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‘The natural idea’: The living nature of María Negroni | Culture

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María Negroni (Rosario, Argentina, 72 years old) does not have a garden, nor a zoo, nor a museum, but she has gathered in The natural idea (Acantilado) his notes on 49 people who did have them, or who at least tried to organize the “incomprehensible wealth of the world” in treatises, cabinets of curiosities, gardens, paintings or drawings. Lives sometimes marked by that obsession, and others in which the study of nature occupied an important margin, although they achieved fame in other fields. From Lucretius and Pliny the Elder to WG Sebald and his book Saturn’s rings —which includes the story of the silkworms that obsessed King James I of England—, passing through the philosopher Wittgenstein, the filmmaker Derek Jarman or the novelists Clarice Lispector or Nabokov, this album also includes the transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, the explorer Humboldt or the ant scholar Réaumur. “It is a gallery cut out by nature,” Negroni reflected in a hotel in Madrid at the end of February.

In one of the unorthodox profiles of his book he talks about elective affinities and the search for “the hidden connection between things,” a trait that runs through Negroni’s work. “That elective affinity is your own poetry and the reading you make of the world,” asserts the poet and writer, author of thirty books, including collections of poems such as Oratorio (Broken Glass), the essay Illustrated small world (Wunderkramer)—which she defines as a “portable encyclopedia of wonder”—or The heart of damage (Random House Literature), the book he wrote about his mother and which was adapted to the theater and performed as a monologue by the great Argentine actress Marilú Marini a few months ago in Madrid.

The writer María Negroni, at the NH Atocha Hotel in Madrid, last week.INMA FLORES

To try to explain the different materials that he has collected in the entries of The natural idea, the author refers to a “bazaar climate”, to that souk that she found in her reading of children’s encyclopedias as a child and in which she always feels comfortable. Photos, illustrations and maps coexisted in these books with biographies and various information on geography, trades or anatomy. That distilled mixture now reaches, as has happened other times, in her new book; She also recovers the brevity that this poet relates to her mother’s asthma and the imperative need to take advantage of every breath, to say the most in the minimum number of words. Presented in chronological order, the profiles and notes of The natural idea They sometimes take the form of a poem or a letter, include various illustrations and summarize long biographies in short paragraphs, without giving up humor, tenderness, or the author’s self-portrait. “In many of these characters there is a delirium, an almost bulimic excess. They show the human desire to confront indecipherable and incomprehensible reality, something that neither science nor writing can access. That is why art exists,” she explains. “In literature there is that same impulse to order chaos and name, but in doing so we cancel the very thing we give a name to. The poet Aníbal Núñez has that verse that says ‘to be a river, the river has more than enough name.’

Teacher at the college Sarah Lawrence and at New York University during the decades he lived in the United States, Negroni maintained his teaching vocation in Buenos Aires. “I love teaching,” and she states forcefully: “Before being a writer, I am a reader: reading is my reason for being.” Perhaps that is why Negroni jumps from one quote to another when trying to explain in the most direct and clear way possible the desire that drives writing in general and his own in particular. She has been committed to breaking down the barriers that strictly separate genres for decades. She likes to put data at the service of the imagination and look for “the bones of things” in the cleanest and most naked way possible. Her tendency, she claims, is toward “silence.” With everything she has published? “Yes,” she smiles, “my natural writing is almost skeletal.” It is the discovery that moves her and from there her texts emerge, hybrids? “There is no hybridity, literary genres are labels that obey certain needs, but in the end it all comes down to whether or not there is writing. A good novel has poetry, because it contains the opening of a concept, it surprises you with something you had not thought of, there is a fissure. For example, ‘writing is howling without noise’, this is a brutal verse, but it is in a novel by Marguerite Duras.”

That order of nature that the characters of The natural idea They worked hard to create, isn’t that exactly what is being questioned today by questioning who ordered it and based on what? “The present is too close a time to have an idea of ​​what is happening because there are things that become fashionable,” she observes. “There may be a fair and necessary agenda in which the market identifies a possibility of profit, which is why we have to look at these things with some caution,” she warns.

Negroni says that he has worked for a decade in the exquisite gallery that he has brought together in his new book. How did she finish it? “I finish when I feel that my questions have been exhausted. Cesare Pavese spoke of a Cartesian plane in which obsession is found on one axis and form on another and they meet at a certain point, and there is the book. “What precedes is imperfect and what follows is unnecessary.” Negroni observes in his notes on the British physician-philosopher and writer Sir Thomas Browne in The natural idea: “It is impossible to know if one writes out of habit, out of desire for prestige, out of love for the truth or out of mere desperation; if writing makes him wiser or sadder.” And her? “I don’t have the answer, but sadness has value, we shouldn’t shy away from it.”

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