¿Qué literatura tras Chávez? / Gustavo Guerrero

What Literature After Chávez?

Venezuelan citizens wait to receive a free copy of Don Quixote, Caracas, 2005./EFE

A couple days ago, Beatriz Lecumberri, the author of La revolución sentimental (2012) —undoubtedly one of the fairest and best informed works of journalism on Venezuela’s recent history— wrote in this same newspaper: “Chávez, over the years, also continued to leave an important part of the citizenry outside his project for the country. With me or against me. And political exclusion substituted social exclusion.”

Literature has not been an exception to these discriminatory practices. Today there is an abundance of testimonies of the gap they have created among many writers and people within the world of letters. More so considering that, before the arrival of Chávez to power, the world of Venezuelan literature, as visitors from abroad would notice with surprise, was a very small space, civil and familiar. Under the protective shade of our oil-producing State, the struggles for symbolic capital were basically resolved through aesthetic positioning and the distribution of administrative positions and national prizes, without the ideological positions of individuals disturbing a certain climate of respect and cordiality. Many of the current directors of Chavista cultural institutions and many of their current opponents were thus able to share, for many years, identical benefits and they enjoyed relatively balanced dealings.

The radical nature of how things change starting in 1998 modifies within a few years this relatively strange landscape in Latin America. Towards 2006, the novelist Ana Teresa Torres can’t avoid confirming it: “Today, at the principal activities organized by the government (writers conferences, book fairs, poetry festivals) and the international events with official invitations for Venezuela, the only required writers are ones aligned with the government, almost always the ones who form part of the bureaucratic payroll. Opposition writers publicly denounce that their participation has been excluded; others, the majority, exclude themselves voluntarily and their absence is notorious in the events and celebrations of government-aligned writers (and vice-versa). National prizes tend to orbit suspiciously among the unconditional ones...”

I don’t think that, in the seven years that separate us from the Torres citation, the discriminatory drift has ceased or diminished. But one of the collateral effects it has produced, has been to push many authors to go in search of other instances of intellectual and literary legitimation and, in particular, that decisive instance of readers. As opposed to what would happen about 20 or 30 years ago, today their numbers have increased with the reading campaigns and moreover today their interest continues to grow for everything that Venezuelan literature might be able to say about the country. Not in vain have some spoken of, until about two years ago, a small fiction boom that was related to the double conjunction highlighted by the development of the editorial market and the educational policies of the government. Authors such as Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Federico Vegas or Francisco Suniaga, for example, today enjoy en independence that allows them the dissemination of their novels among an important group of readers and they are not subject, like others, to only depending on the institutional acknowledgment of the cultural apparatus of the State.

The few attempts that have been made up until now to reunify the field and reconcile the writers from both factions have been unsuccessful. Thus, the II Internacional Encounter of Fiction Writers in Venezuela organized by the Ministry of Popular Power for Culture last November ended with an exchange of accusations and an open confrontation between opposition novelists, such as Gisela Kozak, and Chavista figures, such as Carlos Noguera and Humberto Mata.

However, no one is unaware that sports and culture have traditionally been privileged circles for minimizing differences and negotiating consensus in situations of extreme political polarization. If the fervor for the national soccer team, the Vinotinto, continues to be one of the few factors capable of gathering Venezuelans together, it isn’t naive to think that sooner or later literature might be able to open one or another space for dialogue. Because there is nothing more urgent in a divided country, full of hatred and where weapons circulate in large quantities.

A la pregunta ¿qué literatura después de Chávez?, la respuesta, en la coyuntura actual, es, pues, una que busque afanosamente las palabras, las narrativas y los símbolos que nos devuelvan a todos el respeto, la sensatez, la tolerancia y el espíritu crítico; una que cree las condiciones mínimas para restablecer los vínculos comunitarios en una nación hecha pedazos.

To the question “What literature after Chávez?”, the answer, at the current juncture, the answer is one that might laboriously seek the words, the narratives and the symbols in order to give us back respect, common sense, tolerance and the critical spirit; one that creates the minimal conditions for reestablishing community ties in a nation that has been torn to pieces.

Gustavo Guerrero is Editorial Consultant for Latin America at the publishing house Gallimard in Paris.

{ Gustavo Guerrero, El País, 13 March 2013 }

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