From Cartoons to Writing | Filóchofo
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is José Manuel Chacón?
I am a worker, just a regular guy.
How did the pseudonym Filóchofo come about? Would you say Manuel Chacón and Filóchofo are two different people or one in the same?
It’s a show-off’s pseudonym from the word philosophy, made up in keeping with street- coloquial language. From there, it’s an alter ego. I’d like to say that it’s sort of like putting on Zorro’s mask to head out riding, although that also is a bit of a pretense. Actually, it’s quite different because we are not living in an Alice In Wonderland type country.
You are well-known for your books, e.g. La Otra Historia (The Other History), Retrato en Negro de los Medios de Comunicación (Picture in Black of Communications Media), La Canción del Grillo (The Cricket’s Song), among others, in which caricature is used to portray reality. And yet we are aware that you’ve published another novel, Dos Yglesias (Two Churches) which we’d like to know about: what has the transition been like, from caricature to the pure social-historic novel?
Good question. The truth is that to be a cartoonist/caricature artist is something that perhaps is born accidentally. I’ll try to explain with an example while maintaining some distance. Many of us admire the Cuban singer-song writer Silvio Rodriguez. Each of his compositions is a work of art. And few know that he is an excellent caricature artist. To write is more than a passion (as many like to describe it, turning it into a cliché). It is an emotional adventure. It’s always a risk, especially in our country.
How did “El valle de los corazones vacíos” (The Valley of the Empty Hearts) come about and how much time did you spend working on it?
You speak accurately when mentioning the act of creating: a work that begins as catharis, then you put it away to age it, and then you should bring it out into the light, but you procrastinate. And then one day you decide to publish it. Yet the artistic scene in Guatemala continues the same. Novelists are confronted with many obstacles. To begin with, for many years there have been no institutions promoting literary events, except perhaps the Juegos Florales (Translation note: annual literary presentation/competition of Latin American works) in Quetzaltenango. Nor is there concern regarding the scarce number of publishing houses in the country. For anyone to wager the risk of producing your manuscript, you must be a well-established author, having won some international prize or having been awarded the National Prize for Literature. And add to this that the number of readers is very small and traditional promotional agencies do not assist you. And finally when some editor becomes interested in your work, that same work ought to be aimed at a captive audience, students at some private school, for example. It’s taken for granted that it will be consecrated, that is, free of erotica, immune to criticisms from the status quo, by the government or the religious.
There are multiple reasons for writing this novel, perhaps the first hovers along the path of social critique of the violent ambience in which we live in this country. The peoples’ struggle to defend what naturally and historically is theirs. And the other motivation, if one could call it that, is to fall in love.
This novel recounts the story of Ariane, who does community work in Ixcán and Camilo, and who is persecuted by paramilitary forces. Is it your fictional account of reality or is it more reality wrapped up as fiction?
As with most novels, fiction can only be the suit jacket in which you dress reality. Sometimes you only change protagonists’ names and other times you simple obscure them. What doesn’t change, or rarely is transformed, are the scenes, as in this manuscript: Ixcán and its rain forests in agony, the Basque country and its grey skies, another scene . . . .
What would you say are the major recurring themes of the book?
The Mayan world-view/cosmovision, its mystery and magic charm inform almost every chapter. Also present is our rich pre-Hispanic legacy, and undoubtably the heart. Its scope is, purposely, a romantic novel, the work from the very first, was titled The Heart, the Rainforest and the Stars–with the arduous task of integrating the recurring themes within this perspective.
Do you have a particular antedote related to “El valle de los corazones vacíos” you could share with us?
When I was in the midst of the task of looking for a publishing house that would share the risk of its publication, one of the foreigners working in the country, a responsible editor took the draft for a couple of months. Finally responding to one of my calls, he informed me he’d read “the book of short stories” but that it fell outside the national narrative. Another editor, also a foreigner, dismissed an assistant in charge of the project, though I don’t know why. The previous week the assistant had assured me that my book had been approved by the editorial board and that it would soon be published. When I went to pick up the manuscript they told me that it had been lost. Upon my insistance, later, they sent me photocopies of the original.
Where can people purchase your book?
It is available in the major bookstores in the capital, Guatemala City. And of course, knowing there are many readers in city of Quetzaltenango, I hope it will be of interest to some bookshops there.
During these times of pandemic I am also distributing it to residencial addressess (the new method). Interested people may write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or through FaceBook messenger so we can agree to meet for purchase.
Some final message you’d like to share with your readers?
Thank you for the opportunity to put my work out there and for the invitation to all readers of the magazine to get to know it.
Synopsis of El valle de los corazones vacíos . . .
The end of the 13th of B’aktún, a sacred date in the Mayan calendar, is nearing. It is the end of a cycle of more than 5000 years: the moment when many prophecies in the Mayan world-view will come true. They are linked to mystery of the movement of the stars. The same one that has marked the destiny of this ancient civilization.
Ariane, a young Basque, travels to Guatemala planning to do community work with the Mayan populations excluded from development. In Ixcán (where the heavens are born), the community is surrounded by a dying rain forest. The place to which groups have returned after being displaced by the arm conflict. She meets a young Guatemala, Camilo, who is being pursued by a sinister group of the governments armed forces. Ariane sees herself caught up in a whirlwind of intrigue that makes her a target of the paramilitary group who link her support for the community with its resistence and its defense of its territory against mining interests.
Scenes contrast the beauty of much diversity in the Mayan lands and the post-war divisiveness. All the drama is inundated with the mystical of Mayan world-view where time and mystery play important roles.