Piedra de mar

Ignoro lo que debe darse lugar en las páginas y lo que hay que dejar a un lado. Supongo que debe ser lo más importante de la vida. Pero entonces ¿qué es lo más importante en la vida?

I don’t know what should be in these pages and what should be left out. I suppose it should be the most important things in life. But then, what are the most important things in life? 

Reading Francisco Massiani‘s Piedra de mar (Monte Ávila: 1968) today, it is easy to miss its significance. We’ve become used to youth language, to stream-of-consciousness, to the bored and self-obsessed teenager as protagonist. However, on its release, Massiani’s debut novel caused a stir for its radical rupture with traditional, national narrative. It has since become a Venezuelan classic itself, often included in school reading lists and frequently cited as an influence on contemporary writers.

Piedra de mar is the story of Corcho, who is painfully shy, depressed and lonely, despite seemingly spending all of his time with friends. Corcho tells us of his struggles and his sadness, encapsulated in the love for Carolina which he is unable to express to her. Massiani’s brief novel is often compared to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), as there are multiple similarities between the two in terms of both protagonist and narrative technique. Corcho is individualist and self-absorbed; the novel takes us into his head and attempts to make us share his angst. Written when Massiani was just 24, it is a document of the youth language and culture of the 60s in Venezuela, but the emotions are those that every teenager supposedly goes through at some point. As the blurb for Piedra de mar advertises:.”La suya es una prosa […] que no tiene ningún respeto por las palabras” [His is a prose that has no respect for words]. Just as he cannot vocalise his feelings for Carolina, Corcho’s stream-of-consciousness prose suggests an inability to neatly verbalise his excessive emotions, as well as a rebellion against literary tradition.

In fact, Corcho is writing a novel throughout Piedra de mar, making the novel a self-reflexive exploration of the nature of writing.

“Creo que hace millones de años, la gente necesitaba contar algo. Quiero decir: el escritor cuando se ponía a escribir quería decir algo […] Pero llegó el día que al escritor le importó más la forma de contarlo que lo que podía o no contar y se puso con las jeringas, y tijeras, y a cambiar una palabrita para acá y otra más arriba, y blá blá blá, hasta que llegmaos a nuestro siglo y todo lo que se escribe es un asco”.

“I think that millions of years ago, people needed to say something. I mean: when the writer sat down to write he wanted to say something […] But the day came when the writer cared more about the form of the story than what he could or could not tell and he got the needles and scissors and changed a little word her and another up there and blah blah blah, until we arrive at our century and everything that’s written is revolting”.

Piedra de mar has become mythologised. Every writer seems to have a story about where they first read it or how it affected their lives. Even its inception has become a legend. One of Massiani’s favourite stories is about how when he met Simón Alberto Consalvi, who was just about to set up Monte Ávila, Consalvi asked him whether he had a ‘short, fresh, youthful’ text. He replied yes, of course, even though he had nothing of the sort. He then ran straight home to write Piedra de mar, a story he had not even considered before, and after a year and a half of frantic writing, a classic was born. 

Tributes to Francisco Massiani on his 69th birthday

Photo of Fransisco Massiani from Qué Leer.

Born on 2 April 1944, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Massiani yesterday celebrated his 69th birthday. Best known for his 1968 novel Piedra de mar, which has become a Venezuelan classic and frequently cited influence on subsequent generations of authors, Massiani published his latest work Corsarios in 2011. To mark the occasion, Qué Leer published a selection of articles, including an overview of Massiani’s career and tributes from Luis Yslas and Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez.

In ‘¿Qué importancia tiene para la literatura venezolana Francisco Massiani?’, Yslas writes:

La obra de Massiani es a la literatura venezolana lo que el rock & roll es a la música del siglo XX: un rebelde frescor de alegría y sencillez, de sensualidad y poesía, que ha dejado una estela en la que muchos autores venezolanos aún se reconocen.

Massiani’s work is to Venezuelan literature what rock and roll is to music in the 20th century: a rebellious freshness of joy and simplicity, of sensuality and poetry, in the wake of which many Venezuelan authors still recognise themselves.

As for Méndez Guédez, in ‘Massiani Nuestro’ he argues:

Cierto es que Massiani merece que se le sitúe en un lugar de honor, y no sólo en la narrativa venezolana, sino en la del idioma, pues cuando la novela en español estaba inmersa en el desenfreno por la totalidad, por los grandes relatos genésicos (muchas veces tediosos grandes relatos), él y otros dos autores: Manuel Puig y Bryce Echenique, apostaron por un refrescamiento del género, por una mirada tierna sobre la fragilidad sentimental, sobre los excesos de los discursos amorosos, sobre la visión anti-heroica de personajes que constituían su hondura desde los materiales más manidos y gastados de la cultura popular, pero eso es algo que corresponde realizar a los investigadores de ahora y del futuro.

It’s certain that Massiani deserves the pride of place, not only in Venezuelan literature, but in Spanish-language literature, as when the Spanish-language novel was completely immersed in excess, in genetic grand narratives (often tedious grand narratives), him and two other authors, Manuel Puig and Bryce Echenique, took a gamble on refreshing the genre, with a fresh view on sentimental fragility, on the excesses of amorous discourse, on the anti-heroic vision of characters whose depth comes from the hackneyed and worn materials of popular culture, but that is something for present and future researchers to achieve.