‘Severo secreto’: Severo Sarduy’s Impossible Comeback

For Oneyda and Gustavo

The transvestite does not copy: he simulates, for there is no norm that invites and magnetizes the transformation,
that decides the metaphor: it is rather the non-existence of the pampered being that constitutes the space,
the region or the support of this simulation, of this concerted imposture:
an appearance that regulates a Goyaesque pulsation: between life and death.
Severo Sarduy, The Simulation


  1. Structure built from a question that is tirelessly repeated: Why did Severo Sarduy never return to Cuba?
  2. Severo secreto: Una biografía coral sobre Severo Sarduy, published in June of 2022 by Rialta Ediciones, is a photo album of Cuban culture. Like any album, it invites to snoop around and steal from it. The strength lies in choosing the photo.
  3. Most of the interviews were conducted at unique moments, which sometimes means just at the right time.
  4. With this 500-page tome, Oneyda Gonzalez makes, in the manner of Severo Sarduy, a spiritual book.
  5. Working in the early hours of the morning hinders reading. I still have to read some interviews.
  6. At the moment of this enumeration, I remember the anecdote of a girlfriend I had to whom I gave my only book by Severo Sarduy bought at the Alma Mater bookstore, on the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, in Centro Habana. She is also from Camagüey, like Severo Sarduy, Oneyda González and Gustavo Pérez. I bought the essays and then gave them away.
  7. At the time of this enumeration, I remember the anecdote of a friend whose e-mail address coincides with his Whatsapp username: cerofijezas.
  8. After so many years researching a writer’s life, action and thought, how does one act and think? Can one act and think, more or less, as before?
  9. When Oneyda Gonzalez, one day, told me that everything was construction, was she telling me or Severo Sarduy through her?
  10. The spirit of Severo Sarduy must always appear to us in a different attire.
  11. The quality of his with which I identify myself best is his affection and his loyalty. He is the best friend I have ever had in my life. A person with a deep sense of human relationships. “Affection” is the word that comes to my mind.
  12. The movie Severo secreto is one thing and this book is another. But they could well be two compositions of the same category made from two compositions of the same category. That is to say, they would not exist without a marriage.

    ‘Severo secreto. A choral biography about Severo Sarduy’ (Rialta Ediciones, 2022), by Oneyda González / Image: Rialta
  13. What is the use of marriage?’Severo secreto. Una biografía coral sobre Severo Sarduy’ (Rialta Ediciones, 2022), by Oneyda González / Image: Rialta.
  14. Without melodrama, Severo offers us a Cuban culture, one of whose components is violence. “Chinese atmosphere, girls!” All he aspires to is a Chinese atmosphere.
  15. I have noticed Chinese features in Oneyda Gonzalez. When a woman cries, her eyes look slanted.
  16. I also had a friend who was my best friend and who at a certain time in our friendship became obsessed with reading Severo Sarduy beyond comprehension. Neither he nor I were in a position to understand anything, but we were still obsessed. It’s something we do when we’re living outside Cuba, we keep the memories.
  17. I wonder if Oneyda González or Gustavo Pérez will return to Cuba. An airline called Severo de Aviación. Passengers are offered vodka, they are offered whiskey.
  18. I don’t care what there is of Lezama in Severo Sarduy. I do not care whether Severo Sarduy has been canonized or not. The word noble and the word nobility are repeated how many times.
  19. Why does the interview to François Wahl appear in the book in third or fourth place? Why François Wahl was not the last one to speak? When he confesses that Severo Sarduy and he always wanted to be buried together, shouldn’t they be the last words of this book? The definitive closure?
  20. Severo Sarduy does not consider it serious that Ramón Alejandro reads Jules Verne. As a child, I never read Jules Verne. I wonder if I will never return to Cuba.
  21. According to Ramón Alejandro, Severo Sarduy was left without referents. A writer needs referents and Severo was left without them. Severo described Paris as a testicular śūnyatā. That is, there were no men! Men behave in such a neutral way, they are not macho. And the women are so exquisite that they are not females either.
  22. Severo Sarduy did not talk about politics. He didn’t need to.
  23. All of them received in their lives the gift of knowing Severo. All of them met someone who came to seduce them, to give them importance. That was his nobility.
  24. At this point, what is the point of returning to Cuba, if Cuba is also living outside of it?
  25. Gallery owner Lina Dadivot answers something about Severo Sarduy’s plastic work that could answer almost any question: it could be a useless classification.
  26. With this 500-page tome, Oneyda Gonzalez creates, in the manner of Severo Sarduy, a book of the full, not the empty.
  27. Fausto Canel says, referring to those who, outside Cuba, live thinking about Cuba, a group where I include myself, sometimes: and even if they return, where are they going to return to? It is not necessary to abandon the memory, but the unhealthy side of the memory.

