1001 Ways to Die (12) – Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo, Colombian, Writer and Poet

Alvaro Mutis, Colombian Writer and Poet
Alvaro Mutis, Colombian Writer and Poet

Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo, one of my absolute favorite writers of all times, died on Sunday 22 September 2013 in Mexico City, aged 90.

His wife, Carmen Miracle,  was quoted as saying that Alvaro Mutis died in hospital from a cardio-respiratory problem.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sent his condolences after Mutis’ death was confirmed by the cultural commission Sunday night.

“The millions of friends and admirers of Alvaro Mutis profoundly lament his death,” Santos wrote. “All of Colombia honors him.”

Colombian writer Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal called him “a remarkable narrator, remarkable poet and remarkable friend.”

I wrote about him back in 2010: An introduction first, Alvaro Mutis, and then Fragments.

Today in his memory I would like to share some exerpts (presented below in italics) from his interview by Francisco Goldman published in BOMB 74/Winter 2001.

Mutis was born in Colombia, the son of a diplomat, but he became a citizen of the world.

Tramp Steamer
Tramp Steamer

I am just passing through.

“I traveled with my family from the age of two. We went to Brussels. My father was in the Colombian diplomatic service and we were there for nine years. We traveled to Colombia by sea for vacations. Those trips were wonderful for me. They were like an extended holiday, because on a ship you are not responsible for anything. All you have to do is coexist with the sea and its life and watch it all go by. And again, when I worked for Standard Oil as Colombian head of public relations for five years, I traveled on oil tankers and had interesting experiences and met extremely curious people, many of whom appear in my novellas. So I loved traveling and moving around. And interestingly, without actively trying, I have always had jobs that forced me to move around. For over 23 years, I worked for Twentieth Century Fox and then Columbia Pictures as sales manager for the television division in Latin America, selling sitcoms and specials and made-for-TV movies. And I went from capital to capital to capital: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, to Chile and back through Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and then back to Los Angeles. So my life became a long trip and I met thousands of people, in all different kinds of situations. And this was like a continuation of what I had experienced as a child. In this way I lost the sense of belonging to a particular country. I know that I am Colombian and will be until I die, and there are landscapes in Colombia that I love and am fascinated by, and they appear in my poetry, but I don’t feel a commitment to any one country because, after all, I’m just passing through.”

A hopeless view of the world

 “I’ve never been involved in politics. I’ve never voted. I have never believed and have no faith in the intentions of a man who wants to make life better for all men. I think this just leads to concentration camps and Stalinist purges, the Inquisition and all of that horror. I believe that man is a species one should be very suspicious of. Now, I have no bitterness, but I am not going to change things, and I don’t want to change them. I accept them as they are, and that is how I live. So, it is natural that Maqroll (note: Maqroll is the key character in his novels), without being my exact reflection—which he is not at all—should have my hopeless view of the world.”

Mutis with writer Garcia Marquez and sculptor Botero
Mutis with writer Garcia Marquez and sculptor Botero

I say no to things

“But he (note: he refers to Maqroll), unlike Saint Francis, does not want to make this renunciation into a regimen for others or for a community. He says no to things precisely because of his philosophy of not trying to change anyone—each person is the way he is and that’s it. Now, if I were to load up on—as Maqroll would say—luxury items and objects, and these objects were to define me, I would be forced to stay still, not move. This doesn’t suit me; I don’t need anything.”

On women

“He (Maqroll) has a great admiration for women and he realizes that they see much more deeply than we men do, and know much more than we do, and that the best thing is to listen to them and do as they say. He always creates a sense of complicity with the person he loves. He thinks, We are together, but with no obligations—we won’t get married or enter into a bourgeois lifestyle. I love you deeply, and whenever we meet we will be together, because it is wonderful to have a relationship with someone who is my accomplice, and someone who feels no sense of obligation towards me. So that is his attitude, and if women sustain him and love him, why is that? Because he is not obliging them to do anything—he’s leaving the next day, or will be arriving the day after. He is their friend, their accomplice. There is a basic friendship in love that I do believe exists.”


On Monarchy and Democracy

Monarchy is a thing of the past, and a government with divine right and absolute power like that of Louis XIV or Charlemagne is the last thing I would want. In this day and age, something like that is impossible. The kind of monarchy that I am dreaming of does not exist. I agree with Borges when he said that democracy is “a deception of statistics,” I think that it is something that does not work, and we see it failing all the time. Something that we must keep in mind is that one of the most sinister characters, the most sick and diabolical murderers, Adolf Hitler, was voted chancellor of the German Reich by a majority. So, I say, like Ortega y Gassett, that when a lot of people agree about something, it’s either a stupid idea or a beautiful woman. Dictatorships, which I detest, especially these military dictatorships in Latin America, have had enormous popular support. I saw the Plaza de Mayo full of people yelling “Perón! Perón!” and it filled me with disgust, but that’s how it was. So, one must be careful with the application of the formula. But I don’t mean to frighten anyone. As I don’t follow politics, I have never voted, and the most recent political event that really preoccupies me and which I am still struggling to accept is the fall of Byzantium at the hand of the Turks in 1453.”

The absolute density of human relations

“I worked like everyone else. In those days, the jail was managed by the prisoners, who were divided into wards. I was the head of a ward, which was a huge responsibility—but not a privilege. There is one thing that I learned in prison, that I passed on to Maqroll, and that is that you don’t judge others, you don’t say, “That guy committed a terrible crime against his family, so I can’t be his friend.” In a place like that one coexists because the judging is done on the outside. This is vital, because in there, the density of human relations is absolute.”