words of Rufo Caballero
The aphorism is to Lara what the aleph is to the labyrinth. I do not want to start creating aphorisms like him, but I think the idea is accurate. Jesús Lara is projected in the Cuban cultural horizon as an artist, a full man, in need of communication, of channels that allow him to share his world of emotions, perceptions and notions with others, outside the slightest prejudice or academic border, far from the least prevention in terms of genres and formats. At ease I wrote “in need of channels,” not one channel. Lara expresses himself with whatever means he has at hand, or in his head, and he travels from one possibility to another with an enviable consistency. It is curious that the latest years of Cuban culture have seen this kind of complete creator, or interdisciplinary, or multiform, far from the guild, the gang, the only gregarious option. Amaury Perez writes novels, Jorge Perugorría and Alberto Pujols paint, I have gone to narrative after several books of essay, but in Lara the nonconformity has always been present. One cannot think of Lara without that mutation of genres and conventions that he unfolds as he likes.
He has acquired a fast prestige as a landscape artist, from a distinction: the landscape as metonymy. The physical landscape, the weeds, the intricate vegetation, as an expression of something else: the mental passages, the nooks of the soul, the whims of feeling and passion. Rarely, in the history of Cuban art, the physical aspect, however virtuous or exhaustive it might be, has served in such a way to deepen into something else, with a conceptual, poetic, psychological nature. In recent times, the two-dimensional surface has given way to all kinds of experimentation with supports and means, volumetric experiences, installations, interventions, and so on. Between Lara and the world there is not one compelling wall to separate them, as if to prevent them from blurring and confusing among themselves. At the same time, during all these years, there have been Lara’s poems revealing—if landscapes don’t do it already—a tormented and lavish sensitivity, voracious in relation to knowledge and, above all, to spirituality; poems that sanction with fondness, insofar as they offer a vision of the human behavior charged with nobility and perplexity before the twist of the universe. I do not think I exaggerate or venture too much when I say that, despite the undeniable values of all this Lara’s production, the best of his creation lies in the aphorism, that difficult, sharp genre for which one needs sharpness and one extreme capacity of summary. It is possible that anyone can make a speech, but hardly anyone can construct a valuable, brief and insightful sentence, in a moral or doctrinal sense that is not moralistic or narrow, that does not fall into the common place or in a truistic prediction. The aphorism, the epigram, the haiku are some of the most difficult literary genres from where greater minds like those of José Martí, Constantino Cavafis or Richard Wright have been successful.
Why do I consider that aphorisms are Lara’s creative summit? In seconds I will begin to explain myself with convincing reasons, I hope, but I would have to make a confession of rigor. This is said by someone as baroque as Lara, someone who greatly appreciates minimalism, for the same reason. Precisely because I can’t do it. I am a writer of many words, in all directions, many words. So, nothing is as luxurious as the eloquent brevity: I love the minimalist cinema, the sonata, the short poem, the genuine sentence that is not common or foolish cliché. I adore what I cannot have, what escapes me, what is different and which I find particularly good. I confess then that, from the outset, there is a prejudice in favor of Lara’s aphorisms: the temptation to applaud what, being different, is magnificent. But that would be a banal argument: if Lara’s aphorisms were not good, resolutely good, then I would go with my anxiety of synthesis to somewhere else. The thing is that, besides pertinent for the baroque look, they are tremendously effective in the literary and the philosophical aspects.
I think the aphorisms have just shown that Lara is a philosopher in the first place. Then, by extension, he is a poet, painter, and sculptor. The core is philosophy, the rest are like branches of some of his landscapes: proliferations, variations. Lara is at heart a philosopher, and therefore, aphorisms present him just as he came into this world: naked and with the Bible as an umbrella.
There is no Lara without morality, without moral aspiration. But not in the sententious sense of someone who sanctions, separates evil from good, or punishes with the word. No. That would escape, in him, to a criterion very settled around the humility, austerity. I mean morality in the sense of sensitivity that sympathizes after observing, to see a lot, and to be able to return a repertoire of attitudes and behaviors that structure a treaty on the human condition. Lara sculpts, in his aphorisms, his human comedy, a systematization of the path of man on Earth and who is not happy with the description, timely anecdote or intransigent valuation. Lara meditates on all that he has observed during years and that provokes rejection and criticism as well as devotion and a sense of beauty. His subject is a moral man, always passing through the filter of ethics, a prism not divorced from religion, but also not reduced to it.
