Fables of the Reconstruction


A couple observations come to mind as I think back on the final volume of Ernesto Cardenal's memoir, La revolución perdida (Memorias 3) (Editorial Trotta, 2004). The first is that this is the weakest of the three volumes, perhaps because Cardenal never ends up fully identifying the mistakes of his fellow Sandinistas that his title implies. He does, however, spend an inordinate amount of time denouncing the poet Rosario Murillo (Daniel Ortega's wife) for her animosity toward any of the projects Cardenal tried to implement as Minister of Culture in the 1980s. Cardenal's petty reiterations of Murillo's actions reveals his own inability to look at the many problems of the Sandinista project. It's telling to note that Cardenal never speaks as harshly about any of his male colleagues as he does about Murillo.

The second idea I keep turning over is how visibly this book seems to fall apart once the events of 19 July 1979 have been fully described. (The first half of the book is brilliant and exciting to read.) What we get after that is seemingly endless accounts of the utopian projects the Sandinista government attempted to implement. Cardenal also offers excellent documentation of how the US-funded Contra army made it nearly impossible for the Nicaraguan government to accomplish much, besides fighting off their attacks. On this point, I agree with Cardenal. I also find myself admiring his efforts to use art as a means of self-awareness and as a tool for improving the daily existence of millions of Nicaraguans. As he writes: "Se quería que el pueblo fuera no sólo consumidor de cultura sino también productor de ella."

What I cannot overlook, however, is that Cardenal has not been able to fully digest the defeat the Sandinistas experienced in the 1990 elections. Cardenal makes passing mention of what some have called the piñata effect that occurred before the Sandinistas handed over power after the elections. During those hectic weeks, many Sandinista leaders ended up illegally appropriating vast amounts of capital and property. Cardenal, however, spends more time complaining about his feud with Rosario Murillo than he does denouncing the corruption among Sandinistas, which impelled him to resign that party in 1990.

And, I can't help but remembering the servile and naive manner in which Cardenal has written about the Chavista regime in Venezuela recently. I've been thinking about his work very closely for the last seven years and I suspect this won't change, since he's a poet whose use of history and contemporary events has helped me understand the value of poetry as an archival art. Still, I wonder if Cardenal's aristocratic family background doesn't somehow emerge now at times in this final volume of his memoir. He writes as though utopia must be imposed, regardless of the material consequences. There's an arrogance there I don't have time to untangle further in this limited medium.

But I do want to point to a recent column by Nicaraguan novelist Sergio Ramírez (published in Sunday's El Nacional). Ramírez writes about recent protests in Managua against the pact that has been signed between Daniel Ortega and his former rival Arnoldo Alemán. Their efforts to control the upcoming elections in Nicaragua reflect the same type of authoritarian and hypocritical actions that Chavismo is inflicting on Venezuela:

"[...] Los fieles a Daniel Ortega y Arnoldo Alemán, que ahora se confunden en las mismas acciones y discursos, se conjuraron para impedir que la gente participara en la marcha, amenazando con la violencia. Regaron clavos en las carreteras para que no entraran buses y camiones a la capital, abrieron zanjas en el pavimento. Se declararon lo que creían ser, dueños de las calles, y anunciaron que sus claques no dejarían pasar a los manifestantes. Pero pasaron. Pasaron por miles.

Los ideólogos de Ortega y Alemán, que pertenecen hoy a la misma escuela política, han dicho que la manifestación del jueves fue organizada por la oligarquía, y que sólo participaron los oligarcas.

Más de cincuenta mil oligarcas aguantando sol por horas en un día de calor inclemente es algo de verse, le digo a mi hija al contestar su entusiasta mensaje. Yo creo, por el contrario, le digo también, que la oligarquía está hoy en la cúpula conjunta de Ortega y Alemán, porque son los que tienen el control político del país y se han repartido en los últimos años sus mejores riquezas, haciendo negocios privilegiados. Es una oligarquía de nuevos ricos. ¿Qué dice el diccionario acerca de oligarquía?
"Régimen político en que el poder es controlado por un pequeño grupo de individuos o familias. Autoridad, influencia preponderante que ejerce en su provecho un pequeño número de personas". Esa definición es un retrato hablado de los dueños del pacto en Nicaragua. De los secuestradores. [...]"
(Sergio Ramírez, "El síndrome de Estocolmo," El Nacional, 3 Julio 2005)


For writing, I like Tortoise's TNT (Thrill Jockey Records, 1997) or It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey, 2004). Let the writing slow itself down, assurance and confusion gained from reading.

I write this here to solidify my resolve. I've begun reading José Lezama Lima's Paradiso in the amazing Colección Archivos version, edited by Cintio Vitier in 1988. I've read the first two chapters and can make my way relatively well, thanks in part to the footnotes and commentary exquisitely provided by Vitier and various other scholars. I plan to read intently through the next two months, taking breaks for other books along the way. I imagine I'll be writing about Paradiso here just as a way to make sense of its dense and confusing prose. Yet again, I'm facing a novel that questions the border between fiction and poetry. Or that conceives of the novel as the most ideal form for poetry in the XX (or XXI) century. (Cf. Dalton, Sebald, Escudos.)


A concert that still amazes me today was R.E.M. during their tour for Fables of the Reconstruction (IRS, 1985) in the fall of 1985 in St. Petersburg, FL. The opening band was The Minutemen, whose lead singer D. Boon died very soon afterwards. (A documentary about the band, called We Jam Econo, was recently released and I hope to see it soon.) So, I got to see The Minutemen on their last tour and R.E.M. before they disappeared into mainstream America (though I still love them). I know I received a lesson that night in poetry is a lived art.

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