Why is it that if we all consider ourselves global people —citizens of the world is a phrase often read in newspapers— do we still think of literature as a national redoubt, a nation-territory?
Much of the blame for this lies with the publishers, who continue to classify the writer in a narrow way and therefore confine them to a zone where the writing, the text, the micro-politics that every author puts into play are reduced to the domestic archive.
An archive that in the Cuban case also goes through a utopian alibi (tourist-utopian, to be clearer) where certain people not only go to observe the reality of the island from their own biased perspective, but from what they identify as Revolutionary Resistance, that is, that mixture of abnegation and happiness that these people, mostly academics, writers, political scientists or filmmakers, believe to find in the Castroist cage.
A good example of this would be Jean Ziegler, the Optimism of Willpower (2016), by Swiss filmmaker Nicolas Wadimoff. A documentary that narrates the astonishment, the ekstasis of Ziegler, one of the most renowned sociologists and essayists of recent years and currently vice president of the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council, as he makes his small pilgrimage to the island, his sacred road movie.
A film that shows him revering, for example, the face of Che on the Plaza de la Revolución (his voice even trembles before such a magnificent appearance), or to fall on his knees before the image of Fidel Castro in the living room of some Cubans…
Ziegler’s phrases, Ziegler’s cynicism —so close to his own naivety—, Ziegler’s gestures, Ziegler’s questions, Ziegler’s fascinatio before what is politically sublimated on the island is something that exceeds any moral limit…, especially when we realize that he does not want to listen to any other opinion than the one he has already built, that he considers “treason” everything that deviates from his particular glaucoma.
A disease that all of us who live outside the island know very well, since it makes it almost impossible to have a conversation about the “real” in Cuba, about the perverse layers of a (Castroist) perversion that has already lasted too long.
And if I bring up this disease —Ziegler’s syndrome we could call it— it is because it illustrates very well a behavior that not only involves the ideological or the iron dreams of someone, but also the whole literature, all that which configures a discourse.
Discourse in which could also enter what Josefina Ludmer and others, not long ago and following Rancière at a distance, called Autonomy and Postautonomy.
A conceptual duo that in the texts of the Argentine essayist came to explain the literary tensions of Hispanic America in the last century and ended, rightly, in favor of the latter, which in her text “Literaturas postautónomas 2.0” was defined as that of those writings that “do not admit literary readings; this means that it is not known or does not matter if they are or are not literature. And it is not known or does not matter whether they are fact or fiction. They are installed locally and in an everyday reality to ‘fabricate the present’ and that is precisely their meaning.” (Ludmer, 2009:41)
The first thing to say is that although I agree with the author of Onetti, los procesos de construcción del relato: Autonomy or the set of rules that help you understand, think, literature from the zero territory of its production has stopped working long ago and right now it is impossible to read literature only from the field of literature…, it is more difficult for me to accept her reflection on the Postautonomy, on what is happening now.
And not only because I do not buy that “we don’t know or it doesn’t matter” that she points out, but also because literature as a war machine, as a contractual and political vampire, as a knot of forces, although it has changed a lot from Mallarmé to our days, has not ceased, beyond the banalization to which we are socially bound, to be conceived as writing.
This means that we continue to receive as “literature” what has been written from it.
But also, what has been conceived from another side: chronicles and articles in magazines for example; texts that surely, in another time and under another order, would not have surpassed the pseudo-classist and elementary imaginary of the space where they were published.
And yet today we understand them as literary artifacts.
So, what has changed so that those texts that “do not admit literary readings” according to Ludmer, are also read, although not only, as processes, as performances, as writing?
Literature, to put it simply.
Literature as a macro and closed and ontological concept.
To the point that just the opposite of what the Argentine essayist dictated in her text on the Postautonomist has happened.
Literature, that is, the construction of a style, the rhizomatization of an imaginary that not only takes hold in power but also in countercanonical multiplicities, the phantasmal delirium with all the possibilities of the Ego, has invaded everything.
So that the fictions that used to be part of its stage, have been horizontalized and, as Marx would say of communism, have gone out to haunt the world.
To make —to be— their own particular anabasis.
And in this journey, they have not only lost their reduced field, where a certain exclusivity and a certain “sense of drama,” as Bakhtin saw more or less a century ago in his study on Dostoevsky, went hand in hand, but also much of what defined them before.
That space protected by genres, the identity-language fetish and a series of studies that connected them to a tradition or not.