Lara’s aphorisms are not alien to the Christian man who lives in him, but as every religious man, like every artist, like every man, he practices a creed that remains in perennial debate. That is, a Christianity of goodness, of generosity, where there are no hesitations, retractions, nuances, heresies, morbidities, nerves. In a word: where it does not stop beating life. Look at this tasty and human sentence: “Perennial goodness is unbearable.” Because he is a mature man, an experienced writer, because he is a living man, Lara knows that there is no life or faith without sin. The abstention of sin is not what spices the existence of a cherishing joy, but in any case, the wisdom of controlling sin, of subordinating it and not allowing it to captivate us until the outrage. However, all these “detours” are called to a tip that braids honesty and the conviction of judgment. In these aphorisms, which occupy twenty years in the life of its author, and belong to books such as Status Quo, Zoología humana,Sarcasmo como intransigencia retórica proverbial IV, Exégesis del referéndum o vergel del castigo, Babel y la demagogia de los espejos, Mitología del extremo and Vestigios del remedio, the intelligence of the man who has lived a lot, who has not lost his time, and who has been able to use up a strong learning out of each experience, is discovered. Lara has, in the poetic prose of aphorisms, the wisdom of a restless old man, and the frenzied vibrations of a hurried teenager. Combined sharpness and sediment crowded with magnificence.
A civism that a claim, appeals to the best that man has been travels these pages. From the simplest observations to the most elaborated philosophical one. Among the first, there are the less clever ones: “Humans survive quietly if maintained in the archaic representations of survival”, or “The infallible essence of man appears in crucial circumstances”. It is needed a body to sustain a soul, a table to hold a house, an economy to support a country. Of course it is. Are we happy or unhappy when we pass over such an undeniable truth? Are we stupid or brilliant? Are we martyrs? At least, I do not know; at least, Lara tells us that we cannot survive in peace. The Bible reads that wisdom means a lot of pain. As for the second, in fact, the essence of man emerges in determining moments, in extreme situations where anger, arrogance or temperance speak for deeper qualities or deprivations.
The humility and sobriety of life, in front of vanity and ostentation, are values that matter immensely to the Lara’s moral world, who comes to see the lamb as “the supreme paradigm of humility. All the other animals are subdued, but note that when it is thrown by the man to the lion’s cage to serve as food, then it surrenders to him, as its legitimate mother, and so meekly that many times the terrifying lion was seen refusing to kill it”. This is a beautiful fable, without a doubt, with echoes in cultural history, tha get lost with a graceful and timely resonance.
Every day man is more like a beast and less like a lamb, more animal and less giver. Lara cannot stand arrogance and immodesty. Not without grace, he wonders: “What are tombs filled with?”, to answer categorically: “with indispensable men”. Therefore, “to be indispensable is a vain confusion”. Pretending significance is for Lara a trivial presumption, when he speaks to us with amazing sincerity, about fallibility, the vulnerability of the human condition. In another place he tells us: “I forgive the betrayal and the betrayer, because despite myself, I recognize it, and yet I betray too”. This appreciation in the form of confession is tragic as well as beautiful, as long as it is penetrating and careful: “The conscience of error does not exempt us from its full and obstinate satisfaction. Humanity is not another thing; the error lies in the basis of the lesser learning. There is no way of growing up that can manage without error, misunderstanding, treason even”.
But just as we are wrong, the world is wrong: “The world reprehends us for our virtues. It only sincerely forgives mistakes, because they do not question its incapacity”. That is, many times the world responds to us from its own vanity, and it can barely perceive our fall, in order to forgive it too, as someone who saves the generous and wise lamb from the imminent death. If Lara does not approve the megalomania’s insolence, he does not admit either the indolence of envy, the indifference of those who are prepared to take advantage of others’ weaknesses.
Our author brings together a repertoire of warnings with which the human condition is summarized in a desolating and hopeful portrait as instructive as it is from the lucid evidence. When he tells us that “whoever pleads and thanks so much, is saying goodbye”, he points out the danger of humiliation, the natural condemnation of submission. The light reader might consider the contradictions of aphorisms as an unforgivable inconsistency; I see them as complex thinking, as the ability to not see in one way only. As the option to escape the tunnel and to understand that good is not necessarily what coincides with oneself, as the honesty to confess that what seemed terrible to me in 1985, it probably seemed kind to me twenty years later, and the other way around. The world is not in a fist; it is multiform, volatile, as movable is the artist’s perception, who learns and rises, along with any man.
In another sentence, almost sneakily, as someone who apologizes, the author refers to the human pleasure of revenge. Revenge and reprisals are meanness that influences against those who follow them, not against those who receive them, we already know, but let’s accept it: such a pleasure they give us sometimes. The author acknowledges: “… I certainly do not suffer too much, but when I do, invariably it is not to take revenge”. The human propensity for revenge can hardly be restrained, that’s maybe the reason why there are so many gringo films about this, notwithstanding the widespread conviction of its impertinence.
It would be healthy to clarify, at this point, that writes Lara but he does not necessarily “speak” Lara. Lara, with his aphorisms, creates “a voice of paper” that can coincide with what in this text I have named civism, but not necessarily. That paper voice has its independence, it romps. The author’s relationship with the voice may be ironic, even by inversion or reversion. With this I clarify that, from aphorisms we can deduce a psychological portrait of the human condition, but not of Lara. At least not in a linear way. To try this, we would have to get rid of Manicheisms and literalities.
Many aphorisms, albeit distant in the text, are connected below, above, or behind. Let’s read these two: “One way to own something is to devalue it; this subversion will succeed if necessity or presumption makes an appearance”, and “Resentment is usually a trace of ecstasy”. Lara knows that ends touch each other, that hate and the love are confused, that Hollywood and the Socialist Realism have more points in common than the presumable ones. I fully share both notes: I might be crazy, but on a few occasions I have felt, underneath fierce criticism, an outrageous anger for not being my friend, or for not writing those “pretty lines” that I could have written, for not having my luck, etc. So, at least I receive attacks as caresses, and I thank them. I pay attention to Lara, and this has given me a lot of results. In any case, as he says himself—or the voice he creates: “It would be better not to have enemies, but if you do, it is better they are illustrious rather than to have a collaborator by force”. This is: the fame and courage of my enemies attest to my talent. And here we must laugh, because there is no other way. Lara is just what was missing. He is the one who has decided to shout to the four winds what it is supposed to be whistled, which is only spoken in the corridors.
Our voice knows that the carved side of the spirit has a price, that to think with our own head has a price, that the talent is paid. If narcissism is stupid, then prudishness is not less pitiful. When he writes that “whoever forges his spirit sets a price on his head” refers to the cost of growth, learning, his own path, free enlightenment. Recklessness is among the portrayed characters. The voice, that strange, deep, sensible voice, warns us that recklessness is a sign of insecurity and fear: “Whoever hounds, fears.” Of course, whoever pursues, fears; whoever condemns harshly, fears; whoever whips, has panic. This other one about the value of resistance is said in a precious way: “Great patience works against scorns like attire against winter.” Lara knows that there is no better victory than the one enjoyed by the back runner, without outbursts, without virulence.
On occasions it seems as if the voice regrets that certain phenomena were as they truly are and not otherwise: “Ideal freedom would be the one that does not become ennobled with blood”. It is posed as denial, but what matters is what it’s stated underneath. The ideal would be what does not gather blood, but what it’s real, costs blood, whether we like it or not. It is proven. Illusion and fiction protect us from the harsh reality, even in this, or especially before issues as relative and decisive as freedom.
Our voice never stays on the surface, it is as if it had lived everything, it would have went through everything. In order not to appear as arrogant as whatever he criticizes, he protects himself on many occasions with the irony that he prefers to propose from negation. Look at these two examples: “Equity would not go very far if immodesty would not guard it”, “When I want not to sleep, I seek what I have done selflessly for my enemy”. In particular, the second one is tasty. Whoever writes such impudence has to be a joker, who is above good and evil. In fact, it is hard to withdraw and give away the philanthropy to act in favor of the enemy. An outrageous sincerity flaps here.
The impertinence and pride of style are recorded when we are told that “it rejects everything, to assume everything”. And that’s right. The hypocritical background of melodrama, of histrionic and theatrical feeling, is captured in the doctrine that “A wound is a great sun seam or an excuse for a selfish argument”. Even more, the hypocrisy of the pathos: “If we dishonor ourselves it is only so that they put us on others’ pedestals”. As it is now said on the Cuban street: when we give away, the spirit of glory beats in the background. From another glory, any glory, at any price, it doesn’t matter: the important thing is glory. Glory is in that action. You are the glory: the tasteful, chosen mud.
Our voice is suspicious, as it was Oscar Wilde, of the impartiality. He asks himself, “Does impartiality bring fairness to the soul?” Our voice thinks, just like Wilde’s, that who insists on looking everywhere does not really appreciate any. Commitment may be wrong, but it ensures a result. The mask of impartiality, objectivity, and even, other herbs, is shortcut and not road. Blindness.
