It took about 50 years for Vivian Gornick (New York, 87 years old) to return to Mexico City. “She hasn’t been here since she was a student,” she comments with amusement. With a friendliness that overcomes the tiredness of the hours of flight that she has just gone through, the New York writer attends to this newspaper shortly after setting foot in the Mexican capital. She still hasn’t had time to do one of the things she likes the most, walking the city, but she hopes to achieve it despite the intense activity that her schedule holds in Mexico, where she will participate in the new edition of Hay Festival Queretaro. Getting to know her city on foot, she says, has given her another relationship with New York, as well as a book about the experiences she had on the street. And she has also given him time to think. Sitting in the corner of a university bookstore, Gornick lucidly unravels the contradictions of feminism, delves into her work (published in Spanish by Sexto Piso) and analyzes the post-pandemic world.
Ask. Have you seen New York change throughout all these years of walking it?
Response. That is a good question. And New York is the city to ask him. All over the world, people walk around and get caught up in architecture, record changes in buildings, and the like. In New York, people experience the city at eye level. I never look up, if I did I would be very scared because the city would turn into a jungle of glass and steel. But when you walk around and are part of the crowd your whole life, it doesn’t feel any different. I am an older woman and I went through periods that were dangerous or poor, I watched the city change fantastically in terms of its population. When I was a child, everyone was white. Now you always see someone black or brown. The crowds on the street have changed immensely. But it’s still the same crowd. It is still a flow of humanity.
P. Has the pandemic changed anything for you?
R. Oh yeah. Now the city is half dead. He feels bad. So many stores, shops, restaurants and cafes have closed. It is really shocking.
P. You have written in depth about loneliness, has covid changed anything in that regard? She already knows, without being able to leave the house or see the family…
R. It was not my case. My life didn’t change at all. It turned out that he was not afraid of the pandemic. I wasn’t scared. So I went out and met people all the time. There were things I couldn’t do, like going to the movies, the theater or concerts. That was a great loss. And because I know loneliness so well, I fared much better than others who weren’t used to it. I know people who went crazy. The worst were the marriages, there were many divorces during the confinement.
P. This became the era of Zoom and telecommuting. We are more connected than ever, but are we also more alone than ever?
R. I think so. The digital world has been advertised as the one that connects people. But in reality, it is established that people are more isolated than ever because of the internet. A child who sits for six to eight hours at the computer, what does his connection with the people on the other side of the computer mean? There is no tactile sensation, there is no reality, there is nothing. The newspapers say every day that there is more depression and more suicides among teenagers than in many years. Where does it come from? I believe that people have always been as alone as today, only today everything is in sight. Years ago, no one would have talked about loneliness, it was not in the vocabulary. It was a great shame. Now everyone drops it like nothing happened, thanks to therapeutic culture and the Freudian century. Now we are more aware of what happens to us inside.
P. In his latest book in Spanish, Pending accounts, makes an ode to rereading. Why do you think it is important to reread a book at a time when everything is more ephemeral in life?
R. Because it is one of the most nutritious things. To reread is to live more deeply with a book. Every book is a piece of human intelligence and human experience, if it’s a good book, right? It is a form of experience. And it is also what I hope when I sit down to write, to be able to shape an experience.
P. What changes between the first reading and the last?
R. When I first read those books I was too young to fully understand them. 20 years later, I understood them much better. I realized that there are a lot of books that you just need to be older to understand, and you have to become the right reader of the books, and it’s not the other way around.
P. You have said in other interviews that you do not read contemporary authors, why?
R. For the reasons we are talking about. Strange as it may seem, the world is aging, and yet more and more literature is being written by young people. And it’s not just that they’re young and their sense of the world is different from mine because of their age. It is a profoundly different world. Most young people are influenced by the internet, and write of a world shaped in their heads from the internet. I hate that. I can tell in a second from the sound of a sentence. And no I don’t even try [suelta una carcajada].
Gornick began working at the legendary weekly The Village Voice when I was 34 years old. As a reporter, she had to cover the second wave of feminism during the seventies, in which she ended up being one more militant. Since then, she has emerged as one of the most lucid voices of the feminist movement in the United States. A discourse that he deepened over half a century with fifteen books, some of which were very successful in Europe, such as fierce attachments. Memories of him always go back to that time, when activism was electrifying for him. “We were visionaries, we were revolutionaries,” he recalls of those days in which he forged much of the ideas that accompany him to this day.
P. How do you see the feminist movement today?
R. The Me Too reawakened a powerful sense of women’s rights. Every thing they said in 2017, we had said 40 years ago. But this time they were much angrier. The whole society has been so influenced by us that capitalism shook and men lost their jobs, their lives were destroyed. We never expected something like this to happen. That anger passed because in those 40 years between my generation and theirs, nothing changed much. Social change is very slow. Now there is an explosion, and thousands of people in the world will change. And then we’ll go back. Two steps forward and one step back. But the idea that women, gay or black, are not second-class citizens is not going anywhere.
P. Could feminism have done something different?
R. I do not think so. It’s not an organized movement, it’s an explosion, and you can’t control an explosion. One woman opened her mouth and then all of a sudden there are a thousand women saying the same thing. The things that the majority said had a great influence to bring about changes. Yes, a lot of terrible things have happened, a lot of feminists said and did stupid, bad, wrong things. But the issue at stake, the heart of the matter, is very legitimate. There was a woman at Me Too, a waitress, who said that one night a drunk man at a party grabbed a $20 bill and said, “If you give me your phone number, the bill is yours.” That gives me goosebumps.
P. But does such a story surprise you?
R. I’m not surprised, but yes! When I was young, we shrugged our shoulders and said, “That’s the world.” But now that I’m older I think it’s intolerable. It doesn’t surprise me, but I don’t forget it.
P. What should be the position of feminism before the reactionaries, before those who discredit it with terms like feminazis?
R. Ignore them and keep yelling. Those accusations come from minds that do not understand the problem. That’s how it has always been. In the seventies we were called unnatural. I have been called a lesbian, which at the time was an insult. Today they would not dare to say such a thing. And they have also called me feminazi [rie divertida].
P. On several occasions he has positioned himself against the culture of cancellation, but he knows that this practice has a legitimate root, which is years of perpetrated abuses. What is the middle ground between canceling someone and doing nothing?
R. I can’t answer that. You can probably answer better than me. Cancellation culture is terrible. It is completely discarding human beings. It is repression and censorship. We are living in a time and culture that is so fractured, where there is no one set of beliefs that holds everyone together, and so no one trusts anyone. Everyone feels threatened by others. That is the feeling of the world. It’s a terrible feeling.
P. Is that what happened in the United States to get to the point of repealing the right to abortion?
R. I always knew that the fight for abortion would be a 100-year fight. We live in cancel culture, in a very conservative world, where authoritarian figures emerge all the time. The Trump world is what allowed the right to get strong enough to repeal abortion. But I think most people in America are pro-abortion, they will fight this slowly and win it back. That’s something I’m positive about. There are already small groups, what we call grassroots democracy, with all kinds of people, housewives, lawyers, social workers, making small efforts to reverse it. And I think it will happen.
P. Should feminism in the Latin American countries that recently conquered this right think about the possibility that, perhaps in 50 years, there may be a regression?
R. Definitely. That right is not guaranteed anywhere. It’s terrifying, but the United States is now a lesson in how unsafe it is.
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Source: EL PAIS