DE OTROS MUNDOS
MESTER DE BREVERÍA
(1912 - 1979)
The fragile space between sadness and beauty
Virgilio Piñera, (born August 4, 1912, Cárdenas, Cuba—died October 18, 1979, Havana), playwright, short-story writer, poet, and essayist who became famous for his work as well as for his highly bohemian lifestyle. His life was one of his most outrageous creations.
Piñera’s father was a railroad engineer, and his mother was a schoolteacher. He attended the University of Havana but refused to defend his dissertation before a “bunch of donkeys.” Thereafter, he found it difficult to find suitable employment and sometimes was forced to rely on family and friends for financial support.
Among his most famous poems are “La isla en peso” (1943), and “La gran puta” (1960). He was a member of the “Origenes” literary group, although he often differed with the conservative views of the group. In the late 1950s he co-founded the literary journal Ciclón. Following a long exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Piñera returned to Cuba in 1958, months before Fidel Castro took power. But in 1961 he was jailed for “political and moral crimes.” After his eventual release, he went on living as a marginal figure with few defenders among those in power, although in 1969 he did win Cuba’s most important literary award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, for his play Dos viejos pánicos (“Two Ancient Panics”).
Piñera was not one to belong to literary groups or to associate himself with artistic and philosophical movements, and his frequent troubles with Castro’s regime came as a result of his irreverence and refusal to follow a party line.
Piñera was better known for his avant-garde theatre, such as the play Electra Garrigó (1943), than for his poetry or short stories, though his admirers recognized him as a master of the latter. His best collections are Cuentos fríos (1956; Cold Tales) and Pequeñas maniobras (1963; “Little Maneuvers”).
In the 1950s Piñera lived in Buenos Aires, where he came to know Jorge Luis Borges, and his work was published in the prestigious journal Sur. This period in Argentina—encompassing his friendship with Borges and others in Buenos Aires, including the exiled Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz—was an influence on his work.
His work includes essays on literature and literary criticism, several collections of short stories compiled under the title of Cold Tales, a great number of dramatic works, and three novels: La carne de René (Rene’s Flesh), Presiones y Diamantes (Pressures and Diamonds), and Las pequeñas maniobras (Small manoeuvres). His work is seen today as a model by new generations of Cuban and Latin American writers. Some believe that his work influenced that of Reinaldo Arenas, who wrote in his memoir Before Night Falls of Piñera’s time in Argentina and friendship there with Witold Gombrowicz.
Piñera’s stories blend the fantastic with the grotesque, with touches of paranoia, and even with madness. The world seems to collapse on his protagonists, who resort to drastic measures, such as that taken by the main character in “Carne” (“Meat”) who progressively eats himself to avoid starvation.
The magazine Unión posthumously published autobiographical writing by Piñera in which he discussed how he concluded he was gay. However, his work can not be reduced to his open discussions on homosexuality in a time when such a topic was taboo, especially in the Spanish Caribbean. Piñera’s literary and cultural perspective went beyond sexuality, to express concerns on national and continental identity, philosophical approaches to theater, writing and politics. This focus drew fire from the Spanish American literary establishment of his time, including Cuban poets Cintio Vitier and Roberto Fernandez Retamar, and leaders like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Due to Piñera’s social points of view and especially to his homosexuality, he was censured by the revolution, and died without any official recognition. As more of his work has been translated into English, Piñera’s work has been rediscovered by American academia as a testimony of 20th century resistance against totalitarian systems.
The Cuban History
Telluric, absurdist, surrealist, feverishly tropical, Virgilio Piñera’s The Weight of the Island is a poetic cosmos without parallel. Piñera’s voice is disturbing, anguished, dissonant and yet deeply moving. You feel the full emotional and psychological presence of the man in every verse he penned. We can rejoice that the English-speaking public can finally become acquainted with this utterly original poet. Only an artist of Pablo Medina’s gifts could have achieved the miracle of bringing Piñ era fully alive into English.
