el imperativo poético

Francisco José Ramos

Conviene distinguir entre literatura y una obra de arte literaria. Literatura es todo aquello que nace de la inscripción de la letra y se vuelve escritura. La obra de arte literaria es la composición poética y musical de las palabras en virtud de lo cual la escritura logra dar a luz a una voz singular e irrepetible del pensamiento. Una voz que es, a su vez, cuantas voces sean necesarias para decir lo que tiene que ser dicho. Aquí no hay opciones sino una única alternativa: la necesidad visceral de crear y el deseo de obedecer lo que Paul Valèry llamó, refiriéndose a su maestro Mallarmé, el imperativo poético.

He ahí el vigor y el nutriente de una cabal experiencia literaria. Se trata de algo francamente raro, extraño y poco habitual. Tan raro, extraño y poco habitual como lo es este último libro de Giannina Braschi. Raro pero íntimo, extraño pero entrañable, poco habitual pero de una extraordinaria lealtad para el más exigente legado cultural de la inteligencia humana. De aquí todo lo demás en su más paradójico sentido: el amor a su tierra, pero también la devoción al desarraigo que le permite llegar a ser de cualquier otra tierra o, incluso, extraterrestre; el desprecio por toda forma de opresión, pero también el amor incondicional a la vida, el placer de cantar, como Dulcinea, a la abundancia de vivir. El anhelo de poseerlo todo, de apertrecharse con todo, de abrazarse con todo, pero también la entrega, la danza inigualable de la generosidad y la desposesión: “Yo los invito a que bailen por mí, a que se rían de mí, a que me digan que sí. Soy tu bailarín, tu doncella, tu bastidor. Soy el acto y la palabra. No tengo nada.” (El imperio de los sueños, 1988 ).

Por encima de todo, está el amor a las palabras y, por lo tanto, al silencio infinito que las habita. Conozco la laboriosa entrega de Giannina a su experiencia artística, vital y literaria de desde hace más de cuatro décadas. La he seguido, he colaborado con ella, he crecido con ella, me he transformado con ella. Me siento como padre, pero también como un hijo. Pero aquí da igual ser padre o madre, hija o hijo, hombre o mujer. No es asunto de género ni de filiación. Es la hermosa, dura y dolorosa aventura de devenir o llegar a ser todo lo que nuestra íntima potencia de obrar nos permita realizar. Lo singular, que no se reduce a lo “individual”, nace precisamente de ahí; pero también lo común, lo que es de todos, pero que a nadie pertenece: el aire, el agua, la tierra y el fuego.

Son necesarias muchas vidas, aun en esta única vida; y un enorme esfuerzo, una persistente dedicación, para realmente dar, ofrecer, entregar una obra que sea, no sólo una obra de arte, sino también una conversión espiritual de nuestra sensibilidad. Cuando esto se da, los muertos recuperan su juventud (Sono giovannei i morti nelle vivace ricordo… – Cesare Pavese), y los vivos deciden, por fin, no perder el tiempo con pendejadas. Desde El imperio de los sueños, pasando por Yo-Yo Boing! hasta llegar a United States of Banana, puede un lector o lectora, por más despistado que esté, constatar tanto la dimensión política de esta obra – porque se trata de una única obra única, y valga la redundancia – y, con ella, lo lúdico de su carácter de transgénero. ¿De qué se trata esto? ¿Es una novela, es teatro, es un ensayo, un tratado, una colección de cuentos o relatos, una autobiografía ficticia? «You have to label everything. You have to identify yourself in order to be classified according to race, sex, religion, literary gender and political background. And why is that so? It is so because we live in a thoughtless society. Well, I must say that United States of Banana is a peaceful, and powerful, declaration of war against thoughtlessness and any sort of labelization.» Nos podríamos imaginar una voz semejante para afirmar en consecuencia lo siguiente: se trata, ante todo, de un insólito experimento con el lenguaje que pone en evidencia la naturaleza política de una genuina lengua poética; donde político significa el desafío a la capacidad de convivencia, incluyendo la relación de cada cual consigo mismo y, por ende, con el otro. El acontecimiento del 9/11 – así con siglas se dicen ahora las cosas, como para no recordarlas del todo – es tan sólo el pretexto, es decir, lo que sirve de proyecto – y proyectil – al texto. El asunto medular es la muerte de la democracia o, mejor, su asesinato por parte de la nación que está supuesta a servir de modelo para la implantación de los “valores democráticos” y los “derechos humanos” (“Democracy is obsolete. Is an empty formula…” p. 56, United States of Banana, Amazon Crossing, 2011). Muerta o asesinada por su propia podredumbre: “I have nothing against the smell of rot but something against what hides the smell of something rotten in the United States of America.” (p. 24, ibid.)

