Modern society tends to value machines more than humans according to one of the biggest names in contemporary Portuguese literature.
Gonçalo M. Tavares was speaking to euronews at the International Forum on the Novel in Lyon, France.
He exploded onto the literary scene, winning numerous awards since his work was first published 10 years ago.
His prizes include Best Foreign Book in France for ‘Learning to Pray in the Era of Technology’ (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010) and more recently the Young Europeans Literary Award for ‘Mr Kraus’ (not yet translated into English).
The prize was awarded by students at the European Business School based in England and France.
The 41-year-old writer told us that ‘Mr Kraus‘ was inspired by his own newspaper columns about the life of a Portuguese politician.
The students’ jury “thought there was a connection between the book and the political situation in France,” he told euronews.
Gonçalo M. Tavares is known for his ability to deconstruct the apparent logic of things. “What interested me in this book was the manipulation of language and the obsession with quantification,” he said.
For this Professor of the Theory of Science “The world of politics is the world of language. There is a fascination for language. Politicians forget reality.”
During the International Forum on the Novel, Gonçalo M. Tavares took part in a debate entitled ‘How to Treat the Animal in Us’.
Elza Gonçalves, euronews: Is there an animal in us?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “I think yes, there is a bit of an animal in all of us. A good animal and a bad animal. There is also a man in us. A good man and an evil man. There are bad parts of the animal in us that we must tame. But there are also parts of the evil man that we need to tame, control or supervise.”
euronews: Lenz Buchmann, the main character in “Learning to Pray in the Age of Technology” is he the ‘bad guy’?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “I do not see Lenz as a bad man. Lenz is a strong man, he thinks mainly of efficiency. He thinks like a machine would if it had a brain. There is no sense in saying that a machine is good or bad. The machine works or fails. It has one goal and one physical structure to achieve that goal. Lenz is neither good nor bad, he works and he wants others to work.”
“It’s only by having a man who thinks like a machine that we can understand that machines are violent, inhumane, cruel and destructive. Man and machine are not friends, contrary to what you might think. The machine is not man’s best friend, like the dog. The machine belongs to another world. It has no compassion. It does something or it does not do it. It is built just to do things and that is terrible. I think we have not yet fully understood machines. They have their world, they are not our dogs. They have their philosophy, their way of thinking. And their way of thinking is simply to act. Do not break down. Be effective.”
euronews: Is the animal in us violent?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “The logic of the machine is more violent than the logic of animals. The animal may kill if it is afraid or hungry, but the machine does not need that to kill.”
euronews: Does the world of work today value machines?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “The moral of the machine is spreading in society and in business. We value people who are like machines. This is worrying because the machine has no stomach-ache, no bad days. Today, the model worker is a machine. We dreamed of a machine that would liberate us but at the working level, the machine has not allowed men to be more creative. It has replaced men who no longer have work.”
euronews: Some of your stories are ironic and funny. Others are darker, and give less opportunity to laugh. Is this a classic separation between comedy and tragedy?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “I do not know, maybe not. I think this separation is not so obvious, although the traditional classification is quite interesting. These are two worlds with blurred boundaries. You start to laugh and you are trembling with fear. And you can start to tremble with fear and end up laughing.”
euronews: ‘Learning to Pray in the Era of Technology’ is universal and European at the same time. It reminds me of the tragedies of European history. Do you consider yourself a European writer?
Gonçalo M. Tavares: “I am first and foremost a Portuguese writer because I use and I think in the Portuguese language – and language models much of what we do. And I also feel I am European and a human being. What interests me is writing about the emotional issues involved in human relations. ‘Learning to Pray in the Era of Technology’ is about power, fear, decadence, desire. And this is not specifically Portuguese nor even European. We all feel this, including animals.”