Intelectualidad y líneas divisoras / Antonio López Ortega

Intellectualism and Dividing Lines

A close friend of mine whom I've known for a long time—by all signs an emerging fiction writer from Paraguaná—was telling me during a recent trip I made to Coro: "Please, let's not talk about what separates us; let's talk about everything else." His phrase has been turning around in my head for several days because it expresses an additional sentiment: the belief that, by avoiding differences, we'll be able to get closer to a consensus. A comfortable recourse, if you will, in the field of politics, in governmental practices, in neighborhood debates. But an absolutely naive recourse, which goes against nature in the field of ideas, in the field of intellectual endeavors.

If anything drowns official discourse it is the willingness to dissent. The reduction of the truth to a black and white antinomy, the inability to look for shades and to confront points of view, the lack of wealth and complexity in one's focus, these constitute the very negation of the intellectual condition. Political sympathies can be understood; what cannot be understood is the suspension of the critical act. Intellectuals are not here to flatter; intellectuals are here to maintain an awareness of the perversions of power.

When my friend asks me to take a path that won't lead us toward difference, he is actually betraying the intellectual condition. There is nothing better than beginning with our differences in order to value the wholeness, the transcendence of the other. Dialogue has never been two mirrors confronting each other; dialogue is founded on the difference (in one's vision of the world?) that the other can offer.

If Venezuela's intellectual class has damaged itself in recent years, that damage is centered in having allowed dividing lines to have grown. What was until recently a harmonious region, where forums, roundtables, readings and cultural pages were shared, now exhibits a deep wound. It is a bad sign that political diatribe has entered the intellectual field, creating silences, ommissions and blind faith. The task of the intellectual is to understand and point out; never to take sides.

Power is by nature reductionist and it only seeks faithful adepts. The sad pages in which Paul Eluard sings to Stalin or the ones in which Anna Akhmatova wrote to her French peers to warn them that the Soviet utopia of the "new man" was not so true, these have all been left behind. We have forgotten the French poet's poems; and the Russian poet has been forgotten by her French peers. The Romantic stance that nourished utopia was more valuable than the extremely realistic fact of the arrival of political purges and the inauguration of the first jails for dissidents.

Having to agree no matter what, to believe every single aspect of everything that is announced, to believe that dissent is synonymous with betrayal, these all speak of an impoverishment of the intellectual condition. If the exercise of power has been able to cultivate silence, dividing us into the faithful and the foreign, that means that we have been weak, that we haven't given the alarm on time, that we have succumbed before an act that was our moral duty.

We will have to discuss a great deal about the relations between the Venezuelan intellectual and power. Some believe they have gotten closer by marking a distance and others believe they have distanced themselves by reproducing the same logic of control. The rarest cases are the ones who have truly turned their backs to it in order to affirm themselves in their own work. There are few of them but they're the ones that count the most. Vasconcelos remembered that, in countries such as ours, the intellectual was in debt to the public act. Well, after dedicating ourselves so much to the public act, our work ends up in the trash can. Or it simply never finishes because of its perfect invisibility.

Facing the temptations of power, the intellectual nature weakens and ends up shielding itself within a type of simplicity. More than intellectuals, we have simplistic politicians, poets who think they see heros out of novels where only petty tyrants exist. We continue to turn the wheel, and the civic desire that took more than a century to calm the shouts of the caudillos has lost all of its antidotes and has ended up without anyone to create a dialogue.

Is this a task for these times, if not for the public scene then at least for the intellectual condition? Well, to talk about what separates us. Only by going deep into our differences, only by erasing the dividing lines with ideas and visions will we recover the region.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 8 February 2005 }

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