In conversation with Uxue Alberdi II/II: identity, hegemony, collaborations and ´linguistic orientation´

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


There is a constant reflection on identity in Uxue Alberdi´s literature. In her book ´Jenisjoplin´, more directly, but in the rest of her work too, albeit indirectly. As well as writing about it, she gives it a lot of thought on it a lot, turning ´who´ and ´from where´ into the compass that guides her day after day. The writer and bertsolari took part at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, in Mexico, with book presentations and talks. In the first part of the interview, Alberdi spoke about community, translation and new opportunities. Now, in this second half of the conversation, she talks about identity, hegemony, collaborations and ´linguistic orientation´.

- Reflection on identity is expressed in ´Jenisjoplin´, isn’t it?

- Yes, in fact it’s one of the central themes of the book, the reinvention of identity on a personal and collective level. Even in ´Trastienda´[literally, ‘back room], questions like this are at the heart of the story. There is also a reflection on whose narrative voice is whose, whose voices, bodies and experiences are in the storefront and what is in the back room. ‘Reverso´ also raises questions of this kind: Who decides who is a bertsolari? What is bertsolaritza? What makes a good bertsolari?

It seems to me that from the moment you start to tell a story, when you write, there is a relationship with the voice: what it can say, what it can´t say and how it relates to other voices. When I think about my voice and who I am, two things come to mind that particularly interest me: language and feminism. I speak Basque and my community is that of the Basque language. On the other hand, I am a woman and am read as a woman. That is the experience I have in terms of myself and my environment.

However, one´s identity is the most important thing for each person. Sometimes it is at the centre and is not threatened and is therefore easier not to feel. Many men don’t feel their gender, they don’t feel that it’s particularly shaped them, while most women are clear that there are certain things they’ve experienced precisely because they are women.

The same thing happens with sexuality and the presumption of heterosexuality. Either you’re coming out of the closet all the time, or it’s assumed you’re heterosexual. In her novel, Miren Amuriza mentions a term I like a lot: ´Basa´, or linguistic orientation. She explains that it’s something only people who write in minority languages have, a decision that might be considered radical from another point of view, insofar as it may seem illogical, for example.

Who do words belong to? Claiming who you are, where you write from, how you see yourself in the world is to build a platform for your voice. To write to yourself. Anyone in the margins feels the need to define and rebrand themselves. Otherwise, language is easily hijacked by power. That’s why concepts like renaming, redefining, and reappropriating come up. They’re the stepping stone for discussing other things.

- Are they the prelude to larger issues?

- So far, I’ve dealt with a wide variety of topics. There’s a tendency to talk about books according to theme, but often the theme is not so important. The book ´Hili´ addresses the idea of death, but it’s a poetic, philosophical, playful book. The same goes for ´Alegría´ and ´Abrazo´. It´s more that I felt the need or the impulse to tell something and then thought about the form, genre, voice and tone it should take. I start to work, forge a path, and then give it form.

- What are you working on now?

- I’m working with Susana Martín, writing a comic script entitled ´Surfista´ for the magazine Xabiroi. It will be released in sections and published as an illustrated album in 2023. I´m also working on a story for a collection being put together by Consonni for the contemporary art exhibition documenta fifteen.

It’s a series of short stories by eight writers in eight languages around the concept of shared work. They’ll be published later in all eight languages by independent publishers ­­-- Consonni in Spanish, Txalaparta in Basque. They’ll also be available in German, English, Arabic and Mixe, among others.

And I’m working with my brother Antton on a collection of short stories. If everything goes as planned it will also be a television series called ´Invisibles´. Antton is a biologist, and between the two of us, together with the publishing house Elkar, in collaboration with Lotura Films, we want to tell the most important moments in the history of life from the perspective of microorganisms.

- How do you adapt to such different formats?

- That´s what I like the most. The need to tell a story comes from within, it´s more like your own. You do things that you never imagined, when, for example, a collaboration or a request leads you to new thoughts and interpretations. That´s what makes you more of a writer, in my opinion.

If it weren´t for a commission, I wouldn´t have the courage to imagine the future, for example. I probably wouldn´t give myself licence to actually do it. That’s what pushes you to learn, the feeling that you need to explore. Every story leads you to a new skill.

Then come the stages of correcting, editing, using the dictionary, etc. I enjoy them all. You explore new paths and figure out your inertias, where your tendencies lie, and what you want to avoid.

Sign up for our Newsletter.