Hay en esta obra una rebelión contra el lenguaje que se nos quiere imponer en nombre de la libertad para hacernos a todas y a todos esclavos de nuestra propia mansedumbre. Por eso se escribe en inglés. Pero el inglés en que se escribe no es el de la lengua inglesa. Tampoco es el spanglish, pues esto implicaría el uso confuso e incierto del inglés y del español. Se trata del inglés de la lengua inventada por quien escribe para poder expresar su independencia, su emancipación; la emancipación que su pueblo no ha querido conquistar, porque se le ha visto sofocado en su deseo de independencia. De ahí el miedo de los puertorriqueños a tener que confrontar sus propias fuerzas, el goce de recrearse en su perpetua minoría de edad y la triste violencia contra sí mismo como manera de lidiar con la impotencia. Desde esa posición política, pero también ontológica – la de “la única, verdadera e irrenunciable independencia”, como alguien dijera alguna vez –, todos los recursos son válidos, siempre que se mantengan fieles a su cometido: crear un mundo poético capaz de convocar a las voces más nobles de la gran tradición del pensamiento Occidental: Homero, Sófocles, Platón, Dante, Calderón, Quevedo, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Nietzsche, Darío, Elliot, Artaud… . En ese contexto aparecen Giannina, Segismundo, Hamlet y Zaratustra. No se trata sólo de personajes sino también de las diversas voces por las que se articula una única voz propia y singular, o a la manera en que un corifeo contemporáneo se hace eco de un coro multitudinario.  

De esta manera, una puertorriqueña nacida en San Juan y radicada, como tantos de los suyos, en la ciudad de Nueva York, en las entrañas del monstruo, con nombre y apellido italiano y corso, decide dar este regalo al mundo, como en su momento hizo lo propio Julia de Burgos. Llevada de la mano de Nilita Vientós Gastón, con la memoria de sus ancestros, y junto a su incansable colaboradora y traductora Tess O’Dwyer, Giannina simplemente escribe. Y le ofrece este hermoso y vivo regalo al mundo. En hora buena, Giannina Braschi Firpi.

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Francisco Jose Ramos y Giannina Braschi, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.

 

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New York Times ~ Giannina Braschi

 

 

