He is back at his home in Madrid, but the interview takes place in a nursing home where he is convalescing from an operation for a broken hip. "I'm not going to die right now," he says amused. And he doesn't stop talking, with a prodigious memory for the long verses that assail him in the thread of the conversation about his essay The Supreme Fiction (Rosamerón), whose subtitle is An Assault on the Idea of God. Álvaro Pombo (Santander, 1939), who has won all the prizes in Spanish literature, writes about the idea of God from personal experience, poetry, the philosophy he studied and even the world of superheroes, which he masters surprisingly well.
Is it strange to talk about God in a nursing home in the midst of the Russian invasion? Does the question of the silence of God resonate?
It was Ratzinger who, when he went to visit Auschwitz, wondered where God was seeing that after 70 years. We can always ask that question. My book is not a pious book. It is said that the idea of God, the supreme fiction, in the words of the poet Wallace Stevens, is perhaps the most poetic, most perfect idea that human intelligence has conceived. But that doesn't mean that perfect idea exists. The book talks about that game between reality and unreality. And I speak, biographically, and it does not seem strange to me to talk about God, what seems strange to me is that it is not talked about.
People who are not religious seem a bit silly to me. They fail a system of connections. I mean that people today who do not have a certain sense of religiosity, which does not mean that they are Christians and go to mass, but that they do not understand Buddhism or mysticism or do not know who Buddha is, seems to me a little obtuse. As for where God was when the Lisbon earthquake drove Voltaire to despair, it is a journalistic and rhetorical question, since he is never anywhere. There was a prophet named Jesus of Nazareth who died at the age of 33 on a cross.
But the idea of God has been present long before in consciousness and has continued to be present as the numinous, what remains beyond the empirical world. God is not in this world, he is a very universal concept of consciousness but not a deus ex machina: my child is going to cross the street and a car kills him, how could God not save him! It's not like that, you didn't take care of your boy, he crossed the street and his car killed him. Where perhaps God was in their consciences.
Returning to Ratzinger, in Auschwitz there were many testimonies of what God would have said if he could have been there for a metaphysical absurdity. The acts of mercy that were done there, and were done, are divine acts, in them is the presence of a force that overcomes our selfishness and our own discomfort to care for others. In the matter of the presence of God we must go a little beyond the physical. Where's your mother? She, well, she is not there, because she has died. Does that mean she's not there somewhere? I do not know. But she is, she is on my conscience. I remember. We are in the realm of the spirit.
An unused word.
In the book I am determined to mention the big words. The spirit, God, love. Because if there hasn't come a time when by talking about small words and having a healthy realism we are all getting very bored. We see realistic movies, costumbrista realism, the new sentimentality, No one lives here, we're funny, and it's very heavy. I am not saying that they are not good, but that there are other things.
It says that we live as if God did not exist. It's a problem?
There are magnificent people who live as if God did not exist because they have not had the opportunity to know that, for example, the Christian God exists. There are, of course, more spheres of the divine. In Catalonia you have had Raimon Panikkar, who was a Christian priest and was later linked to Buddhism to indicate that there are areas of the human spirit beyond pure empirical experience. My book is a modest attempt to comment on some things. Like all theology is poetry and all poetry theology. The soul of the poet is oriented towards the mystery, "I talk with the man who always goes with me, who speaks only hopes to speak with God one day", said Machado. He wanted to say that in the solitude that most of us live in, one talks many times with a hypothetical friend. That imaginary companion, the mystery that surrounds the consciousness of poets and of man is what the book is about. Does that seem excessive to you?
I've been talking about it all my life. I don't know what people are talking about. People usually talk about fucking, people are usually very annoying, they talk about very few things. Who says there is no other language and other issues. Then you have those somewhat fake things about priests and Putin or crossing themselves, or soccer players when they are going to take a penalty. The presence of God is at your feet, shoot well and you will do a divine act. Do not do stupid things. Do not make routine gestures. Religion is not a superstition, it is a powerful cultural object of 13 millennia in which man has produced magical and religious signs.
Why did we lose that language? Is God dead, as Nietzsche said?
