Rubi Guerra: El mal siempre triunfa porque vive en cada uno de nosotros / Michelle Roche Rodríguez

Rubi Guerra: Evil always triumphs because it lives within each of us

The novel that recreates the poet’s three days of agony won the Rufino Blanco Fombona Prize

It should be said right away. The man who watches José Antonio Ramos Sucre is Rubi Guerra. And this is not just a spoiler, but also a way of understanding the work of the author born in San Tomé in 1958 and, especially, the book of his that Lugar Común has just published, La tarea del testigo. The novel that won the Rufino Blanco Fombona Prize in 2006 returns to those three terrible days in 1930 when the poet born in Cumaná lay dying.

Guerra’s fantasy about the insomniac author

“Sleeping is not a physiological necessity but rather a state of the soul, a virtue,” he writes in the novel that confronts the protagonist with memories, nightmares, hallucinations and ghosts emerged from his poems. The idea for the 110-page text that includes three supposed short stories by Ramos Sucre reproduced in the novel, ones he offered the person to whom he was writing his letters, occurred to him 28 years ago, when the Casa Ramos Sucre cultural center in Cumaná was inaugurated and Guerra tried to write a play.

The title of the novel itself alludes to the writer who watches the writer (the “witness” of the other’s work), but returns to an idea the critic Julio Miranda considered central in Venezuelan literature of the final decades of the previous century: the image of the “dreamer,” of the man who walks between sleep and waking through the city. And, like the center of a five-pointed star, insomnia articulates the dyads of sleep and waking, madness and death, adding to these the motive of the golem, typical of Gothic literature since the time of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Edgar Allan Poe

What difficulties did working with the figure of the poet entail?
Many. The first was the prurience of real names.

Are Ramos Sucre and the Consul the same person?
When I began, yes. I soon realized the Consul required his own identity, but that identity couldn’t be completely separated from the model that inspired it. That’s why the character is never mentioned as José Antonio Ramos Sucre; I use the initials, or the diplomatic position, which point out the similarities, but also the differences. Finding the tone for the letters was also a difficulty; I wanted them to look like the actual missives of the poet in the rhythm of the sentences, and at the same time that they be different.

Besides this novel, what relationship does your fiction have to the work of the poet?
It’s not an obsession or anything like that. It’s an unfinished task. A short story in my first book, from 1986, includes more or less ironic references to “Life of the Damned”; and the short story “The Library,” from 2004, has an adolescent Ramos Sucre as its character. For a while now I’ve been researching the poet’s childhood and youth without a specific purpose yet; I might write an essay, or a biographical account, or maybe it’ll just serve to satisfy the curiosity I feel for that time period. I prefer to think that my fiction is sufficiently diverse for me to get close to the poet’s work without being absorbed by it. Hopefully.

Insomnia and the possibility of loving are themes that cross the novel. What do they allow you to explore?
Beneath those themes there are two other ones that are central for me. They may not be central for other readers. In the one hand, there’s the matter of the fragility of reality. In our daily life we tend to distinctly separate what’s real from what’s not. On one side we have events, our waking life, the rationality of ideas, even a certain rationality of emotions and feelings; on the other, dreams, the moment between waking and sleeping, fears and irrational desires, hallucinations, chemically-altered states, memory (which isn’t fixed at all, but rather a moveable, unstable construct), imagination. In my case, each time I wake up I feel I’ve been tossed from one world into another, from one reality to another. The other theme is the presence of evil. Not metaphysical evil, but an evil of human origin, that’s expressed as violence, as contempt for life. To say it in a few words: the evil that always triumphs because it lives within each of us.

{ Michelle Roche Rodríguez, El Nacional, 1 September 2012 }

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