“El tema del mar es inagotable y apenas nos hemos asomado a él”: Entrevista a Rubi Guerra / Roberto Echeto

“The topic of the sea is inexhaustible and we’ve barely glanced at it”: An Interview with Rubi Guerra

The Venezuelan writer Rubi Guerra was born in San Tomé, state of Anzoátegui, in 1958. His published titles include El discreto enemigo (2001), Un sueño comentado (2004), La tarea del testigo (2007) and Las formas del amor y otros cuentos (2010). On this occasion he speaks with us about the sea, about books and about the disturbing relationship between literature and society.

What’s the relationship like between books, your surroundings and yourself? I ask because you live in Cumaná, a city we assume is closer to activities related to the sea, tourism and the happiness of living in shorts, rather than to literature.

You can’t find too many books in Cumaná; that’s a reality that can’t be overlooked. Very few bookstores and a public library that is updated with difficulty. It is, perhaps, one of the most discouraging aspects of living here. Although, on the other hand, books are so expensive right now that many of the few that are available can’t be bought. Over time, I’ve been gathering some books that help me write, pass the time, live. Sometimes I ask myself how people can write here, in this hot, noisy, violent city with so few cultural or spiritual incentives, or whatever we might want to call them. If you head out to the city’s beaches, you’ll find people in shorts and bikinis, empanda, beer and hot dog vendors, unemployed people, vagabonds, beggars and thieves, entire families with their dogs and cats, high school students listening to reggaeton, lovers without money for a hotel, shoreline fishermen. People who live happily, unhappily, indifferently. Five thousand years ago the Guaiquerí indians used to fish on these beaches; five hundred years ago the Spanish soldiers, the Franciscans and the Tyrant Aguirre passed through here; Sir Walter Raleigh was defeated here; José Rafael Pocaterra threw two thousand rifles into the gulf here when the Falke ship was fleeing from the forces of Gómez. Many things have happened and continue to happen. So I suppose that because of that humanity –of which one forms a part– you end up making literature. Or try to.

Regarding the previous question, why do you think it is we haven’t created a literature of the sea? Are there too few works with the sea as a topic in our libraries or do the necessary ones exist?

I haven’t made a list, but I too have the impression that the sea as a topic appears very little in our literature. If I start to think about it, a limited number of books come to mind (most of them written before 1960), and it’s curious because we have an immense coastal strip. It would be logical to expect that such a fascinating landscape, to which so many human activities are associated, would generate a great literature. Obviously that’s not the case. Determining why is difficult. A disinterest in the landscape, which reminds us of costumbrismo? Ignorance? A concentration on our urban surroundings? I don’t know. What I’m sure about is that the topic of the sea, in its multiple varied aspects, is inexhaustible, and we’ve barely glanced at it.

Is there a relationship between literature and society? Do you think the books we read (whether the ones our education programs require or the ones we acquire on our own) help define us as individuals and as a society or, on the contrary, that literature doesn’t have anything to do with such delicate matters?

As individuals, we can’t stop seeing ourselves as being affected by the society we live in, by its forms of organization, its forms of exercising power, its belief system; but, at the same time, we aren’t chained to that society. Fortunately, the more or less organized forces of society are opposed by the more or less chaotic forces of the unconscious, of desire, of dreams, of impulses. Curiously, books participate in both orders: they help us form ourselves as individuals and legitimize the social fabric, but they also introduce doubt, heresy, impossible worlds, the unproductive, the capricious, the gratuitous, what is not bound to any norm. We have to be thankful for that. We are social beings in a permanent fight against the social. Members of a herd who march in solitude.

How do you perceive the opportunities for publishing being an author who lives in a province of the country? Are authors in the provinces taken into account as much as authors in the capital?

I’ve published the books I’ve wanted to publish. Living in the provinces hasn’t affected me in that sense. So I can’t complain about the opportunities. Of course, that’s my personal experience. I think I’ve been lucky. I do think my books would circulate more or would be more visible if I lived in Caracas. I’m aware that many people in the provinces find publishing to be very difficult simply because in their regions or cities there are no publishing houses, neither public or private. Whether we like it or not, Caracas continues to be the great center of editorial production and it’s also the promotional center. In a certain manner, what happens outside Caracas doesn’t exist. It would be great if this situation were different, but in order for that to happen many things would have to change: better systems of promotion and dissemination, a greater effectiveness in the distribution of books, the creation of new bookstores in the provinces, among other things.

{ Roberto Echeto, Santillana Ediciones Generales Venezuela, 14 November 2011 }

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