Belén Ruiz de Gopegui Durán
She is a Spanish novelist and essayist, hailed by contemporary critics as an unmissable and highly influential voice in Spanish literature. She holds a law degree from La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and a doctorate in Humanities from Universidad Carlos III. She is also a student and practitioner of the Commons at Escuela Popular de Prosperidad. You can often find Gopegui’s work in independent and free access media like Rebelion.org or Diagonal.
She began her professional writing career as a contributor of interviews and book reviews to the literary sections of diverse media outlets. In 1993 she published La escala de los mapas, which won two prizes for debut novels: el Premio Tigre Juan and el Premio Iberoamericano Santiago del Nuevo Extremo. Two years later her book La conquista del aire was adapted into a film titled Las razones de mis amigos, directed by Gerardo Herrero and with a screenplay written by Ángeles González-Sinde and Gopegui herself. She went on to write screenplays for De la suerte dormida and El principio de Arquímedes. Lo real was a finalist for three prizes: Premio de la Crítica 2001, Premio Fundación José Manuel Lara de Novela 2002, and XIII Premio Rómulo Gallegos 2003. Her novel Deseo de ser punk won the Dulce Chacón prize in 2010. From 2011-2017 she published three novels that explore the relationship between systems of interconnectedness through the internet and individuals’ capacity for action: Acceso no autorizado, El comité de la noche, and Quédate este día y esta noche conmigo. Her talk, Ella pisó la luna. Ellas pisaron la luna, delivered in March 2019, is a tribute to all women whose achievements have not yet come to light. In 2021 she published another novel, Existiríamos el mar.
Belén Gopegui is also the author of numerous children’s stories including El balonazo, El amigo que surgió de un viejo ordenador, and Mi misión era acercarme a Miranda.
As an essayist she is well-known for her works Un pistolezato en medio de un concierto and Rompiendo algo (UDP).
To read Belén Gopegui is to remember that “reading is the greatest entertainment for the imagination,” or that “in order to have authority, our affirmations must be a part of a shared practice.” In her essay Rompiendo Algo she writes that “literature isn’t written, it writes us” because “life and literature are collective pursuits. Together we strive to articulate and bring about a democratic reality in which conditions allow for the defense of the rights of all people.”
For many of us whose work includes cultural criticism and literary analysis, Gopegui’s writing is not only rich literary and essayistic soil for the tilling. Her work also takes a vital intellectual and political position in defense of the (known) biophysical limits of nature, which is currently under siege by extractive and privatizing practices that threaten the sustainability of life on this planet.
In the same way, her writing is also committed to denouncing the systemic and structural causes that underly the unequal distribution of material conditions and possibility—which, if distributed fairly, would allow any person to enjoy a full and dignified life.
Gopegui never shies away from dissecting the problems related to these realities. Her stories are born of a genuine desire to find solutions to these problems, and that honest sense of searching comes through in her prose. As an example, see the quote below from her novel Quédate este día y esta noche conmigo:
All of a sudden now that there’s not enough money or resources, everyone is talking about care. Why is there no talk of hiring double the number of orderlies in hospitals? Care is taking breaks and relieving one another. Taking care of my younger brother is great for a while—you learn, enjoy, engage. But there’s more to care than that; there are other responsibilities, and who will be in charge of distributing them fairly? (…) Care is also what’s best for the owners of all of this. And what’s best for them is that we all take care of ourselves and each other, rather than standing up and fighting for what’s right. (138)
Gopegui has a doctorate in Humanities from Universidad Carlos III. Her doctoral thesis, Ficción narrativa, autoayuda y antagonismo, is recommended reading. She also holds a law degree from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, but as she has said herself in many interviews, even before she finished university, she had decided to be a writer. Her first novel La escala de los mapas received support from another great Spanish novelist, Carmen Martín Gaite, from whom Gopegui says she learned “to be rigorous and not to fall into the thousands of traps that this environment tends toward.” (https://www.elmundo.es/encuentros/invitados/2001/04/22)
When we study Belén Gopegui’s texts in my classes, I tend to point out that her writing is made up of practical suggestions, like when she tells us that reading is “the greatest entertainment for the imagination” or that “in order to have authority, our affirmations must be a part of a shared practice.”
