Floored Genius

From high-minded to hype-crazed, book fairs have a rich tradition of coaxing out reclusive authors. New Times was fortunate to get a rare audience with the person redefining writing, M.M. Pascal-Paul.

Oh, so it wasn't penned in Arabic?

[Laughs] Of course, a new Spanish edition published by the Real Academia Española came out earlier this year, with a prologue by Mario Vargas Llosa. It's on my reading list. The prologue, that is. I'm a little behind on my reading because of the deadline for this book I just finished. I had titled it Around the Baseball in Eighty Worlds, but the publisher wanted a one-word title. So I went with Dictation.

Well, let's talk about the new book. Are you exploring the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction again?

How did you guess? It's an obsession that I first fell into with my master's thesis, which I was fortunate to convert into my first book, a little something I called La Muerte de la Muerte de Artemio Cruz(The Death of the Death of Artemio Cruz). It's essentially about how I'm tired of these novels that supposedly capture what's going on in a dying man's head. But the upshot of that book is that I coined the term non-nonfiction.

I see. So give us a hint aboutDictation. It's non-nonfiction. I'm guessing it might have something to do with Cuba. You were living in Havana while you were writing it.

Well, yes and no. I was going back and forth from Havana to Miami and New York. The book is as much about life in the United States as it is about life in Cuba. For most people in the United States, Cuba is like a black hole, out of which pops a baseball player or a salsa band every once in a while. And all the U.S. government does is shoot barrels full of audio and video into the black hole from various types of aircraft, the latest being a very expensive C-130 transport plane. Those barrels, produced by TV and Radio Martí, cost tens of millions of dollars to fill every year. It would be much less costly and more effective if the State Department just started handing out free Nano iPods to people in Cuba — iPods loaded up with any number of cool things. Anything but Radio Martí. As a matter of fact, if I were the U.S. government and wanted to win hearts and minds in the world, I would be saturating Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia with iPods and red, white, and blue checkered soccer balls.

Okay, so you're here, visiting from the black hole, and you've got a new book coming out, but you're not participating in the Miami Book Fair. You're not on the book fair's author list.Pourquoi?

Um, because I wasn't invited?

Is that how it works? You have to be invited?

Well, yeah, basically. But if you have the marketing team at a major publishing house pushing your book, that helps a lot to get you in. Even if you don't want to be in. Plus it's just a big marketing event, really. I'm not that interested in spending my time at a trade show. I'm taking more of a word-of-mouth, Tipping Point kind of approach. Have you read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell?

Of course.

My strategy is to get my book into the hands of a fairly limited number of people, connectors, who really know literature. And there's an Internet prong to the strategy. I'm just doing my thing, and if it ends up creating a conversation or even just being anywhere near a conversation, I'll be ecstatic. But I think I'm going to go the J.D. Salinger route — right after this interview.

You mean go hide out in rural Vermont?

No. Iceland.

Hey, we never talked about your ménage à trois treatise.

Oops. Maybe next time.


From Dictation, by M.M. Pascal-Paul The soon-to-be-famous literary genius shares an excerpt from her forthcoming masterpieceContemptible times, these: when the only art that prevails is that of piling one's own granaries high, sitting on a seat of gold and living all in gold, without perceiving that human nature will never vary and the only result of digging up external gold is to live without gold inside! Contemptible times: when the love and exercise of greatness is a rare and outmoded quality. Men today are like certain young ladies who are much taken with virtue when they see it extolled by others or exalted in sounding prose or winged verse, but who, after embracing virtue, which has the shape of a cross, throw it off in horror as if it were a corroding shroud that would eat away the roses from their cheeks and the delight from their kisses and the necklace of vivid butterflies that women like to clasp around their throats. Contemptible times: when the priests no longer deserve the praise or reverence of the poets, but the poets have not yet begun to be priests!

To the poets of today neither the lyric nor the epic mode comes naturally and calmly, nor is any lyric acceptable but that which each person draws from within, as if his own being were the only matter of whose existence he had no doubt, or as if the problem of human life had been addressed with such courage and explored with such eagerness that there could be no theme better, more stimulating, or more conducive to depth and grandeur than the study of oneself. No one nowadays is certain of his faith, and those who believe they are deceive themselves. Those who write the word faithgnaw at the fist they write with, tormented by gorgeous, savage inner beasts. There is no painter who succeeds in coloring the luminous aureoles of virgins with the novelty and transparency of other times, no religious cantor or preacher who puts unction and a tone of certainty into his stanzas and anathemas. All are soldiers in an army on the march. All have been kissed by the same sorceress. In everyone the new blood boils. Men can tear their innermost selves to shreds, but intranquillity, insecurity, vague hopes, and secret visions remain, famished and wrathful, in the most secret recesses of their beings. An immense, pale man dressed in black, with gaunt face, weeping eyes, and dry lips, is walking gravely across the earth without rest or sleep — and he has taken a seat in every home and has put his trembling hand on every bedstead. Such a pounding in the brain! Such fear in the breast! Such demanding of things that do not come! Such unawareness of what one wants! And in the spirit, such a sense of mingled nausea and delight: nausea for the day that is dying, delight for the dawn!

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