(Needless to say, historically, not connecting someone to a national emblem has been part of a process of erasure common to the canon police.)
Isn’t it precisely that erasure I mentioned before the first to die when national alibis are swept away by their effect, their echo, their digression, their noise, their overture, their non-status, more than by literature?
Virgilio Piñera writes: “Here everything is Electra. The color Electra, the sound Electra, the hate Electra, the day Electra, the night Electra, the revenge Electra (…) Electra, Electra, Electra, Electra, Electra, Electra, Electra!” (Piñera, 2002:35).
And if I bring up the divine Virgil, it is because transfiction (that process that has come to replace the Autonomy/Postautonomy defended by Ludmer) is something that right now, as I wrote before, we find everywhere.
In the night and the sound, as Piñerian Clytemnestra shouted, and in Cuban photography, especially the trans-testimonial photography of the last thirty years: Alom, Peña, Garaicoa, Piña, Batista, et al.
In Kapuścińki’s superb reportages and in Deleuze’s television conversations, later summarized in a book by journalist Claire Parnet.
In Lezama’s diary—that abstruse little volume that narrates so little—, or in the notes on soccer that some newspapers published and still publish after each game.
In the notes on the body of Ceronetti and in the documented book on baseball by González Echevarría.
In Javier Guerrero’s intervention on Salpêtrière and in Teresa Margolles’ walls full of blood and fat.
That is to say, in everything that used to be considered “outside” the literary or artistic, its war horizon, and now it is assimilated, read, recycled, theatricalized from the intensity, from theexact where it has been inscribed.
Transfiction, no doubt about it, is for those of us who write and think about the now-limit, all that which is no longer literature (although it also is, inactually), all that which configures a space where the self, the imaginary and the processual deny the ideology that has traditionally turned it into something else, into a homogeneous bug.
A bug that, to be honest, is not even good for “fabricating reality,” as Ludmer claimed speaking of the post-autonomous, since the transfictive is precisely that which always moves on top of a complex network, a network where it is not exactly reality —understood as present— what is at stake, but the different factors that will make delirium possible, that chaos where jouissance and limit intermingle.
Is it not in fact that chaos that we usually assume as life, the space where we build the transfiction, the model that at the same time is good for writing and inserting ourselves in everything that interests us?
If until now we have examined transfiction without going into the specifics, it might be convenient to refer to some of its details as well.
Mainly for one reason: there is no transfiction without law.
There is no transfiction without law, without signs, without borders, without indications, without cartographies, without markers, without wars.
Without a previous reflection on the ingredients that nourish it and at the same time “restualize” it, on that which is only good for building its own non-digestion.
Non-digestion that each writer or artist manages in his own way, as Piñera knew in La gran puta —again we must mention him—, where to a criminal reality is added a sort of theatrical litany, of little characters crossed by the comic.
Nation, nationalism, transnationalism.
Of all the things that revolve around literature, one of the things that most confuses those of us who work with it is that of nationalism, the superimposition of inscription-property-place.
To the point that if we read, for example, a text that takes place in Cuba, we tend to think of it grosso modo as a text about Cuba (about the Cuba complex, the Cuba attractor, the private Cuba), and not as a text about its fiction, its production of schizoimaginaries, of intimate diagrams, of falsehoods. And this is constantly repeated. For a writer or artist often uses the inscription-place only to talk about something else, to show an other (totalitarianism, for example) and not her pathos or her own life routine. Even when she intends to do so (to show her life, I mean), she fails. Writing, good writing, is always cynical. And cross-eyed. It hits a different place than we were expecting.
Weightlessness, lightness, transprofundity.
Nothing is heard so much in the literary space as the term lightness. Sometimes as a defect (“that text was too light”), sometimes as praise (“it was very light, it read very well”). What most people seem to agree on is that it is one of the marks of the narrative or art of the 21st century (although it had begun a long time ago, remember that little book by Baricco: Silk? And Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Calvino?)
A mark that is sometimes a bit confusing, certainly, since it is often confused with absence of depth, no reflection, little development. Or with Paul Virilio’s concept of speed. And it is exactly the opposite. It could be defined as that which no longer needs to be shown from psychology or ontology —a family relationship for example— to be broken up and assimilated in an “abject” way, that is to say, without any kind of justification, of code. That which does not need to disappear because its only purpose is to be only light.
Genre, mode, transfiction.
