Q&A With Magdalena Tulli

Bloom: Dreams and Stones: novel or prose poem? Does it matter?

Magdalena Tulli: It matters. Novel, of course, however not really traditional as construction.

Bloom: Your novels have been called “hard” to read, but do you think so? Is a story that takes chances with narrative structure “hard” by default?

MT: Some of them were called “hard”, the others not at all. The “hardest” one and the “easiest” one were the most successful. What could be hard to the public was that I applied metaphor to propel the story forward instead of using normal causality, which is much more familiar to the public, like oil fuel. Some years ago I stopped it. I make use of normal causality only, like other writers, because my priority is to be understood.

Bloom: Your work has been called “increasingly autobiographical” – especially after the release of Flaw, Italian Pumps, and Noise. Is that a fair assessment, or is looking for the author in the book a superficial approach to reading?

MT: The public want “true things” and they are curious to know more than writer said. No, my novels are not autobiographical, however the figures in my last two books resemble me and my family in a way and the subject is personally important to me.

Bloom: Dreams and Stones moves between two metaphors – the tree and the machine. So how does “stone” become so, well, foundational to the iconic city?

MT: “Stone” is born of those two metaphors but not as another metaphor. “Stone” is not a metaphor. Cities are simply built of stones.

Bloom: Our experience of time is a theme you seem to constantly explore in your novels – how we feel time moving very fast or very slowly, regardless of what a clock might say. In some stories time even seems to move backwards. Why this fascination with time?

MT: I’m not conscious of the fact that time was my fascination. It seems to me that even in the old times when I wrote Dreams and Stones my fascination was something like immateriality of stones more than that.

Bloom: Perspective is another theme that appears in your books: sometimes the same events and even the same places appear to be different depending on who is seeing them.  How much of a story is dependent on our perspective and how much on “what really happened”?

MT: But what really happened? And what “really” means? Especially in fictional story? And let’s say that every true story is fictional, in a way, because it’s always filtered by our inner filters.

Bloom: You have translated Proust and Calvino into Polish, and your own work is being translated into English. Is the act of translation its own creative process? Is Sny i kamienie a substantially different book from Dreams and Stones? Is Szum a different book from Noise?

MT: Exactly—my own books have been translated into more than 15 languages. I should admit I’m not a true translator. Years ago I did Calvino and Proust, then I stopped. So, I haven’t created my own theory of translation. Anyway, I think the most difficult thing in translating my pieces does not consist in language but in an unsaid context. The context makes understatements, insinuations, hints and irony comprehensible to all the inhabitants of a certain place. And it creates a big challenge to a translator.

Bloom Post EndClick here to read Nicki Leone’s feature piece on Magdalena Tulli. 

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