“Writing should give access to the world.” | Writer Benjamín Labatut | Louisiana Channel



“We live in a world that is bigger than us. It can be terrifying, but it is also inspiring. We cannot survive without mysteries. Mysteries are more important than truth. Writing should give access to the world and at the same time darken it for you so that it becomes mysterious again”, says the celebrated Chilean writer Benjamín Labatut in this interview.

“Literature and science are two of the ways in which we build our sense of the world. Literature is like an older crazy sister of science because it is disorganized. It is not tied down to any set of ideas of the truth so that it can consider anything, and in that sense, it has a freedom that science can’t aspire to. I think of literature as a science that really cares about experiments, you can consider the wildest ideas, and you can play with theories that are wrong, that are delirious and insane.”

“Literature has no power at all, and because of that, it is very precious because we can play with ideas that contradict self-evident meanings in the world, and that is a great source of beauty and inspiration. It is a great source of fun, too. ”

“You are never just looking at a flower. You look at a flower and have an emotional tone and are contaminated by your other senses, memories biting at you. It is very hard to give any measure about what it feels like to be alive from moment to moment. It is not realism. Our experience of the world is not realistic at all. It is hallucinatory. That is kind of what literature should mirror.”

“Beauty is the most important thing there is. I think the truth is completely secondary. Life and beauty are completely intertwined, and we don’t realize it. We don’t understand that it is something that was here before us. We are just interacting with some of its versions. It is not just in the flowers but also beneath the ground, in the dirt; it is everywhere. It is the universe being in love with itself.”

“I am fascinated by singularities, things that lie outside the regular order. Exceptions of all kinds, one of the things that I get angry about is the modern depreciation of the word genius. As if everybody were the same and it is not like that at all:
One of the great things about being human is how different we are. And there are these outliers, men, and women that really seem to come from another world. They suffer for it too,” Labatut says, referring to his novel ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’, which presents scientists who made great discoveries and failed in other ways. “Because it is very dangerous to suddenly discover something new about ourselves, going a step beyond. You fall into the really strange space, like colonizing new territories, which is dangerous, but to me, it is fascinating. Were it not for these strange, unique beings; we would not have gone very far. We still need this exceptionality. ”

Benjamín Labatut is a Chilean author born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 1980. He spent his childhood in The Hague, Buenos Aires, and Lima, before settling in Chile, where he currently lives and works. His first book of short stories, ‘Antarctica starts here’, won the 2009 Caza de Letras Prize in Mexico, and the Santiago Municipal Prize, in Chile. His second book, ‘After the Light’, consists of a series of scientific, philosophical, and historical notes on the void, written after a deep personal crisis. His third book, ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ has been translated to more than 20 languages. The English edition of the book was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021. In July 2021, Barack Obama included the book in his last reading list for the summer, which Obama shared on his Twitter account. It was selected for the New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2021” list.

Benjamín Labatut was interviewed by his Danish translator Peter Adolphsen in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2022 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

Camera: Simon Wehye
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling, and Fritz Hansen.

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