“La clase intelectual ha dado una extraordinaria lección de país” / Milagros Socorro & Adriano González León

“The intellectual class has given an extraordinary national lesson”

A few weeks ago the mail arrived at the house of Adriano González León (Valera, 1931), bringing a large and heavy envelope that carried a single edition of a recently published title, one copy of which was reserved for him. It’s a hardcover book with luxurious illustrations, entitled El Quijote: Una mirada americana, published in Madrid by BBVA, with a prologue by the Catalonian writer Rosa Regás. No one in Venezuela has this book but Adriano does because he is among the select group of writers who collaborated with texts about the hidalgo of La Mancha.

There he is, the only Venezuelan, sharing the index with Rubén Darío, Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sábato, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Juan Carlos Onetti, Carlos Fuentes, Juan José Arreola, Adolfo Bioy Casares and a few others. He’s proud and satisfied.

—What’s going on in that head of yours?
—I’m thinking about remembering, without the already annoying and overused title of Memories, the wind that has traveled through my life. That’s why what I’m writing isn’t that expected book where people of a determined age say their things, but instead it's a type of recapitulation of dispersed branches or winds at my window. That will be, by the way, the name of the column that I’m going to write for El Nacional, which in a certain way continues the tone of my previous column, which was called “Of Lightning and Rain.” Many topics cross my path in these texts: from my childhood to my time in Paris and later in New York and Moscow. But I’m not telling stories as in an almanac but rather the emotions that have formed what I am.

—What has the wind brought to your window?
—A town called Altos de Escuque, in the state of Trujillo; my aunts who gave me my first books to read; a solitary man named Apolinario Méndez, who took me through the hills to see the spirits; the extraordinary visit to the Louvre and to Spain’s National Library; my experiences in Buenos Aires, where, in two years, I obtained the most important elements of my intellectual and experiential formation, where I had extraordinary friendships, like Oliverio Girondo, Enrique Molina, Olga Orozco and Alejandra Pizarnik, published my first book, Las hogueras más altas (1959), which Miguel Ángel Asturias would introduce, and I met my first wife, Mary Ferrero.

—Will your column be made of evocations, then?
—Not only those, it will also be about the present. The difference from the rest of the country’s columns will be that it won’t register the direct impact of political affairs because my permanent concern, since my first books, has always been the manner of saying, the accent, language.

Obviously, I’ll touch on contemporary events somehow, as I did in my previous column.

—What name would you give this moment that we’re living now? If the stage of your childhood and your formative years was a portable country, how would you describe the one you inhabit in your maturity?
—The country is now ultra portable.

When I spoke about a portable country—he is alluding to his novel País portátil, published in 1968—I was thinking of the country they were taking away little by little, in an economic sense. Today, political institutions and some private ones, yielding to a submissive conduct, have almost destroyed the country. There are places I don’t visit, not so much out of fear, although I should also be afraid because there are too many armed and strange people in the streets, but I don’t visit them out of sadness. Because I feel the city has continued to diminish, that there are no possibilities for citizens, that everything and everyone is silenced, surrendered, resigned or full of fear. Except for its intellectual class, which has given an extraordinary national lesson…as it always has…as it did since that famous April 19th and the War of Independence, or as it did challenging the brutal dictators of the XX century. I feel profoundly proud of belonging to that generation of Venezuelan writers and I see with much enthusiasm how the new intellectuals try to clear a path by doing the same things we did: they believe those who came before them are not useful in the least, they write their stories, they believe life begins with them, they produce excellent magazines…maybe a bit too exquisite (that’s the problem of new generations, they’re brutal inside a type of palace baroque).

What’s true is that Venezuelan writers and intellectuals, of all generations, have stood up and faced this moment directly as they have at other times. They remain in the streets, the universities represent the nation’s spirit and journalists, as never before, have waged one of the most glorious battles that Venezuelan journalism has known since El Correo de Orinoco—founded in 1818—until today.

The Lesson of the Intellectuals

—The political sector—continues Adriano González León—is divided while we, the intellectuals, represent the totality of the country’s spirit without worrying, I say this with much pain, about an artist and a few writers who accompanied us during hard battles in the days of violence against Pérez Jiménez or against Betancourt, and who are now far from the fight and blindly following that devotion to quietude the regime offers them.

