In search of lost spaces

In search of lost spaces

2023-09-27 21:40:16

I return to the novels of Abilio Estévez (five so far) with the suspicion that it is a narrative body dominated by spaces. Central words from his titles would be enough to confirm it: kingdom, palaces, archipelagos. The action and destiny of its characters, especially its narrators, will be determined by those areas in which they have lived, or by those that they will encounter, even casually, at some point in their lives. The relationship established with them, following Gaston Bachelard, is one of topofilia, that is, those who tell these stories:

They aspire to determine the human value of spaces of possession, of spaces defended against adverse forces, of spaces loved. For often very diverse reasons and with the differences that comprise the poetic nuances, they are spaces exalted To its protective value, which can be positive, imagined values ​​are also attached, and these values ​​soon become dominant values. (Bachelard, The poetics of space, 28)

In at least three of these works, the area of ​​Havana where the main events take place is the same, with slight variations, and is located to the west, in “a town, Marianao, between two rivers, where there was a general headquarters.” named after a city in South Carolina […]” (Dry 25). As expected, it is Abilio’s amniotic environment, the place where he lived his childhood, adolescence and much of his youth.

Novels, however, tend to overflow, exploring beyond those limits. There is always an obsession with the city, with this city, exalted or, more often, detested, accepted, ultimately, as inevitable for those who were born in it and still inhabit it.


The time of the fable is well delimited: it is the final months of 1958. However, time and again the narrator turns his back on temporality. The Island is located in an archipelago where time and, with it, History, passes in a succession that I will call “normal”, but those who live there are oblivious to that chronology. Just as spaces are crucial, time is underestimated, perhaps despised, thereby acquiring a different importance, and thus insisting on the imaginary nature in which these lives occur. “What does the date matter?” Professor Kingston asks in a conversation in which he tries to rescue the moment in which the first building in that place was built, and then “he clarifies, slyly, that the Island is like God, eternal and immutable” (Dry 19). Later, under a torrential downpour, at night, Miss Berta “doesn’t know the time nor does it matter much (in this book the time never matters much),” the narrator confesses (Dry 93).

That contempt for the passage of time expands, and pages later it involves not only this specific space of the Island but the country as a whole: “(the islands are not countries but ships stranded forever – and time, alas, is not happens on ships stranded forever)” (Dry 154), and it is also the resource with which the fictional character of the events that are being recounted is revealed: “One of the virtues of literature is perhaps that with it time can be abolished or, better, give it another meaning, confuse the three known times into a fourth that encompasses them all and causes what could be called simultaneity” (Dry 220).


Bachelard says: “The immensity is within us. It is attached to a kind of expansion of being that life represses, that prudence stops, but that continues in solitude. As soon as we are still, we are somewhere else; We dream of an immense world. The immensity is the movement of the immobile man.” (Bachelard 221). In the final paragraph of the novel, Sebastián admits that in the present from which he writes he has no “material value.” He walks through his room, looks out onto the street “where life is a hallucination” and when he goes out into the street, no one notices him. To exist, to be, you have to create those universes, enter their immensity and appropriate it: “To feel that I am alive, I return to writing,” and in doing so, I return to what the Island was, in that past. where he had a space of protection that is now only in him, who, for the purposes of the novel, occupies “the place of God” (Dry 345 and 346). Reality, his already lost reality, has been trapped in that realm that is, after all, that of his memory.


In Abilio Estévez’s novels that take place in Cuba there is always rain, refreshing or devastating; in The sleeping navigator downpours dominate its plot. The characters live for several days under the threat of a cyclone, and that is what marks the absurd fate of one of them. This is the dominant conflict: young Japhet has taken an old boat and, braving the rough seas and increasing winds, he sets out to sail, we assume heading to the United States, like so many other young people, and will never be heard from again. .

The writer Arturo Arango delivers his acceptance speech at the Cuban Academy of Language. Image: Taken from Habana Radio

Like in Yours is the kingdom, The community that lives in that house is blessed by a strange harmony that is rarely broken. With the Godínez family as the center, there do not seem to be relations of domination or subordination. There will, naturally, be disagreements between some of them, secrets that they hide from each other, most of them due to attitudes or actions motivated by desire or temptations and, in only one case, due to political disagreements. But they are saved, at least apparently, from those perversities of power that usually determine philias, phobias, fidelities and betrayals within a universe, even more so if, like this one, it remains closed to almost all outside influences.

