El grito insomne / Carolina Lozada

The Insomniac Scream

On October 25th, 1929, José Antonio Ramos Sucre writes a letter to his brother Lorenzo, in which he confesses himself as an unfortunate being and a condemned spirit as a consequence of being raised in an inconsiderate and despotic manner:

“I was locked up in Carúpano. Father Ramos completely ignored the care one should give a child. He incurred in a stupid severity for trivial reasons. That’s why I feel no affection for him. I would spend days and days without going out to the street and I then was assaulted by bouts of desperation and I would spend hours crying and laughing at the same time. I hate the people who were charged with raising me.”

In the same letter he also speaks about his nervous condition: “My mental imbalance is a terror and only fear has stopped me at the threshold of suicide.” However, a few years later, the poet born in Cumaná will lose his fear of death and cross the threshold. In one of his final letters, written to Dolores Emilia Madriz and dated in Geneva on April 24th, 1930, he expounds: “I don’t how I’m doing. But I assure you that I’m not very scared of death;” later on, just a few days before his first suicide attempt, he announces to the same person:

“I will not resign myself to spending the rest of my life, who knows how many years!, in mental decadence. The entire machine has become disorganized. I’m very scared of losing my will to work. I still shave daily. I barely read. I’m discovering in myself a radical change of character. The day after tomorrow I turn forty and it’s been two years since I’ve written anything.”

On June 9th, 1930 he turns forty and tries to commit suicide a second time. On June 13th he dies.

The possibility of suicide as an exit from his tribulations also seduced Kafka, even though it never materialized. On February 15th, 1914 the Czechoslovakian author made a list of what he had done (and wished for) on the previous day; among other things, he writes: “Yesterday afternoon I got my hair cut, then I wrote a letter to Bl.; then I spent a few minutes with Max (...), then, a desire to kill myself.” With a less breezy tone he had noted on August 15th, 1913: “Torments in bed, at dawn. The only solution I could see was jumping out the window.” The constant idea of suicide isn’t the only presence that binds these two writers, there’s also insomnia, the spirit undermined by a nervous frailty. On several occasions, Kafka writes in his diary about how difficult it is for him to get the restorative sleep he needs. In the years leading up to his end he complains, just like Ramos Sucre, about a great physical and spiritual weakness: “I can’t continue writing. I’ve reached the definitive limit (...) This fate pursues me. Once again I feel cold and soulless; there’s nothing left but the senile love of complete repose.”

Conscious of the “mental proximities” between Ramos Sucre and Kafka, Rubi Guerra fictionalizes an encounter between the two in his novel La tarea del testigo (Caracas: El perro y la rana, 2007 / Lugar Común, 2012). The novelist from Cumaná sets both characters in a European sanatorium where they will establish a cordial camaraderie. At the same time he lets himself introduce characters and situations taken from expressionist cinema, such as the recreation of the persecution of the killer in “M,” the vampire from Düsseldorf, the film by Fritz Lang, and the apparition of the somnambulant Cesare, from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Through this fictional game, Guerra is able to situate both writers within that spiritual and artistic moment that was created by expressionist angst.

Witnesses during times of war and global terror, Kafka and Ramos Sucre share at a distance the insomniac scream, the uncertainty when facing the tides of their nervous existence. Neither one of them is able to break their fears or insecurities, neither one will recover from his sick body: “the illness forced him to hate his body,” writes Rubi Guerra in La tarea del testigo. In Kafka the enthusiastic and volatile moments of fortitude will deflate: “From today onwards never abandon the diary! Write regularly! Don’t give up!” With his strength overwhelmed, at some point the author of The Process assumes himself as a being “so abandoned by me, by everything.” Pages later he will write: “Dying would be no more than handing over nothing to nothingness.”

Residue” is the title of Ramos Sucre’s last poem and in that text he will begin the path to renunciation, passing through misty places: “I declined my forehead on the plateau of revelations and terror.” The Latin American poet would survive the European novelist only by a few years, and he never renounced the fatalist feeling that marked his life: “I carry in my spirit the desolation of the landscape.”

{ Carolina Lozada, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 24 May 2014 }

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