Bernardo Atxaga (Asteasu, Gipuzkoa, 1951)

This is the pseudonym used by Joseba Irazu Garmendia. He has a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Bilbao.

In 1972 he published his first poems in the Basque language in a short anthology; 1976 saw his first novel “De la cuidad”; and in 1978 he released his poetry book ‘Etiopía’. The exquisite way he handles his inner world has turned Bernardo Atxaga into an excellent and inescapable reference for the expressivity and sturdiness of Basque as a cult language.

The splendid transparency of his style, the moving simplicity of his arguments and the eloquent consideration of his images make Bernardo Atxaga one of the most deep and original creators on the Hispanic literary scene.

(Information taken from the Bernardo Atxaga website)

See his biography

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Bernardo Atxaga / Writer

"Basque people will be united by the basque language"


How many attempts, how much effort has been made over the last few years to move the world of Basque literature along the road to standardisation! Basque has demonstrated that it is capable of finding its place in universal literature. Basque literature is built on sturdy foundations and Bernardo Atxaga is the clearest example of this steadiness. He’s been writing for forty years...

Are old illusions destroyed in sidereal space?

Sidereal space is a great place. I like that type of sleep walking. Even in real life, I also need to fly and I’ll tell you what, you don’t lose your illusions... Sluckily. Maybe you lose the chimeras, illusions that are out of proportion, but the thrill of writing does not go away.

You have always defined literature by its value to boost humanity.

I’m not very post-modern really. I will always plump for the essential relationship between ethics and aesthetics and I believe that literature has to be in contact with people’s problems. If not, it becomes an empty decoration.

I know that you are fed up with the “euskal hiria” concept...

Look, when I first thought of euskal hiria, it was a kind of utopia, a moral and political utopia, also related to Classical Greece...

...That wasn’t what I was asking, I wanted to relate it to the "emigration place"...

Ah! Yes... We’re changing a lot sociologically, so we really need an appropriate framework for ideas to emerge. Existing organisation models leave a lot to be desired...

You went from admiring Kafka’s beetle to shouting “The hedgehog (Basque) has awoken!” How’s the little creature doing?

The hedgehog... well it could be better really. We’d be better off if we weren’t so Catholic. Protestants are much clearer and when they preach about charity... they always keep their word. Catholics can do the theory but not manage the practice. The thing is that we are flying a plane with the Basque language and there’s an abyss looming below...

You once took Kant’s bird as an example. As Basque speakers, we always have to be proactive when flying against difficulties, so we don’t fall to the ground, so we don’t get hit...

Kant is optimistic because the bird couldn’t fly if there was no air... it’d fall into nothing. You have to always seize your desires, your desire for action. Of course from time to time you feel like chucking it all away... but at least until now I have been strong enough to not give up.

Language is history, and literature can manage to be a utopia, because literature —to use your own words— “transfigures” reality...

Literature is a language utopia. When we are reading, we always come from somewhere and we always relate literature to our own experience. I could give you the example, because I’ve got it to hand, of Pedro Mari Otaño and the farmhouse he describes. For me, this farmhouse has a special aura. Literature creates this time and again with places and people. Of course there are other types of literature that try to break this aura... but literature related to nature reminds me of texts with a good aura. The more literary texts I take in, the more nature seems to be transfigured...

Bernardo Atxaga

You have also written, from a surrealist’s point of view, that there was a confrontation between the impossible scenario of Basque society in 1968 and the repression. What’s your opinion after 40 years?

Everything’s is divided in politics. The political scene seems like fabric coming undone to me. When something comes undone, there’s no life left in it and you just have to stick this fabric on a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire. I hope that the change is biological, and that it is brought about by the new generations. I don’t think that we are so wrong in society, regarding what we could call culture or education.

Once you said that we crossed two gazes: the creative, inventive and poetic gaze that takes us Basque people to a higher level; and the gaze that takes us to a lower level. The two of them avoid coming together...

They will be united... by means of the language, luckily! The fascists saw clearly that you can’t shilly-shally in language issues... Let’s eliminate the language... like the French did. When you learn a language, even if you’re not very good at speaking it, something is built inside you... I believe that language will bring the same longitude.


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