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I feel like there’s something retro in life itself.

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I feel like there’s something retro in life itself.

A private instrument for public reception, the journalist’s recorder reverses its use when it begins to collect nearby voices. This retreat into the intimate for the purposes of an external document is what Mercedes Halfon rehearses in Life of Horace, a narrative that has the writer’s father as a gravitational testimony of a portrait that invariably slides towards the personal, the family and the national.

Teaching, Peronism, tango, a love of cars and neighborhood routine permeate a nostalgic middle-class texture that glimpses the end of innocence in the atrocious 1970s, a black hole that the story borders with dread. On one side and the other of this political, economic and emotional abyss, daughter and father question each other with a mirror vocation, since Halfon was born in 1980 and today – having also been a mother – is the age of the father when he conceived her.

Horacio’s Life is subtly put together from these parallel tracks, and thus the author simultaneously reviews her own autobiographical future, recalling school episodes, childhood vacations, boyfriends, studies and jobs, and even a tumultuous procession to a recital of Ricota’s Redonditos. .

The common subject of the book is finally writing, both inheritance and channel, which unites three generations in the posters that Horacio composed together with political graffiti and blackboard slogans, the typing exercises that his mother dictated, the literary practice of Halfon on the same desk where his father knew how to study and the first sketches of the son who is learning to write.

upcoming character

In one passage, the narrator raises the dilemma between melancholy and pragmatism, a central conflict in a text like the Life of Horace that Halfon resolves with sensitive editing. Why investigate such a close character? What is the initial flame of a project like this?

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“The first thing there was an image, which appears at the beginning of the book, of my father making by hand and going to put up posters in the street promoting the public school where he was principal. It was an image that came to my mind quite often, that handwritten letter inscribed on huge posters, and at some point I thought that it could be a possible origin of my relationship with writing. More than anything else, his handwriting on those posters. From the unfolding of that scene, other dimensions of my father began to appear, the figure of him as a teacher, director, activist. But it all stems from that particular scene,” says Halfon.

And he completes: “Working with such close material implied for me a very great feeling of exposure. Then the book is finished and it becomes a material different from life, but while I was writing it I felt that it was the most intimate thing I had written and it gave me a certain vertigo.”

–Was there a conscious intention to recreate not only a family biography but also a national culture? And how much of the past keeps coming back?

–I was interested that in the book there was a kind of museum of certain objects, habits and customs of the Buenos Aires middle class in which I grew up. I mention some things out of order: the tape recorder where my father listened to Perón’s speeches, the black and white television that arrived quite late at my house, the Audinac music mixer where we listened to vinyl, the answering machine, the books that were read and then They changed in Rivadavia Park, and some other things. I feel that there is something retro in life itself and even more so when trying to portray that of someone who is 80 years old today: in the present, layers and layers of the past are superimposed. My idea of ​​time is more of an onion than a line that moves calmly forward. Then, in the history of the country, we see setbacks or forced advances that become painful. But I also don’t think that we are now back in the ’90s, for example, although there are certain nuclei in the political sphere that are reminiscent of that time.

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Documentary dimension

–You recently published “Foreigner everywhere”, a historical profile of the writer Witold Gombrowicz. What differences do you see between writing about a public figure and a family figure? Is there a link?

–They are two very different jobs, although there may be common points in the writing. We would have to see how they read. In one case I worked with archival materials, especially bibliographic materials, crossing various sources, trying to be as precise as possible. And in this other one the work was with interviews done with the person involved and with my memory, which is subject to all kinds of deformations, forgetfulness and cuts, like anyone else’s.

–Since your father taught history, was there an intention to historicize in “Life of Horacio”? What value do you give to the book in an era in which, as you have seen, digital records tend to be ephemeral?

–There is a documentary dimension that the book acquires from the recordings. The journey, the voice, the way of speaking, the idioms, proverbs, words of my father, is what I was most interested in treasuring and was the first impulse of the text. At some point I thought that those words were also a record that was going to transcend my father and me; and it is not that he thinks seriously about the transcendence of art, but rather about the idea of ​​transmission. That my son can also know his grandfather, or a part of him, from what I wrote. In that sense, the book is also a kind of personal archive of me and my family, although perhaps, I’m not sure, also of a class and a time.

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Life of Horacio, Mercedes HalfonLife of Horacio. Mercedes Halfon. Entropy. 172 pages. $11,400.

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