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

May 7, 2012, 10:09 am

Rushdie Brings PEN Festival to Close By

LARRY ROHTER

The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature ended Sunday night on a traditional note, with a lecture by the Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie, the target of an ayatollah’s fatwa in 1989, about the freedom to write. In recent years the festival has experimented with offerings that blur the distinction between literature and other forms of art or entertainment, and this year was no exception: the 37 scheduled events included one on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum in which three writers recited texts over a live musical performance by the Kronos Quartet and another on Saturday night that had five authors giving a thematic reading called “Messiah in Brooklyn” as they stood amid an installation at a gallery called the Invisible Dog Art Center. But since its founding 90 years ago, PEN America has aimed to be simultaneously a literary and a human rights group, with a focus on defending the rights of both writers and readers around the world, and Mr. Rushdie’s talk managed to address both sets of issues. “Originality is dangerous,” he said, a statement as much political as esthetic. And there was this, to conclude his remarks after pointed observations critical of limitations on thought and expression not just in China but also in the United States: “Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.” Not that there weren’t also moments of levity. In the question and answer period that followed the main address, the novelist Gary Shteyngart, born in what was then Leningrad and raised in New York, began his task as interlocutor with a jocular query. “An Indian and a Russian walk into a bar. Which one is inherently more free?” Mr. Rushdie wasn’t sure how to answer that one, but in response to other questions, he lamented both a certain human tendency to value material well-being over intellectual freedom, China perhaps being the prime example, and the headlong flight of post-Communist societies to intellectual pap. “It’s not inevitable that right will triumph,” he said after Mr. Shteyngart told of his recent trip to Beijing, in which one Chinese contact acknowledged limitations on his freedom of expression but pointed out that he owned a Buick Skylark and Mr Shteyngart didn’t. Earlier in the festival, a pair of panels had attempted to confront some of the same tensions.

The premise of a Thursday evening discussion called “The New Censorship” was that “as corporations move to the forefront in the quest for control over information and its flow, the battle over censorship has changed, and its newest champions are found not in the statehouse, but in the boardroom.” But the contradictions embodied in that thesis and the situation it describes, perhaps inherent, soon became apparent.

The Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi, the panel’s first speaker, offered a critique of 21st century capitalism in which she condemned “corporate censorship” and control. “Nobody owns a work of art, not even the artist,” she maintained, adding that “I write my thing and it belongs to the people.” But it was also noted that her latest novel, “United States of Banana,” was published by AmazonCrossing, which offers translations of foreign-language books but comes from the online book-selling giant that traditional publishers and some writers see as wanting to dictate and control the financial terms of the book trade and destroy competition. She didn’t see it that way, saying that without Amazon, her book may not have been published at all.

In fact, some of the most compelling personal testimonies during the festival came from three writers who have spent much of their careers battling long-established forms of state-sanctioned censorship: Gabriela Adamesteanu in Romania; Mahmoud Dowlatabadi in Iran; and Ludmila Ulitskaya in both the Soviet Union and today’s Russia. On Thursday Mr. Dowlatabadi, for example, told a story of being jailed by the Shah’s secret police in 1974; on inquiring of his captors what offense he had committed, he was told none, but that because many opponents of the regime had been arrested with his novels in their possession, that automatically made him a dangerous element. A Saturday afternoon panel called “Life in the Panopticon: Thoughts on Freedom in an Era of Pervasive Surveillance” also seemed to promise a different look at contemporary problems of self-expression and the free circulation of ideas. The original panopticon was conceived of by the 18th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a device that would allow a hidden observer to monitor all the members of any closed system without himself being detected — an apt comparison for our age of data mining for both national security and commercial purposes. The panel’s moderator was Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute, a libertarian advocacy organization whose donors include some of the country’s biggest corporations. His opening remarks and subsequent questions focused on the emergence of “the surveillance state,” largely glossing over the role that corporations play in the creation and maintenance of schemes of surveillance, and so it fell to other participants, like Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Scottish science fiction novelist Ken MacLeod and Ms. Adamesteanu, to bring corporations into the discussion. But Mr. Sanchez also noted that discussion of the politics of surveillance often resorts to “a language borrowed from fiction,” notably the adjectives Orwellian and Kafkaesque. Because “we are in the grip of the Orwell metaphor” of Big Brother watching us — and as Mr. MacLeod added, us watching Big Brother on reality television—we tend to think of surveillance as something palpable and centralized, rather than the amorphous system it has become. Because “technology has torn down the walls of the Panopticon,” the time is right for a new, perhaps even more ominous metaphor, he suggested.

United States of Banana: Burial of the Sardine

Still Life Vanitas

There at the Fulton Market—where three roads intersect—was the point where HAMLET, GIANNINA, and ZARATHUSTRA first met. The three had been walking the streets like mad—without stopping to rest—until they came to the South Street Seaport—where flies were harrowing around the halo of the fish market that smelled like the rot of Chinatown. They recognized one another and walked toward each other with dead bodies on their backs.

