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.

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Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez Q + A @ Universidad Complutense, Madrid

VERSIÓN EN CASTELLANO ABAJO.

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On Friday 18 January 2013, prolific novelist and short story writer Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez participated in a ‘Meet the authors’ event at the 1st International Colloquium of Young Researches in Hispano-American Literature held at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, along with the Peruvians Sandro Bossío Suárez and Carlos Yushimoto del Valle. Before taking part in the question and answer session, Juan Carlos read part of a short story about the Virgin of Barajas Airport from his 2012 collection Ideogramas, plus an extract from his latest novel which is to be released in March 2013, in which a woman from the Canary Islands remembers her father’s visits to Venezuela before her birth.

When I asked Juan Carlos to what extent the Venezuelans adrift in Madrid that populate his stories are autobiographic, he replied that he prefers to think of them as “autogeographic”. He lends his characters places which are imbued with meaning for him, as well as some other tastes, like a song or a book. However, he insists, the life of a writer is quite boring, and very internalised – reading, writing, using social media – so it wouldn’t make a very interesting story! Instead, imagination is needed to write stories. The pleasure of writing is imagining oneself as others, “ser un actor que crea un papel” (being an actor who creates a role).

As for the link between academic work and writing, Juan Carlos claims to have forgotten everything he learnt during his PhD! He calls himself a retired academic, and explains that if you don’t read theory for a while, you lose it. Like the other two writers presents, he agrees that writing fiction and academic literary studies have to be kept separate. He maintains that writing has to be natural, you can’t over think it; it’s like a goalkeeper who has to follow his instincts, if he stops to think he’ll miss the ball. Quoting his friend and fellow author Rubi Guerra, he argues “Hay que ser un bruto” (you have to be ignorant) to write well.

Asked about the process of writing, Juan Carlos admits that the best moment is when you’re alone with your typewriter and you think that you’re going to write the ideal text and change the world (a sentiment shared by his characters from Claudio in Retrato de Abel con isla volcánico al fondo to Henry in Chulapos Mambo) – a dream that ends with publication. When asked if he thinks about his legacy, he maintains that, as an atheist, he is not interested in what happens after he dies, but what happens now. He wouldn’t want to be like Melville, ignored during life, but wants to be read now. He doesn’t understand the idea of writing for oneself, but wants his texts to move someone in the way that authors like Gabriel García Márquez moved him, or “le ayuden a ligar” (to help them pull), or whatever, to have an impact of some kind. The key word for him is “FELICIDAD” (happiness); everything related to literature (reading, writing, discussing books) makes him happy, and if it didn’t, he wouldn’t do it. He adds that literature “me ha servido para vivir” (has helped me to live), teaching him valuable life lessons.

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Viernes el 18 de enero de 2013, novelista y cuentista prolífico Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez participó en un ‘Encuentro con autores’ al I Coloquio de Jóvenes Investigadores de Literatura Hispanoamericana, junto con los peruanos Sandro Bossío Suárez y Carlos Yushimoto del Valle. Antes de responder a las preguntas de los investigadores, Juan Carlos leyó parte de un cuento sobre la Virgen del aeropuerto de Barajas de su última colección Ideogramas (2012) y un extracto de su nueva novela que se lanzará en marzo de 2013, en el que una canaria recuerda la visita a Venezuela que efectuó su padre antes de que ella naciera.

Cuando le pregunté a Juan Carlos hasta qué punto los venezolanos sin rumbo en Madrid que pueblan sus historias son autobiográficos, me contestó que prefiere pensarlos como “autogeogáficos”. A sus personajes, les presta lugares que son imbuidos de sentido personal, así como otros gustos, una canción, un libro. Sin embargo, insiste, la vida de un autor es muy aburrido e internalizado – leer, escribir, usar redes sociales – ¡así que no hará una historia muy interesante! Al contrario, escribir historias requiere imaginación. El placer de escribir está en imaginarse como otros, “ser un actor que crea un papel”.