I remain a friend to…or, at least, I remain faithful to the closeness I shared with extraordinary characters such as Manuel Quintana Castillo or the poet Luis Alberto Crespo.

I think within the intellectual sector is where there's a major feeling of unity and it’s up to them to guard the necessary transformation that the country requires because we’re in an extraordinary position, within the Latin American context, for the defense of freedom and imagination. That’s why, even though I feel sad, and you see this because I cry very easily, I maintain my faith in the country and I feel proud of its intellectuals.

—Why do you cry so easily? Where does so much sadness come from?
—I’m sad by nature even though I talk a lot and with much emphasis.

I’m sad since childhood, since my aunts and since those regions that would provide for half of País portátil, since the urban transformation of Caracas and since this great disenchantment. Today we’re no more than a great display window where overwhelming poverty can be seen, both economically, the poverty of a population that in large percentages remains in misery, as well as the mental indigence of those who govern, most of them illiterate in the absolute sense of the word.

How can one not be sad when one belongs to a generation that made a great deal of noise, that behaved as it should have, that admired the Cuban revolution as the great event of our continent, only to later see the enormous frustration that false occurrence meant, that betrayal of fundamental principles, that abandonment of the dauntless poetic act, turning Cuba into that grouping of mediocre orders, of Stalinism, of the brutal cult of personality, of concentration camps for homosexuals? In other words, that long and excruciating dictatorship which has depended on so many accomplices and where only those who have stood up and faced events directly have been saved, like Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Heberto Padilla, who was persecuted because of a book of poems.

How can one not be sad when we see Venezuela at the edge of a similar destiny?

—What do you think should be done in a situation like this?
—It’s a matter of organizing ourselves, of believing in ourselves and knowing that we have a creative spirit and an extraordinary sense of freedom; and that justice is not accomplished with cheapness or with the commonplace, as it was never accomplished with brutal Stalinism, as it was never accomplished with Hitler or Franco. I don’t house, nor do I want to leave the new generation, a pessimistic and sorrowful message. I want to believe that everyone has a demon inside, a wind that moves through them, a sense of creation that can manifest itself today or tomorrow but which will surely make itself visible and provide an example of dignity for the world. Venezuela should do what Don Quijote does when defeated by the Knight of the White Moon, who puts his spear to his skull and says: “Confess that Dulcinea is a poor woman.” And Don Quijote, from the floor, answers with those extraordinary words: “Dulcinea del Toboso is the greatest woman to exist on this earth and my weakness should not unseat her beauty. Push the spear, sir, and take my life, since you have already taken my honor.” I think such a sense of honor is what has made Don Quijote so effective. We should return to combat and continue dreaming with that idea. When Don Quijote is in his bed dying, surrounded by his family and by the men of his village, Sancho gets close to him beneath the bed and tells him: “Oh, do not die sir, my master, but rather take my advice and live for many years, because the greatest mistake a man can make in this life is to let himself die without a fight, without anyone killing him nor other hands, save those of melancholy, doing him in. Do not be lazy but rise instead from that bed and let us go toward the countryside dressed as shepherds as we have planned. Perhaps behind some bush we will find Lady Dulcinea, disenchanted and so beautiful that we do not even have to mention it.” This warning from Sancho is the great message for today’s Venezuela: Rise from that bed, especially the fighters! Because we’re going to find giants in our path and we’ll defeat them since we are following freedom, justice and honor. We are a wounded nation but I have no doubt, we’re moving forward.

—At certain times you rise and continue to write, continue to talk with journalists and give those conferences that have made you famous. What do you expect to find behind a bush when you rise?
—Always the same thing: freedom and the imagination. Those who aren’t clear about what’s happening in Venezuela say that we have democracy here because there aren’t as many political prisoners as in Cuba or as there were in the Southern Cone during the illegal repression. But they haven’t realized that even though we aren’t in jail, we are being held captive, because this country was once open to all horizons and now it’s not open to any. We must continue taking steps, we must organize, speak without fear, stand up and face events, search for eternity’s flower or for Lady Dulcinea turned into a rabbit behind a bush.

{ Milagros Socorro & Adriano González León, El Nacional, 1 May 2005 }

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