    Poster for ‘Severo secreto’, documentary by Oneyda González and Gustavo Pérez / Image: Courtesy of Gustavo Pérez.
  28. At this rate, I have stopped thinking about Severo Sarduy’s literature and I have begun to imagine that none of this suit me, much less now, when I have not slept.
  29. I am writing with the phone flashlight on, to read the sentences I have underlined in previous days. The phone is about to turn off. It is 4:41 a.m.
  30. Severo Sarduy realizes that it is very dangerous to return. But Oneyda González keeps asking him, like a refrain of Celia Cruz or Benny Moré, a Cuban refrain.
  31. Juan Goytisolo suddenly appears saying that he traveled all over Cuba and that he went to the French tomb with Walterio Carbonell, who took him to the Haitian communities and explained to him what it meant. And that he loves Cuba and that he loves Severo. (Imagine that Cuban writer María Elena Hernández Caballero has just written a novel about Walterio Carbonell. I am paralyzed.)
  32. Question: why wasn’t the cover of Severo secreto the photo of Severo Sarduy that appears in Goytisolo’s interview, posing naked in front of one of his works, imitating the void, or any other, better, secret photo?
  33. At the time of this enumeration, I remember that in one of the visits to the house where I lived with my months-old son, I told Oneyda and Gustavo that, if there was a good publishing house to publish this book or any other, that was Rialta.
  34. I am also interested in what is public, as a solution to a problem of mimesis, an adaptation that I have not been able to realize. In the dedication of her book to me, Oneyda Gonzalez wrote: To Legna, with immense gratitude for the closeness with which you cheer up, from time to time, our house. Big hugs from Oneyda and Gustavo. Her handwriting has a motherly quality about it.
  35. On page 184, Severo Sarduy proposes to Lourdes Gil. The proposal takes place in Caracas and Lourdes Gil confesses that Severo Sarduy was influenced by his great desire to have a child. He even introduces her in public as his fiancée. He had previously arranged a marriage in India, but he told me that she regretted it in time. He found it more familiar, less alien, to have a child with a Cuban than with an Indian. Of what happened when we were alone, I can only tell you that he began to call me “my wife.”
  36. However, Severo Sarduy does not fit in the story of Conducta impropia, precisely because he conducts himself inappropriately, impersonally, literarily.
  37. I imagined Severo Sarduy returning to Camagüey with Roland Barthes, walking together along a very long sidewalk, full of portals that keep going. And what is the name of this street? Martyrs Avenue, it is called. And what is that stage? The carnivals of Capdevila.
  38. How does he who simulates weep? How does he who simulates fear?
  39. It turns out that Ugné Karvelis was also the fairy godmother of Severo Sarduy, when she put her house at the disposal of the Cubans who settled in Paris during that time. Many years later, in Havana, the money that saved my life at the end of 2011 also came from Ugné Karvelis, who had committed herself to Cuban writers on the island by supporting, even after her death, the Julio Cortázar Ibero-American Short Story Prize, which I won that year.
  40. Everyone agrees that Severo Sarduy is afraid of returning to Cuba, not because of political issues but because of, how shall I say, deeply political issues. Severo Sarduy had the same fear as Virgilio Piñera. Fear. There is no other word for fear. Worry and fear.
  41. In their interview, someone remarks that a biography of Severo Sarduy should be made. But Oneyda González is already writing his biography.
  42. Severo Sarduy wished to be buried in Cuba, and he wished to be buried in Camagüey. His conscience of emptiness and simulation perhaps made him desire several burials in several different places and for different reasons at the same time.
  43. José Manuel Villabella remembers Severo Sarduy and Luis Suardíaz together in Camagüey, but Lourdes Gil affirms that Severo Sarduy avoided Luis Suardíaz and Lisandro Otero whenever he saw them approaching in Caracas.
  44. Severo Sarduy belongs to groups, he is an active part of currents and groups. That theatrical way of relating, the collective in Severo Sarduy, could it be, above all, simulation?
  45. I am interested in the visual need to know Severo Sarduy’s work, his character, on the part of Oneyda Gonzalez and Gustavo Perez. The need for something other than knowing would be false to me.
  46. Oneyda González has accessed knowledge, that is, Severo Sarduy, in the only implacable way.
  47. The people close to him, the ones he loved, do not appear in Severo Sarduy’s fictions. Neither does his illness. Neither does the proximity of his death. There is a death and a darkness which Severo uses as a metaphor. Suicide metaphor. Tradition metaphor. Love and fear cannot be written about.
  48. At this pace, I have stopped thinking about Severo Sarduy’s life and I have begun to imagine what would have become of Oneyda González if she had not become obsessed with Severo Sarduy.
  49. Oneyda González did not look French today. She wore such pointed heels and walked so naturally in them that maybe Severo Sarduy would have proposed to her in front of Gustavo Perez, or not in front of him, but in another reality.
  50. At the time of this enumeration, I remember the anecdote of Oneyda González and Gustavo Pérez bringing the recently finished documentary Severo secreto to the house where I lived. My son was months old and I did not pay enough attention. They sat on a two-seater sofa that combined with a three-seater sofa. The screen was big but it wasn’t enough either.
  51. The people at El Ciervo Encantado also became obsessed with Severo Sarduy. They dedicated an altar to him as if Severo were a God. He is a God with rounded ears.
  52. In Camagüey, the people of the Bachillerato remember him, but it is a metaphorical memory. Almost a fiction. There are photos, but they are metaphorical photos. The woman who remembers him remembers him well. She is a metaphor woman.
  53. While I was reading what I had written, Gustavo Pérez was recording the book launch with a video camera. He had a diaphragm. What is the importance of the diaphragm, in this sense and in any other?
  54. When the book launch was over, I said to Gustavo Pérez: I don’t understand what has happened with a book like this, nobody talks about the book, I haven’t heard about the book, everybody should have it, everybody should read it.
  55. There were empty chairs. Severo Sarduy was sitting in the emptiness.
  56. With this 500-page tome, Oneyda González achieves, in a transpersonal and tragic way, in the sense of choir, the impossible, involuntary and mystical return of Severo Sarduy.
Legna Rodríguez Iglesias. She writes an irrelevant column in the digital magazine El Estornudo. She won many prizes and she is the author of several books including Mi pareja calva y yo vamos a tener un hijo, poetry, Ediciones Liliputienses, 2019; Spinning Mill, poetry, CardBoard House Press, 2019; La mujer que compró el mundo, short story, Editorial Los Libros de La Mujer Rota, 2017; Mi novia preferida fue un bulldog francés, Hispanic narrative, Editorial Alfaguara, 2017; Miami Century Fox, 51 sonnets, Akashic Books, 2017; among others.


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