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CULTURE | 15-06-2024 05:49

Claudia Piñeiro: ‘They revel in cruelty – I’ve never ever seen another president celebrate the tears of a rival’

Award-winning writer, playwright and screenwriter Claudia Piñeiro on narrative, challenges to women’s rights and President Javier Milei’s rhetoric.

Claudia Piñeiro is an award-winning writer, playwright and screenwriter. The author of famous works like Las viudas de los jueves and Tuya, the 64-year-old is an activist for women’s rights and social justice. 

Her most recent book, Escribir un silencio, compiles non-fiction texts and speeches, such as that written for the Congress debate on abortion. 

An observer of reality who does not hide her opinions on issues which disturb her, one of Piñeiro’s predominant concerns is the hate speech of the far right passing into action.

 

Your world is fiction and narrative, so how does it grab you when you hear that word ‘narrative’ in politics? 

Firstly, the impact is somewhat dimmed by that word having been expropriated by politicians some years ago now. But over and above that one still asks: How come they’re using that word when they mean something else? That is what I find inexplicable. If I give you one of my novels, you will know that I am lying to you, in the sense that I’m inventing stories and characters. In contrast, a political narrative is not transmitted telling the recipients: this is fiction. The narratives of each political party and spokesperson want to be the truth. And therein lies the problem of political narratives.

 

Every school of communication worldwide marks out the difference between the realistic language common to journalistic communications and fiction or advertising, for example, which is not required to be telling the truth. Does the language of politics expropriate literature while pretending to be journalism? 

Yes, it pretends to be something veracious but often is not even plausible because fiction, or at least the kind of fiction with which I work, frequently has to be plausible – i.e. something “which is not true,” but could be. Sometimes political narrative is not even plausible because how can somebody be saying something which nobody can believe? The problem is that if you say something often enough, people will end up believing it.

 

On May 25 writers, intellectuals and artists launched a campaign against the ‘Ley de Bases’ bill or part of it, asking Congress to reject it. You said: “We are fighting for certain laws not to be approved but also to counter a horrendous discourse of scorn for culture.” To what do you attribute culture being under attack from this government? 

This is a global movement which may be seen in the far right. It’s striking because historically the right was enlightened and cultured. Now there is a scorn for culture throughout the right and a discourse that anybody with anything to do with cultural or artistic activity working in cinema, theatre or literature is a layabout living off the state. A hate speech which is not true and which generates violence, etc. Why this speech? I believe that it is because it’s easier to act on certain people with an accessible discourse than with an inaccessible discourse. By this I mean the government has promised certain economic benefits and that we will be better off at some point etc. if their bills are approved, if there is dollarisation and a whole bunch of things which are being postponed. In contrast, attacking culture is easy because that is something very visible. Attacking LGTB groups or women is also easy because they are very visible. Pinning the blame for everything is a very fast argument for arriving at rapid conclusions which reach certain people who unfortunately do not have the time, education or will to sit down and think whether what they are being told is really so. It therefore seems to me that you are swapping one coin for another – I still cannot give you the economic things I promised you but I can give you the destruction of culture. 

 

Isn't that the other side of the coin to the accusations being made in Europe and the United States against progressives that in the last 30 years, instead of producing economic progress, they have come up with a woke culture carrying no economic cost and easy to install? 

I find that to be placing blame and responsibility where they do not correspond. For example, it was also said of the previous government that they took care of inclusive language and abortion but did not bother with anything else. If they did not take care of other things, it was for other motives – because of the pandemic, because they committed errors, because they had other priorities but not because they looked after abortion and inclusive language. But simplification comes very easy. It seems to me that the same sort of thing happens elsewhere in the world, saying: ‘Because they took care of this, they took their eyes off something else,’ everything spent on bills or programmes which do not change the economy of a country. They have just closed down the Undersecretariat for Protection against Gender Violence or fired 80 percent of its staff – how much money are they going to save with that? All that is left is the #144 telephone number to ring in cases of gender violence for the people who accompany the women suffering gender violence. How much money do you think can be saved by removing the tax to finance the National Arts Fund, would it be substantial for the Budget? Surely not and yet they say: ‘Look what we achieved dismantling this [fund] and removing this tax.’ 

 

Cheap talk from both the extreme right and progressives. Does it need an irritant to work? 

Excesses or errors have always existed everywhere and that is wrong. If, for example, you were to tell me that with everything going on in the cinema, there are things which need looking into at the INCAA [film institute], there surely would be. So should INCAA function? Yes, of course it should. The film industry should be promoted, of course it should. But does that imply not revising past errors or whether credits were wrongly conceded? No, it does not mean that but it seems one extreme or the other and most of us are not in one extreme or the other.

 

True opposition probably lies in neither one extreme nor the other.

It is also the most difficult because precisely those in the middle get bashed from both sides. There is a worldwide tendency to polarisation. [Spanish premier Pedro] Sánchez, when [President Javier] Milei was in town and said what he said with the ambassadors and everything, immediately picked up that polarisation proposed by Milei because it suits both sides, I believe. I would have preferred a position of not giving any importance to what was said.