And then he said to himself: God is dead, the self is dead, and I don't feel very well either. What Nietzsche says is that God is dead, you have killed him. We have killed the greatness, what surpasses us, we have shrunk it. I am not talking about a Spain, great and free, but about transcending everyday life a little. God is in the pots, said Santa Teresa. She wanted to say something very serious, that God who is inaccessible, who transcends his own transcendence, the being who is beyond being, is sometimes in the pout. Admirable is the Lord in his deeds. One way to understand something of God is to think of holy people. Not fake groaning saints, but wholesome, powerful, true people. There we see in action an image of what goodness would be. Admirable is the Lord and his saints, but they are not all those who are in the churches but the good people.
In the book he states: “I have always been out of the closet and into the church.” How is it carried?
I've never had to come out of the closet because I've always been out. I am amazed that now people appear on television saying “I have always had a problem that has tortured me and that is that I was homosexual. And how much I have suffered. I said it from a very young age. And I have never been outside the Christian faith either. Aranguren said: I was not born inside Ávila or outside Ávila, on top of the wall?
How has your religious experience been?
I ended up very irritated with the idea of guilt as it was conceived in my days in schools. I sent it all to hell. But that has nothing to do with religion. In the book I start telling children's things and I've overcome all that. Well, I don't think I've ever gotten over my childhood. Rilke said: "Neither childhood nor the future diminishes, innumerable existence springs from the heart." So my childhood hasn't diminished nor has my future, the future is also a spiritual function, although maybe next year I'll die from a blow. I don't know if it's an interview or a hodgepodge.
And the question of evil?
It is less important than the good. Kindness is a very powerful experience if you find someone really good. Saint Francis of Assisi inaugurates a value that did not exist, Franciscan charity, love of nature, he brings it out. Is he. As for evil, Sartre said nonsense: that evil must be done because good has already been done. Lie. There you have Putin. There you have yourself and myself doing the asshole almost always. Evil among other things is bullshit. Being an asshole is evil. But when you meet a person who isn't an asshole, it's not that I call you an asshole, God help me... the good is not done, I hope, but no. It is very difficult to go over the contingencies to do something that is good.
It says that you went from blame to responsibility. Do you see today's irresponsible society?
I see it rushed. All a little fast. Inspired by the angel of haste. In Alberti's book of angels, one is the one in a hurry, who didn't want to stop at anything. If you don't stop, you don't have space for rest and time, you can't fall in love because you don't have time to see who. You are leaving a trail of semen and love throughout life. I think we go too fast sometimes. They call him on the phone.
It's up to you.
How is it possible? No one has called me for years and you come in front of La Vanguardia as if you had organized it... It's Federico, a cousin. I don't know how this is turning out.
You believe in God?
We should change the word belief, which is faith, for trust, I have trust.
And what world is God in?
You can't quite say it's in the head either. It is possible to declare that God is the supreme fiction, but it is not just that.
His chapter on superheroes is surprising. He says they are an example of spirituality.
White spirituality. Believing that Batman will come to solve the problem in Ukraine or 'Super Superman don't you understand', as Miguel Bosé used to sing, descends on kyiv and everything will be fine... but we children and grown-ups have that kind of lack of God and we have invented Superman, Spider-Man, Batman... he's an American substitute for God who arrives and takes charge of the situation. The problem is that God cannot take charge of the situation because he is not on our plan, but they amuse me.
A retirement home. Are you afraid of death?
I'm not afraid because I don't think about it much. Death is like us, flat, light, punctual. I have a non-mortal sense of death. I have no illusions. Nor about what is eternal in man because I don't know very well what is eternal in me that he will remain after he has turned me into a bag of bones. . The death of others is what worries me, that people I love die. The death of my cat has affected me a lot. He was a cheerful cat and died within a week. But I have never understood Unamuno's anguish over his death. The disease worries me more, the debilitation. I have been a chop with death, bullfighter. I am more concerned with being fair, violent, impatient, unfair, dying like an angry old man unable to contain his bad blood. That worries me more: that he may be an angry, miserable old man dying.