«Culture provides us with a critical sense, beauty and curiosity»

A Nadal literary prize finalist in 2006 and winner of such major awards as the Herralde de Novela or the Vargas Llosa de Relatos, she has no doubt that each day that passes is a day free from disease. For Marta Sanz (Madrid, 1967), lockdown had its ups and downs. She published her latest work, Small Red Women (Anagrama), on March 3 and, ten days later, the bookshops closed. According to her, she turned into a cockroach belly up trying to regain its original position. Since then, this doctor in Philology has done everything possible to keep her book alive. She has realized the importance of the solidarity of the people and that she had to share with others the privilege of her health, with imagination, respect and a sense of humor.

What have you been thinking about these months?
I’ve reflected on many things, among them the need for public healthcare systems; the fact that countries cannot operate as businesses; radicalization and the persistent threat of misogynist violence in extreme situations; the origins of our economic and ethical precariousness; the exploitation of our planet; the poor health of a population subjected to a turbo-capitalist logic that impoverishes and kills us; and the hazards of teleworking.

What do you feel has to change in our lifestyle?
This is a good opportunity for a rational total rethink and abandoning excessive consumerism. I feel we need to fully understand what we mean when we aspire to returning to normal, because, as Naomi Klein says, our normal was a crisis. So I sometimes fear the adoption of puerile forms of nostalgia and complacency. Nor do I think it would be healthy for us to throw ourselves into that dystopian fantasy of an apocalyptic society where the face mask is the eternal dress code, and all classes and cultural events take place via Zoom. I believe we have to learn from what has happened and strive to address the inequality gaps that define our system: gaps regarding class, gender, race, health possibilities and culture, ecological gaps… Quite possibly these are all the very same gap.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about this new scenario?
My thoughts are gloomy, yet I’m still keen to keep active. That’s why I write, because I believe writing is worthwhile. Literature reflects reality, but also builds it, while focusing on the darker, out-of-shot nooks and crannies. The language used encourages reflection and sparks emotions that are the extreme opposite of those commonly portrayed in advertising. However, I feel that, from a standpoint that is simultaneously artistic and civic, we will remain incapable of having something interesting to say until quite some time has passed. Meanwhile, I feel a little bit out of kilter. I don’t know whether to write with a sense of humor and naive good vibes, or in anger. I have to think hard to find the perfect tone.

“My thoughts are gloomy, yet I’m still keen to keep active. That’s why I write”

The health crisis has paralyzed economic activity in all sectors, including the world of culture. How do you feel our country’s cultural fabric could be maintained and its professionals helped to overcome the worst moments of this crisis?
With the culture ministries offering assistance, which translates into subsidies for the more audacious projects which, at the same time, are those furthest removed from market expectations. For me, culture is a phenomenon about shows and entertainment, but it’s also a channel for knowledge and intellectual clarity. There are so many of us and we all like very different things. But in these times of cultural fast food consumption, hoaxes and rapid skim reading, I guess it wouldn’t be a bad idea to promote a slower, more indepth style of reading, thus fostering critical thinking in the mind of the reader. A type of participatory, attentive, civic reading.

Do you feel society should be more firmly committed to culture?
As I said earlier, culture provides us with a critical sense, knowledge and entertainment. As well as beauty, pleasure and curiosity. Good cultural artifacts foster inquiring minds, pose questions and even risk responses which, bringing to the fore things we perhaps do not want to see, can lead to our happiness. Good books help us call our prejudices into question and walk in the shoes of others, seeking that conflictual intersection between individuals and the life they have been dealt. Such inquiry causes us to learn and feel things that change us. Reading is exposing yourself to metamorphosis. There are books that do not necessarily make us better people.

Many of your books are a nod to the liberation of women and the defense of liberties. Do you believe we are on the right path toward effective equality between men and women?
In the world of work, the gender difference is much more evident than we like to think. Women’s wages are lower than those of their male counterparts, our rates of unemployment and involuntary temporary work are higher, and we are at greater risk of exclusion and poverty. These data all reflect a structural violence that seeps into our homes and bedrooms, fostering abuse and femicide, and validating the maxim that the personal is political. So, when they say that these murdered women are cases of domestic violence, I am deeply saddened. We are talking about systemic, economic, social violence, crystallized in a cultural and educational melting pot from which we women drink, conjuring up an imaginary world and desires that we often believe are our own, but which, in fact, respond to male expectations. This is not what I say, but rather the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.