Renato Rodríguez, topo de la narrativa venezolana / Luis Barrera Linares

Renato Rodríguez, Venezuelan Literature’s Mole

In my work as a writer and researcher of our literature, Renato Rodríguez has been a crucial author and character ever since I read his first book (Al sur del Equanil, 1963). I have always thought he might be the most blessed Venezuelan writer of all, in that he’s had the fortune of personifying the luminous life of an almost clandestine novelist who at the same time could be useful for contextualizing an excellent adventure novel. He hasn’t needed to invent persecutions, exiles or censorship in order to have something to tell. In this respect I compare him with two of our writers who endured a similar syndrome: Julio Garmendia and Rafael Bolívar Coronado.

Having admired him for a long time because of what that magisterial novel had meant for myself and for my aunt Eloína, I researched until I was able to meet him in person in 1985, in Mérida (through Alberto Jiménez Ure) and later on we exchanged a couple correspondences. At the time I realized that Renato truly seemed like the stamp of a character out of his own novels. I lost track of him personally, but not in terms of literature, once he decided to move to the state of Aragua, where the Premio Nacional de Literatura now finds him.

I could allude here to a couple different perceptions by which my attention was immediately caught by the novel Al sur del Equanil. One has to do with my work as a teacher of literature, the other with my conception of fiction and my freedom as a reader.

In order to explain the first perception, I could say this is one of the first contemporary Venezuelan novels to take seriously that phenomenon which after the eighties would begin to be pompously called “metafiction.” One of the variants of that modality is related to the game of fiction within fiction. And Renato practices it from the early sixties onwards.

The second perception, the freer one if you will, that of the free writer and reader, is a consequence of what I’ve just referred to. It relates to the links between the fiction writer that Renato is and fiction writing with which he’s managed to constitute himself. Between what he talks about in person and what appears written in his novels, we always seem to be on the exact border between the real and the fictional.

I profoundly admire those who’ve managed to assume narrative creation as a parody of existence, as a contrast to the formality and rigidity that has characterized a good part of our writers, as something that goes beyond cardboard cut outs in an effort to capture readers. And this is exactly what has impacted me about Renato Rodríguez’s fiction. Just as I have perceived this in two other Venezuelan novelists: Francisco Massiani and José Rafael Pocaterra.

This is why I’ve believed that Renato personifies one of the most authentic Venezuelan literary projects. Merely finding out that Al sur del Equanil could have been named Al sur del Ecuador (we should remember that Equanil is an antidepressant medication, which is what makes the title he arrived at by chance, according to what Salvador Garmendia once told us, so perfect). Nor could I imagine it could have been called Al sur del Meprobanato or Al norte de París. I believe in magic and I believe that literary texts, when they are destined to permanence, seek out their own titles until they find them, without any need for us authors to get in the way.

Just reading that back cover for the edition of his first book in which there were no judgments or praises, but rather presumptions and supposed rejections against the author and his work, sarcastically written by the author himself; just knowing that one time, in his work as an artisan for a parade, Renato built a dragon head that he later, with the help of friends, had to take out through a window three stories high because it wouldn’t fit through the door; just knowing that his father went to elementary school with the poet Andrés Eloy Blanco and that Renato himself spent time with Julio Cortázar, with Vargas Llosa and with so many other writers who’ve reached the most absolute notoriety while he he has almost remained (of his own will) in the shadows; well, may these few “justs” suffice to express my complete admiration for a Venezuelan writer who comes into light after having to self-publish at his own expense a good portion of his books.

I don’t mean to say by all this that one should necessarily write about what one has lived. But it does seem to me that one of the most important achievements of literature is that the writer end up looking like one of the characters he creates and not vice versa (that is, and not that the characters have something of us in them). The second option is much easier. And for the first to happen, in other words, in order for the author to end up looking like his characters, I think one has to make a greater creative effort. I’m very attracted by the idea that readers end up wondering about the possibility of the existence of the characters the author brings to life. That’s why I enjoy when readers ask me if my aunt Eloína exists or not, a matter which by now even I haven’t resolved. And as I reader of Al sur del Equanil I have always had the same experience. I’ve never been sure if David (the protagonist) or one of his heteronyms emerged from the novel to become Renato Rodríguez or if Renato grew tired of the exterior world and decided to go live inside that or any one of his other novels.

I now introduce him for this who don’t know him: René Augusto Rodríguez Morales, writer born in Porlamar, island of Margarita, Venezuela, South America, in 1927, creator of the character-writer Renato Alberto Rodríguez (RAR), forced editor of some of his books under the editorial imprint of Libros RARos, has been a type of mole in our literature who at last, now, emerges into the light. But, careful, not of his own volition, nor because he’s sought out his journalist friends to act as seeming paparazzis and catapult him before his time. He emerges because of the impact of his stories that are almost novels, which is why he calls them Quanos (Quasi Novels, 1997), and because of the narrative marvels of his more extensive texts such as El bonche (1976), ¡Viva la pasta! (1984), La noche escuece (1985), Insulas (1996). Thus, he has arrived because of his own weight and worth to where he had to reach: Venezuela’s Premio Nacional de Literatura. So now I celebrate that the character has emerged from his novels to receive it.

Translator’s note: The original Spanish version of this article can be read at Luis Barrera Linares’s blog.

{ Luis Barrera Linares, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 2 December 2006 }

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