“Escribir se ha vuelto una compulsión” / Carmen Victoria Méndez

“Writing has become a compulsion”

Photo by Saúl Uzcátegui/TalCual

For the poet and essayist Armando Rojas Guardia, pedagogical labor has become almost as pleasing as the very act of writing. Since a few months ago, he receives various groups in his own home with whom he discerns on themes such as Greek tragedy or the lyric. And beginning on Tuesday of next week, he will impart an essay-writing workshop at the Fundación para la Cultura Urbana.

At the same time, he is working on a collection of poems about madness and on a series of texts that approach the topic of Caracas, as was done before by Charles Baudelaire with Paris and Fernando Pessoa with Lisbon.

–Is the essay displacing the novel?
–On the contrary, I believe there is a type of fiction boom at this moment. The criterion has always existed claiming that Venezuela is not a country of talented fiction writers, with the exception of the cases of Teresa de la Parra, Rómulo Gallegos and Arturo Uslar Pietri. But at this moment there’s a resurgence of the potential for fiction, with writers like Federico Vegas, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Antonio López Ortega and Oscar Marcano, who are consolidating an important body of work. Of course there’s also a boom in essay writing, due to the nature of what we’re living in political, economic and social matters, which requires a great deal of reflection. So that many writers have dedicated themselves to thinking through what is occurring to us and that’s why we see this turning of the tide.

–Can the country be fixed by writing?
–We aren’t necessarily going to find an exit by writing essays. Writing has now become a compulsion, because there’s an immense need to find the historical causes of what's happening to us as a nation and what we’re rethinking. And no one can doubt this absolutely indispensable attempt, but in the case of the essay one has to proceed carefully.

–What are the dangers of this genre?
–The essay requires a great deal of maturity. I think that, in general, it’s not a genre that’s very accessible to very young people, because it demands a great background of personally acquired culture and, above all, a maturity of judgment. Anyways, within what's written and published in Venezuela there are many materials that allow us that investigation of what is happening to us as a country.

–So then, the topic of how these essays are being written is also a pending task.
–That’s also an indispensable reflection, because it’s not a matter of writing just for the sake of writing. Literature has internal laws that must be respected. Not everything that is written is valid as literature, so there can be the danger that the trees won’t let us see the forest, that there'll be too much unnecessary foliage in what's written. That’s why the skilled reader of essays has to be able to discern when he's in front of a text with literary validity and when he's not.

–How will this analysis be laid out in your workshop?
–Through discussion. We’re going to examine the genre, which in this country counts on writers of such relevance as Mariano Picón Salas, Mario Briceño Iragorry, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Augusto Mijares, Guillermo Sucre and María Fernanda Palacios. But we'll also reflect on the production of each one of the participants. This is not a master class, but rather a debate directed towards facilitating tools for both readers and writers of essays, so they might be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff.

–With so many pedagogical commitments, do you have time left to write?
–I’m not writing as much as I should, but I’m in the midst of a project of putting together a group of four long poems on the topic of madness. At the end of 2004 I wrote a text called “La desnudez del loco,” which was published in February 2005 in El Nacional’s Papel Literario. I want that to be the passage that begins a group of four extensive poems on madness, because I’ve seen it up close. I’ve thought about it extensively and I’d like to approach it through poetry.

–Does writing cure?
–Yes. It’s a therapeutic act. In 1990 I suffered a very serious psychotic crisis that left me almost mute. Not only could I not write, I couldn’t even carry the leading thread of a conversation. Four years later, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and dedicate myself to approaching the impossibility of poetry by writing. That’s how my book La nada vigilante was born, which offers, exactly, the testimony of a self-therapeutic task.

–And is this the continuation of that process?
–Yes, although sometimes writing produces much psychic and even physical pain, because I write with my guts. I’m a bit obsessive. “La desnudez del loco” was written morning, afternoon and night, over two weeks. I slept very poorly because the poem’s images were gravitating in my conscience and in my unconscious all day and night.

–Do you have other projects pending?
Yes. I want to write a series of prose texts about Caracas. As a paradigmatic example, I will refer to Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, where the presence of XIX century Paris is quite notorious, as well as to Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, where the life of Lisbon is breathed. I’m also keeping a journal with political notes. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I have it pending, because the urban theme, politics and madness have a common denominator.

{ Carmen Victoria Méndez, TalCual, 28 February 2007 }

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