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Home Culture George Saunders, master of the contemporary story: “Social networks transform you into an instant and fierce version of yourself” | Culture

George Saunders, master of the contemporary story: “Social networks transform you into an instant and fierce version of yourself” | Culture

by News Room
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A voice may assault you in the middle of the night. He just appears in his head and tells him how he thinks he should start behaving in order to end up liking Randy. And who is Randy? she wonders. He doesn’t know, so he gets out of bed, puts on his dressing gown, goes down to the kitchen and turns on the computer. This is how George Saunders (Amarillo, 65 years old), winner of prizes such as the Booker and the PEN/Malamud, the guy who grew up in Chicago inventing for himself a character that fit the exciting world in which he wanted to live, communicates with their stories. As if instead of stories they were small wild animals that should not be contained but rather followed until they are the ones who tell, or understand, definitively, themselves. “I love the idea of ​​them being like little wild animals, isn’t that what they should be?” he says.

The considered greatest living American short story writer is smiling somewhere in Los Angeles in front of his computer screen. When he picks up the video call it is in the morning. He is really dressed up. He appears to be wearing a shearling jacket. He says he’s still getting used to the city. That it seems like a futuristic place to him. “For the first time, we are city people, and I must say that it is not bad at all,” he says. He has moved there to be near his daughter, although he continues to teach at Syracuse University (New York State). It’s Valentine’s Day and he says that he believes that Gloria and Randy, the protagonists of that story that he began as a voice eager to tell his story in the middle of the night, are still together. The story is titled Sparrow and is included in an anthology The day of liberation, recently published in Spanish by Seix Barral and in Catalan by Edicions de 1984.

“I don’t believe that soul mates exist, but souls that fit do exist. Every love story is a version of that type of fit. One has to be willing to adapt, to blur oneself a little, to fit into another person’s life. And that other person should do the same,” he says, and talks about how that “little animal” that began as Gloria’s voice, which he feared he would have to discard — “I didn’t feel like telling another love story just like that,” he adds — , grew to become a reflection on “how cruel the world can be to someone in love.” How did she do it? “I wrote the story that same night, at the kitchen table, but I worked on it for months,” she responds. That’s how it works. Write “between four and five hours” every day, in the morning. Hours in which, above all, he rewrites or looks for new paths.

George Saunders, in an undated photograph.SIX BARRAL

Saunders, author of a single novel, the brand new disruptive, funny and award-winning Lincoln in the Bardo, believes in fiction as a “garbage detector”, that is, of everything that is frankly wrong in the world, and at the same time as the best possible agent of change. “I consider myself a post-postmodern writer. I don’t want to destroy everything, unless the destruction is positive, in some happy sense. I strongly believe in positive destruction. “Fiction can destroy the process by which we come to terrible conclusions and offer us respite, give us space to think outside of any kind of plane,” he says. In that sense, even though he says that he never thinks about any topic while he writes, The day of liberation It is, from the title, a kind of manifesto on the battle for “mind control” that is being waged out there today.

“In at least three of the stories—the one that gives the book its name, Gul y Elliott Spencer—, you can tell that the writer (he talks about himself in the third person when he talks about who writes the stories) is thinking about social networks. If the year were 1485, the ideas that would assault your head would come from the world around you, from your family and your town. Now ideas come to us from far away, and they are not ideas but a kind of agenda that is not directed at you, it is imposed on you. And they change the way you think. Literally. He would say that these three stories are about mental autonomy, and how impossible it is to maintain it. How can I be myself if I keep getting shit that settles directly into my head? In 100 years, we will say of this era that it was the era of altered minds,” says the author.

Controlled, altered. Altered by algorithms? “Altered by that charming and seductive technology with which we live, yes, and the algorithm that it entails. If there is a lot of violence and unhappiness today it is because we are being invaded by all kinds of information that we simply let in. And how are we going to be happy with all that latent suffering in the background? There has always been suffering in the world, and cruelty, but we were protected by the artificial construct of the place in which we lived. Now nothing can protect us,” he replies. “Social media doesn’t want you to think for yourself. You don’t even have to spend time alone. I don’t know for what purpose. But they transform you into some kind of other animal, some kind of monster, an instant, fierce version of yourself that automatically knows what he thinks about things he has no idea about,” says Saunders.

George Saunders, in a Florida bookstore in February 2017.Johnny Louis (FilmMagic)

The writer, who went to a nun’s school, is today a Buddhist and practices meditation. He tries to protect himself against mental invasion by all means. He’s been doing it since the beginning. “When I had my first smartphone I remember he was reading Russian authors (he loves Gogol, Isaac Babel, Chekhov) and suddenly nothing seemed to make sense. My reading comprehension plummeted. It was getting away from the screen for a while and recovering the stories, the color. It seemed like a providential and terrifying moment at the same time,” she says.

Right now he is reading the Argentine Sara Gallardo, the English translation of her novel January. “I am fascinated by the tension that she gives to the story through style,” he says of her. He also claims that she is working her way through what looks like a new novel, which would be her second in all these years. “But I’m still at the beginning. We will see,” she says. He is convinced that the only thing that can be done in the current context is, in addition to trying to protect the self so that it can grow in some way — “It seems difficult, but I believe that everything that is happening to us can be reversed, my students already do it.” They are doing, trying to ensure that the flame that remains lit does not go out,” he adds, “aspiring to be “a little kinder” every day. “My only goal right now is that. Be someone more loving, more present, more honest every day. Accept the complexity of the world without despairing. Despair is the worst enemy of human beings, perhaps that is why the cynical forces of the present love it. Let’s stay out of their reach,” he concludes.

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