One of the funniest things about our time is that everyone complains about its banality, its aggressiveness, its consumerist idiocy, its Selfie-Self. However, we tend to be taken aback when we see a novel that seems more like a poem than a bildungsroman, or an essay (what is an essay?) that assumes, narrates, inscribes and enjoys from any other side: the diary, for example, or anthropology. Such as sometimes does the great Calasso, in those texts about the Greeks and the nymphs. Or Sebald, in his perceptive and historical explorations.
In short, the mixture, the mix, the transorder, seem to be the areas most akin to the processuality of writers or whatever we want to call it. And evidently, they have come to stay, to define their new map.
Time, chronos, transtemporality.
If the mathematical, slow, mechanical gaze was one of the spaces of recognition in Robbe-Grillet: that eye that never finished devouring its prey from the cold… Kitsch, the kitsch tempo, as much as a) fragmentation or puzzle, b) as surface of a single epoch, is going to be one of the most interesting things within trans-fictionality.
It is no longer important to comply with a scenic rigor, an accuracy, a disguise, an extension, a story. In transfiction everything is mixed, everything is enjoyed, everything is used. And in its use resides that kitsch I was talking about before, the very delirium of the one who enjoys writing beyond what the square mind (the square mind and the square eye of the square man) expects to be represented.
I, he, trans-self.
Does anyone really still believe that when I say “I” I am sottovoce talking about me? I think one of the gains of current writing (and Kafka or Walser are for me more current than many contemporaries) is to have decapsulated the first-person singular into something else. A he for example. An other. A nobody. In other words, into anything but a me.
Which doesn’t mean that sometimes I won’t talk about me. Or that I always talk about me, as the case may be. But even if I’m always doing it, it doesn’t mean that I’m really talking about my life, my elusive bios, my habitat. For not only is that inapprehensible by letters or art, but it will always be pierced by my desires, my bad memory, my hatred, my absent-mindedness, my imagination, my bad faith, my fictions. And all that is, in truth, what has been there half present, what Warhol called life as a shock.
This anthology wants to show the lightness, the “erasure,” the non-genre, the kitsch, the stump or the self of some writers. Especially those who in the Cuban space began to publish their first books in the 1990s and are still circulating today, or those who did so a decade later and have consolidated a sign of identification, a little mark.
The fact that they were all born in Cuba does not mean, as I explained before, that this flaw (identity as a straitjacket is closer to politics than to literature) is what conditions the writing or the texts that can be read in Teoría de la transficción.
On the contrary.
This flaw, for me, speaks only of a route, of the way in which that route, which is also an immense work in progress, has been constructed beyond identities, nationalisms, ideologies, influences or laws, and gets lost in its own problematic.
Or in its transversality.
Transversality that every writer disarms in his texts (or narraturas, according to my point of view), and that in many moments will not even respond to what is normally understood as story, since what most of the authors represented here usually do is to use the keys of different genres to raise their own transfiction, that space now difficult to classify by the academy or scholars, who insist on reducing them to novel, short story or diary as appropriate.
Hence the appearance in this book of Carlos Manuel Álvarez or Iván de la Nuez, generally associated with essays, chronicles or journalism: a classification that does not explain the extreme nature of their writings (that drive that gives them a style above all), nor that parenthesis that opens up in their books and can only be explained from narrative or thought in general, from sociocultural observation.
Or writers like Ernesto Hernández Busto, Michael H. Miranda, Idalia Morejón, Ramón Hondal or Pablo de Cuba, closer to the diary form in the case of the first two (a good question would be to know what The Real means in the texts of both), and closer to poetry, to the mix between the multiple (Thirlwell) and the unclassifiable in the case of Morejón, Hondal and de Cuba.
In addition to authors like Abel Arcos, who has developed in parallel an effective work as a screenwriter—some of his films along with Carlos M. Quintela have received awards in several international festivals—and feeds quite a lot from the cinema imaginary to make his “documents.”
Texts that are not only descriptive, but also crossed by the memory, the visual, the epistolary, the legal and the anecdotal.
That, broadly speaking, is the reason why the texts by Fernández-Larrea, José Manuel Prieto, Ronaldo Menéndez, Ahmel Echeverría, Waldo Pérez Cino, Carlos A. Aguilera, Rolando Sánchez Mejías and Ena Lucia Portela move with relative ease within a certain flow or “types,” and why we can find in them situations and characters deceptively closer to the narrative, to the prose archive and its connections.
