The Night: Rodrigo Blanco Calderón’s Homage to Venezuelan Poet Darío Lancini

                    [Photo: Luisa Fontiveros]

In The Night, Rodrigo Blanco Calderón has one of his characters speak the following phrase many people might easily identify with: “The same thing happens with writers: they offer us a phrase or an image that can eventually change our lives, and when we return from the revelation and want to find its source, it turns out they’ve been dead for many years, like how they say happens with extinct stars and the trail of their brightness.”

When he hears this phrase, the writer evokes the two times he spoke with Darío Lancini. One was at the Chacao Cultural Center and the other was at the El Buscón bookstore. “When I would remember those encounters, they increased my fascination while I was writing the novel. For me he was already a master, but I didn’t really know everything he had done during his life. So when I wrote this type of fictional biography, I was surprised that I hadn’t quite realized who I was so lucky to be talking with.”

As a writer, Blanco Calderón lamented the fleetingness of those encounters with the poet, that weren’t enough to satisfy his interest in a character he kept exploring further and further in his story, where he rescues him and even pays homage to him. “I had been fascinated for a long time with his book Oír a Darío and his palindromes. I began to formally write the novel the day after he died in 2010. Something sparked in me, it was automatic. Intuitively I always thought his life would make a great novel. While I was researching, I realized I was right.”

The novel by Blanco Calderón, born in 1981, is set in various types of chaos, Caracas today, with its routines, darkness and fears, where Darío lived, and where two characters from Blanco Calderón's short stories also live: the former literary promise Pedro Álamo and the forensic psychiatrist Miguel Ardiles.

What’s the reason for the repercussions and interest that have emerged for your novel?

I can mention what I’ve been told and what I’ve read. Obviously, there’s a political interest regarding the situation in Venezuela. A circumstance like the electricity blackouts is incomprehensible in various European countries. It’s sad, but there’s a certain exoticism about our backwardness. Beyond that first reason which is the context, there are also those qualities that aren’t up to me to talk about. I’ve been told that some people are fascinated by Darío’s life. Most of them didn’t know he existed. They searched some of the book’s events on the Internet and were amazed to discover he actually existed, which has also been the case for those readers who’ve looked up the Edmundo Chirinos case.

Could you talk about that encounter between the characters Pedro Álamo and Miguel Ardiles?

Miguel Ardiles appears in my first book of short stories, there’s a continuity. The same with Pedro Álamo, the main character in the short story “El biombo” from Los invencibles (2007). It’s been interesting to see their paths cross. For me the figure of the psychiatrist is the contemporary substitute for what could have been, up to the 19th century, the priest, an authority who receives the confluence of people’s confessions, secrets and trauma. Now, regarding the failed writer, I’m attracted to those types of characters. Both of them have narrative potential.

Some critics classify The Night as a gothic novel. Do you agree?

That’s a classification one of the characters in the novel makes, that he wants to write what he calls gothic realism. A lot of times people are repeating what the character says. If you go beyond the first chapter you realize it’s not quite so, that it’s part of an unfinished project. The Night flirts with being a gothic novel, even a detective novel, but it can’t be classified as either of those. They’re genres with a structure I don’t adhere to.

I noticed that in your acknowledgements you clarify that, despite consulting sources, this is a work of fiction. Weren’t you tempted to let the doubt remain?

That clarification is a symptom of the place where I wrote: Caracas, the capital of a lawless country. Despite being fiction, I reproduce some stories that might certain sensibilities. Also, you never know what someone might use to attack you. Fortunately —or maybe unfortunately— for writers, Chavismo is an illiterate dictatorship. Regardless, I felt the need to safeguard my work.

You’re a short story writer who decided to extend into the novel. At any time did it feel like an uphill battle and did you consider abandoning it?
I never considered abandoning it, but there was a difficult moment. When it came time to write the second part of the novel, Darío Lancini’s life, I thought I had enough with what I had researched up until then, especially in terms of written references. When I began to record testimonies about him I realized what a complex and interesting life he led. I had to do journalistic work, to put it another way, about a person who didn’t leave many traces, someone who was closed and who distanced himself from the literary world.

If you were traveling to Venezuela and they found a copy of your novel in the suitcase at immigration, what would you tell the functionary who asks what it’s about?
I would use labels. I’d say it’s about vampires and wolves, that it has nothing to do with Venezuela.

What do you hope will happen to the reader who finishes The Night?
One hopes that when they reach the last page, that punch you’ve prepared is effective and, as Julio Cortázar would say, knocks them out. And once this happens, the reader goes back to the first page and starts to read again. Of course, these are fantasies that go beyond our capacity for reading, with so many things to read and so little time.

You’re in Paris now. How does one’s perception of Venezuela change when you’re abroad?
Everything becomes sharper. You feel what’s happening with more anguish, you realize the backwardness this government has plunged the country into, especially when you’re amazed at having quality of life. There’s also the anxiety of being far away and not being able to help. My family and my wife are still in Venezuela. But certain cycles have to happen so we can move forward.

Will you return to Venezuela?
My stay here is tied to a doctoral dissertation. I’d love to live in Venezuela again, but I’m still not at the point where I can ask myself if that’ll happen or not. I hope to.

The Night was published by Alfaguara in Spain, by Gallimard in France and recently by Madera Fina in Venezuela. Two weeks ago it received the Rive Gauche Prize, established in 2011 by the writer and critic Laurence Biava for the purpose of recognizing one French novel, one novel translated into French and a literary journal. The author is currently writing a dissertation at University of Paris 13 about the work of novelist Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez and Venezuelan immigration to Spain.

{ Humberto Sánchez Amaya, El Nacional, 11 July 2016 }

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