Pim Pam Pum / José Ignacio Calderón, Débora Ochoa Pastrán & Adrián Bauza

Pim Pam Pum

                    [Nelson Garrido, “Caracas sangrante” (1993)]

This space for my column has been given given over to two friends of mine who are great admirers of Alejandro Rebolledo and his work: Débora Ochoa Pastrán and Adrián Bauza.

Débora Ochoa Pastrán

There’s a Black Cloud Over this Damned Place

For our generation that’s been denied not just a moderately civic life, but also the space to express ourselves culturally once we’ve matured, what can we hold on to? Are we supposed to admire our leaders in different fields? Follow the line of thought of those who concentrate for themselves all the power or influence, without reaping anything for people beyond more profitable opportunities? Should the sparse words of many of our intellectuals drown our thought and make it submit? How easy it is to fall into a language that’s close to the wordiness of Marxism, some people will think.

Others, like me, will think there are old struggles that still haven’t been vindicated in Venezuela, such as civics, or equality in all its possible human categories. It seems as though, in the process of interpolating those who today make up the Venezuelan cultural syndicate (ironically, the vast majority of them are right-wing, and yes, they behave with profoundly syndicalist unobjectionable support, just like the PSUV party of Chavismo and its activists), one were committing parricide, a grave filial-labor treason which must be paid in blood or its equivalent: literary, academic and even political ostracism; complete oblivion is the threat from the Olympian gods or the old Order of the Phoenix Writer that today seeks to drive the avant-garde carriage of critical thought. I say all this, surprisingly, in regards to the novel Pim Pam Pum (1998/2010) by Alejandro Rebolledo.

One week after Alejandro’s death, there are still many questions about the circumstances of this regrettable event, as well as about his life and work, and especially about his emblematic novel. A certain discordant polemic has exploded in the center of what Jacqueline Goldberg and Yolanda Pantin have called the “little literary world” of Venezuela regarding the opinions and criticism arising, at first, from an article by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón.

In order to avoid turning these words into a gossip column in poor taste, let’s cite Alejandro for a moment: “I know it’s ridiculous, but none of my friends are doing any better. I think we’re all fucked and there’s no place for us in this world, that we haven’t done anything, no one’s done anything, and they won’t ever.” “From above, Caracas seems like a green park, instead of the trash it actually is. [...] From here, Caracas is just like Beverly Hills, it’s a like a novel, another planet. The sky is down below and above lies hell. It’s fucking hilarious. For me, it’s all hell.” These are words that today, resurrected from the death to which they were once condemned, speak of a Rebolledo who was, if not prophetic, then at least sharp, attentive, and with a fine ear. Our generation of young people in Caracas, one that expands and contracts without too much temporal rigor, falls into those hard words of Alejandro, or Luis, his main character. In the Venezuela we know today, young people live off the ass kickings they receive. None of the political parties that dispute each other today on recurring radio ads for a future presidency as alternatives to Chavismo, speak of the universities and students, of those who are supposed to come and rebuild the terrain that’s been eroded after 17 years of discursive failure. No one really cares. And in contrast, we stumble into a closed group of brilliant minds who want to snatch the evident greatness of Pim Pam Pum away from Venezuelan literature in the most selfish way.

By chance I remember that the novel Liubliana (2012) by Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles (a writer who’s very well-regarded in the little literary world) deals with the tragedy of the 1999 landslides in Vargas state, in a way that’s quite shallow and plagued by clichés. In this regard, I’d like to note that Rebolledo creates a climate that predicts the coming of that tragedy at several moments in his novel, with phrases such as: “It’s raining, it’s been raining for months on end and I’m wearing the right clothes for it.” I have to say it: what’s born as a clever observation of several crises and themes by Alejandro, becomes a mere instrument for selling books in the novels of Sánchez Rugeles. The way Rebolledo approaches the revolutionary movement, the underworld, the mafias, the moral corruption of the National Guard, all of these issues that we constantly problematize today in our political analyses are captured clearly in Pim Pam Pum without any roundabouts or shame. I would even venture to say that in a contextual fictional comparison, what Rebolledo proposes is more credible than what we find in the acclaimed novel Patria o muerte (2015) by Alberto Barrera Tyszka.

