Estrabismo académico / Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey

Academic Strabismus
(El Salmón Poetry Magazine, Part III)

In this new installment of El Salmón the discussion centers of the actual relations between Venezuelan poetry and the academy, through a reading of the symptoms that agglomerate in the country’s spaces for teaching literature.

If you ask someone who has passed through the schools of Literature at UCV [Universidad Central de Venezuela], UCAB [Universidad Católica Andrés Bello], ULA [Universidad de los Andes], or LUZ [Universidad del Zulia] what teachings he received in Venezuelan poetry, or at any of the Masters programs in literature in our country, the answer is always lukewarm. The common denominator is superficial, incomplete, dispersed readings.

The Escuela de Letras at UCAB proposes an attractive, three-year stroll through all of Venezuelan literature. The program for those courses includes a mixture of essays, fiction and poetry, meticulously pointing out the writers, eras, books and literary groups that will be addressed during the year. But the reality is something else: according to the faitful testimony of students, the courses never live up to what the program says and the readings that are done remain lackluster. At ULA, the situation is almost identical: poetry of the independence, the overlooked XVIII and XIX centuries, poetic avant gardes and the poetry of the 1960s: all leading to contemporary fiction. Some audacioud docents dare to address the literary groups Tráfico and Guaire (including, even, the poetry of Martha Kornblith or Gonzalo Fragui) without managing to set a precedent.

The chronological structure is an evident hindrance for anyone who’s beginning to connect with the poetic word. Rafael Cadenas already proposed, in En torno al lenguaje, that literature doesn’t have to be taught in a chronological manner, not because he might have anything against time’s continuity, but because of a matter of affinity: for the young reader it will be easier to understand Víctor Valera Mora or Yolanda Pantin than José Antonio Maitín. So then, why force him (in a clearly positivist effort) to begin with Andrés Bello, with the absurd excuse that without having read him he won’t understand the source of newer voices? The inverse journey turns out to be much more revealing than a slow historical process that arbitrarily begins at the invention of our identity. How much more would he gain by discovering a tradition, before Darwinistically refviewing our poetic genome in filiations, evolutions and descendants?

Another pedagogical hindrance at UCV, ULA and UCAB is that docents assign a chain of expositions for students when it comes time to resolve national poetry, in this way freeing themselves from much of the work and turning the course into a boring succession of lectures. By now, we shouldn’t use the excuse of collective learning in an academic reality where the master class setting is evidently more enriching than the seminar or the workshop.

The Escuela de Letras at UCV has characterized itself by being more open to paraliterary disciplines, as well as to new phenomena and problems of literature in the world. But freedom shouldn’t be confused with an absence of rigor. What many of us were thankful for while we studied for our degrees, we now perceive as lagoons in our formation. At least this was the case up until the recent renovation if the pensum which, we think, will remedy some faults.

The graduate degrees at ULA, at USB, the Instituto de Investigaciones Literarias and the masters program in Venezuelan Literature at UCV are a few of the entities that have done the most to address these problems. However, and perhaps for lack of docents dedicated to Venezuelan literature, the masters at UCV only offers one subject dedicated to the topic and it generally suffers in the search for someone to teach it. While the territories of fiction are covered by specialists like Carlos Sandoval and Ángel Gustavo Infante, the field of Poetry doesn’t count of a professor of the same academic stature truly dedicated to the genre.

These limps had become more evident: whoever wants to have an idea about the historical process of Venezuelan poetry will only find in bookstores the book by Rafael Arráiz Lucca, El coro de las voces solitarias which, according to muffled academic mockery, is marred by clumsy writing and untrustworthy facts. One must recognize that Arráiz Lucca is the only person who has ventured in these years to publish a complete history of our poetry, demonstrating that he’s the last truly ambitious researcher remaining with ties to this topic. But whose responsibility is it to answer for the mistakes of this title? Its appearance deserves an immediate response from the academy itself but, being so short sighted, it is incapable of focusing in the right direction. Who will take a step forward with the national truth placed in the editorial format? Does no one else dare to lift our poetic history?

Other efforts are found in La sociedad de los poemas muertos by Jorge Romero León (one of the few titles to emerge from the teaching body of UCV’s Escuela de Letras), the heterogeneous Nación y literatura (evidently a study of literature and the nation) compiled by by Carlos Pacheco, Luis Barrera Linares and Beatriz González Stephan, and Al filo de la lectura by Javier Lasarte. In combination, they can give a fragmented idea of our poetry’s history.

Once again the sigh: it is up to readers and students to take the reigns of their own formation, to sort out the difficulties presented by the study of our poetry. Institutional, editorial, academic and even bureaucratic barricades have always been characteristics of our nation. Poetry is not exempt from the context into which it was born.

{ Santiago Acosta & Willy McKey, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 17 November 2007 }

No comments: