Sergio Ramírez: When he woke up, Monterroso was still there | Opinion

The month of December that enters marks the centenary of the birth of Augusto Monterroso, a writer who will continue to wake up and will always be there, like the famous dinosaur from his tale of few lines, a masterpiece of brevity, ingenuity, and lightness how expensive it was to Ítalo Calvino.

A story with a single line, a single comma and a single period that is, moreover, the only story that can be learned in its entirety by heart, as many of us have learned, and that today would fit in the strict measure of a tweet, thus Monterroso, as bad as he is, becomes a forerunner of postmodernity.

The first person to whom the solemnity of this anniversary would have amused is himself, always distrustful of the pomp of bronze and laurels. A calm humor, not at all strident. As he was short in stature, he said that the short ones had a sixth sense to recognize each other. And he also declared himself a plenipotentiary ambassador of the Netherlands.

And the fact that, instead of Augustus, his first name, they called him Titus, was to pass from the terrain of imperial majesty, stripped at ease of his title of Roman emperor, to that of a diminutive that made him feel confident in himself. himself, master as he was of brevity also by literary rule.

The brevity not only in terms of the length of his texts, but in terms of his entire work, which never became abundant, due to his modesty in the face of words, and the serious risks that excessive texts entailed for him. The rule of rigorous scarcity. In this he resembled Bartleby, the lonely clerk in Herman Melville’s tale, who, when entrusted with a new office task, used to respond, timidly but stubbornly, “I’d rather not.”

As is often the case with the rugged Central American lives, he was born in Tegucigalpa, of a Guatemalan father and a Honduran mother, coming from a family of gambusinos like those in western movies, who sneaked the gold collected into the current of the rivers, as he tells it. in his 1993 biographical book, The Gold Diggers.

He lived his childhood and adolescence in Guatemala under the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico, and when he was overthrown, he supported as a student the democratic revolution that began in 1944 with President Juan José Arévalo; He went into exile after the fall of Jacobo Arbenz in 1953, and lived first in Chile, and later ended up in Mexico, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

For the brief Monterroso, writing was also what was not written, what remained in silence. Balzac, the copious, came to be the complete opposite of his conception, or choice, of literature, that paucity that became a kind of verbal modesty; and in view of that mountain range of ridges that repeat endlessly on the horizon that is Human comedyMonterroso, frugal, exclaims, full of funny pretenses: “Today I wrote a line, today I feel like a Balzac”.

In his tale The fox is wiser, who closes his book The black sheep and other fables, we heard the story of the writer Zorro who was always asked for a new book, even though he had already published two, critically acclaimed. “Actually what they want is for me to publish a bad book; but since I am Zorro, I am not going to do it ”, thought Zorro.

In the character of the writer Zorro, not a few discover the discreet Juan Rulfo, who refused to write a third book, or invented that he was writing one that would be called The range to be left alone, but he never started it. Rulfo also had that vice of being sparing.

I also remember a joke by Monterroso in front of a group of Guatemalan students who were planning to edit a magazine and came to visit him at his home in Mexico City to ask for a literary collaboration. He sent them to another writer, his compatriot poet, this one, abundant to the point, and a bad poet, also in exile, saying: “Ask him, he has enough.”

Complete works and other stories, its first book, exemplary texts were published in 1959 that despised the vernacular backwardness of Central American literature of that time. Then a decade later, it would come The black sheep and other fables, and, like his fox, Monterroso began to prevent himself from falling into the provocations of writing too much to increase his fame. When I once told him, hurting his modesty, that I had never written a single bad line, he replied, before releasing his quiet laugh, that it was because he wrote little. Bartleby’s illustrious company. In addition, he recommended to his students in the literary workshops, in front of the page that one believed to be perfect, to add some error, in order to achieve imperfection, which is always a human work.

Like his ancestors who got into the river currents to sift the sand in search of gold nuggets, Monterroso did it with words. Much poured sand and little gold.

And when you wake up in another hundred years, it will still be there.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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