“Todavía no he visto al hombre nuevo en niguna parte” / Diego Arroyo Gil & Rafael Cadenas

“I still haven’t seen the new man anywhere”

The poet believes a rhetoric of war reigns in Venezuela and that it’s urgent for coexistence to be restored. He sustains that culture today suffers under the attack of a fierce enemy: the Government’s sectarianism.

Rafael Cadenas has just returned from Europe. In Spain, the publisher Pre-Textos released his Obra entera [Complete Works], while in Italy the imprint Ponte Sisto unveiled an anthology of his poems titled Un’isola e altre poesie. In Spain, he participated in various activities. He says: “In Madrid I attended the Festival VivAmérica. I presented, alongside Álvaro Mutis, Ida Vitale and Oscar Hahn, an illustrated biography of Neruda. I referred to his four trips to Venezuela. I pointed out his merits as a great poet, but also his inconsistency for not mentioning the Stalinist perversions. On another day I read a few poems with Tomás Segovia in the Simón Bolívar room of the Casa de América, where I also spoke with the poet Luis Muñoz and the public about my work.”

– In Anotaciones you suggest that poetry is “on a downswing” because “language finds itself in the greatest penury of its history.” Do you still think this is so?
– I don’t know if it’s like that today. That was written by the author of Anotaciones, who was 24 years younger than me now. He’s responsible for that statement, but I continue to be interested in language. Before I went on my trip, for example, I became uncomfortable with the excessive use of the word “tema” [topic, theme] on television and on the radio. It seems like journalists – whose work is indispensable – and many politicians, don’t like to use other equivalencies such as “matter,” “question,” “point,” “aspect,” “material,” “problem,” “in relation to,” “in regards to,” and many others. One hears: “Let’s talk about the topic of traffic in Caracas,” when it’s simpler to say: “Let’s talk about traffic in Caracas.” This was pointed out by Ramón Hernández in El Nacional’s style manual and by others like Lázaro Carreter and Álex Grijelmo, which indicates that in Spain the situation is similar. I don’t know if Alexis Márquez deals with this, but no one pays attention to them. The word “tema” is almost unnecessary. Besides, one doesn’t talk about a topic, but rather about what it deals with. Pardon me for focusing on that point when the streets have been taken over by the students.

– In that same book you say: “A people without an awareness of language end up repeating the slogans of swindlers; which is to say, they die as a people.” In that sense, are Venezuelans dying as a people?
– The author of that phrase liked to speak dramatically. Let me criticize him. The first affirmation seems fair to me. The second one would be true if people lose their tongue, which isn’t happening, but it is urgent for them to know it better so that they won’t let themselves be fooled.

– Could poetry help stanch that wound?
– No, because it’s only read by a minority, as it’s always been, everywhere; but reading, not just poetry, is the only cure.

– You constantly reflect on the country’s situation. What makes you feel so dejected about it?
– Who told you I was dejected? Concerned, yes, because the country is absolutely ruled by discord and this is very dangerous. Coexistence has to be reinstated. This is what the students are proposing, and they are the ones who are affirming that all of us fit here, even if some might fit more than others. But there’s no dialogue. You know, the wife of the communist Romanian dictator supposedly said this phrase which still has relevance today: “When I engage in dialogue I don’t want to be interrupted.”

– Regarding the situation of culture, what do you fear the most?
– I no longer fear, since what I feared has happened exponentially. The sectarianism of the Government has turned the Ministry of Culture into a propaganda ministry. It’s a matter of imposing on the country a determined vision and that is at odds with culture, which can only be plural.

– Do you think president Chávez has the characteristics of an autocrat?
– What name would you give to a person who holds all the powers in his hands and wants more?

– In Dichos you affirm: “Man has created such a cult around change that he has forgotten to live.” Could this be applied to Venezuela today?
– You keep citing that author who is fifteen years younger than me. I see people who want to change everything and who live very comfortably, although I don’t know if that means living in the profoundest sense. What they’re trying to accomplish here is changing one type of conditioning for another. Perhaps brainwashing so as to introduce different idiocies. But it’s important to know that we are very determined by lived experience, formation, the past. To see that gives us a margin that looks like freedom and above all tolerance.

This process is rife with mistakes. Socialism, which is a very inoffensive term, is today the central official euphemism that hides another term. Bolivarianism with socialism is a clamorous oxymoron. Bolívar was a republican, he wasn’t even a democrat in the modern sense of the word. Christ, of whom we know very little, never met Marx. There is a rhetoric of war, a type of thanatical pleasure that doesn’t exist in other countries, even though all of them have their own armies and aspire to reinforce them. It’s known that human beings are attracted to war, to self-destruction.

– If you could recommend some readings for Venezuelans of all tendencies, what would they be and why?
– The books by great writers who suffered under the communist regimes like The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, Earth, Earth! by the Hungarian Sándor Márai, and Life and Fate by the Russian Vasily Grossman would be very opportune; they allow one to know from the inside what was happening over there so we might avoid it here. Monte Ávila Editores could publish them.

Back then they wanted to create the new man that has yet to be seen anywhere. As soon as the communist regimes fell, he went back to being what he’s always been and eagerly embraced capitalist consumption. What is imposed doesn’t work. Will we never learn even when confronted with evidence? I asked a friend of mine in Italy what the president’s name is there and he couldn’t remember. I want that for Venezuela, because a president is a simple citizen at the service of the country, even if power goes to his head, usually with the help of shameful adulation. The cult of personality appears, which has been inseparable from communism.

It’s just that so many people like to have a master, perhaps because it takes away the terrible burden of freedom. I prefer a mistress that can be called life, nature, divinity or Gottheit as Eckhart said. She is what truly rules us. Incidentally, many rulers think they’re supported by what men call God and about which no one knows anything. They truly believe God is at their service. They transform God into a lackey. It’s just another stupidity of this demented world.

– The literary world is suddenly much more like a miniature world. There’s ego all over. Writers think that language shines with them.
– It’s a small world, but the ego, that notion of thinking of oneself as important, is found everywhere. It’s a ubiquitous illness. In reality, each person is unique, irreplaceable, valuable, but that doesn’t have to do with the ego; and yes, there are authors in whom language seems to be a magical thing. If they become vain they’re foolish.

– Given the reach of your work, have you ever found yourself tempted to fall into that trap?
– No, because I observe my thoughts, my reactions, my limitations. I don’t mind going unnoticed and I actually feel inferior to my fellow beings. I see them being so secure, so affirmative, so decided. With everything, I almost always say yes to invitations. But there’s one in December to which I will say “No.”

{ Diego Arroyo Gil & Rafael Cadenas, El Nacional, 12 November 2007 }

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