“The first book the first girl I fell in love gave me” ‘says Roberto Bolaño in Entre paréntesis “was one of Mircea Eliade. I still do not know what she wanted to tell me with that gift. Other, less silly, had realized immediately that that relationship would not be too durable and have taken steps not to suffer too much. ”
A woman that gives away Mircea Eliade books? I do not know if that’s too bad. I have not read Eliade. I am probably the Cuban number 11,999,999 who has not read Mircea Eliade. But Bolaño was lucky after all. I fared worse.
The first girl that I fell in love with (I think thereupon: I should not say that) gave me Paradiso. Until then I had always known Dulce Maria Loynaz girls (“I fit In you , I’m made for you, but if it were me where something is missing I will grow… If it were me where something is too much, I´ll cut it.”), Wichy Nogueras girls (“Looking at Chinese erotic engravings / you asked me / how could they do it that way / we tried it/ remember?”), even, Buesa girls, these proliferated as tumors- (“You’ll go through my life without realizing it “). But this was a Lezama girl. With all that meant at the ridiculous age of 17, ie, it was a nerdy girl. Beautiful, but had this defect: she worshipped Lezama, The Master.
Do not worry about that, as Bolaño would say- it may seem an exercise in memory, but it is not.
This long introduction is to talk a little about the disease, the endemic evil in Cuban literature, the negative impulse that makes certain books in Cuba to have more defenders than readers. The list is long. I intend to comment on select titles, as if they were exquisite and very rare narcotics:
We have the example of Origines, the revered (and often boring) journal of art and literature José Lezama Lima and José Rodríguez Feo founded in the forties. While the cult to Origines is a virus that seems to come already built-in in the hard disk of Cuban genome, if one makes the mistake of researching what percentage of Origenes fans, have at least read an issue from the magazine, you will surely receive a bleak answer: Origines is a must, and its ghost has abducted hundreds of Cubans who have not even leafed through its pages.
But, discussing Origenes, for me, would be as stimulating as discussing conceptismo or culteranismo. I prefer, however, to comment on a poem by Oscar Cruz who, by the way, is one of the most anti- Origenes writers I’ve ever met. The poem in question is titled “Origines today,” and consists of a Lezama facebook profile. The situation is this. Imagine that one day we received a friendly invitation “Lezama wants to be your friend on facebook.” Consequently, most users would do the following: 1) click on the Biography of Lezama; 2) a little snooping on his profile: a guy who lived in Trocadero; he studied law at the University of Havana; writer; that in the relations box it writes: “It’s complicated”; and also directed for twelve years a cataclysmic magazine; 3) without thinking twice, click on “Confirm request”. And could it be that Origenes, today, is that: a magazine, a literary group, a facebook profile with more followers than readers?
We can also mention Paradiso, by José Lezama Lima. “Inexhaustible book”, “cult novel”, “precursor”, “outsider”, and finally and above everything and everyone, “a classic” And then all labels appear as alibis. However, I think this is a rough description. Because “classic is not necessarily a book which has such merits or”, as defined by Borges, but “a book that generations of men, urged by various reasons, read with prior fervor and mysterious loyalty”. Idolatry and fervor are guaranteed (are known rumors of a Lezama Lima “Jehovah” Witness community using this novel as a metaphor or symbol of absolutely everything). Instead of reading it … No joke: Paradiso is the most decorative book reissued in Cuba in the last ten years. The copies are exhausted, but people do not even read chapter eight, so praised before; and people do not know what to read in Paradiso, they manage as they can with the cover note. (And this, I fear, despite the Cuban reggaeton Baby Lorenz plans to get a Lezama tattoo on his left shoulder during the upcoming Night of Books.)
To Lezama seems to happen what to Joyce: “A masterpiece, Ulysses, but I could not get past the first page,” is one of the most common comments. I do not think that´s the case of Paradiso, but Oppiano Licario is a novel not to get past the first page. No wonder Cesar Lopez, with the cunning of Sisyphus has spent over twenty years preparing a critical edition.
The third text to discuss is The Cuban in poetry, by Cintio Vitier, one of the three most important books of essays of the Republic, but whose fame today is due to a misunderstanding: it is likely that more than half of those who bought it did it hoping to find what Cuban is, which to some extent justified, judging by the title. Well, no: the only thing we know for sure, by the mouth of Cintio Vitier, is that “there is not a static and pre-established essence named the Cuban, which can be defined independently of its successive manifestations and generally problematic, to say, here it is, here is not. ” In short: the Cuban is discovered by deciphering in the sky the flight of birds, interpreting thunder, throwing bones and reading in the flames.
Let´s change the title: Superstition in poetry. If you read it, you surely remember that part in which Cintio says, referring to the poetry of Julian del Casal, that one of the attributes of what Cuban is, is coldness. Coldness! (Following the initiative by Vitier, research is being done on the curative scope of certain poems by Casal. And we know that in many hospitals in the capital, if you arrive with a rash, hyperhidrosis, or totally dehydrated, doctors prescribe reading Hojas al viento.)
The fourth classic that I will refer to is Indagación del choteo, by Jorge Manach. Good thing the word “choteo” Mañach uses it in the first sense, because otherwise would embarrass many professors. See if Mañach is a classic in terms of ignorance, most people, not even those interested in Mañach write essays on Teoría de la frontera, or Estampas de San Cristóbal. It’s as if the guy was monogamous: a writer of one book.
The fifth text is Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar, by Fernando Ortiz, which at the time was like the “open sesame” of Cuban culture and society, but if you mention it today … people just have it right with the ajiaco part. You know: taste memory. And this obsession with Cuban food rooted in the land of the collective unconscious. (In fact, many Cubans believe they owe the CDR meat soup to Fernando Ortiz.)
And these are the classics whose names you really remember. Then there are those hidden classics, hearsay, whose titles you can barely repeat, but you are completely sure they are: Félix Varela (and the Schola Cantorumsays !: “he who taught us to think”), Domingo del Monte (logically: one member of delmontino circle), Esteban Borrero (sponsor of Nelda Castillo), Tristan de Jesus Medina (ahhh), Medardo Vitier (uhhh) Chakal & Jakarta (authors of the Sapphic poem “They are crazy , they are crazy, they are crazy “?), Manuel de Zequeira (ehhh), and pass the next…
A confession: to the last girl I fell in love with- by the way she wears Madonna´s shoe size, I just gave away a book by Aymerich Aymara titled: All women undress. Sounds good. But on the other hand, an Aymerich Aymara girl? (“Hello, we are versatile victims! Let´s begin a relationship of mutuality. I am the author, like you, very contradictory.”) Since that night I cannot sleep. Now it’s my turn to flee.