Jaime Manrique, author of Cervantes Street
When we read the poetry of Virgilio Piñera we must try to identify the invisible or the mystery that lies behind his words, for his language is filled with doubt and irony as the Cuban poet works the regions of despair, desolation and loneliness. Through Medina’s translation the reader can access the invisible and hidden in Piñera’s poetry, the mystery between the lines which Pablo Medina deftly uncovers. Medina’s translation of Piñera’s poetic words is vivid and sensitive and becomes a recreation of that poetry rather than a mere translation. If Piñera as a poet translates his desolate life into a poetry which is fierce and bitter, Medina’s English rendition of that poetry captures the vitality of the original Spanish and conveys the fierceness of a poet who felt imprisoned by “the cursed condition of water on all sides.”
Isabel Alvarez Borland, author of Cuban America Literature of Exile: From Person to Persona
Virgilio Piñera’s poetry occupies the fragile space between sadness and beauty, between disillusion and reality. His poems are quiet champions against indifference, affirmations that seek to both grieve over and honor our human existence. Pablo Medina's translations are enduring, necessary treasures.
Richard Blanco, Obama inaugural poet and author of The Prince of los Cocuyos
Virgilio Piñera has been too long ignored amid a louder, at times discordant music of twentieth century Latin American poetry. With these subtly innovative and accessible translations in The Weight of the Island, poet-novelist Pablo Medina now sets Piñera in his rightful place on the international stage alongside poet-icons José Lezama Lima and Nicolás Guillén. Piñera’s early work is fierce and surrealist, presenting the torrid sensuality and suffocation of his most beautiful island―Cuba―simmering in all its ebullient tropical illusions. Spanning the era when Cuba was a brand new country set free from both the Spanish and Americans to make its own history, moving ahead through hard Revolution then post-Revolution, this smart selection moves back again in time into the more interior and privately experienced, meant also to present Piñ era’s more intimate writing, his personal evocations of love and disillusionment, his closely observed poems of absurd social behaviors and mechanical decorum played out against the certainty of mortality. Yet Piñera’s poems are all celebrations of life, divine spirit cries that break through the stifling silence of our permanent night. Medina’s remarkable translations in The Weight of the Island now renew his gifts to the world.
Douglas Unger author of Voices from Silence
Meat by Virgilio Piñera
By Katia Rodriguez
On April 25, 2015
Virgilio Piñera was born on August 4th, 1912 in Cárdenas. Cuba. His works often carried themes of criticism towards Cuban politics and life. His homosexuality played a detrimental role in his life, as it was considered taboo during this time, and his works were often censored. Piñera’s stories often include grotesque imagery such as cannibalism.
Piñera’s short story, “Meat”, begins with a town experiencing shortages on meat. This can be analogous to Piñeras’s own life, as this story was first published in 1944. During this time, Cuba was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and suffered through continuous meat shortages, especially beef. In Cuba, meat is a big part of their daily diet and a shortage can affect their meal. The townspeople are enraged, and some talk of retaliation but are eventually dissuaded. Due to their helplessness, they begrudgingly start to eat vegetables. However, one individual seemingly cannot fathom not eating meat, so Mr. Ansaldo creates a solution: eat their own flesh. Instead of being disgusted, the townspeople eagerly follow his lead and consumes their own meat, leading to an early death.
The act of consuming human flesh can leave the reader highly unsettled, especially due to the narrator’s tone of normalcy throughout the story. He refers to the act of cutting one’s buttock as a “glorious spectacle” and two women’s inability to kiss each other an “amusing scene”. The narrator assures the reader that the townspeople are happy now that they are “obtaining their vital substance”. The ending enforces the idea that their self-mutilation was not an act of survival, but of a desperate desire to eat meat. The townspeople could have continued to eat vegetables. They would not have been happy but undoubtedly lived a longer life.
