Rafael Cadenas y la otra voz / Rafael Arráiz Lucca

Rafael Cadenas and the Other Voice

Throughout the nineteenth century very few of our poets ventured into the reflective waters of the essay. I think of Andrés Bello and Rafael María Baralt, but not even these writers developed what the Germans call a lyric of thought (gedanken lyrik). Nor did such a distinguished author as friar Juan Antonio Navarrete, throughout the eighteenth century. If memory does not betray me, the first among us to inhabit these spaces was José Antonio Ramos Sucre. He did this not only with his prose poems but also with a series of corrosive epigrams that he titled with precise irony, Granizada, and published in 1929 in the magazine Élite.

Amidst the tumult of the twentieth century only a few have cultivated a lyric of thought. Our poets have tended toward another type of poetry. Within this solitary lineage we find passages from the work of Juan Liscano, Guillermo Sucre, Armando Rojas Guardia, Miguel Márquez and, evidently, Rafael Cadenas. I prefer not to venture into the realm of fiction writing with these ruminations because red lights would appear and we would lose sight of the exit. Let us return to poetry. It is no coincidence that these poets have been, in their own manner, exceptional essayists. In addition, trying to specify in what genre they excel is an arduous task. In truth, today it is impossible to conceive of a great poet, complete and authentic, who lacks critical means. What is more, it is impossible to think of a significant poet whose work does not enact philosophical and critical instruments for understanding the world. Modernity invalidated the relevance of simple expressions developed without epistemological complexity. No one doubts the value of many poetic expressions, but there are very few of them that distinctively assert themselves within history's currents.

One of the most important poetic oeuvres in Venezuelan history belongs to Rafael Cadenas. And if this statement is not news for specialized readers, it could be for many of those who frequent these pages. That is why I affirm it in this manner: a commonplace remark for some, a revelation for others. And in these extremely sad times for Venezuela, when we have descended to the basement where ignorance and idiocy walk hand in hand, it is helpful to celebrate the gems of our patrimony.

For almost a year now, Cadenas’s Obra Entera [Complete Works] has been circulating. It has been published by Mexico’s Fondo de Cultura Económica, thus consecrating his work within Latin America’s most influential publishing house. But this crucial edition is now accompanied by a compilation of interviews edited by Orlando Barreto for Ediciones de la Oruga Luminosa in San Felipe. The book, with its very Cadenasian title, Entrevistas, gathers the best conversations that the author has engaged in with writers and journalists, from 1966 up to the present.

Whoever ventures into the labyrinth of these pages will be able to examine some of the recurring threads in the thought of the poet from Barquisimeto: his condemnation of nationalism, the ego as the center of human dilemmas, the obsessive search for humility as an organizational and catalytic vortex, the defense of the individual above any collective intent to impose limitations, the fascination with Christian mystics and, last but not least, the assimilation of Asian philosophy within the West itself.

One of the most substantive interviews is the one he sustains with Guillent Pérez in 1966, published in this newspaper. In the interview he affirms: “I belong to the Western tradition, the land where the sun sets, and there is no avoiding this. I have tried to mold myself within that heritage. But I began to correct myself a few years ago. I studied, and study, the works of Buddha, Suzuki, Krishnamurti and others. And yet they remain inaccessible to my own experience. They pointed me once again toward the mystics of the West. Jung has been important for me and someone, I won’t say who, brought me back to earth without eliminating the soul.” A paragraph with no dross, followed by another moment, a few lines later, which has an electrifying effect: “Who would dare to ask one of our social, political, academic, artistic or literary luminaries, one of our honourable men, to abandon his or her I ?”

When a person has descended to the bottom of the well, the source of what Octavio Paz calls the “other voice,” he or she has experienced the most profound event. The one that can only be attained through silence, where words degenerate into mere fireworks: “What our intellectuals are lacking most is humility. It wouldn't be a bad idea to establish schools where that virtue could be taught. One of the courses that would be imparted there, by mute teachers, would be Pythagorean silence.” I don’t have enough space here to continue citing, so I refer you to the book. Since Plato, we know that a dialogue can be as enlightening as a monologue. If you look for Rafael, you will find him in the place least frequented by Venezuelan writers: any one of Caracas’s bookstores or, also, in one of the buses that ascend from Chacaíto to La Boyera.

{ Rafael Arráiz Lucca, El Nacional, 27 July 2001 }

No comments: