of the Portuguese Revolution, in 1974, which ended a period of dictatorship], which relates the word and the means. If there is something that characterises the 20th century — in which I was born — it’s miscegenation and fusion. If you want me to define myself and if you give me a series of writers to choose, I would say I’m Almada [Negreiros] — a man who draws and writes, and who has eyes and hears of the size of the world.
In the 1990s, you launched an e-book, which was something new in Portugal…
It annoys me when people try to re-write history — a guy was suffering at the time, doing something that several people criticised, even his colleagues, and now that it’s something common and even nice, everybody starts to re-write the past.
It was not an e-book, it was an interactive book. An e-book is to pick up a text in paper and put it into the Internet. Some will say ‘Stephen King had already done it’. But do they really know what Stephen did? Because I do. And he did Riding the Bullet, which is totally different. He published a short-story bit by bit. Instead, I wrote live, online, with a machine that me and the team supporting me thought of. I chose a model that existed already in juvenile books, which is a two-option model, and then we saw what the technology allowed and we made a book, in which only the first chapter was written prior to the intervention of the readers. Through 38 chapters, I had to follow the opinions and the voting; the result was an online book, which, unfortunately, is no longer online. The book was generous, as are all my books — it included a novel, a logbook and illustrations made by Manuel João Ramos for the book. It even has my own notes concerning the difficulties.
During my life, I have always faced some problems, one of which is the people who even like my book, but they would prefer if it were written by another person. For instance, the book A Instalação do Medo, which was one of the best books of 2012, it did not even won one lousy award, in the country of literary awards. I had to do a book [Os Surfistas] written according to the rules, even though all the insane people wanted to take the helm and fall over the precipice.
During the process, didn’t you get insane?
Lesser artists, less intelligent ones, less lucid ones and less talented than me would have difficulties. People who are more nervous than me and less physically able than me would have many difficulties, but actually there was a happy coincidence — if there is something that marks my work, it is the heterodoxy. There is a variety of genres and mediums, so much that I didn’t even prepare a resumé. If I’m going to put my resumé, I am almost ashamed. Do you know how many performances and street happenings I’ve done? 100, maybe. There is even a film about it. Who started creative writing courses in Portugal? Moi. I remember writers — the same ones that today are giving such courses — twisting their nose, but what is funny is that when people change with the wind, they have amnesia attacks. No one recalls being a PIDE [secret police during the dictatorship period in Portugal] — but, for some, it is recorded, there were interviews in which they asked ‘can you teach talent’? They are answering some statement that has never been made. There has never existed any idiot that would say ‘yes, here in my course, people get talent’. They were only questioning whether one could debate writing and if it would improve the writing. That is the big debate. I say yes — to debate is good. Was it me who invented creative writing? No. But in modern Portugal, I was the first one.
I have done two things — the first one is heterodoxy and the second one is that I’m very wise. I’ve written a lot. I interviewed Luiz Pacheco [Portuguese author]. It was the first paid interview [in Portugal]… Miguel Esteves Cardoso [Portuguese author] said ‘it would be so great to interview Pacheco, don’t you know him?’; ‘yes, I can talk to him, but he doesn’t have money and I thought we could do it the American way and pay for the interview’.
Wouldn’t it compromise independence — to pay for an interview?
Does it compromise my independence to accept a monthly salary? That is how rich people talk. Money brings freedom. Truth be told, they accepted and they even were more generous than I would be, which was great. There are interviews to Pacheco before that one and after that one. This seems megalomaniac, but it’s not my fault for being there. I was there in many places, because it was easy. I did the big book about the [financial] crisis.
You’ve done a tetralogy about the financial crisis. Do you believe the crisis is already over in Portugal?
When someone breaks a glass, it’s seven years of bad luck; when someone does a toast without looking into the eyes of the other, it’s seven years without sex. I’ve had my seven years of bad luck and my seven years without sex; now I want to go to bed with someone, I’m desperate and hungry. I want the crisis to be over. I hope my interest on the topic has finished. It started in 2008. Who would have guessed that the crisis was coming, in 2008? I knew it because, modesty aside, I can predict the future. Do you know what I call to predict the future? New York Times — whoever read an American newspaper knew what was going to happen in Portugal and in the rest of the world, two years later.
