Sergio Pitol, Mérida y el Cervantes / Antonio López Ortega

Sergio Pitol, Mérida and the Cervantes

For Diómedes Castro

A ventured thesis: the 2005 Cervantes Prize recently granted to the great Mexican novelist Sergio Pitol marks the first distinction for a Latin American writer of the post-Boom. Until now, in one way or another all the protagonists of that prodigious generation had been awarded a prize but with Pitol we move to another bench. It is not a matter of distinguishing authors with an encyclopedic breath but rather of stopping to appreciate the narrative meanderings the Boom's results went on creating or discarding by the wayside.

With Pitol we celebrate the peak of what, in words better spoken by Deleuze, would be a minor literature. That is, a literature more nourished by periferies than by centers, more in love with brief formats than extensive ones, more friendly with the fragment than with the maxim, closer to exploration and more skeptical of discoveries.

With Pitol, also, by accident or not, a paternity is discerned: that of the new Hispanic literature, the one with the most avant-garde accent, since authors such as Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, Juan Villoro, Roberto Bolaño and a few others have drunk from his springs to augment their own riverbeds.

By the light of the recent edition of El mago de Viena, a type of literary diary in which Pitol recounts periods from his beginnings as an unknown writer until now, it is worth pondering the influence that Venezuela and some of its writers had on those more than doubtful origins. The mark of a journey between Havana and the port of La Guaira, on board the cruise ship Francesco Morossini, fixes what was the writing of his first "passable but a bit pompous" poem for the critical eye of the budding poet. Pitol recognizes it wasn't in Tepoztlán—"some four years after that first trip to the Caribbean"—where he began his work but rather on that almost forgotten journey where he aspired to "describe the qualities of the ocean, its music, its brilliance and opacity and the contrast of its magnitude with the diminutive, greyish and atonal destiny of man." Once on dry land, a letter of introduction from Alfonso Reyes allows him to establish contact with Don Mariano Picón Salas and, through the latter's interventions, to attend a reading circle every Saturday curated by the poet Ida Gramcko in her own house with the occasional presence of Antonia Palacios, Oswaldo Trejo, Salvador Garmendia and Picón Salas himself. Pitol also recalls the long stay in a mansion in Los Chorros, at that time in the outskirts of Caracas, where he dedicated himself to reading and, possibly, writing "horrendous Dadaist poems" he later discarded.

But his second Venezuelan chapter, or at least the most significant one (literarily speaking) since his Caribbean journey, was undoubtedly the Bienal de Literatura Mariano Picón Salas celebrated in Venezuela's Mérida in 1993. A crucible of crossed literary destinies was created in that Andean city and marked Hispanic American fiction of that moment in no small dimension. The Spanish editor Jorge Herralde has said that, because of that encounter, Pitol met César Aira and tried to introduce his work in Spain. Likewise, Vila-Matas mentions that the Mérida Biennial allowed him to talk with Pitol like never before and sponsor a major diffusion of his work in penninsular publishing houses. Attending the same event in 1993 were Juan Villoro and the recently deceased Colombian novelist R.H. Moreno Durán, followers as well—along with the Venezuelans José Balza, Victoria de Stefano and Ednodio Quintero—, of the great master who is honored today. Pitol presided, without intending to—his humble giant's silhouette always placed itself in front of false flattery—, a movement in gestation whose lights we now see spread across the Ibero American verbal continent.

Sergio Pitol has affirmed: "Language, form, plot appear simultaneously and from the start; each entity goes along leading the others, and the pulsations, tensions, fissures and reconciliations produced in them allow me to build an oblique, oneiric, delirious storytelling vision, and to achieve an open and happily conjectural ending." This could be, more or less, the definition of an ars poetica that many of the best Latin American novelists of the moment follow.

I am referring to a tendency that doesn't wager only for history, that broaches the narrative pulse as an entity, that intuits within the narrative manner the very development of the story.

This lineage belongs to Pitol and his legacy is carried today by the continent's new voices. It is not insignificant that the Cervantes Prize has noticed this: by distinguishing Pitol the critical judgement takes a triple leap and puts itself at the tip of the spear. On few but wise occasions, consecration can also be a figure from the avant-garde.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 13 December 2005 }

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