Resurrección de El Techo de la Ballena / Oswaldo Barreto

Resurrection of El Techo de la Ballena

It’s not the result of a belated and vulgar pretension to elaborate surrealist texts, nor a desire to evade realities as pressing as the recent meeting of the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela that anxiously turned out to be so poor in actual political or diplomatic results, the imminent restitution of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras, or the ferocity that terrorism has reached throughout all borders. No, none of that, but rather, as we will try to reveal, it’s a mere desire to understand one of the most complex aspects of our exceedingly complex sociocultural reality.

This whole matter began, let’s say it without further preambles, when one of my former students thought to send me via email the following official invitation: “The Ministry of Popular Power for Culture, through Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, has the pleasure of inviting you to the presentation of the book El Techo de la Ballena: Antología 1961-1969 coinciding with the exhibit “El Techo de la Ballena: Half A Century Later.” Sunday, 1 November 2009, 11am. National Gallery of Art. With the participation of Carlos Noguera, Juan Calzadilla, Edmundo Aray, Daniel González, Josefina Urdaneta. Dedicated in memory of the deceased members of El Techo de la Ballena: Carlos Contramaestre, Caupolicán Ovalles, Adriano González León, Salvador Garmendia, Alberto Brandt, J.M Cruxent, Efraín Hurtado, Dámaso Ogaz, Hugo Batista, Gonzalo Castellanos, Mary Ferrero, Juan Antonio Vasco, David Alizo.”

After realizing that my young friend, precisely because he’s young couldn’t perceive anything extraordinary in this text, no miracles or surrealist conjuring, and that he couldn’t imagine he was committing an abuse by sending me what for him was an anodyne invitation for any citizen, I had no awareness beyond thinking that I was facing the possibility that the miracle resurrection continues to be would very soon occur. Exactly one day before the date when all us mortals come into contact again with the dead, the aforementioned organisms of the State were, in effect, inviting us to the resurrection of one of the most important cultural (artistic and literary) groups to have existed in Venezuela, El Techo de la Ballena [The Roof of the Whale].

The sponsors of the event, who appear in the invitation as participants, are well-known intellectuals, four of whom work or have worked as functionaries or advisors for administrative organisms of the current regime and are among the most recognized intellectuals of Chavismo. Three of them, relatedly, Calzadilla, Aray and González, share another multiple condition: they are among the founders, the most active members and most prolific creators of El Techo de la Ballena.

The tribute they want to offer with this publication to the members who expressly designate themselves as such, then, is a tribute that the surviving members of El Techo de la Ballena offer to the deceased members in honor of what the entire group represented, and to the work they produced as a collective and as individuals. And this work, in the field of literature, in cultural action at conferences, gatherings and congresses, in exhibits of plastic arts and in cinema, extends throughout eight years, from 1961 to 1969. It is a unique oeuvre in the history of Venezuela’s cultural life because of its qualities and dimensions, but it’s an oeuvre that only remains in the memory of those of us who shared with them the political and cultural life in Venezuela during the sixties and, of course, in the libraries and archives where it continues to await researchers, specialists and scholars. To place those texts within reach of readers today, to reproduce the catalogs for the exhibits they held or to once again show what they did in cinema, there is no other way to describe this than as a resurrection of the group, a resurrection of The Whale.

Resurrections in the field of culture don’t represent anything new or strange. In our era, in particular, an era of information and of an ample distribution of art through media, not only mechanical but also electronic, it’s not extraordinary, nor would it usually catch the attention of someone like me who’s concerned with fundamentally political matters. But this resurrection has something absolutely particular to it: it’s not a matter, as it tends to happen, of a living person who resuscitates a dead one, usually someone who’s from another era and another spirit. Here we find that the resuscitators are part of the being they are resuscitating or, if you prefer, that the resuscitated ones formed part of the same being that now returns them to the world.

And this is the political problem and the sociocultural problem that is absolutely our own, of this era that has begun with the advent of Chavismo. Three of the resuscitators, as we have already indicated, assume their condition of being Chavistas and have responsibilities within the cultural actions of the regime. Now, the cultural politics of the current regime, the Chavista conception of culture is situated in many levels at the antipodes of the cultural actions and the spirit that moved the immense and excellent productions of El Techo de la Ballena. This production is oriented towards the struggle against “old literature, old art, rhetoric, demagogic realism, intellectualism, professors, sectarians, President Rómulo Betancourt’s police and the infantry of the U.S. Marines,” as the novelist Adriano González León wrote. And, what is even more defining of the group, freedom of creation was for them a sine qua non condition for the existence of art and literature. And, by demanding freedom of creation, they always declared themselves as supporters of tolerance and dialogue and rejected all forms of authoritarianism in the field of cultural actions by those in power.

Have the remaining members truly resurrected El Techo de la Ballena today?

{ Oswaldo Barreto, Tal Cual, 3 November 2009 }

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