Machinery that, of course, each one sets in motion from his own imaginary and in this case (or in the case of all those included in this anthology) works from the Slavic, the grotesque, the domestic, the parodic, the aesthetic, the neo-baroque, the corny, the post-Soviet or the zoofractic.
That is, from that place where bad critics and bad publishers do not expect to find what they call “Cuban writer.” Blackmail, by the way, that confuses readers and authors alike, since in the face of the old-fashioned question about the origin and authenticity of ideas and situations, they often do not know what to do or what to say.
This challenge (reflection) is very well illustrated in the writings of Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, Jorge Enrique Lage or Radamés Molina, when they completely decentralize time, History, pop, the sacred or the carnivalesque, the first two (both associated with what has been called in recent years Generation 00); or the cold, the micro, the ironic-logical the latter, who at times seems a cross between the nouveau roman and a certain postmodernism of Wittgenstenian nature.
Could the writing of all the authors included in this anthology be classified as straight transfiction, trans and creative machinery?
I would say yes and I would say, with a smile, no.
Every writer—every good writer—is not only a label but also something else: an evolution, a negation of what is already there, a way out, a dodge. And all the texts in Teoría de la transficción can be understood, no doubt, in another way.
This book only includes just a few stories (not even all those that, after a first reading, turned out to be worth of including) and, of course, the fact that all of them are crossed by transfiction does not mean that the texts of each one of them exactly fulfill each of the points that at some point in this prologue I enunciated in order to understand the what and the how of what I am talking about.
Some will fit more or less —I hope!
And some will fit fully.
What I do believe is that all of them, without exception, mark a difference, both in writing and mentality with respect to what was expected or hoped for abroad of the writers who grew up inside and, at the same time, underline a distance with what was built on the island, literarily speaking, from 1959 to 1991, when the Special Period began and another generation of writers became visible on a large scale.
Teoría de la transficción wants to be a book about that kind of imaginary and, of course, about some of the best writing zones that I believe are being built right now in the Hispanic-American atlas; global atlas, in the Cuban case, thanks to the military totalitarianism that has sent more than three million people into exile in six decades and to a Western paradigm of geodescentralization and civilian strategies that have existed in the West for quite some time now.
This will mean that a large part of the lives of these writers, in addition to the time spent in some Cuban province, have taken place or are taking place in Madrid, Miami, Prague, Frankfurt, Barcelona, New York, Leiden, Moscow and a long etcetera.
Does transfiction mean, just as expressionism, futurism, tachonism or other movements did in their time, a break with the previous space and a resetting of the clock?
If we were to understand transfiction, the transfictive, the transnarrative, as a movement or neo-avant-garde, we would be assimilating it wrongly.
Transfiction is only a territory, an enjoyment, a reflection, a performance.
A territory of couplings and zones.
In it there is no room for silly wars and there is not much room for the mass, in its light and economic sense.
Its habitat is reduced to the aforementioned and to writing. Always, to writing.
The rest, as in many things, is silence.
Or as he would say: silence, exile and cunning.
Although it would have been good to show transfiction in other areas (plastic arts, theater, poetry…), that would have gone far beyond the initial proposal of this book, which was based above all on the narrative world and the intensities that become possible from it. Maybe one day we could create, among many others, that dreamed book and even incorporate disciplines that I know little about and surely have an unclassifiable, “exiled,” broken zone that no longer works well within the general paradigm. In the meantime, let’s cross these lines and see how the different texts present in it connect and disconnect. Surprises might jump out.
Calvino, Italo. Seis propuestas para el próximo milenio. Madrid: Siruela, 2014.
Ludmer, Josefina. “Literaturas postautónomas 2.0”. In: Revista Propuesta educativa 32, Buenos Aires, 2009. Online: http://www.redalyc.org/ pdf/4030/40303041704005.pdf.
Piñera, Virgilio. “Electra Garrigó”. In: Teatro completo. Havana: Letras cubanas, 2002.
Rancière, Jacques. El malestar en la estética. Madrid: Clave intelectual, 2012.
Robbe-Grillet, Alain. Por una nueva novela. Buenos Aires: Cactus, 2010.
Thirlwell, Adam. La novela múltiple. Barcelona: Anagrama, 2014.
* This text is the prologue to the book Teoría de la transficción. Cuban narrative(s) of the 21st century (Hypermedia Publishing House, 2020). It is reproduced and translated with the authorization of its author.