La tarea del testigo, la tarea de Rubi Guerra / Luis Alberto Crespo

La tarea del testigo, the Task of Rubi Guerra

“I want to exist amid empty darkness,” exclaimed a man reached by the lightning bolts of insomnia; a man in black and white, like all the downcast, whose country was a library written in Latin and Greek, amidst the smell of Arabian orange blossom and marine incense that the walled-in window stole from the glare of the sun on the Gulf of Cariaco. I went to his ossuary, placed on a hill. I barely read his name there, erased by the mold and the flaking hinge that stands on what was once his body.

Before deciding on death and erasing himself with veronal, he was certain he would be spoken of long after the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, much longer, beyond 1945. And he wasn’t lying: today José Antonio Ramos Sucre transits the praise of critics, frequents editions and translations and is inevitably compared to Borges or with the Borgesian.

Suddenly, no more than a few months ago, Rubi Guerra, one of our most prominent fiction writers, finished a novella in which the great man from Cumaná is a thinly disguised character. Titled La tarea del testigo, published by Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana, which is part of the Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura and the winner of the Concurso de Novela Corta “Rufino Blanco Fombona.” It’s about “a false Ramos Sucre,” he warns me in the kind flourish he’s signed in the dedication. Except his misfortune reveals him, his calvary and the apocryphal letters he writes, while snow falls over Europe, to the “dear Alberto” of his high esteem from the sanatoriums of Hamburg, Merano and Geneva, like the one in which he suffers and blames himself for the abandonment of Cruz Salmerón Acosta, devoured by leprosy in the tense land of Araya and barely disguised behind the name “Alejandro.”

It’s always nighttime in this novel, even when it dawns, like the sleepless glance of the poet of La torre de Timón, Las formas del fuego and El cielo de esmalte, to whom Rubi Guerra attributes a novelist’s gifts without distracting himself as he demonstrates it, nor consigning proof, just as he doesn’t warn us when the intrusion of misplacement or hallucination occurs and much less if life resumes its certainty. The novel’s structure pays no mind to the machinery of narrative planes: to the epistolary prose of the desperate man, Guerra brings his own, that of fiction, closer by which both to a certain degree are blended and attribute to themselves a similar resemblance in unreality: the character’s altered biography serves him as a pretext to free himself from verifications and thus to enjoy the genre’s resources, without neglecting the testimonial intonation, the admiring action of gratitude toward the prisoner of interminable night.

A novelized Ramos Sucre is proposed to us by this novel (which is accompanied by several short narrative texts as a test of dexterity and thematic versatility), whose inhabitant of waking dreams and nightmares is a true and feigned participant of an adventure belonging to Gothic literature, though always equaling himself, dressed as a Consul and as a hospital patient, the unblinking glance of one who never sleeps and hopes to achieve it by suicide. To his house –a real and metaphoric house– we are led by Rubi Guerra in the final pages: “I’m surprised by how his body has shrunk, disappearing into the sheets in a gesture of infinite discretion (...) You open your eyes once more and look at me with serenity, with strangeness, maybe with affection, as if from the other side of a very long bridge.” Years before, Ramos Sucre had lived that prelude. His Preludio: “I want to exist amid empty darkness, because the world damages my senses cruelly and life afflicts me, impertinent lover whispering bitter stories.”

The snow, the wolves and death in the arms of the white beauty of the Dantesque beloved amid the symbolic landscape and the burning hill of the ancient man from Cumaná cover the writing of the poem, that task of the poet, of the witness.

Translator’s note: Luis Alberto Crespo has just been awarded the 2010 Premio Nacional de Literatura.

{ Luis Alberto Crespo, La lectura común, Caracas: Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana, 2010 }

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