When I began to find out what had happened, I was very sad because I liked how Mexicans were in soccer, it was something enviable. So, it’s bad news that they’re starting to look like us.”
Eduardo Sacheri, writer.
“The game is a tool. The games are to be used as a laboratory test. It’s like saying: well, we cut life down, we simplify it, we strip it of its ambiguities, its complexities, its contradictions, we give it spatial limits, some rules and a single goal, and while we play, we transport ourselves to a world that is just that, the game, without anything else. But it is also a scenario where we unintentionally show off, beyond what we want to show off, because we are focused on winning and we don’t have time to pretend, to put on our best profile”.
This weekend, Argentine writer Eduardo Sacheri (Buenos Aires, 1967), winner of the 2016 Alfaguara Novel Award for La noche de la usina, traveled to Mexico City to talk about his new novel, The General Operation of the World (Alfaguara, 2021), once he had overcome two viral variants that prevented him from traveling as a promotion.
The story presents a braid of two historical times: in the present, the long journey of Federico Benítez and his two children on a desolate road to Patagonia after Federico, a good-natured but old-fashioned man in the sight of his children, finds out about the death of her high school teacher, a woman who marked her life; and on the other hand, the story in the loins of memory to the adolescence of the protagonist, that boy who practices soccer, member of a generation of Argentina in full transition from decades of dictatorships and military coups to a nation that promises a strange called democracy .
Upon his arrival in the country, Sacheri, who makes soccer a factor, stage or medium in practically all his literary work, found out, like a wave in the face, of the undeniable confrontation on Saturday night at the Corregidora stadium, in Querétaro, between the bars of the local team and the visitors of the Guadalajara Atlas. It was an unavoidable topic of conversation.
pour the liver
“Football is a cathartic and educational experience at the same time. The public takes part in the game because their emotional reactions are those of a player. The only thing he doesn’t do is kick the ball, but he gets happy, he worries, he gets sad, he gets excited, he gets even more violent because he is condemned to inaction. And with this I do not justify savagery at all.
“I think what happened on Saturday is the absolute failure, it is the worst news. I can’t imagine a greater way to fail at a game than by smashing it like this. And in Argentina we are experts in breaking it. I come from the future, it’s been 10 years since there can be a visiting public in the stadiums and accepting it as it has been accepted in my country is a fierce cultural defeat”.
Symbolization preserves us from the most instinctive and violent, says Sacheri. He argues that “if we jump over the fence, the device ceases to be useful for what we invented it for, which is not to kill us.” Now, he points out, it is not that the game can make a society violent, but rather that society pours its load of violence, intolerance and “badly resolved” frustrations into the game.
The great generation conflict
“The general functioning of the world” also proposes an intergenerational dialogue of resistance, where those of less bulky ages reject the precepts of those who precede them and assume themselves as “the point of arrival”, an assimilation that happens with each generation.
“The problem with considering yourself the point of arrival is solemnity, pompousness, totalitarianism,” asserts the author and points out that it is essential “not to be totalitarian in the name of indulgence or intolerant in the name of tolerance.”
A historian by profession, Sacheri believes that just as our generations will not have the definitive generation, the “definitive point of arrival”, neither will there be definitive knowledge or points of view. “Sometimes I am annoyed by some historical views that sell themselves as definitive. Like saying that until now they lied to you, but now I come myself and tell you the truth.
–Is it not valid for those who champion decolonization?
–“For no one”, replies the author. “No one has the clairvoyance to encompass everything. Modesty and humility are important in knowledge. I don’t dare speak for another country, but in mine there are supposed renewals that are as authoritarian, excluding, militant, in the worst concept of militancy, and fanatical as the previous ones. So if we’re going to replace one fanaticism with another, it’s no use to us.”
He agrees that in Latin American countries the historical perspectives have been enriched and multiplied, as much as the questions have multiplied, “but what has not been achieved is to pierce the border between the academic world and society in general. The few books that perceive themselves as History, and achieve massification, continue to suffer from their unique visions of great heroes, even if the pantheon of heroes changes. (In our countries) that personalized, naive, Manichaean, strictly political vision persists. And I think there’s a problem when we try to use history as a legitimizing tool.”
A brief (but important) excerpt from the novel:
-I like your idea, Benitez.
– What idea, teacher?
-Esa: that playing is like understanding the general functioning of the world.
Stories that fit in the cinema
There are two pinnacular moments in Sacheri’s work. The first was with the publication of his first novel, The question in his eyes, a story that was brought to the big screen under the direction of Juan José Campanella and a screenplay co-written by the author himself, with the title The secret in his eyes, a film which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2009. The second moment was the failure of the 2016 Alfaguara Novel Award for his book La noche de la Usina, a story that served as the basis for the film La odisea de los giles, directed by Sebastián Borenzstein and awarded the Goya Award for Best Ibero-American Film 2020.