Most intellectuals and readers agree the first book that managed to provide deep insights about the writer’s life was Virgilio Piñera en persona (Virgilio Piñera in person), an excellent compilation prepared by the critic and researcher Carlos Espinosa. It started to build the pedestal to the work of the intellectual Virgilio. In these pages his family, friends and colleagues speak, and we are able to delve into the soul of the poet.
The book, as we read it, breaks down the dark parallels that remain hidden in the memories of the readers, allowing us to unveil that secret and mysterious universe of the writer’s life.
Since the beginning of the “revolution” he was harassed by machismo and then, by homophobia and envy, that which socialism knows best how to harvest. A morning in 1962, as always, he went out to buy bread with two of his friends. At the entrance to the store, a soldier, suspecting they were three effeminates, sent them as delinquents to the police station in Guanabo, and later they were transported in a truck full of prostitutes, pimps and homosexuals, to the Castillo del Principe. At the first chance he called Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and at once Guillermo contacted Carlos Franqui, who in turn suggested talking with Edith García Buchaca, who had some pull in the arts and who was the wife of Carlos Rafael Rodriguez.
Trip to Hell
That night Virgilio remained imprisoned at the Príncipe, in all he was there for more than thirty hours in that hell surrounded by common prisoners. His friends were waiting for his release at Guillermo Cabrera’s house, when he arrived, worn out and battered, without sleep, he started to sob. That night after confirming he had a lot of “fear” – a word that would follow him for the rest of his life – he stayed in Cabrera Infante’s house. That fear later would become terror when he was called to Villa Marista, State Security’s Headquarters, where they told him that his influence on the young was damaging, therefore he was forbidden to have contact with them. From that moment he could no longer get over that state of panic that would follow him until the day of his death.
After that he didn’t want to return to his house in Guanabo. The terror of repeating those experiences was too much for him. In the ‘70’s came the “Five Grey Years, as they would later be called, but at that moment it was known as “el pavonato” — “the showing-off years” — in honor of that sinister person who managed the arts through revolutionary homophobia, directly controlled by Fidel Castro himself, the homophobe-in-chief. The entire system came down hard on all artists to accomplish what that generation would call: the instruments.
State Security accomplishes its goal: forbidding his creativity
In a letter from 1977, when he was almost 65 years old, he said:
(…) “What it is, dear, is that I don’t have a desire to write, about anything nor to anyone. My life is at an end, I’ve fought a lot, and I’m tired of fighting. I let myself go, that’s all. The days are like drops of water (…) nothing to do with the Theatre. Reading very little (…) no magazines at all. Total literary misinformation (…) tell them that I don’t write to them because I’ve severed my communication with the outside world (…) And that’s what life had in store for me. Death is all that remains, and contemplating old photos of youthful times (…) about this Proust already said it all in the time retrouvé, in that mortal and immortal dance in the house of the prince of Guermantes. Tell them that some days ago the last serving tray (blue) from those wonderful days in the house in Guanabo broke. I think now, and I’m certain that that truly was the life. I thought (how naive!) that we would live there until the end of our days, and there we would grow old with dignity and peace, with the rhythmic cadence you feel when the days remaining are so pleasurable that they cover you with a protective shroud of vitality. But all of that crashed, in the same manner as the sound of the trumpets which are said to mark the final judgement.”
These words from Virgilio encapsulate his absolute censorship, the sadness that ailed him, all the cultural works we lost as a nation. The creative energy of that generation was held hostage against the sacrificial wall. At that time it was impossible to find a work by Virgilio in any bookstore. It was completely prohibited. They hoped to make him a forgotten writer, erase him from Cuban literature. He suffered relentlessly during all of those years, through the months, days and hours, minute by minute, without being able to appease the pain caused by those who defamed him.
He did not accept any ethical compromise
Abilio Estévez says that the first thing he found out about Virgilio was that everything to him was profane except for literature, and he kept that moral without reproach. Virgilio taught him the writer’s code of ethics, the importance of writing well, and not to be partisan (in an economic or political sense). He demonstrated how important freedom is to a writer, and that freedom meant, above all, to be true to oneself.
And knowing this, he abandoned that censored existence. What those who persecuted him did not know is what he one day said to Abilio: “I’m immortal.” The news of his death was reported, ironically, in the newspaper Rebellious Youth, and the news was released after his burial, likely to avoid any type of gathering of intellectuals and admirers to pay homage.
One time he said to his nephew “How unjust they’ve been with me.” Not being allowed to publish or introduce his works was his worse punishment. Now, those who censored him are punished through the publication of his complete works. Some, particularly those from the 70s, will certainly say that’s enough because they conform with the few who never dreamed.
In contrast, my generation wants everything, not just for us, but also for the Cuban people: we want the freedom and dignity that Virgilio Piñera needed to be able to breathe and create.
Translated by: Enrique, @Hachhe, Marina Villa
September 25 2012