La extranjería se hizo un tema esencial de la literatura venezolana / Michelle Roche Rodríguez

Foreignness Has Become An Essential Topic In Venezuelan Literature

Images of the journey, nostalgia and hybridity are the contributions of migration to the work of Venezuelan authors.

Gustavo Guerrero: “Without ceasing to be Venezuelan, I feel as close to France as a recruit for the Foreign Legion.” Photo: Alexandra Blanco

Since the end of the 20th century immigration has become a reality for the country that up until then had received with open arms the European diaspora that survived wars and dictatorships, as well as those Latin Americans coming from nations suffering from violence and poverty. Approximately 40% of Venezuelans today dream of establishing themselves somewhere else and nearly half a million of them accomplished this last year, which means that the separation from friends and family has become a national trauma and, of course, this has also occurred in the literary material of many writers, especially those who have established themselves in other places.

Proof of the centrality that understanding the phenomenon has acquired in Venezuelan letters is the publication in 2012 of the poetry anthology Exilios: poesía latinoamericana del siglo XX, edited by Marina Gasparini. In this book, uprooting, as well as nostalgia and diaspora, construct the metaphors of contemporary authors. Another example is the panel that represented Venezuela in the 2012 Guadalajara International Book Fair, entitled: “Venezuela: Migratory Narratives,” where the conversation focused on migration as an element in writing. Definitive proof is the recent publication of Pasaje de ida: 15 escritores venezolanos en el exterior, a selection of texts compiled by Silda Cordoliani in which the fiction writer —who still lives in Caracas— interviews various authors about what Venezuela feels like from abroad.

Literary Turtles. The move made by Venezuelan authors is noted in their work through the use of the metaphor of the journey, the description of estrangement in certain characters and the use of nostalgia as an emotional atmosphere in texts. The language also changes, because the autochthonous is amplified by what is heard in new everyday encounters. And yet, Venezuela remains a trademark in the background.

“In the majority of the writers who have left, the center of their literary imaginary continues to be Venezuela. Authors like Israel Centeno, Gustavo Valle, Camilo Pino, Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez, Juan Carlos Chirinos and Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles are turtles who have taken their country with them on their backs,” points out the literary critic Violeta Rojo.

The editor Luis Yslas, for whom the sensation of foreignness —“that feeling of being far from a place that might grant a sense of belonging”— is inherent to the creative person, explores Rojo’s idea further: “To the movement from one register to another —the literary exercise— is added the movement beyond a territory. That second movement, for private or public reasons, might install itself (or not) in their works, although this might not necessarily happen in every case.”

Although he recognizes that Venezuelan writers abroad belong to different generations and realities, he points out: “The migratory experience has given them a vision that, without abandoning the references of the native land, expands, enriches, multiplies the notion of belonging.”

The Projection of the National. Many critics see the change of residence of national authors as opportunities for the projection of Venezuelan literature, as was the case with Argentine literature due to the diaspora that originated in the Dirty War, or with Colombian literature as a result of the conflict of the drug wars. But not everyone agrees: “I’m not sure that the departure of writers from the country will help internationalize our tradition. I think that process is moving in another direction, I get the impression that Spaniards publish themselves and have a quota of minorities,” says Rojo.

For the poet and essayist Gustavo Guerrero, who lives in Paris, recommending Venezuelan books and participating in the dissemination of his country’s letters are means of assuming his identity in his work as literary adviser at the Gallimard publishing house. “I’ve contributed to creating dossiers, to organizing round tables and to editing works that might allow one to influence that unity within the university,” he explains. Like Guerrero in France, Méndez Guédez and Chirinos are active promoters of Venezuelan literature in Spain, where they live.

In a world that is more and more globalized, the opportunity exists for establishing links between Venezuelan authors in and out of the country, so as to finally crystallize a solid literary tradition.

{ Michelle Roche Rodríguez, El Nacional, 24 August 2013 }

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