Las otras ruinas circulares / Gabriel Payares

The Other Circular Ruins

It’s always a discomfort to speak in generational terms: whoever does it runs the risk of raising a banner in the name of many. Which is why in the following lines I’ll try, in any case, to speak from a perspective that’s my own, singular and personal. I think that those of us who were born in the eighties were fated to begin writing surrounded mostly by ruins: those of a formal educational system, for example, that a long time ago lost its bearings and collapsed, in a frank and open demonstration of the scant interest Venezuelans take in the construction of their future generations; but also the ruins of a culture of citizenship, manifested in the post-apocalyptic aspect of our unloved cities, in our shameful political behavior or in the brutal quota of violence that day by day desensitizes us to death and suffering. A country in ruins, then, to reiterate the journalistic cliché. I’m afraid this won’t be a very hopeful reading.

But it’s not my intention to repeat here what everyone knows, rather to own that metaphor for a while: ruins are, at once, remembrance of an ancient project and totem of a future desire, and that is precisely the idea that governs our particular imaginary of home: since every moment in the past was always better, we’ve chosen to wait for it to magically repeat itself; we are the debtors of Bolívar’s cadaver, waiting for the instant when he’ll rise from his bicentennial tomb and rescue us. The term “ruin,” [ruina] on the other hand, contains the word “contemptible” [ruin], whose most obvious meaning is linked to a state of moral degradation, of evil, of vileness. And it isn’t accidental: our crisis, it has already been said quite frequently, is a profound moral crisis, which both film and literature have tried to echo, maybe not in the most effective manner. It’s enough to recall the films of the nineties, incapable of overcoming their surprise at the country’s growing marginal communities, or the literary production of more or less the same era, half obsessed with finding answers in national historical references, as in that branch of fiction that Luz Marina Rivas has baptized as “intrahistoric,” and likewise with the idea of reporting an increasingly coarse reality, perhaps as a strategy to digest it: to make it fit within a narrative, to summarize it, quantify it.

Whatever the case, the conclusion this leads to was already announced to us by the great Juan Liscano, when he affirmed that our creators have always succumbed to an imperative desire for realism, for an artist’s commitment to his corresponding historical moment, in frank detriment however of the deployment of his inner worlds. The exercise of fiction, it seems, constitutes in our country a form of cultured referentiality, and in obedience, quite often, to a political mandate that assumes the writer’s role is to raise the awareness of the masses, to “open their eyes” to reality, as if people were sleeping and expectant, waiting for an illuminated figure to point the way for them or speak as their representative. Seen in this manner, it is the literary equivalent of populism, whose most recent evolution proposes one write for a “basic” reader, one who is “down to earth” and “average,” like a reading for invalids, and which in many cases is merely an excuse to hide the scarce poetic projection of the whoever is writing. I think one should distrust whoever proposes a decaffeinated literature for vacations.

The critic Carlos Sandoval critiqued something similar in a recent edition of the Bienal Mariano Picón Salas prize, when he referred to the predominance, in our 21st century fiction, of proposals that are incapable of “...overcoming the anecdotal and descriptive.” Our fictional muscle, it seems, continues to be just as weak as before, despite the fact that the unbearable social crisis, to which a political crisis has been added, already has more popular figures that concern themselves with it, such as journalists and data analysts, political scientists or pollsters, and that historical discourse, which today resounds louder than ever, remains a territory for scholars of the field and historians. So what then is the role, the place of the writer today?

There’s more than one answer. For some it’s found under the lights and cameras, in hundreds of photos tagged on Facebook, new stars of the naked king, of the writer who never writes, or in interminable lists of blogs and web pages of varied and often contradictory poetic value. For others it’s found anchored in the idea of the city, in the description of urban surroundings like postmodern chroniclers of the Indies, determined to combat the worn out rural and epic discourse of the independence era with a paradoxical exaltation of our impoverished modernity. And for a very few the writer’s place is in the dark, struggling with language in order to attempt to create a world of one’s own, an “inner meadow” –as the cartoon character Miguelito by Quino would say– that will allow him to endure (or not) Venezuela’s crushing and autonomous reality. “More fiction and less realism” was also the diagnosis of the fiction writer from Trujillo Carolina Lozada, in a recent interview, worried about the myopia with which we seem to contemplate the task of writing, a myopia that gets worse with the deficit of specialized editors in the country and which moreover forgets that the commitment of every writer is first to fiction, to poetry, to finding the answers to life in a language that is his own and autonomous, as free as possible yet believable, by which I mean, with the production of keys that can interpret not only the country and the world, but also the self: the writer’s commitment should be profoundly subjective, and it should be a priority in his life.

Maybe for thinking in this manner it’s been my role to insist, maybe foolishly, stubbornly, stupidly even, in mistrusting the excessive celebratory eagerness to which we tend to be so disposed. The recent multiplication of young voices willing to enter into the field of writing should no doubt make us happy, but not so much as to affirm the existence of a boom, or much less of a golden age for our fiction, irresponsible affirmations that simply raise the bar beyond reach, sentencing us later to settling with what exists, since as our invisible friends say, “this is what we got.” A disservice, in my opinion, for those of us who have the hope of being read, and which ends up being more painful today, in the light of the implacable recession we suffer in the editorial world. Where are they now, the voices who sang about our unstoppable advance, our golden age, our editorial flowering? It ends up being ironic, what’s more, that we celebrate a realist literature without having our feet firmly on the ground, ignoring the fact that in literary matters, one, two or three books published are little more than the beginning of a career, and not the cusp and much less the goal, and that complacency, short cuts and immediacy, conditions so in tune with our sad idiosyncrasy, once again play, just as they do in other realms of experience, openly against us. Moral: we shouldn’t want to resuscitate, like voodoo priests, that better past that our abundant ruins accuse. The road lies, instead, in the demanding maturation of our incipient talents and excellence: if we never learned how to sow our petroleum, at least we should learn to cultivate patience. Cadenas has said it: “culture is a thing of patience.”

And in this sense, I would like to close by remembering what the good Ednodio Quintero was kind enough to share with me one day, a product of his readings of the Argentine César Aira: the samurai from Los Andes told me there are two ways to become a writer, which are: to publish first and then write, a strategy that guarantees a quick access to fame, or writing first and publishing later, by which you place your wager on the rigors of transcendence. And since it will be time that decides the wheat from the chaff, we should procure to keep our feet on the ground, and in the best of cases, and paraphrasing a famous Spanish painter, let time find us writing. Everything else, I’m afraid, is new illusions.

Thank you very much.

Text read at the Universidad de Carabobo, in the city of Valencia, by invitation from the Jornadas de Voz Creativa 2011.

{ Gabriel Payares, Blog Caribe, 18 November 2011 }

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