“There are two versions, the official one for the cops, and the real version that I don’t believe either.” Interpolating the reader, isn’t that how it is now? Isn’t it impossible to know the true dimensions of a crime, because once they pass through our tongues, the official versions distort all reality? Doesn’t the crisis of journalism that we’re living today come from there? It would be worthwhile to at least discuss it.

Regarding the identity this novel can trace, generationally and socially, for its readers, and the portraits it offers, there’s not much to debate. Rebolledo not only speaks repeatedly in his novel about an urban identity, but also a cultural, national, social and even an existential one. It’s a mystery for me how these details, that were so clearly used again in works that came after Pim Pam Pum, are being made invisible by those who today propose a rigorous criticism of the novel. “When you’re a kid you don’t give a fuck about that shit, you think that just because you were born in such and such a city, you already have an identity, an urban one, right? [...] So fuck a Latin American identity. It’s the city and that’s it.” And a further on: “This isn’t California, this is just a bunch of shacks, people listening to merengue and eating cats for breakfast, you know? And you understand an urban identity doesn’t mean shit, that all the punks like you, the ones who listen to the Sex Pistols and go skateboarding, are a minority, that the culture is something else, and you’re living in a dream, in a bubble. You don’t know whether to love or hate these people, the ones who are the majority. Your soul shrinks.”

Now let’s talk a little what some people like to call literary quality, maybe the central reason behind praising or denigrating a work. It’s enough to reread the section of the novel titled “Caracas, Center of the Universe,” included in chapter 3 of the novel. It would be a great pleasure to read how those who affirm that the novels of Sánchez Rugeles “have swept up the kids since 2008, with several editions and many copies sold,” might qualify this section of the book as being of “poor” literary quality. For the sake of curiosity and brevity, I invite you to read it. The beauty of the fragment, at the level of language, evocation and imagery, is undeniable.

And yet the crisis we need to direct our attention to is elsewhere. After nearly two decades of tied tongues, the Law of Social Responsibility for Radio and Television, political restrictions, dead students, ideological betrayals and millions of arguments and affronts, there are those of us who have readings of Pim Pam Pum that are radically different from the impressions proposed in recent days by these champions of Venezuelan literature. The fact that a capacity to respond exists, along with spaces for divulging these responses and the open debates that counter the initial proposals (mistaken, by the way) of Blanco Calderón and his editorial and critical supporters, shouldn’t be a reason for narcissistic tantrums. Time and time again we see that truly bitter phenomenon where some people in the name of the academy, others in the name of criticism and others in the name of literature feel the need to annul or alienate those visions that go against their own. To develop the problem this brings for the growth of each of those fields, along with the political and cultural change that Venezuela so urgently requires, is a task that’s beyond the scope of this article. Because of that, and for everyone’s pleasure, I leave the last words to Rebolledo, instead of me:

“A racial, economic and social master plan that gives power to those with capital, money, culture, a bunch of motherfuckers who build and procure this shitty world where the very few are doing fine and the vast majority have nothing. [...] You stand in the sun, with your head going in circles. You don’t have a plan, life left you stranded, rudderless, with no destination, no prospects. You have no mission to accomplish [...] You hock a loogie, savor it on your tongue for a while, yum, so delicious, you spit forcefully against the embassy wall and, what else can you do, you crack up laughing.”

Pim, Pam... Pum. No doubt, there’s a black cloud over this place, but the light shines through occasionally.

Adrián Bauza

I belong to the generation that grew up listening to Chávez speaking on TV and radio for hours, that came into adulthood with nearly as much disgust for Henrique Salas Römer and Manuel Rosales as we felt towards Chavismo. I drank a lot of Frescolita, I smoked tons of Belmonts while hiding until I couldn’t smoke anymore and I became an adult between Miss Venezuela pageants and murders. Caracas, for me, was always an abusive mother who, in 30 years, between 1980 and 2010, changed only for the worse. Amid so much chaos and apathy, how could I not find an identity in Pim Pam Pum? In a portrait of Caracas that spits in your face. That talks to you about coke and marijuana without any baroque adornments, with no mysticism. That grabs you by the balls and tells you: “Motherfucker, you’re not unique or special.” Rebolledo screamed from the nineties to three generations of young people who in order to survive in Caracas can’t give a fuck about anything.

