Los alegres desahuciados
Los alegres desahuciados (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2004) was written between January 22 and February 26, 1947, when Andrés Mariño-Palacio (1927-1966) was still a teenager. It is an autobiographical account of his participation in Contrapunto, a group of writers who were active in the 1940s, meeting for salons at his family’s house as well as in the bars, plazas, streets and assorted nightspots of Caracas. The novel is self-consciously adolescent and arrogantly ambitious, invoking Baudelaire’s notion of decadence as a guiding spirit. The poets who populate its pages are aware of themselves as aristocrats of the spirit, in a manner the Visceral Realists of Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives would have recognized.
The novel is now in print again thanks to its inclusion in the excellent series Biblioteca Básica de Autores Venezolanos [Basic Library of Venezuelan Authors] which Monte Ávila Editores has been publishing recently. All the titles in this collection are available at extremely low prices and include helpful introductions and chronologies that contextualize each volume. In the notes to this edition by Emilcen Rivero, we learn a few details of Mariño-Palacio’s short and brilliant career. He was born in 1927 in Maracaibo and moved to Caracas with his family in 1941. He published his first book, a collection of short stories entitled El límite del hastío [The Limits of Weariness], in 1946. Los alegres desahuciados [The Happy Hopeless] was published in 1948. That same year he finished his second novel, Batalla hacia la aurora [Battle Towards Dawn] which was eventually released ten years later. During the mid to late 1940s he published articles in various Caracas newspapers and magazines while being active with the Contrapunto group. However, by 1949 he fell ill and soon retreated from literature. He spent the rest of his life institutionalized in the Coromoto Clinic of Caracas, where he died of a heart attack in 1966. In 1967, a selection of his essays was published.
Thanks to Monte Ávila Editores, this great, weird novel will continue to be available, even if at times it seems its author is barely known in Venezuela. I translate below a few excerpts I particularly enjoyed:
“Sometimes he would stop amidst his unhinged, mundane position and say: I am this! Simply: this! Vivián: tall, elegant, fun, friendly, beautiful, white, with black hair, sharp and subtle in conversation. Inside, however, in the depths of my true being, how much conflict and anguish do I carry! For mundane eyes, the only thing that exists is the well-dressed and frivolous gentleman who in one night liquidates many bottles of champagne and whiskey, who is capable of conquering a luxurious automobile and arriving at Bahía Grande and drink deliriously large glasses of gin with coconut water, while birds squeal in the fresh hollow.” (10)
“We: who go through life with an enormous weight on our backs, our foreheads heavy and sleepy, our kidneys flayed and ground to pieces... And yet, we have enough courage –or cowardice– to laugh and cackle, to say we’re happy and love life, and we enjoy love and beauty... We do all this with a unique coldness, with a terrible reflexiveness. The terrible coffins await us, our neck is tired, nobly tired, and yet we laugh. We are the happy hopeless, the facile and fun lovers of death... We hope to die with irony on our lips and a paradox in our heart... Let the earth fall on our coffins... The echo of these blows will sound like the laughter of hyenas in the vast desert... And we shall also laugh, with a horrible grimace, like horrible and happy hopeless ones, banal people married to death...” (87-88)
“Lombardo lifted his left arm and looked at the time on his watch. He realized he didn’t care at all about the time, nor about the time that had passed since they arrived at this luxurious establishment, but he had to make a gesture, a simple gesture, mechanical and complicated, to conceal his unease a bit, the vague trembling that attacked him when he felt so solitary, so wrapped up in himself within such a chaotic and turbulent universe.” (112)
The author himself makes an appearance twice in the pages of his own book. Once, in a brothel, the poets notice him and talk about his legend as a Caracas Rimbaud:
“I assure you Lombardo’s other moon is that teenager with an old man’s gestures who’s sitting at the table in front of us. Don’t you know him? How’s that possible? It’s no less than the brilliant Andrés Mariño: he has transformed his adolescence into myth and his myth in adolescence... But he’s miserable, a blue cancerberus... He hates me, he detests me, Lombardo, because for me to live is to be delirious... While he, hieratic, wise, insulting, reads Aldous Huxley and feels too mature among adolescents and too adolescent among adults... The tragedy of Andrés Mariño is too simple... I want to synthesize it... (Please, Vivián, don’t look at me with such tempting eyes.) His tragedy consists of simply trying to act like Dorian Gray and write like Raskolnikov...” (62)
The book’s last chapter is an author’s confession, imploring the readers to take pity on his characters. Mariño-Palacio self-consciously acknowledges the artificial nature of his book, poised between a visionary adolescence and an ambitious faith in writing as a transformative act:
“I can’t let these lives escape from my hands. These lives that were so tied to me for hours and hours of intense delirium and hallucinated anguish. Because for my current vision, during this bitter and difficult instant of my life, art is nothing more than a naked passion and a morbid desire to conquer the serenity that never comes.” (119)
“Throughout the night one hears the fascinating noises of those beings who dream their banal dreams. I don’t dream. I’m on a vigil, which is the most beautiful of all dreams.
This is my testimony, my torn and intimate testimony of adolescence.
I affirm myself upon it, I believe in it, I know it will engender something.” (121)
In these final words, Mariño-Palacio is aware of his text moving beyond that February of 1947 into futurity, a visionary impulse sealing the pages of his book. In the prologue to this edition, Emilcen Rivero suggests the author was prescient in his self-awareness, as Venezuela’s most important living poet today, Rafael Cadenas, was among those who were drawn to Mariño-Palacio during his brief literary career:
“In his time everyone wanted to know him, even the poet Rafael Cadenas, at age 17 came from Barquisimeto and, along with Héctor Mujica, went to visit him at his house and saw books in the already full library, on the floor, on the tables, in the corners, everywhere, and got to know the intelligence that kept everything in order and a conversation as though the library itself were speaking with such grace, sensibility and detachment.” (X)