Juan Carlos Chirinos: “Escribir es un oficio muy burgués” / Albinson Linares

Juan Carlos Chirinos: “Writing is a very bourgeois craft”

The Venezuelan writer now living in Spain came to Caracas to participate in the activities of the Feria Internacional del Libro 2005. He found time in his schedule to talk about his first novel and the experience of writing about Venezuela from Europe.

“The good girl counts to one hundred and bows out. / The bad girl counts to one hundred and bows out. / The poetess counts to one hundred and bows out,” are the verses of the poet from Valera Ana Enriqueta Terán, which have been stolen by Juan Carlos Chirinos to paraphrase the title of his first long narrative work: El niño malo cuenta hasta cien y se retira.

The novel tells the story of D. Jota, a rapacious young man who carries himself in strange times and spaces, whose only real pretext is departure. At the beginning of the book, the protagonist decides to leave Caracas, disgusted after a crazed race full of excess, a sort of amok (a Malaysian rite of homicidal insanity), where sinning was an urgent necessity before saying goodbye to the city.

Then comes exile, toward an impossible, hallucinated reality in a nameless town full of snow and sleighs everywhere, north of everything and very far from the tropics where D. Jota comes from. The thematic motives are innocence, lust, cruelty and a fascination with evil, all of which define the narrative forms of this first novel by the author from Trujillo.

Exile in Madrid

At 38, Juan Carlos Chirinos has spent quite some time getting used to the routine of voluntary exile, since he went to Salamanca 8 years ago for graduate studies. He lives in Madrid, on Segovia street, behind the Teatro Real and the Catedral de la Almudena, and he believes the ideal state would be to live 6 months in Spain and the rest in Venezuela.

Like a good nomad, he carries a portable library in which he always has Siete noches, by Borges; an anthology of the essays of Alfonso Reyes; El fiero y dulce instinto terrestre, by José Balza; and La máscara, la transparencia, by Guillermo Sucre.

If categorized generationally, he is alongside other Latin American writers such as Santiago Gamboa, Rodrigo Fresán, Jorge Volpi and his compatriot Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez. However, the author avoids groups and labels.

Regarding the criticism his work from Europe occasionally produces, he responds: “It isn’t necessary to leave Venezuela in order to create an oeuvre, but you can’t decide what's going to happen to you in life, if you’ll go to one place or another. Surely anything you do enriches you, travels, the place where you live, whatever lover you might have, whatever it might be. I went to study at the Universidad de Salamanca, my original project was to get my doctorate and return, but life takes you into other areas and you end up coming and going.”

In these oscillations, Chirinos secured his passion for writing when he determined to live from the craft, or die in the attempt: “The final goal is to be able to live from this, however, it’s a desire shared by another 4 million writers, and it’s far from being easy. It’s a matter of craft and of trying to do what you enjoy, and you also have to convince others so that they’ll buy what you’ve produced.”

Writing from Within

The author from Valera only published a collection of short stories, Leerse los gatos (1997), before leaving the country. He vividly recalls the difficulties and hazards that stopped him from giving himself over in full to the creative task: “The problem was that in Caracas I had to work a lot. I would wake up every day and begin from 5:00 AM until 11:00 PM; I did all sorts of things. I worked in a museum, I proofread magazines, I wrote articles, I was always doing things because I had to survive.

When I got to Salamanca —life is more relaxed there—, I discovered I had time to dedicate to writing. Writing is a very bourgeois craft, you have to dedicate time to it, have discipline, otherwise it doesn’t work and if the conditions are provided you can write calmly.”

The writer tends to work 3 hours daily, from when dawn breaks. He measures time by half hours, while listening to old cassettes of his favorite music, and following the advice of the Cuban Alejo Carpentier: “I follow the teachings of Carpentier that say one must write every day in the same place, at the same hour, and more or less for the same amount of time. As long as you produce a daily folio, you already have 365 pages per year guaranteed, which is already a great deal.”

Regarding the advice of many authors about the text's repose and the protraction of the moment of publication, Chirinos asserts: “Wait for what? Can you imagine if you’d told Moliere that he couldn't write plays until he became a great author? No, because he had to eat. I don’t think one has to wait until creating the great work; Mempo (Giardinelli) says it, there’s no need to wait, you must write. One time on Sabana Grande boulevard, Oswaldo Trejo said to me: ‘Start to write a lot so you can start to throw things out.’ This is a craft that can only be learned by writing, if you do it well or not, you can't be the judge of that, that's up to others, the only thing you can aspire to is that people read you.”

After the publication of El niño malo cuenta hasta cien y se retira, Chirinos is negotiating the publication of his next work entitled Los cielos de Curumo, which he has just finished editing. “With the new one it happened that I wrote it in 3 months, in a very great mood of excitement, and I’ve spent five years editing it. This happened, in part, because it was excessively large; the novel was enormous, it had like 500 pages and it tended to be very boring. I cleaned it up so much that now it has 180, it had two other novels left over. I think true writing begins when you rewrite, the other thing is creation but it's not writing.”

The author admits his marked preference for Venezuelan poetry. Eugenio Montejo with his poem “The Trees” (which he considers the best of Venezuelan poetry), Ana Enriqueta Terán and Rafael Cadenas are poets who seasoned his imaginary in the stylistic search that produced his first novel. “My work is closely tied to Venezuelan poetry. Since I was young I began to place it inside myself, in El niño malo my search was was within evil, so I explored what was intimate in our poetry. Coetzee, Amelie Nothomb, Banana Yoshimoto and John Fante are some of the authors I read the most now. Of course, I'm an inheritor of the tradition of José Balza, Ednodio Quintero, Carlos Noguera and Eduardo Liendo.”

Absent Criticism

Regarding the state of Venezuelan criticism, the author has his own vision which he formulates bluntly: “There’s something I want to say, I insist again, though they might call me stubborn, in this country there is no literary criticism. There is no literary criticism, intellectuals don't develop research, someone has to let those gentlemen know that José Antonio Ramos Sucre and Lezama Lima already died. There are tons of new books waiting for someone to say something about them. Journalists do their job of divulging, but the critics should guide. There is no analysis here because they don't feel like it, because of laziness; they don't like to read. Where are the critiques of Pim-pampum (Alejandro Rebolledo), Azúl Petroleo (Boris Izaguirre), or Breviario Galante (Roberto Echeto)? No one does anything.”

The main reason for the writer’s visit was his presence at the activities planned for the Feria Internacional del Libro 2005. The experience left him with a bitter aftertaste, as he comments with disappointment: “This was a very disorganized book fair. The first thing I felt, last Friday at the inauguration, was very large intellectual void. I had the opportunity to work in 3 of the previous book fairs from before, the type people say no longer exist here. At that time attending the book fair meant the happiness of going to see everyone, whoever it might be, people of all stripes joined together to attend. This time I felt a very heavy sadness and the worst was the presence of ideology. I think that within theories you have ideas, while within ideology ideas have you, that’s why I always distance myself from the ideological thing and from dogmas.”

{ Albinson Linares, El Nacional, 5 December 2005 }

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