We are, once again, in a space of protection, mythical in another way. History and its effects are present, especially when the origin of some characters is narrated or what their future life will be like is anticipated.


Isn’t what the narrators of three, perhaps four of these novels follow, the vital journey to which all human beings are destined, in one way or another? First, the more or less idyllic permanence or pleasant (to use a more meaningful word) in a minimal space, where, even with a poor awareness of what will await us beyond, we begin to exist, we believe ourselves protected, safe from the inclemencies of the outside (whether cyclones or political storms). , core to which we will always remain spiritually tied, no matter how far we are from it, and then the inevitable exit to that other, always alien, friendly or hostile, where we will move towards an uncertain future, in constant flight, until the moment of merging with eternity: with those successive heavens in which past, present and future are superimposed, because there, definitively, time is already is unimportant.

These narrators settle in the fictional space of literature, they live in it, by it and for it, because that is their refuge, the place where, while being protected, they can dialogue with the infinite, with that which expands. beyond our lives: with those other spaces, with those other times that we can imagine, dream, build, but in which we will definitely no longer be. More than against death, these novels deal with it from that only space from which the unfathomable, the fatal, can be visited with impunity.

I know, because I have known him for almost half a century, that this way of conceiving the relationships between life, reality and literature is due, in large part, to the teachings of Virgilio Piñera, to whom tribute is paid in several of these novels. The friendship between them began on Saturday, July 19, 1975,[1] when Abilio Estévez was very young, that is, during years of training, intense absorption of influences, readings, life experiences. Piñera was going through, as is well known today, that dark period in which he was marginalized, denied, and found once again in literature his refuge, his space of protection, into which Abilio also entered.

It was there before, since that day in 1955 when Virgilio asked him “Do you like to do things with shit?”, Antón Arrufat (Arrufat 17), who had already gone through teachings similar to those that awaited Abilio in the decade of the 70s. These elective affinities, obviously, would be marked by the singularities of their respective characters, but they had in common being installed in that realm of relative autonomy.

In its Virgilio Piñera: between him and me, Arrufat reflects on the complex nature that relationships between writers usually have, conditioned, among other factors, by insecurity regarding the finished work and also, he says frankly, by envy. With these four adjectives, “creative, critical, painful, acerbic,” he described his friendship with Piñera shortly after (Romero 12).

In his testimony, he confesses that, after the death of his dear friend, he began to read it “as he had never done before, with daily slowness and dedication, without concerns foreign to reading,” and, in doing so, he entered a state of , let’s say, of daydreaming, during which his “old grandfather clock stopped ringing, at least to my ear.” Also, “[l]The room, the armchair where I read, became invisible” and his “present was as if erased” (Arrufat 7), to the point where, dominated by characters and situations from Virgilio’s work, he asks himself: “Would it be a fiction the self?” (Arrufat 8).

To Virgilio and that faith in literature that united them he dedicated a paragraph upon receiving the National Literature Prize: “What corresponds to us (or to me) is to carry out our work, to be faithful to it. I learned from the example of Virgilio Piñera that, for a true writer, his craft is an absolute, the highest craft and one that should not be betrayed. He is well worth the persistence and wait. Living or dead, once the work is done, it will take its place” (Romero 349).

“The society with dead writers, increased in my case by friendship, is among the most disturbing, mysterious experiences that we can have,” wrote Arrufat, and resorted to a military term, used by Unamuno (“the stanchion, the ancient host “), to name “the procession of the dead, made up of those that we have read, whose reading has marked us, and by the deceased that we dealt with in life and that meant something to us” (Arrufat 9).

Antón Arrufat entered that “ancient host” and, as he predicted, we will read it and remember, “[s]without chronological rigor or rational causality,” and on “certain full days, at certain peculiar hours,” he will participate “in our intimacy to a touching degree” (Arrufat 9).

*Fragments of the entrance speech as a full member of the Cuban Academy of Language, on September 22, 2023.


[1] I owe the precision, of course, to Abilio.

Taken from La Jiribilla

Cover photo: Taken from Radio Havana Cuba

#search #lost #spaces


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