One of the sessions at The Script Road, in which you participated, was about the Portuguese Revolution and the Cultural Revolution (in China). Does Portugal need another revolution?
I believe it does, but the Cultural Revolution and the Portuguese Revolution only have in common the word Revolution. In the case of the Portuguese Revolution, the future is never much different from what would be if something else happened. We’re all connected. Portugal would be a better or worse democracy, even if April 25 [the day of the Carnation Revolution, in 1974, after which the dictatorship ended] hadn’t happened. Portugal is the country with the most patience.
Is it passivity?
I wouldn’t say that. There is a lot of patience, it is historic. Passivity is a myth. Portuguese people are far more interesting than the stereotype of the passive. As a collective, we have a political history that makes us understand that protest can lead to jail. It was not only the dictatorship; before, there was the inquisition. We have five centuries of permanent censorship — we were closed, not only due to the Portuguese regimes, but also due to the fear of Spain. Part of our psyche can be explained for having that big filth right next to us. We’re not a passive country, but we’re not very revolutionary and we do not like change, as change rarely comes in our favour.
You mostly express yourself through humour. Is humour essential in life?
Humour is many things. For starters, it’s the most boring topic for a conversation. Among others, humour, through the centuries, meant a state of mind. Nowadays, it’s reduced to being comic, funny. But it has to do with a sensitive approach to the world, instead of an intellectual one. Today we know — the neuroscientist António Damásio has proven it — that intelligence is emotional. In fact, any poet knows that for more than 2,000 years. The well intended humour has an advantage — it reminds us that life can be lightness, instead of heaviness. Without humour, I would still be a virgin. Thanks to humour, I can make the person in front of me — that saw me as a heavy peasant — to discover that I’m a Valentino and that I know how to dance very well tango and salsa. There is something that is laughter… it is the pre-cultural laughter, body at its worst. When do we really start getting humour? When, instead of laughing from the weak, you laugh from the strongest. It starts to get interesting, when laughter becomes the weapon of the weakest against the strongest ones. But humour has limits. There are situations in which there is no humour.
I’m not really sure if I started using humour as a way of overcoming a difficulty, since I was clumsy. I was a very clumsy child — I was physically clumsy; I was clumsy because I was almost dying when I was two years old. Since I couldn’t breath [asthma] like all the other boys, I had to turn my weak points into strength, I had to find my own way of breathing, so that I could turn a deficiency into an advantage. My humour is born from that — the thing that is fundamental in art, be it in dance, music, literature, which is rhythm. In the end, that is what makes a literary text more or less humorous.
Do you have any new project — maybe, one about Macau?
I have a project about religion — ever since I discovered that religious organisations pay less taxes, I started to get interested in it. I still don’t know if I should found a religion or publish a novel. I’m now at the revision phase and perhaps I can publish it this year.
A new big project takes time — roughly speaking, you have a big idea every five years and that idea has to come to you, you cannot force the big love. Now, the small love you can force, the short stories, the small things. When I was here the last time [three years ago], Hélder [co-founder of The Script Road] said: “You have sent so many short stories three years ago, that we even thought about making a book only with those.” I have that project.
Do you want to compile those short stories?
And to do others… I have a project of preparing a book with short stories about Macau; it will not be a big book. Because, contrarily to Adam Johnson [the Pulitzer prize winner, that was in Macau for The Script Road], I do not believe you can go six days to North Korea and write a book. It comes out superficial. But there is something — it is true that I’m a well-experienced writer and when I did Os Surfistas, in the Internet, I had already been doing for 20 years strange things with words. I was the right person in Portugal to do that. I do not want to write a book about Macau, explaining Macau to the world — it would be arrogant and stupid. But I also don’t want to write a book about ‘how I’m now at a cafe and I’m bored and I look at these women’, that would be too weak.
So, what will that book be?
It will be the same as the rest of the short stories — short stories that do not add anything. Macau has been here for long, I do not have better eyes than yours, but I do have different ones, a bit fresher.