Madriz Magazine No.1 Autumn Winter '07-'08
Interview with Javier Mendoza
Foto de A. García Alix
Celebrated thinker, writer Agustín García Calvo has led a weekly philosophical discussion group for the last 10 years
Agustín García Calvo—Zamora, 1926—is the recipient of the National Essay Prize, the National Dramatic Literature Prize and the National Translation Prize, He is prodigious, and has published works on Shakespeare, Plato, Homer, Paul Valéry and the Marquis de Sade, as well as poetry, essays, newspaper articles and plays. However, apart from reading what he writes, you can also learn from this polyvalent, rebellious character in person, by dropping in on the philosophical discussion group that he has been leading every Wednesday at 8:30 PM for the past 10 years in the Ateneo de Madrid. If you stop by you'll be privy to what is probably the only independent, intergenerational, intellectual exchange in the city. Once a week about 100 people come together and rack their brains debating the logical or moral nuances of philosophical propositions, like "the liberty of the dead" and other pressing questions. But this peculiar intellectual hothouse is not merely some idyllic refuge from the cultural wasteland of contemporary urban life— it also represents a genuine front in the "War Against Reality" that García Calvo has been fighting for years. This imposing, grizzled polymath refuses to accept that Reality is "everything that there is," and has come up with discourse that roams the margins of language, waging a war against vague banalities, sloppy thinking, and the clichés that are grabbed onto like lifesavers on the sinking ship of contemporary reality.
Where does your attitude of permanent unsubmissiveness come from?
The root of unsubmissiveness is contained inside everyone from the moment of their submission at about age two when they are notified that they are condemned to die and a name and an identity are imposed on them. But this unsubmission is never fully realized because of parents and society, resulting in feelings of unhappiness and oppression, compounded by unkept promises—and perhaps a latent resistance to stupidity and other societal obligations, In general most of these feelings are not successfully repressed, and on occasion one may experience epiphanies, have encounters with 'a few true words', and a residual common sense which undermines the dominant paradigm and says no to the Powers That Be, What happens, or can happen, is that this unsubmissiveness of heart and mind might take off from there and really flourish.
Why are you against democracy?
At the political level, the most notorious aspect of the lie that constitutes Reality is the different forms that the Powers That Be take on and imitate in order to ensure the domination of people and to silence whatever might remain of life and common reason. The most advanced of these forms now— and in a certain sense the only real one, since all the others are contained in this one—is the democratic system that currently victimizes us. The Powers That Be rely on people's loyalty to them, which is born out of fear, and they try to make the majority appear to be the sum total of the opinions or likes and dislikes of people, as if it were a unified 'everyone,' which is fundamentally fake because in Reality there are no such things as 'everything' or 'nothing.' There are only things that are more or less....
What sensation did you have upon returning from exile during the Spanish Transition (period from dictatorship to democracy)?
A sensation of contempt because of the continuing gullibility of people who supposedly understood political issues. I was in Paris at the time, where I'd ended up and where I'd been for almost eight years after having been obliged to escape without papers, choosing exile over prison. The loss of my professorship, my many arrests and spells the jail in Puerta del Sol were the prelude to what was the most incredible and joyful experience I have ever had, which was the uprising of students against the Power that was brazenly establishing itself everywhere, The uprising seemed universal, from California to Tokyo to Madrid, then to Germany, Paris. It was against the Money System, the movement of Capital as a primary and indisputable necessity, which is the System that we are victims of today. You should understand that after having pursued true change, trivial things like the fall of the last, pitiful remains of the Dictatorship and its supplantation by a bureaucracy could not have any importance for me whatsoever....
There is a semantic debate about whether the International conflict that we are living is a war or not. In what measure do you believe it makes a difference whether we call what is happening a war or not9.
What is even more tragic and heart-rending than the news reports and images that the Media transmit daily, is the falsehood and the bovine acceptance as normal of the way in which this news is presented. For example, it is a travesty to use the archaic word 'war'— which belongs to other historical realities in which the slaughter of drafted soldiers really did take place and people really did believe that the absence of war was peace—for the dirty economic dealings of Capital, which are not only about profiting from manufacturíng and selling arms, but also about profiting from fabricating news, which, in the end, is the real business of our Regime, The word 'war', along with the words 'soldier', 'militia', and 'Muslim' are basically all the same: daily wounds inflicted on what remains of our common sense and compassion.
What is the war against Reality?
War begins politically as a rebellion of what remains vital within us—common sense, community—against Power in its manifestations as State and Capital. It is a rebellion against the power of life and death that these institutions hold over us, against their monopolizing of our future, Now then, if we do not believe that Reality, that things—including ourselves—are eternal, then we make the terrible discovery that it is Power that defines and sustains Reality and that Power in turn is sustained by people's blind faith in Reality. This is why scientific and philosophical questions get entangled with politics and why the only way of waging war against the Powers That Be is to renounce your faith in Reality and reject it. It's a question of conducting this war with the weapon we've been given, which is speech. But wage the war not through self-centred discourse, or through expounding on ideas, but by using common reason, by letting language communicate.
García Calvo lectures every Wednesday at 8:30 pm at the Ateneo.