If this Caracas is as much mine as it was Alejandro’s, what stops me, as a young man, from claiming Rebolledo’s work as my own?

In less than a week, Alejandro’s death has stirred up a dust storm that was brewing for at least a decade. The young people with black-rimmed glasses and País portátil in their pocket are now adults with designer black-rimmed glasses, published books, a couple of prizes and an enormous need for attention. Thirty-something-year-old ephebophiles who try to write novels in the tones of a fifteen-year-old, “young” poets approaching 40, professors who seem to own the absolute truth about what is and isn’t literature. Amid their columns, their classes and their positions of power we see reflected, as in nowhere else, the arrogant and whiny attitude of Luis, the protagonist of Pim Pam Pum. Could it be that the generation that aims to mold culture to their whims finds it painful to see themselves reflected in an odious twenty-something-year-old idiot cokehead without a degree? Could it bother them that a book they despise so much has managed to transcend the underground and now stands out as worthy of serious academic study?

It annoys the establishment that a little novel published by an underground magazine gives people more to talk about than a book published by Gallimard. That a guy with a hoodlum’s rhetoric is remembered and admired more than many scholars. That the little “decadent” novel sells out all its editions and keeps circulating in photocopies while many of their transcendental works are rotting on the shelves of their friends’ bookstores. They can’t stand than we’re so “uncultured,” so “immature” and that we don’t support their official version.

The establishment thinks just like Luis: “A bomb, that’s the solution for this country.” Because we young people are uncultured marginal beings who buy, lend and give away copies of a book that moves us, by an author with very little published work, instead of accepting the fiction of a young poet nearing 40 or the hipster-glasses-wearing professor who says that their friends’ books are better. In the end, the actual young people, not the greying ones with superhero t-shirts they try to sell us, we aren’t idiots.

That’s when the “intelligent ones,” our “professors,” get into position for battle. They open their laptop in Paris or Los Palos Grandes and spit out nearly 1,700 words about an author they never knew and a book they admit they read badly, and which they seem to have never actually read. Readers become upset, the debate begins. The intelligent one responds and tries to step on the criticism by changing the topic to the novels Blue Label and Transylvania Unplugged. “The kids loved them,” one of them says. “What kids?” the readers ask those who make such statements. Yadda yadda yadda, read my buddy the poet with the high heels. Read my other buddy with the beard. Don’t read Rebolledo because we don’t like him, so no one else should remember him.

Despite these efforts, without Pim Pam Pum Rodrigo Blanco Calderón’s The Night (2016) wouldn’t exist. Without Pim Pam Pum his Las rayas and Una larga fila de hombres wouldn’t exist. Without Luis’s coked-up sex there’d be no strap-on experience for Blanco Calderón’s character Ardiles. “Kill your darlings,” Faulkner said, but there was never an addendum granting the writer license to shit on them three days after they die. Opinion, knavery, envy or mere stupidity, the fact is that one book, whether good or bad, settles further into the collective unconscious of caraqueños, while the other fades away amid prizes and an expensive price.

Alejandro died when he had to die. When the current establishment is in retirement homes or cemeteries, we’ll still have a little while to talk about Rebolledo, to crack up laughing and tell the kids that will replace us the mythical phrase: Psss... Que no sea marico nadie.*

* Translator’s Note: “Que no sea marico nadie” is an expression used frequently by both Alejandro Rebolledo and the protagonist of his novel Pim Pam Pum. It is untranslatable caraqueño slang that Venezuelan scholar Carlos Padrón renders as “Fuck everyone.”

{José Ignacio Calderón, Débora Ochoa Pastrán & Adrián Bauza, El Nacional, 30 August 2016}

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