Intellectual Limitations

“Behind nations
there are classes

adrift in

a great terror
showing the trapdoor

where I
just wanted to demonstrate

some part
I claimed to know.”
(Jibade-Khalil Huffman, 19 Names for Our Band, Fence Books, 2008)

I copied this fragment from Huffman’s poem “If We Believe Theory” into my notebook a couple months ago, as I was reading his wonderful book. It’s partly the allusion to Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (Verso, 1994) that made me want to write these lines down, along with Huffman’s insightful voice. I’m in Boston for a few days, so I don’t have access to my copy of the book, but within this fragment I find myself reflected in the notion that we can become too comfortable with our knowledge. Eventually, life always makes it obvious that one knows very little.

The five weeks I spent in Caracas recently have reminded me of my intellectual limitations, particularly regarding politics. I’ve spent too much time at this blog translating and writing on the topic of Venezuelan politics. What truly interests me in the end is literature (not removed from political awareness and engagement but existing on its own terms, which are often at odds with any type of political program). So, whatever I work on at this blog from now on will be less focused on political discourse. Who knows? I feel I understand less about the political landscape of Venezuela or the U.S. today than I ever did. My energy as a reader & writer would be better spent thinking about the extraordinary moment Venezuelan literature is experiencing right now, and the possibilities for exchange between writers in Venezuela and the U.S.

Among the writers I’ve translated on a regular basis here, Oswaldo Barreto’s two columns in Tal Cual have often served me as political reference points. On July 28th he returned from a month’s absence to close his daily column, Pórtico, in order to focus on his longer Friday column, Balanza de Palabra. In his final note for Pórtico, he explained:

“But now it turns out that this absence has allowed me to see how that vision of the world I felt was solid and rationally well-established, now I feel it no longer allows me to interpret what is happening around us and to us on a daily basis, whether here or in other realms. And I would like to write about the reasons for this change in Tal Cual. A task, then, which I’ll no longer be able to accomplish on a daily basis nor within the range of the demanding two thousand words that have become classics among us.”
(“Reincorporación y clausura de Pórtico,” Tal Cual, 28 julio 2008)

I was struck by these words as I read them while running errands a few days before I left Caracas, as my own thinking on Venezuela has undergone a shift towards accepting that I don’t know as much as I once thought I did. It has been presumptuous of me to ever consider my own knowledge of politics as anything beyond rudimentary.

These weeks away from work have allowed me to read widely, to listen and observe. A text that has nourished my thinking on the relationship between politics and literature is Heriberto Yépez’s essay on Charles Olson, El imperio de la neomemoria (Oaxaca, México: Almadía Editores, 2007). I intend to post a review of the book here in the next few days, in an effort to make sense of my response to his brilliant analysis of Olson as a representative of American empire. Reading Yépez (or listening to M.I.A. or Vetiver) has reminded me that one should give oneself over to the work completely, become immersed in what texts might need us to appear. I’ve wasted too many years postponing certain projects I’ve wanted to pursue, preferring instead to hold them in my mind as potential energy. Maybe I can use this blog as a tool to spur those texts I must produce.

“Highway skulls and bones
Sticks and stones and weed and bones”
(M.I.A., Kala, 2007)

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