Speaking of lights and shadows, one of the most interesting thematic areas, those that run inside the book as submerged, latent, but displayed in its systematicity, deals with a possible notion about knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is not a non-critical store, mere accumulative erudition: Certainly, “there are many things that I do not want to know …”. An ethics of knowledge appears early here. Wisdom chooses and selects. The world burns in such a way that it is better not to know it fully. Sometimes ignorance protects. That is what we are told. Not every blindness kills. Some, it might shine. In another order, the voice written by Lara recognizes the refinement that implies the dose of intelligence. Intelligence is a force so savagely intense that it springs up with such magnitude and lack of restraint that adjusting it is pure art among all arts: “I know, it is of great spirituality, to know how to hide intelligence”. Although, the verb ‘to hide’ warns us of another meaning, in fact, there is another wicked possibility embowered in aphorism.
In an even deeper philosophical plan, the voice tries to understand the processes, the cycles of life; he explains it: “It is axiomatic: each expert has only one disciple, and this disciple will have to be disloyal and treacherous, because he is predestined to be an expert”. In a sentence like this, there is also another psychological figure: the death of the Father. Just look at the lucidity of the following doctrine in relation to the organic, dynamic joining between object and subject: “The worshiped object hypnotizes the worshiper as subtlety to meaning, until they are articulated in a single center. The function is the incipient which is born from that alliance. If the worshiped object is vile, the worshiper becomes imprudent. When the covenant binds the one who makes it, then for him it is delectation. When the worshiper joins the worshiped thing, he rests in it”. Over this description there is added another of Lara’s old and expensive themes: the vertigo of seduction.
The chiaroscuro, the nuances, the intermediate segments that are definitely not one thing or the other dazzled the voice, but he knows the voice just like it still exists soul and body, night and day, nature and culture, the feminine and the masculine. Some aphorisms disavow the presumption of a certain tired thinking that wants to appear intelligent to discredit the binarisms: ” Appearances are ‘treasured’, but in the end, the same dilemmas continue to coexist: to pamper or to crush, to fight or to evade, to dominate or to depend on. Therefore, it is convenient to keep up appearances and to discern the background.
The voice created by Lara is not concerned about the mechanisms of power. We are told that the ambition of power is such that it needs to come to attack itself: “The powerful like to be helped, but not exceeded.” And that “all that is unconditional is a beneficial owner, or seeks to be.” Of course, from the moment that unconditionality is accepted, the soul is sold to the devil, one becomes a Faust without Margarita.
Another recurring area, of course, stops here and there in the sumptuous and delightful fields of eroticism and love. An analytical and sensual tastemaker of seduction like him can certainly allow this. From the start, there is a confession disturbed by the same magnitude of sensuality: “… I do not know which juicy bosom feeds so many of my insanities…” The source of such disorder escapes the voice. Of course, that fountain is wide, leafy, and has no end. Two concretions approach the erotic nature in a splendid way: “In an almost perfect, beautiful breasts, my art is unarmed, and it prevents help from reaching it.” At least two themes interweave here: the impotence of the subject in the face of abundance and the invitation of the object of sensual adoration, and the phallic virtue, of excellence, of undertaking, of penetration, that assists art. Art and phallus are each the pronoun of the other, interchangeable attributes. What should we understand by “help”? I leave that to my reader, the labyrinth of interpretation here is kind, playful, inviting too. The pleasure of impotence and the eventual virtue of abstinence, aroused by—though not reduced to—good and great eroticism, are summed up in this beautiful construction: “It pays to fall flat on our face just to see on the ground all those demons who seek to seduce me and squeeze me in the heat of two legs”. As it is said in street language: before so much invocation, before so much invitation, the whole world must face down.
After all the joy, the dance, there is once again the bottom runner: “The miracle of love is superior when seduction heals”. Exceptional are the spirits that continue founding and finding love even after something as disturbing as seduction, something that when it happens, it heals? We must have that deep air, that deep breath that lasts after something as comprehensive as seduction, after something that seems to exhaust the world.
Who is so interested in seduction will remain, of course, two steps from the reflection on art. That other house is penetrated more and more, and here there is a whole faltering, panting theory about beauty and art. The notion starts from the culture and sensibility supposed by the recognition of beauty: “Whoever thinks that the muddy tubercle is as admirable as the flower’s aroma is someone who loves”. And he goes on with another observation of the senses: “The only infant organ to covet is the eye.” Why does the eye deceive? Because it reads appearances, the external forms of things. That is why it is always innocent: it penetrates us, nobly, in a rather more complex nature, which at first glance slips away. However, no one diminishes protagonism: Everything begins and “enters” through our eyes.
