Portugal’s Rui Zink Visits Santa Barbara
by Jennarose Manimtim


“The world is in danger of collapse.” Yes, you heard right. According to Portuguese writer Rui Zink, “the world is in danger of collapse due to the weight of literature.” Zink’s latest work, which he presented during a conference organized by the UCSB Department of Spanish and Portuguese on Saturday, Feb. 28, argues this sobering idea.  Of course, he was not being literal in his descriptions of a bug, or an epidemic of writing that is running through the world and will lead to the extinction of all humanity. In his lecture titled, “The Writing Bug: A Reading And Then?” he gives a reading of his work, in which the speaker speculates about the end of the world due to poor literature and offers advice on how to be a successful writer.

Luckily, Zink’s reading, and his personality, did not let his presentation become a lecture with all of the boredom, counseling, or sermonizing often associated with such “lectures.” Listening and watching him as he read his piece, one got the impression that he is someone who is delightful to spend time with. The audience laughed with his disdain for the French and his end-of-the-world piece blaming the act of writing. Even when gently reminded of his harsh choice of words and opinions, he said, “True, but not as fun.” If he was not standing in the front of a conference room behind a podium, he could make people laugh even more easily.

His piece about the end of times is actually about the act of writing and reading. Following his reading, he gave a few points of advice on those actions. “Experience, dreams, and copying” are his three ingredients for concocting the perfect piece of writing. He mentions very practical views that make sense for anyone, whether an academic or a simpleton, but that would not be normally considered as profound or fundamental for writing masterpieces.

“Don’t try to be imaginative,” he says, devaluating every pebble of advice society has ever heard on writing. Don’t “use your imagination.” With his down-to-earth personality, however, he does not elevate himself just because he has achieved acclaim for “not being creative.” His explanation makes it possible for everyone to achieve, and going further, it is something that everyone already does, or at least understands. “It’s like telling someone to not be nervous and they end up getting nervous.” What seems so profound, breaking the boundaries and conventions of thinking are actually verbalizations of a true aspect of nature and reality. If that is what writers are supposed to do, Rui Zink does just that. And he does it exceptionally well.

Listening to him make his remarks and read his own words stirs curiosity and desire together, producing the urge to find and read more of his work. If his piece about the end of human existence as a result of everyone writing and doing nothing else is such a joy when read aloud, reading it in one’s own hands can be expected to be just as intriguing. And if that piece was so endearing, what about his other works?

Many of his works were written in collaboration with other writers who he says are very different from him. As was mentioned, one of the three tools he lists for writing includes copying. This does not mean, however, to follow just anyone, especially those who conform after your tastes. Instead, he encourages the complete opposite. To copy someone with the same style as you will lead you straight to what you are trying to avoid: unoriginality. Copying someone who writes with an entirely different style will produce unprecedented works for the writer, something unexpected for audiences. Zink himself has written over 20 novels so far; Dávida Divina (2005) won the highly esteemed Portuguese Pen Club Award.

His encouragement to meet and mingle with different kinds of people who are dissimilar may explain his support of the growing graphic novel genre. Sadly, the graphic novel is still in the process of becoming a legitimate suite of literature. However, if Zink, a “normal-looking” man in plain dark brown shoes, plain trousers and a matching, neutral brown blazer, who is in fact a writer himself, says that it is literature, it must be.

At first glance, Zink does not appear to be someone who would be a supporter or even a professed fan of the fresh, young, new graphic novel, but that is what makes the genre even more alluring. Then again, with the personality he exudes, a suit and tie do not sound like something that could attempt to embody his character in the first place. If an author, a reader and maker of literature says it is literature, a graphic novel must be literature.

He describes the genre as “poor man’s cinema.” The graphic novel does more than films of Hollywood; the writer and the artist are one. Playing with silence is also a unique characteristic of the new breed of literature, he continues. Even for those who do not usually read comics or even dissociate them from literature will eventually find themselves wanting to read the latest graphic novel, watch the movie based on it, or start petitioning for an entirely new specialization or department dedicated to graphic novels.

In Zink’s mind, literature becomes something more than just words, paragraphs, pages, and chapters that invigorate the mind, heart, soul and spirit. His viewpoint is the product of his experience delving his hands into the murky waters themselves. “Literature can tell the future, because it is there,” he said. Words, in any language, transgress the boundaries of their pages, and even time and space, by being able to tell the future.

He described this power of literature by comparing it to the phenomenon of Kafka’s Metamorphosis being autobiographical and at the same time, applicable to everyone’s biography, even the everyday, normal person. Kafka’s novella can tell everyone’s story because it is everyone’s story. The augury of literature is the same; it sounds so simple, yet so profound. Truly, Zink’s analogies make the simple profound and the profound simple.

Portugal is very fortunate to have someone like Rui Zink to call its own. We are even more fortunate to have him visit UCSB and offer advice, inspiration and belly-rolling laughter with all his jokes on us as humanity.