Se solicitan intelectuales / Alberto Barrera Tyszka

Looking for Intellectuals

If possible, with their own neurons and immediate availability. This revolution also has a great emergency of ideas, of arguments, of feelings. The repeaters of slogans are not enough, the moralists are not sufficient, those who always claim to be the keepers of conscience.

They look too much like Bush. Now we need something more than this chorus of worshippers who go about babbling slogans, from summit to summit, like elegant vultures of others' misery: the new jet set of our countries' eternal abyss.

These urgencies are not new in any way. The role of the intellectual as the legitimator of power has a long tradition on our continent. It is almost a foundational element of Latin American culture: history is "written" by the "men of action," history is "built" by the "men of arms." The rest of us are outside.

We are spectators. We are consequences. Within the old dilemma between civilization and barbarity, which offers its best inaugural form in 1844 with Facundo by the Argentine Domingo Sarmiento, an authoritarian resolution seems to have always imposed itself, with a heroic military feeling that puts civilian experience at its service, an experience which is — essentially — a creative one.

For too long we have carried a vision of the intellectual as a "man of letters," endowed with certain knowledge and destined to provide some order to the disconcertment of our natures.

Beyond, even, the political options, this seems to be the function that our societies give to the intellectual. This is where he belongs.

Looking for intellectuals to write the script of a story that is already written. To place accents and change vowels. To produce justifications, to elaborate viable reasons. We need someone who will propose a complexity greater than that offered by the songs of Alí Primera, the declarations of Tarek William Saab or the insipid articles of Mary Pili Hernández. Where is the García Márquez of Chávez?

In its moment, on the contrary, the Cuban revolution gathered the majority of the world's intellectuals. But the Padilla affair, in 1971, undoubtedly marked a fundamental turning point in this relationship.

Heberto Padilla was arrested for writing a collection of poems called Fuera de juego. But what was most tragic and pathetic about this process, what motivated the separation of many intellectuals from Cuba, was what happened sometime later when, in the headquarters of the Writers Union, Padilla appeared in public to confess his crimes. He accused himself of enjoying the literature of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and of speaking badly, in private, of the great leader of the nation: "And let's not say how many times I've been unfair and ungrateful with Fidel, for which I will never truly cease being sorry." He considered his jailing to be justified and he was thankful for his time in prison because, among other things, it demonstrated the generosity and nobility of the regime's repressive forces.

He asked forgiveness for his verses: "Those poems carry the defeatist spirit, and the defeatist spirit is counterrevolution."

The scene demonstrated, with cruel clarity, what type of writer the government wanted, what type of intellectual the revolution sought.

Reflecting on the militaristic populism of the XX century in Latin America, Carlos Monsiváis writes: "How is the sacralization of authoritarianism achieved? With a discourse that incorporates demands and fantasies, irreconcilable contradictions and sweeping affirmations, radical leftist actions and a right wing mind set." Many years later, perhaps we now find ourselves in Venezuela at the foot of these phrases. For that purpose, exactly, intellectuals are now necessary: to attempt coherence.

Because Hugo Chávez's government is a festival of incoherence. Of all types and at any hour. It's hard to find logic in a Minister of Defense who, while declaring about the millions of dollars used in the purchase of Russian armament, affirms that they are "guns for peace." You have to have spleen to watch, with impassive Bolivarian fervor, as the police and national guard repress sreet vendors in the center of Caracas. You have to have too much spleen to listen, afterwards, to the Mayor of Caracas Juan Barreto, in the best Jaime Lusinchi manner, denouncing that the opposition wants to create an "artificial conflict" with the street vendors.

It must be very hard to try and scratch arguments together to give a noble and trustworthy stature to the exercise of power that the country suffers today. It can't be easy to make sense of the stridencies of Iris Varela when, in the Asamblea Nacional, she celebrates self-censorship and denounces "politically oriented information." There is no serious discussion that could tolerate so much delirium. The same would happen if someone were to try to decipher and understand some of the reactions of the Information Minister Andrés Izarra. One can attempt the impossible in order to control the versions of reality, but it will never be possible to prohibit reality.

What do the intellectuals who support the government do? What complexity do they demand, what complexity do they offer? From the start, unfortunately, they have a pathetic disadvantage: they are required to act as though they are in church. They must put the service of a cause before their own diversity. Among the opposition there are also intellectuals of this sort.

"Men of letters" willing to do anything, in hopes of another new "man of action" who will make a redemptive appearance. Luckily, society still has more verbs left than merely attacking or defending a supposed revolution. One of the traps of power is to make us believe that it's impossible to question commercial TV and the new telecommunications law at the same time. That is, precisely, the primary negation of any intellectual experience.

Whoever divides the world into militants and traitors, the first thing he supresses is the imagination.

There is a book that exceptionally registers the traces of the militaristic and populist Venezuelan leadership: the cult of personality, the handling of popular speech, the political use of folklore, the symbolic relationship with Bolívar, the ostensible celebration of power, the use of the gift as an accidental remedy and as a personal favor from the caudillo...The author is Luis Brito García and the book was published in 1988.

It has always caught my attention, nonetheless, that all these reflections have vanished, that the writer who today supports the government does not incorporate and maintain them, that he does not establish a dialogue between what is happening to us today and the debate that he himself proposed to us a few years ago. His allegiance to the government seems to be stronger than his allegiance to his writing, to his own questioning. What is most horrible about the intellectual adhesion to any political project always resides in the silence, what is kept quiet, what — on account of utopia — is forgiven, omitted. That muteness tends, too often, to devour plurality.

Looking for intellectuals. Who have no doubts.

Who won't ask questions. Who won't imagine what they can't, what they shouldn't. The right to admittance is reserved.

{ Alberto Barrera Tyszka, El Nacional, 12 December 2004 }

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