 

If there is a cultural battle, it would be logical that we producers of cultural goods, according to the denomination of the Frankfurt School, be the adversaries: artists, journalists, writers, scientists. There would seem to be a certain logic in holding us responsible for contemporary culture which supposedly must be overthrown with another installed.

More or less because when the current government talks of a cultural battle, they are not necessarily referring to culture. Cultural battles refer to anything which has to do with running a country differently from how they’d like to run it. So cultural battles also have to do with economic terms and management. We are going to change the cultural battle so that there is no more severance or nobody complains of certain things – that for them is also a cultural battle. I don’t know what they call a cultural battle because a cultural battle is also lowering the portraits of [junta presidents] ... 

 

Common sense is constructed by those who construct it.

Yes but in that case we are all constructors of sense, not only those of us within culture. An entire society constructs its cultural sense.  

 

So we would be influencers. 

Not any more, we were influencers at one point. 

 

From the viewpoint of artists in particular, what does the phrase of the poet and playwright Vicente Zito Lema – “Art does not stop the hand of those who humiliate life but it does show the wound and the size of that wound” – say to you? 

I like that phrase, yes, it is highly probable that we cannot stop anything which is happening but we can show it up and a certain responsibility also lies there. Because you are interviewing me as a writer when you don’t necessarily interview writers, I am therefore in a place of exposure with the  possibility of saying something to some people and that also implies a responsibility for me. A responsibility in this interview and also in the texts and novels I write. That does not mean I am going to write thinking about this but I do know that this is communication on the other side of which there is a recipient of what we are talking about.

 

Art, science and probably politics are places from which reality can be changed by the construction of a new common sense.

Would that it were so. I’m already so disillusioned with us all that I don’t know.

 

You take elements of reality for your novels and feed on them for the construction of your narratives. How do you see this in current society? 

In all my novels society forms part of the novel I’m writing because I’m writing in the here and now. There are other authors who write about the past and the future. My personalities walk the same streets as I do so it is inevitable that they come off the street. And the streets these days seem pretty complicated to me. In any event I’m not writing a novel about some of the things I see. The novel I’m now writing is about the relationship between two sisters but of course what happens on the street gets mixed up there. One of the two (sisters) is more affected by what happens in society while the other is a journalist and hence also connected with what happens in society. I am not now writing specifically about society but nor is society merely the framework – society is one more personage within the novel.

 

Does the fact that the main person in the Gran Hermano [reality show] is called Furia seem a coincidence to you, or is it a choice reflecting the times we live in? 

The production could have thought of that, perhaps, and it seems to me connected with what is going on. The way we treat each other on social networks is really very disagreeable. On the other hand, I’ve been hearing all the time many people talking about recovering kindness. And I thought that the counter-offensive could come more from this side, trying to be kind, because on the other side there is a whole lot of aggression and fury. 

 

So the opposites within your pendulum would not be right versus left or the market versus the state but aggression versus cordiality? 

Yes, because if you talk about left versus right or the market versus the state, what I feel is a grieta chasm running through all of Argentina. I feel a grieta rift which previously was Peronism versus anti-Peronism and then for or against [Mauricio] Macri and that chasm has kept going. I’m not saying that there are no people who have not become installed there and it seems to me an ancient discourse but also that many other people are looking for something else. And you feel that for everybody on my side, it does not matter whether they are Peronists, Radicals or Macri supporters. 

 

Is that an aesthetic question?

It’s an ethical and aesthetic question and also about principles and human rights – questions which have to do with human rights, with faculties, with education, with health, with the pensioners, with a whole bunch of questions which we cannot split into right and left, it seems to me. There are people who are thinking the same way as us when it comes to culture and certain issues which this government in particular is attacking but which take different positions when it comes to voting on something related to the economy or far more purely political questions. The other day I went to the  annual fundraising dinner of Fundación Huésped [fighting AIDS] and the truth is that I was super-happy to see PRO, Peronist, socialist and Coalición Cívica politicians all greeting and hugging each other. The sensation was that we are here because we are all on the same side of this question supporting a cause.

 

Are you proposing humanism? 

Maybe, yes, I don’t know what word to give it but it has to do with the defence of values which we will not surrender – public education, public health, human rights, women’s rights, the rights of the LGTB+ minorities, etc. There are certain rights, values and principles which we will not surrender and there is no difference there between Peronism and anti-Peronism or being for or against Macri.

 

[Outgoing Mexican President Andrés Manuel] López Obrador happens to speak of social justice, which he defines as “Mexican humanism.” 

I resist there being words which cannot be uttered because somebody said that they are offensive. For example, when the President talked about “zurdo” tears” [“leftist tears”] when we all went out on the street fighting for the public university budget, his calling me a ‘zurdo’ does not offend me. But why does he have to install that being leftist is offensive, as well as enjoying seeing other people cry? I would not enjoy it if I saw somebody from La Libertad Avanza crying. Whether ‘zurdo,’ progressive, human rights or social justice, I resist not being able to say that all of us who were there [at the pro-university demonstration] agree with social justice because the President badmouths social justice. So it seems we must look for other words and reach agreement over them but it is social justice for which we are asking.

 

Is there cruelty and sadism?

But how can you have any doubt? [Writer] Martín Kohan said that very well some time back in an article, as do many, this issue of cruelty. They revel in cruelty. I’ve never ever seen another president who celebrates the tears of a rival, I really haven’t. 

 

Well, revelling in cruelty is sadism. 

And it seems to me so very odd that there are people who can put a ‘like’ on something like that. Somebody does. Now let’s suppose that you like what Milei proposes and voted for him, when he says: “zurdo tears,” I’m enjoying seeing people cry… what makes you put a ‘like’ on that? Do you really also enjoy seeing a person suffering over something? It does not matter whether that person is wrong or not, do you enjoy seeing them cry? That construction of theirs really draws my attention.

 

The President tends to use sexual metaphors, for example “boys greased with vaselines” and “I enjoyed that more than my first Playboy.” To what do you attribute that kind of language?

I’m not going to enter into the President’s head or his psychological questions but in general, without making any analysis of him, these metaphors seem absolutely inappropriate to me. They seem like those jokes which circulate in papi fútbol chats and that also seems horrendous to me but well, that’s something private. Now all those outbursts at lectures and schools where there are children – when he spoke of a donkey’s member, that was at a school where there were children and it seemed inappropriate to me. We have to repudiate that, including the people who voted for him, it seems to me. Were the people who voted him president to repudiate talking about the size of a donkey’s member in front of children at school, he might realise that it is not funny and nor is it OK and go looking for some other way of expressing himself. I do not believe that Milei owes the votes he won and the popularity he still has to using sexual metaphors of this kind, some even with paedophile connotations, etc. I think that it is despite all that but you can see that he is convinced otherwise or that it comes out naturally. Quite sincerely, I don’t know. 

 

You mentioned that there are entire families living in the street in front of your house. Is the culture of the throw-away society growing, ‘Why extend credit to old people if they won’t be able to repay because they’re going to die’ or do they not care about the pensioners because they happen not to have voted for La Libertad Avanza?

That’s one of the things which most saddens me, to feel that there are people who buy into that discourse and say that it’s fine because those people never worked when they would have worked – as if job possibilities were purely an individual decision. If you are born into an impoverished neighbourhood where you cannot finish school and where you have no hot water or electricity, the truth is that you are going to find it more difficult to work than me, of that there can be no doubt. Are we not responsible as a society for that? During the pandemic we found out that we had to wash our hands and then one day I found out: ‘Hey, in that neighbourhood just a few blocks away from my house, they have no water to wash their hands.’ We found out in the pandemic that there was no water to wash hands when it should always be there. So we rent our garments saying: ‘But how come there is no water, how terrible, somebody should solve this!’ Today there is surely no water again in many of those places and we are not worried. 

But over and above this and other questions, there is a legitimation of this discourse which is impressive because before you were ashamed to say something like ‘let those who have to die die,’ ‘if people cannot work, they should die’ or ‘let the old die before the young.’ People used to be ashamed to say things like that and now not any more. That is why I believe that as a society we should be able to repudiate all that discourse, whether pronounced by the President or whoever says them. Of course everybody can have whatever ideas they want and say what they want. Now I can also repudiate you, I can also say that what you are saying is barbarous, you can say it but I have to think: ‘This is barbarous,’ because if you say it and then somebody else and then 200 more in the social networks, it ends up being installed as common sense.

 

The ninth anniversary of the first women’s Ni Una Menos march [against femicide] was recently marked. What has happened to the women’s movement in these nine years? Is it losing steam with this government? Is there some possibility of some of the conquests being rolled back, like, for example, the decriminalisation of abortion? 

There are setbacks but not with the decriminalisation of abortion, I don’t think, because we have a law approving legal, safe and free abortion. For that to be turned around there would have to be another vote and I do not believe that the conditions for that exist. 

 

Look what is happening in the United States with the Supreme Court. 

Yes but it would seem odd to me for the Supreme Court to have the say but let us suppose that anything is possible. But the government has prior possibilities for stripping our rights such as, for example, not buying misoprostol – the medicine used for bloodless abortions without even undergoing an operation – for public hospitals, as they should. Were the government to decide not to purchase that material, then rich women would be able to have abortions as always and poor women not, as always. So there are other ways of attacking those programmes without the need for a plebiscite or overturning the law as they threaten – far more rapid ways of blocking the exercise of a right which is granted by law. Then there are other questions where the government has already advanced such as, for example, downsizing the staff of the Undersecretaríat for Protection against Gender Violence. And that implies not answering the telephone where denunciations can be made and victims accompanied so that is a loss of rights. Now if that implies that the movement is slackening, I believe that the movement is absolutely consolidated and very worried and very alert. What happens is that we also have to be intelligent as to how we go out to fight these battles because if every time you say something, there is a whole bunch of people attacking you, the government and its followers and others as well, you have to pick your battles carefully and be careful how you place the focus because you cannot fight all the battles. The whole feminist movement is paying very close attention to what is happening, it seems to me, and will not let anything serious happen. But nowadays, day-by-day, there are small battles we are losing.

 

Production: Melody Acosta Rizza y Sol Bacigalupo

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Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.

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