Gustavo Valle, otro viaje interior / Daniel Fermín

Gustavo Valle, Another Inner Journey

                                  [Photo: Mai Albamonte Pizarro]

Gustavo Valle (Caracas, 1967) had his first migratory experience when he was 17 or 18 years old. That passage through the Gulf of Cariaco later served him when he recreated the landscape in Happening, which won the Multi-Genre Prize of the Sociedad de Amigos de la Cultura Urbana in 2013. A road novel about escape, abandonment, guilt.

“I think escape is a topic that interests me, it’s evident in Venezuela today. Literature doesn’t function like an escape but rather an immersion. Escape translates into a type of unknown map. You don’t know quite where you’re going, but in that movement you might find a few clues.”

The new book by the Venezuelan writer is a story in which the protagonist, a frustrated theater actor, flees after a culpable homicide. An escape that leads him to reencounter himself, his own origins. An existential thriller that is also an inner journey. Like the literature Valle himself enjoys reading and making.

“The main character of my novel confronts extreme situations and the way he finds answers is by going on a trip, or actually an escape, to a remote place. I think that during physical displacements a ferocious mechanism for psychic reflection is activated. My characters are in permanent movement precisely because in that movement they find the answers to those questions that unsettle them.”

Valle is a migrant being. He’s been in Buenos Aires for several years now (before that he spent some time in Spain). His fiction is always bringing him back to his origins. Writing in order to return to memory, to the place he left. His first novel, Bajo tierra (2009), was the product —among other things— of an obsession with Caracas; in Happening, there’s also something of that oppressive city, of that space that expels, or frightens, its inhabitants.

“Writing fiction has moved me to establish my scenes in Venezuela and to imagine the country and its people. More than a reencounter with the country I think it’s a way of surprising myself with it, and of exploring and thinking about it. I mean, it’s an exercise of permanently interpolating my own identity.”

That said, Valle doesn’t write for a Venezuelan reader, nor for any other single nationality. He merely writes, with no other intention.

“Writers simply write for their readers, and before that for themselves, since we’re the first and inevitable reader we have. Readers tend to be a mystery for the writer and writing a book for oneself or for someone else is to aim at a moving target. The best thing is to save that ammunition for the writing itself.”

Valle’s literature tends to evoke memories and nostalgias. Remembering is an exercise of construction, as one of the characters in Happening says. Seeing writing as a form of memory, or —maybe— as a means of remaining through art.

“I believe one of the great tasks of literature and art is to work with memory. And especially in our country, where we’re living through an epidemic of amnesia. But memory, once it’s evoked, modifies itself, transfigures itself, and it moves reality towards a terrain where reflection and judgment can be exercised better. When we turn our glance backwards we’re also imagining our past, which is the best way of looking forward. I mean, without a story there’s no future. But I’m not talking about history’s narrative, which is indispensable, but rather the memory that’s conceived by fiction.”

There’s another phrase in Happening that says, to represent is to be oneself not someone else. Valle thinks writing is also a means of unfolding, of putting on a mask that might be transparent. Or not.

“Not just unpacking yourself, which requires a great deal of bravery, but also unpacking others. Even unpacking everything, if possible: prejudice, power, customs, morality. I mean, when we write we always try to open and unpack. Reality tends to present itself to us in only one of its fronts and the task of the writer is to reveal the others. Just like you on a mask, you can also pull out other ones.”

{ Daniel Fermín, El Universal, 21 September 2014 }

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