Calletania, ahora / Salvador Garmendia

Calletania, Now

I thought the novel had disappeared in Venezuela; or that at least it wasn’t around anywhere. The door had been left open, and the aroma remained: but just the aroma, I don’t know if from nostalgia or as a precaution. Actually, we had been the ones (those of us who thought we had it by the neck), who had let it go one day; and it seemed like it would be like that for a while. Then Calletania appeared and it seems like the novel is unexpectedly here again; literature sounds like it’s nearby once more. Reality reappears inventing things; poetry untangling streets, rooms, dawns and empty stages from the fifties; amidst a replay of themes we had thought abandoned by certain types of timeless fiction; sex, alcohol, narcotics, revolution...

That great intruder in bed, as drawn with bitter complicity by one of the threads of consciousness that sustain the plot, the Colonel, in his harangue of despair and disillusion: “We didn’t have anything else to share besides the speeches among friends in common, each time fewer, more fastidious; the places that separated us, those of us who had carried the revolution, that stupid offering, that useless point of convergence, that great intruder in bed...”

Calletania, the novel by Israel Centeno (1958), a work of initiation that is perhaps too acceleratedly brief and yet still feels like it’s left over from something; but a something that remains, making a sound beyond the pages; and in which we imagine ourselves involved by one and many loose threads. It’s a quick hit, one of those that leave a mark and vibrate for a long time. That afternoon, we touch the area where we were hit and say, that kid hits hard. Because Centeno knows the novel isn’t just writing; but it’s mainly writing. That language doesn’t play by itself; but its virtue is a solitary virtue that exercises and sustains itself without leaving, assaulting itself like a lowly thief. This is how Centeno is able to untangle a capable, pursuant, stalking fiction, in control of its secrets, skilled at moving its pieces at the appropriate moment, loose when it comes to humor and irreverent commentary; and above all, intelligent and skeptical, when observation jumps like a spark from the flame that consumes us today and reminds us that “instability, bewilderment, uncertainty, these are all sustained by a system of liberties.”

{ Salvador Garmendia, El Diario de Caracas, 2 August 1992 }

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