Diana Hambardzumyan  Lusine MullerDr. Diana Hambardzumyan is best known in Armenian circles for her translations of Kurt Vonnegut and William Faulkner. The author of a number of short stories and novels, Hambardzumyan is a member of the Writer’s Union of Armenia. She currently works as a professor of English at the Yerevan State Linguistics University named after Valeri Brusov.

Dr. Lusine Mueller is a literary critic best known for her work with the texts of Michael Arlen. Her first book, Michael Arlen and His Artistic World (Yerevan: Zangak-97, 2012), was hailed as one of the best literary critiques of the year. Mueller currently works as an adjunct professor of literature at Mount St. Mary’s University and at Penn State Mont Alto. Recently the two sat down together, where Mueller asked Hambardzumyan about her life and the contributions of writers.

Lusine Mueller: When I think of writ- ers from the past, from the 19th and 20th centuries, I think of people who defined national identities, created genres and advanced culture. But I also think of peo- ple who were often unappreciated in their own time. So I am curious, in your opin- ion, who is a writer?

Diana Hambardzumyan: I am. (Laughs.) No, that sounds a bit immodest. Let me see, how does one measure the volume, which you call a writer? I use the word “volume” on purpose because, for me, a writer is somebody very much like an encyclopedia, with one difference: the writer knows not only a huge amount of things but also knows how to share his or her knowledge with those in need of it. The writer is the greatest benefactor in the world. I’ve made great use of that benevolence in my life, since it is the only benevolence in the whole world that one can take advantage of without first or simultaneously needing a friend, money, a dealer or high-level connections.

LM: Some people write because they are moved by love or sorrow or some other passion. Others write because they are following their dreams. Still others write out of compulsion or need. Why do you write?

DH: For a long time, I have been think- ing about this question, “Why do I write?” Particularly, I have been thinking about the trinity of writing-printing-reading and the stickiness peculiar to them, which is so fascinating, especially for us Armenians. Today in Armenia almost everybody — the old and the young, every- one able or unable to write — manages to write and publish books. Years ago, I hap- pened to say in one of my interviews: “Everyone who does not become some- one famous in another area of life makes literature a shelter in which to hide and write without stopping.” Later I thought it over and came to the conclusion that, unfortunately, even those who have become somebody suffer from this ail- ment, too. Nonetheless, there is a limit, a portion of fanaticism beyond which writ- ing becomes a disaster for the writer, let alone the reader. It’s a pity that the limit is defined by the writer; that is why the disastrous cases are so innumerable. As for me, I write with the slightest hope that whatever I say through writing will do a favor to somebody. I don’t know when, for whom, or how it will do good, I just hope it will, or else I wouldn’t write.

LM: How do you see life and literature connected?

DH: Life squats in the center of the circle of
our knowledge and cognition. We enjoy it as much as our senses allow and feel it moving far beyond the horizon, going to and fro and pro- ducing the narrowest delight. Who knows whether life has the slightest connection with anything that germinates in a person’s mind that later becomes writing, embracing the page in a thousand and one seductive ways? These
ties can be put side by side with the help of a literary critic’s skills.

LM: In the 20th century, writers helped to change the cultures in which they lived in very positive ways.

DH: As the saying goes: “No sooner said than done.” Every time people have changed the world, they started the task with a word and ended it very often with a word, whether that word was “Eureka,” “Cheers,” “Bravo” or “Victory”! As long as we have such a powerful weapon as the word, we can’t be defeated.

LM: If that is true, why are Armenians so apt to leave their country, instead of staying and struggling for the country they dream of?

DH: The Armenians’ eagerness for wander- ing all over the world is not a new thing. Today Armenians leave their country first and fore- most because they believe blindly that “the grass is greener on the other side” and look for justice “on foreign and deserted roads.” They hurry to sell their houses and possessions to become servants to the foreigner, considering it the only way in which they can jump over the ravine lying between their lives and the life they dream of living as dignified citizens. Then peo- ple start leaving their motherland in flocks. And it’s all within the state officials’ interests, as well as the interests of small and big mafia clans, the illiterate and the untalented. They don’t leave our country for anywhere else; they stay here.

LM: Would you like to change your life?

DH: I would like to. For me, life itself is already a change. I don’t mean the path leading us from nowhere to life and death. I mean the everyday life of ours. A new idea, a new story and a new friend are changes in my life, and I live with them. Unfortunately, a new suffering, a new burden and a new failure are changes that I live with, too. But I’d like to change my life so that I could steal a bit more time and I believe I will live it by writing.

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