Los años de Orígenes

I sometimes find certain books fortuitously, such as Lorenzo García Vega's memoir Los años de Orígenes (Caracas: Monte Ávila Ediores, 1979). The book recounts his years of friendship with José Lezama Lima and seems to be an attempt to demistify, praise and attack the legend surrounding the Orígenes group of writers. I'm mid-way through the volume but I'm already impressed by García Vega's irreverent and pessimistic analysis of Cuba's recent literary history. The pessimism is fed by an acute awareness of his own exile from Cuba beginning in 1968. He uses the motif of this book being not just a memoir but a version of a mythical Cuban novel that cannot be achieved, one evoked by Lezama Lima and made even more unreachable after Castro. The memoir takes on the task of an impossibly rich novel.

There are moments in the book that leave me astonished by the parallels between Cuba in the 1960s and Venezuela today, especially regarding the servility and sycophancy that revolutionary projects often require of intellectuals. García Vega is especially harsh when assessing his Orígenes colleagues Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz. More than anything, this is a polemical book, one that relies on repetition as a form of filtering anger and loss through humor, thus avoiding nostalgia's dead weight. As a surrealist, García Vega denounces Breton and other European poets for their complicity in the moral and intellectual destruction of Cuba under Castro's dictatorship:

"And the pride of having published a magazine in which important foreign writers collaborated, was displayed beneath the umbrella of a culture mafia, sustained by the left, and to which many of those important foreign writers belonged. And the fascination we had been able to find in a group such as the surrealists was displayed beneath the umbrella of a group of unbearable petit bourgeoisie—Breton, and a few other surrealist mummies, signed a manifesto in support of triumphant Castrismo, when the ashes were already drowning us all—." (My translation)

I'm reminded of the types of American intellectuals for whom buying gas at CITGO is a "revolutionary" act. The eternal return of human idiocy, which García Vega so ably dispels with his funny, sharp prose. Now, if I can only manage to find a copy of his recent autobiography, El oficio de perder (México: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 2004).

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