Gopegui is an author who, in all of her writing, manages to communicate a “plural I” because she understands (quoting her in Rompiendo Algo) that “all literature is, after all, political, [and as such]; to concern oneself with literature and politics under current conditions means asking whether literature, as a form of politics, is capable nowadays of something other than translating, attacking, or reflecting the hegemonic system (Rompiendo Algo 45).
Spending time in Gopegui’s narrative universe also means confronting certain uncomfortable historical truths, for example when she writes (and I’m quoting from the same essay) that “capitalistic powers have tortured, silenced, crushed, and obstructed progress toward existential conditions in which alternative models could have otherwise taken shape.” (Rompiendo Algo 46).
We, humanity as a collective, are the protagonist of Gopegui’s universe. For that reason (and I’m quoting her, still), “the construction of a revolutionary literary practice cannot be an individual project; it requires the construction of a common space toward which to direct one’s thoughts and writing—a space separate and distinct from the one that houses the vast majority of the capitalistic literature of our times, and toward which this type of literature is directed.”
Gopegui herself considers her writing to be part of a collective process that “tends toward revolution.” What does that mean, exactly? I’ll respond with an excerpt from an interview of Gopegui’s that was published in Rebelión, an independent and free-access media outlet that Gopegui promotes:
From the very beginning, the novel as a genre has made a lot of missteps. The genre has made countless dead-end moves, taken resources from other genres, evolved by adapting itself to the literary milieu of changing times. And each of these missteps, each of the genre’s metamorphoses, has been studied, valuated, and integrated into a kind of accumulated capital called culture. Revolutionary literature is different. It doesn’t get studied or integrated into any existing tradition or body of knowledge. The mere mention of this type of literature produces shame, remorse, a fierce desire to distance oneself and disown the practice. But where do these negative feelings come from? Are they a reaction to our chosen path toward overcoming our current circumstances—or a product of our will (or lack thereof) to overcome? https://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=26876
Gopegui’s writing is characterized by continuous reflection on the structural and systemic causes of problems that threaten the lives of all living beings as well as the sustainability of the planet. At the same time, her work allows us space to dream and to imagine change in a lucid way that accounts for the difficulties implicit in adopting a position that conflicts with the dominant system’s agenda.
She’s aware that the work ahead is by no means exempt from violence, contradictions, disappointments, setbacks, cynical responses, and feelings of profound hopelessness. It’s through this awareness that her writing communicates and connects us with a humanity that knows itself to be inter- and eco-dependent—vulnerable and, for this very reason, easy to harm and exploit.
Gopegui’s work presents humanity in the raw, always with the intention of making us stronger, asking us all the questions we ought to be asking ourselves. Unlike so many apocalyptic and punitive stories that leave their readers in a helpless state of guilt, Gopegui’s narrative voices uncover the traps in the system and at the same time extend a helping hand, easing us over the various thresholds that stand between us and a coming transformation.
Each of Gopegui’s works is a time and space to reflect, grow, and breathe—always proactively and in the company of others because, as she writes in her novel Quédate este día y esta noche conmigo:
It’s not easy to move against the grain, fighting without shouting, constructing alternative models (…) You might ask how much sense it makes to push with [our] words in the direction of goals that we may never reach. But I think it’s necessary. […] It’s like oxygen that feeds kindling not knowing if that kindling will ever catch fire–but knowing that in the absence of oxygen there’s no chance at all. (…) Maybe they and you [and I] are a part of that regular, everyday moment when the first small flame appears. Let that fire embrace you, whoever you are. (184)
Written by Palmar Alvarez-Blanco
Translated by Lindsay Szper
The Constellation of the Commons (https://constelaciondeloscomunes.org/en/the-commons-crew/)