Rubi Guerra: “Aunque suene mal, soy un convencido de las virtudes formales de la imitación consciente” / María Celina Núñez

Rubi Guerra: “Although it sounds bad, I’m convinced of the formal virtues of conscious imitation”

                    [Photo: Alfredo Padron]

1. Can you enumerate the most emblematic moments of initiation in your life? Tell us about one of them, please.

The majority of my “moments of initiation” are too personal for a list, but I can talk about one of them.

Before I started elementary school, my older sister taught me how to read. First I learned how to trace the letters of my name, and then all the rest. It must have been a process of several weeks that I remember as a single day. I can see her (a tall, skinny girl of sixteen) and myself in the living room of our house in San Tomé; I can see that the door is open and beyond that lies the savannah of the Guanipa Plateau and it’s late afternoon. Two years later this moment finds continuity in the books my sister brings me from Caracas each time she comes home for vacations. By that time we’re living in Cumaná. I suppose everything can be found there.

2. How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer? How much time passed between that moment and the elaboration of your first book (published or not)? Who did you tell for the first time?

I started to write regularly at age fourteen, and at twenty-five I felt like I wanted to dedicate myself to writing literature as a fundamental activity in my life. I had just read Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, and I suppose I felt a little like Stingo, the novel’s young narrator. I don’t remember telling anyone about that decision, although it’s possible I did. My first book was published when I was twenty-seven. Nine short stories I gathered because the directors of the Casa Ramos Sucre, Ramón Ordaz and José Malavé, asked me for a book to start their publishing project. Up until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could publish.

3. Favorite authors? Have they changed over the years?

My favorite authors have remained incredibly stable for the last thirty years. Some have incorporated themselves into my list but I can’t tell yet if my interest in them will be permanent, and a few of them have disappeared. Among those who are always there I’d mention Juan Carlos Onetti, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, William Shakespeare, Joseph Conrad, Gustavo Díaz Solís, José Balza, Enrique Bernardo Núñez (for his novel Cubagua), Julio Cortázar (for his short stories), Günter Grass. I don’t consider Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick as favorites, and yet I keep going back to them at certain points. Now I’m reading J.M. Coetzee, Ricardo Piglia, Pierre Michon, Roberto Bolaño and Cormac McCarthy with great interest. I’m surely forgetting many.

I mention the poets separately because I’m a very inconstant reader of poetry and I have a barely fragmentary knowledge of the poetic tradition. I read the same ones over and over: T.S. Eliot, José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Rafael Cadenas, Eugenio Montejo, Juan Sánchez Peláez, Borges again.

4. Have you ever found yourself unconsciously imitating an author? How has it felt? How do you stop that imitation?

Although it sounds bad, I’m convinced of the formal virtues of conscious imitation. You can learn techniques, procedures, you’re able to try out ways of seeing. Unconscious imitation presents more problems: when we fall into it our writing becomes servile. And yes, it’s happened to me. It turns out to be a bit humiliating, though I don’t give it too much importance. If I detect that imitation in an unpublished text, it’s no big deal, I either rewrite it or throw it out. And If it’s published, there’s nothing I can do about it. Basically, it seems to me it has to do with the idea of originality, which is a notion that should be relativized a great deal. After all, in relation to narrative technique there hasn’t been anything too original in the last seventy years, more or less. Another thing is the vision of the world each writer has, which if it’s personal and honest, will be original (more or less). So that would be one way of stopping unconscious imitation: listening to yourself in order to find out what you have to say.

5. Gregarious or solitary? Have you belonged to any literary groups? Do you believe in literary generations?

I haven’t belonged to literary groups, but I have many writer friends. I don’t consider myself particularly solitary, but I spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes I go for days without leaving my house; it’s not something that weighs on me too much; and yet I don’t avoid people either. Maybe I’m a solitary man who enjoys being with his friends. Determining what a “literary generation” might be and who belongs to it or not is a matter for academics. About twenty years ago, maybe a little longer, people started to talk about the “generation of the nineties,” and they included me in that. I don’t think it was a very rigorous classification from a theoretical standpoint.

6. Do you want to be a very famous writer or a writer known by a select few?

I hadn’t ever thought about it in those terms. Does anyone want to be known by a select few? In other words, to be read and admired by very few people? I can’t imagine anyone would want that as a fate. What I would like is to be able to write what interests me with something I’ll call “aesthetic solvency” because I can’t think of anything better, that I’m able to find editors willing to publish what I write and that they don’t lose money in the process, and that the resulting book find the greatest number possible of attentive readers. Nothing more, and nothing less.

7. Do you publish everything you write? Do you keep personal diaries? Would you write your autobiography?

I wish everything I write deserved to be published, but that’s not the case. Most of it is worthless and it ends up in the trash or in the limbo of cyberspace.

During some periods of my life I’ve taken autobiographical notes with certain regularity, and they too have ended up in the trash. I’ve accepted that diaries, mine or those of others, bore me. Save for a very few exceptions. For that reason I’d never write my autobiography; I don’t think it would interest anyone; not even me. Of course in the fiction I write there are autobiographical elements: the landscapes, certain emotions, a portrait of a character; never the central actions. Relatedly, personal memory isn’t very trustworthy, at least mine isn’t. I prefer to use my scarce memories as nourishment for fiction.

8. What is your opinion of criticism? Is there an undercover critic inside each creative writer?

A critic is, or should be, someone who reads with attention, and writes with rigor and elegance about what they read. They should, moreover, pay attention to the resonances of a particular work within its cultural, historical, ideological contexts... Maybe that’s too much to ask. In any case, criticism is necessary so that the other writers (critics are also writers) can have interlocutors. Many writers have no interest in practicing criticism despite the fact that they are, to a certain degree, professional readers. It’s a matter of inclinations. On the other hand, many authors, poets and fiction writers, dedicate themselves on a regular basis, and in no way undercover, to criticism. For example, among the contemporaries, Coetzee, and a few decades ago, Eliot. Guillermo Sucre, José Balza, Luis Barrera Linares, among the Venezuelans. Really, it seems to me like something natural that emerges from the fact that authors live and work among books, they reflect on what they read, they love and distance themselves from certain books. Some limit themselves to oral criticism; others are more organized and put their reading experiences in writing.

9. How do you endure the weight of the world?

Badly, like nearly everyone on the planet.

{ María Celina Núñez, Papel Literario, El Nacional, 27 November 2015 }

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