En lo que concierne el vinculo entre escribir y academia, Juan Carlos afirma que ha olvidado todo lo que aprendió durante su doctorado. Se llama un académico jubilado, y explica que si no lees teoría por un rato, lo olvides. Igual que los otros dos autores presentes, cree que hay que mantener bien separados la escritura de ficción y el trabajo académico. Mantiene que la escritura deba ser natural, que no se pueda pensarlo demasiado; es como un portero que debe seguir sus instintos, si se detiene a pensar, perderá el balón. Citando a su amigo, el autor Rubi Guerra, afirma que “Hay que ser un bruto” por escribir bien.

En respecto a su proceso de escribir, Juan Carlos admite que el mejor momento es cuando estás solo con la máquina de escribir y piensas que vas a escribir el texto ideal y cambiar al mundo (un sentimiento compartido con sus personajes desde Claudio del Retrato de Abel con isla volcánico al fondo hasta Henry de Chulapos Mambo) – un sueño que muere con la publicación. Cuando le preguntaron si piensa de su legado, mantiene que, como ateo, no le interesa lo que pase después de morir, pero sí lo que pasa ahora. No le gustaría ser como Melville, ignorado durante su vida, pero quiere que se lean sus libros hoy. No entiende la idea de escribir por si mismo, quiere que sus textos conmuevan a alguien como a él le conmovieron los de autores como Gabriel García Márquez, o que “le ayuden a ligar”, o lo que sea, pero que tengan un impacto. Para él, la palabra clave es “FELICIDAD”; todo vinculado a la literatura (leer, escribir, discutir libros) le pone feliz, y si no, no lo haría. Añade que la literatura “me ha servido a vivir”, y le ha enseñado lecciones importantes.

Chulapos Mambo

YA ESTA AQUÍ. LLEGO LA BOMBA. ESPERE LA EXPLOSIÓN QUE CAMBIARÁ PARA SIEMPRE EL CURSO DE LA LITERATURA UNIVERSAL.

IT’S HERE. THE BOMB HAS DROPPED. WAIT FOR THE EXPLOSION THAT WILL FOREVER CHANGE THE COURSE OF LITERARY HISTORY ACROSS THE WORLD.

Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez’s Chulapos Mambo (Madrid: Casa de Cartón, 2011) is an absurd, ironic and darkly hilarious tale of three unconventional characters tied together by one outrageous plan. Alejandro wants to get away from his wife to be with his lover, and Simao desperately needs money. The solution to their problems is Henry. Henry has come to Madrid from Venezuela as a representative of the Bolivarian Republic, hailed as the greatest writer who ever lived – although he has no talent at all and has only written one book of short stories plagiarised from the Boom authors. While Henry puzzles over how the literary world has yet to recognise his genius and writes his MASTERPIECE, Alejandro and Simao’s scheming gets them all caught up in violence, prostitution, stalking, and kidnapping.

Méndez Guédez’s talent for creating characters who are utterly absurd and yet somehow still believable makes Chulapos Mambo incredibly funny. However, this absurdity also serves to criticize current Venezuelan politics without ever openly saying anything against it. The contradictions of ’21st century socialism’ are certainly evident throughout the novel:

“La costosa camisa que llevaba en la mañana; la tarjeta dorada que descubrí en su cartera […] Henry seguro estaba vinculado al gobierno de mi país” / “The expensive shirt that he was wearing in the morning; the gold card that I found in his wallet […] Henry was surely linked to my country’s government”.

As a literature geek, what I find most interesting about the novel though is its self-reflexivity: it’s about writing, what makes someone a writer, what makes someone a successful writer. Is it enough that Henry believes himself to be writer? It’s fun to play detective, working out which works Henry’s writing plagiarises, and spot the different authors who pop up around Madrid. At the same time, Chulapos Mambo makes serious points – though clothed in humour as always – about how the current Venezuelan government uses literature.

“Ahora en el país se lee mucho y se nos valora a los autores nacionales, a los que interpretamos de verdad el poder popular y el sentir profundo de las verdaderas raíces…” / “Nowadays in our country people read a lot and value us national authors, we who interpret the truth of the popular power and the deep meaning of the real roots…”

Whether you’re particularly interested in literature and its importance in today’s Venezuela, or you just want a good laugh, you must read Chulapos Mambo.