The voice of the aphorisms is projected in relation to radicality, I would even say that in relation to the cruelty of art: “Art is the accusing evidence that I have destroyed half the world to find the fleeting and vague satisfaction of intuition”. The spell of art exists just from devastation; in this sense, it resembles the rank of style, which we have seen before. There is no art without splendor, but in any case, it is an austere, selective pomp. We even note some assertion about certain positions and postures that are regrettably frequent in the Cuban cultural scene—as they are usually typical of the young people, always interested in founding: “It makes a fool of himself whoever seeks for sublime aspects in”. It clearly does so, and it overflows. We see here the photograph of this type of “teenager” artist—although it is an attitude that goes beyond art—for whom the rupture, demolition, “experimentation”—a fraudulent myth, besides painful—and insolence are the base of the ascent to what’s sublime. That is grotesque despite being puerile and absurd. It is necessary to live in order to understand that not even the steepest audacity is enough to touch art. At Lara’s mercy or his aphoristic voice, or both, art is synonymous with pain, abstention, sacrifice, consecration, generosity.
Other occupations of the moral world that matter to our author would be: war, always foolish and sometimes necessary; the risk of commiseration and pity; the pretense of agreement; the power of suggestion; the impugnation of style. The voice believes that style slows renovation, as long as it becomes an accomplice of paralysis and concession.
Speaking of style, this book has that and very much. There is a group of important fixed values that inform and nurture Lara’s way of creating: the inclination towards the apparent paradox—and I say apparent because I really mean the complex thinking that likes to explore the value of contradiction, far from fleeing inn so haughty way—; the recurrence of a group of figures, such as hyperbole, pun, paraphrase of fables and cultural spies. The vocation to defer the noun in the sentence, which can be expressed as the postponement of the verb or the subject of the term. In this sense, there is a kind of inclination towards the baroque breath, typical of a pleasant revision in modernist poetry, which is then comprised with the minimal mold of aphorism.
Lara is again sinuous here, never linear, and at the same time, concise. This tension between the baroque syntax and the tight force of the aphorism results in a very appreciable literary value. This is another of the helpful contradictions that nourish Lara’s style—who is nothing concessive—and which solve, at the level of the aphorisms, searches that affect the rest. That is why, I also believe that the book of aphorisms stands at the top of all he has sought and has achieved. We notice here the just proportion between the beauty of what is said and the beauty of how it is said. The reader should stop in this sentence: “There are clear rules of learned behavior, but the terrorism of the agreement has not disappeared, it has simply become more subtle”. In this aphorism the voice encodes the idea of the dangerous importance of the negotiation. Negotiation is inevitable, civic, fostering, but it can act as a double-edged sword, as an alibi, as a feed for the sliding of sarcasm. The above mentioned is inseparable from the way it is presented. “Clear norms of learned behavior” is a noble and remarkable construction, an elegant syntax where there was one indeed. But the phrase “the terrorism of the covenant” already sits in the sky. The terrorism of the covenant: so well said, and well thought. In this book, Lara finds the exact, precise words. He does not flutter to the hunt for the right means: he has it within his reach, and he also displays it with the solvency of someone who possesses the virtue of knowing how to measure his intelligence and his culture. And we know that it is an expensive gesture, an educated and very refined gesture, which was scarcely entrusted to the higher spirits.
At least every decade of his life Lara should publish a book of aphorisms, a production that defintely never ceases for him. In the present interpretation, I discover the endowing magnet, the core of everything else Lara obtains: the gift of the abstract thinker, who to understand the most deplorable springs of functions the world and the human mind—and affection, obviously—can be lavished then on other formats, in other cultural conventions.
I have no doubt that Lara is a philosopher first of all, and from there radiates and varies everything else. The aphoristic form favors the concentration of that vital summa which is substantial meditation for him. I was already assuming this in our conversations, where we should always talk about painting, and we always diverted to tortuous, comforting, complex ways of the human condition, misfortune, happiness, of what’s sacred and unstable that humans continue to name happiness, the praise to madness, the trial over blindness or light. Here it is, concentrated, the world of ideas capable of impregnating other areas of creation where Lara is relaxed. Therefore, this book has a cardinal importance, if we try to establish a possible center for this multiple, ductile, whole artist that is Jesus Lara.
Lara is probably satisfied after such surfeit of wisdom, intuition and rested knowledge, just like his beautiful and sharp aphorisms. In front of them, I warn you, you feel dread, modesty, distress, retreat. They are about to be sadists, every time they force us to a brutal public nude, where we would have preferred the comfortable modesty of the mask, the dress, the theater.
At this point, I prefer to be silent, so as not to fall into the vile act of arrogance. I perceive, with the discipline of a Benedictine monk, the evidence that “behind so many arguments there is almost always an arrogant spirit”. Let silence be as a dignity of the spirit, as a prudent asceticism, as frugality that extols what flows.
Havana, November, 2009