La muerte del estratega / Antonio López Ortega

The Death of the Strategist

The death of the Colombian poet Álvaro Mutis (1923-2013), after he turned 90, confirms an inevitable tendency: the gradual disappearance of the great Latin American authors born in the decade of the twenties. Until just a few decades ago they were very live presences, but they are slowly entering the silence of dusk while their work grows in stature. What the body abandons —decrepitude—, the soul conquers in another manner. And soul for a valid author ends up being his work, which ceases to belong to him and is passed on to others, his readers or authentic heirs. A sonnet by Quevedo, for example, quickly ceases to belong to the author in order to pass into the memory of men, like Borges was fond of saying: if within the human scale there is any operation of transcendence, of the abolition of time, that operation is the artistic work, that always arrives to stay.

The last visit by Mutis to Venezuela occurred between the years 1989 and 1990. He was no longer just the great poet of the Spanish tongue, but also the inventor of Maqroll, the Gaviero. He made declarations, he was interviewed, they took him to television shows, he spoke with friends and was captivated by Venezuelan women. He was a modest, simple man, capable of speaking with anyone. He had an unfathomable curiosity for the human species, which would take him from admiration to sadness. Not in vain, his public positions as a monarchist or anarchist never ceased to be a provocation for the scant determination of a humanity he felt was downcast. As with all the great poets of the Spanish tongue who passed through Caracas, visiting the Venezuelan Juan Sánchez Peláez was like an obligatory rite. In his old house in Altamira, dense with trees and sonorous frogs, “Juanito,” as he called him, would welcome him in black leather easy chairs where their glasses of scotch would ring late into the night. Being a witness to this dialogue between colossi, or elves, or children who marvel at the air itself, was a great, dazzling blessing, where the poetic word crowned everything.

But the Mutis that mosts interests me, closer to the poet than to the novelist, is the one who would gravely lead us to perhaps his most personal world view: what would lead him to affirm that the human condition was the only condition without hope, and in some way tragic. Desperation, a term that he himself seemed to have coined, perfectly defined our existence. Mutis wrote very few short stories, but one of them, masterful from beginning to end, was called “The Death of the Strategist.” Set during the period when the Byzantine succumbs to the invasion of the Persians, a Roman general named Alar, the Illyrian, a non-believer, solitary and pessimist, waits for his death in the extremities of the Empire. He has tried religions, he has known all the landscapes, he has lived through all the wars, he has fled from the recently Christianized and fanatical Roman bureaucracy. His motto is clear: to move away, reduce himself, constrict himself. Until one day, by chance or following an order by his superiors, he meets Ana, the Cretan, the only real love of his life, and he falls for her, as though faith had won his spirit over. And yet, the days he can live with Ana are brief, and in the end the only thing left is the memory, which is what nourishes his final days. Alar dies under the rigor of an ambush of archers: the first arrow cuts into his ribs and the last one into his neck. While he dies, while the blood flows and mixes in with the sand, the only image that sustains him, this time on his knees, is Ana the Cretan’s translucent skin, which revealed her blue veins like subterranean rivers.

I tend to think that the true Mutis is Alar, the great hopeless one. If Mutis has closed his eyes it’s because he too has seen, in his last sigh, the blue veins of Ana, the Cretan.

{Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 26 September 2013 }

No comments: