A light passenger, Víctor Bermúdez
By Dr. Verena Sauer, July 2018
German translation by Sinje John
- Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Víctor Bermúdez and I’m a literary person. Which essentially means that I teach, I study, edit, translate and write literature. I work as a postdoc at the Romanisches Seminar of the CAU zu Kiel, where I do everything I can imagine with literature and I have so much fun. But I must say that literature also demands time, and being creative can be a matter of discipline as well. Which in some ways could be seen as paradoxical: it takes some real knowledge on the nature of literary language before you can try to break the grounds of the literature itself. It involves both patient and turbulent attitudes to create literature, but also to translate it, to edit it, to study it and to teach it.
My background is in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, which basically means that I’m interested in the thinking underlying literary processes, and on how literature is related to other domains, like science, philosophy or art. I’m really into interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, as I’m honestly curious about how my field is not only related but also regarded from others discipline’s perspectives. The contact among disciplines provides richness. Recently, I’ve been also interested in research and creative processes that take place simultaneously. That is, people who conduct a research profile that enhances their creative path and the other way around. I believe those are compatibles backgrounds that refresh both artistic and academic environments.
- What is your most important role in life and why?
My most important role in life is to write poetry. But that isn’t something that I voluntary chose, and in fact I try to avoid it as much as possible. In the time between creative projects, I have an academic career which I enjoy very much. Research is an addiction: once you have a question you need to break it into smaller questions before you reach anywhere, and in your way you manage to reshape the methods that you use to approach your object of study. Teaching is a challenge: I like the fact that my student’s profiles tend to be very heterogeneous, but that also implies that their curiosity sometimes flows in unpredictable ways, which make it a defy to orientate all that diversity into a coherent whole. But I try to involve my personal character in both tasks. So, if you consider the most important role in terms of the time we put on it, then mine is definitely not poetry but somehow around it. The thing with roles is that they are dynamic. Even within the spectrum of tasks that a postdoc must accomplish, we split our time between advising students, preparing research projects, organizing or assisting to conferences, preparing classes, studying… On the top of that, I add the unavoidable task of translating what other writers wrote and writing my own lines. I guess I like switching among roles.
- Why did you become a researcher?, Why do you choose to work in academia?
I became a researcher because I had research questions. Besides that, I find that the research environment can be very stimulating for anyone who is ready to listen to people who are passionate about their own enigmas. People share their perplexities and strategies to make knowledge grow, either in universities, or in independent research centers, museums, cultural institutions… and all those environments in which the flow of ideas is a necessary matter of their functioning. A person who is able to participate in those contexts and dynamics is someone who can see how an idea grows among people and produces an outcome that wouldn’t be possible without those specific persons and their exchange. I think that’s really cool.
- How does a typical workday look like?
Reading, talking and writing. Next to consuming and producing papers, and preparing presentations for my classes, I enjoy to hear what students have to say. So, students who have an idea come to my office and we break it into pieces, we shape it and we rebuilt a potential figure. And then it’s up to them to give a volume and a texture to those ideas and to impregnate them not only with working hours but also with their own characters and tempers. Once you find a topic that you really like, it becomes an extension of your personality. When taken with conviction, writing a Hausarbeit or a Bachelorarbeit can be a good opportunity to deepen in a topic and in oneself. I really like to see this process and help students shaping their intuitions. But it takes so many emails.
- What is the best thing about being a postdoc researcher? And what’s the worst?
Being in touch with ideas is a privilege: wise ideas, silly ideas, serious ideas, ridiculous ideas. Everything that comes up from educated minds to very fresh ones. Intuition matters. And research is full of it at all stages. And because research is something that you do both alone in your desk and together with a community of people who can potentially be all over the world, the correlated intercultural contact is often extremely enriching. So, you’re in contact with many ideas from many minds. That’s awesome.
But all that glitters is not gold. Next to all the administrative tasks, the worse thing for me about being a researcher is having to deal with time pressure. In research, the scale of time oscillates between the vertiginous rhythm of paper’s deadlines and the necessary slowness of knowledge growing. One of my main challenges is to find a balance in which I can walk and run at the same time.
- Imagine: What would you like to tell your guests at your 50 birthday about the last 20 years in your life? Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I see myself in a position where I can have fun. Close to the sea (if possible), with an army of cacti around. And wine.
- What advice would you give someone who is starting with his/her PhD? What advice maybe would have helped you?
Use your imagination. A lot. Understand taxonomies and then break them. But wisely. Do not skip steps: methods are there for a reason. The good news is that you can shape them. So, rebuilt from beginning, but only when necessary. Be patience with knowledge (and also with yourself. And with the others). Most of things that counts grow slowly. There are moments to push intensely and others to deal with the feeling of not moving anywhere. Oh, and be ready for many mistakes. Don’t avoid failure: it can be a long-term friend, so have a coffee date with it once in a while. Appreciate what you are doing, without exaggerating. Learn from who you admire.
Sometimes it might be useful to create a discourse about your field and your topic, even if it’s partial. Be ready to talk about your topic for six hours, for twenty minutes and for 60 seconds, but only when they ask you to. People will say thanks. And have fun with it: we can see the joy in researcher’s eyes. And we want to.
- The last words: Now tell the readers what must be stated once! Tell me anything what comes to your mind.
I like jumping among places. And I think it’s a good attitude for researchers to develop. I moved to Germany nine months ago, which means that a lot of my energy at the moment is focused on loading the adaptation process as if it was a very long software installation waiting. I’m originally from the north of Mexico, having been born in a very peculiar desert called Mexicali, but I’ve lived in Spain for the last 12 years, first in Salamanca, which is a city made of amber, and then in San Sebastian, where I learnt how to surf wind. Meanwhile, I also lived in Paris and Montreal, where I got some training on grey weather. Now I’m in Kiel, and I’m still familiarising with the local humour, but I’m optimistic about my improvements. I really think research enriches when you move around and learn from different people, places and perspectives, and what it gives you is both knowledge and personal experience. So, I guess I’m a light passenger.