GIANNINA: I’m burying the sardine—the dead body I carry on my back.

ZARATHUSTRA: A little fish—in a little coffin. And for this—for this little stinky thing—we came from so far?

GIANNINA: Look, it’s moving. It’s still alive.

ZARATHUSTRA: It’s so salty and ugly it itches and bites.

GIANNINA: It worked its whole life in the sludge of oil and vinegar. I’ll sprinkle incense, myrrh, and a pound of gold to be buried with it under the Sand.

HAMLET: Hurry up. The ferry will leave without us.

GIANNINA: You have no idea how much I’ve suffered under the influence of this rigorous but retarded sardine. Not a warrior, but a soldier. Making me vow to its regiment of passive-aggressive work. No traveling was allowed. No smoking allowed. No pets allowed. No one could get near me because the sardine would stink—and its stink would bite. Sometimes it would fly around the rim, but it would always dive back into the can of sardines—looking for its paycheck. Every two weeks—it brought me a salary—the stinky sardine—and I brought home all I could buy with that salary—confinement, imprisonment. Depending on a salary made me salivate—but it blew my mind to dust—the dust that blows around and makes you cough—but you hardly can see it because it’s made of dust. But I’m not made of dust—I’m made of flesh—and making love to the little sardine drove me crazy. It was such a little fish it barely filled my mouth. I could hardly eat it. I grew hungry—hungry for a big fish. God help me—no more fish! Please no clams, no oysters! Please—nothing shelled or scaled! Nothing salted—nothing finned or fanged! Because it had fangs—the sardine had fangs—and it bit me like a rabid squirrel. It must have known I wanted to bury it. Its fangs were long—and its screams were shrill— and it held grudges—and it had bones to pick. It blamed me for keeping it down—but all I wanted was its liberation from the can. I wanted it to breathe clean air—and to sing. Your mouth is already open—now take a deep breath, little fishy, and sing—sing a song of love. You know my cords are made of vibrant colors. You know I too come from the sea—but I don’t come with grudges in my fangs. I come with wings to fly from your stink. I hate sardines.

ZARATHUSTRA: Then why do you eat them?

GIANNINA: Because I detest their helplessness. I wouldn’t eat a lion. It would eat me first. I eat what is weaker than me. I like lamb. I watch a grazing lamb, and my mouth waters. I could eat it alive. But not sardines. They’re already dead. They never lived. They’re dead even when they’re alive. Always with their mouths open. Begging for water. And I don’t mind beggars. But sardines are not beggars—they’re squirmers. They beg for water—but what they really want is to eat you alive—with their deadliness—which is a plague—a virus—bacteria—something contagious that kills you without killing you. They open their mouths to beg for water—but do nothing but gulp the draught and wait for water—with their mouths open—as if snoring, which is worse than imploring—they’re beggarly beggars that don’t even beg—they’re too dead to beg—and they’re deadly contagious. It’s their deadliness that lingers over me every day of my life—the dead inertia of the sardine that obeys and begs for water, gallons of water, and does what it’s asked to do in spite of no water and denies itself so much—that it doesn’t realize it doesn’t have a being anymore—and it lets itself be canned—always with its open mouth saying:

Drop dead, but give me drops of water. I don’t want to be buried alive. I want to survive. I’m a salaried sardine. Give me more  money.

That’s why they’re so salty and ugly, they itch and bite. Because they’re salivating for salty salaries—salty salaried sardines.

ZARATHUSTRA: It is not a sardine. It is a big fish.

GIANNINA: The coffin is small, but the stench is immense. Zarathustra, would you allow my little pet to be buried in the same hole of the hollow tree where you left the tightrope walker?

HAMLET: And may I please leave the putrefied carrion in the same hollow tree?

GIANNINA: We are burying sameness—the aesthetic principle of sameness—the three together—at the same time—holding hands—burying bodies in the same hollow tree—and running free from freedom. Free…