Mario Alberto Carrera
Quite a while ago –after a round table on Asturias and when I was pontifical in the village- a mature gentleman approached me to ask me point blank –without any preamble- why he cannot understand some or many of the Asturias books (“ Men of corn”) despite the effort he puts into penetrating them.
I told him that in the first place he should not feel bad or silly in the face of such an ordinary fact, that his case is more common than he thinks and I added that, with the exception of the “Banana Trilogy”, some story out there and parts of “El Señor Presidente”, the rest of the narrative work of our Nobel Prize winner is almost unattainable for the ordinary reader. And I still added something else: in the world there are writers who write and publish for all readers, for example Ernest Hemingway or John Dos Passos. And writers who write almost for writers, for poets or for literary critics. Asturias is in the second and last case with a good part of his work.
But there are deeper and denser causes and motives than those that I was able to quickly explain to the gentleman who consulted me his concern in the face of the elusiveness of certain literature as part of Asturian literature. Let’s see:
When the writer gets to know and master his craft roundly, there is something that he flees with genuine aesthetic panic: the common place, the kitsch –the old-fashioned and obsolete- out of fashion. This is perhaps a more intense concern in the writer of the 20th and 21st centuries than in writers of previous centuries. And he runs away from it because the greatest ambition of any writer is to communicate something, but through a form, a style never used before.
This quasi-phobia leads some to truly astonishing extremes, such as the almost unique case of Góngora in the 17th century or Samuel Beckett in the 20th. The ambition to find a relatively new or very new code, pushes them to phonetic, phonological, morphosyntactic and semantic twists (the three intertwined at times) that rather confuse the ordinary reader and communicate little.
The desire not to fall into the common place, into the topic, that is, into resources and figures and narrative structures already used before, forces the search and encounter with increasingly hermetic forms. Always in relation and depending on the style that the time is generating. And this is what makes Asturias (although a good part of his narrative, his poetry and much of his theater are transparent) that Mariano Brull or Tristán Tzará make his texts unknowable.
The aesthetic code (or poetic function) is not like the other codes or functions of communication. It is especially opposed to the referential function that is the most objective and the least connotative of the forms of human expression.
The aesthetic code is always subjectivism, millionaire in connotations and not always in reference or in connection with objects in the real world. The word -in literature- is an aesthetic object in itself, this is in the poetic function and that is why the literary code is chiaroscuro, for those who are not initiated in it, for those who do not officiate in its mystery.
Literature uses the language that we all use as raw material, but with total will. The poet creates a free code in which the house sign (like the house of being), for example, can mean something very different from the domestic object that we know in the world of common objects. And he thus creates a new concept –or if you want a sentimental climate in the poem- that did not exist before.
Knowing how to read ordinary, everyday language does not mean that we “know” how to read literature. The language in referential function, that is, the common and current language that we use in common, current or scientific communication, is almost totally opposed to poetic language.
This is why it is not enough to be literate to read poetry or any narrative form. To penetrate the hermetic novel I could almost tell you, reader, that you have to learn to read again. This learning to read literature (narrative or theater) or poetry in general, is what should be taught in well-directed Departments of Letters -of the Faculties of Humanities-. But the great decoder is always the sensitive and fully prepared critic, even if he does not show a doctorate. Hence also that not everyone can make poetry or novels (roman a clef) or understand literature when reading it.
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You have to learn to read again.