The short story brings up an interesting paradox: to eat is to die. While the townspeople are satisfying their carnivorous desire, it is leading to an early demise. Because of their need for instant gratification, instead of waiting for the meat shortage to end, they are destroying themselves physically, socially and culturally. The dancer can no longer enjoy his art because he has gouged himself. The townspeople cannot socialize with each other because they consumed their tongues, and crime is no longer punishable because the prison warden nibbled on his fingers. Women no longer required clothing on top because they ate their breasts. This, interestingly enough, lead to a resistance from ladies’ garment workers. Just like the townspeople at the beginning, their efforts were pushed aside and nothing came of it. This seems to draw the conclusion that resistance and rebellions are futile, and the only way to overcome adversity is to create an alternative.
Originally, the short story is called “Carne”, which can refer to both meat and flesh. Typically, meat is defined as the flesh for mammals used for food, while flesh is “the soft substance consisting of muscle and fat that is found between the skin and bones of an animal or a human”. The two terms become one in the Spanish version and are indistinguishable. Human flesh becomes analogous to meat, as does human to savage.
At the end, the narrator draws up interesting questions that does he not answer. He believes that the townspeople have no right to complain, since they have come up with a solution that can sate their desire for meat. Only once in “Meat” did the story take a serious turn, and that was when the dancer ate himself into nothing. Here, they witnessed the results of their cannibalism, but even then they continued with their self-mutilation. The narrator also questions this: “was that postscript the price that the flesh exacted from each?”. But he cuts himself off, and concludes that the townspeople were well fed, and that is all that matters.
WORLD HUMANITIES BLOG
A whole year to remember Virgilio Piñera
The centenary birth of the writer, poet and Cuban playwright Virgilio Piñera, is celebrated in 2012 with outreach not only national but international. The program for the Virgiliano Year is comprehensive and ranges from the reissue of all his work to conferences, round tables and theater premieres and revivals throughout the country that bring the audience to the vast production of the author. Among the editorial proposals highlights the Edition of the centenary collection that includes his complete short stories, essays on art, correspondence, and two volumes of the critical edition of his work.
"Cuban culture owes many repairs throughout its history, not only of the twentieth century but also the XIX, and one of the largest debt you have is Virgilio Piñera,"said Antón Arrufat, National Literature Prize 2000, President of the organizing committee for the celebrations program that are held throughout 2012, with the noble purpose of celebrating the centenary of the author of The Island in weight.
The commemoration of the important event is due to a joint effort of several institutions and organizations in Cuba, among the Cuban Book Institute, the Institute of Literature and Linguistics, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, the National Council Performing Arts and the Cuban Academy of Language.
The National Library José Martí, adds to the festivities and submit manuscripts and first editions of his books. October is the more intense month with a symposium on various facets of his life and career, with the participation of prominent personalities in the lyrics and the Cuban scene.
Born in Matanzas, south of the capital, Piñera is considered the creator of the modern theater on the island and marked a milestone in the Cuban theater. Among his best known works stand Electra Garrigó, A long journey day into Night and Two old panics, America´s House Prize. In Electra enjoying the literary quality of the piece, its theatricality, imagination that has recreated the Hellenic myth, the parodial meaning and comedian, the mockery that escapes of parliaments, the overall atmosphere of the tragedy, its spectacular , and over any dispute, what meant to achieve for our scene for thirteen years.
The author of Cold Air, during 2012 will be recognized in the rightful place within the culture in the Island.Theater lovers are in the work of the carefree Piñera in the treatment of subjects to be further humanized tables the author's vision and make it the most important contribution to the history of Cuban theater in the twentieth century. In his most important works highlighting the Cuban, from which the author achieves universality.
Within the tribute was the first part of the playwright José Milián, "If you going to eat wait for Virgilio", and the inclusion in the publishing plans of the Cuban Book Institute an important bill or new editions of Piñera. Roger Riverón from Cuban Letters, director and member of the commission explained, "we will have a new series that responds to the centenary edition and will be responsible for publishing the full story of Virgilio, and his essays on art.
The Publishing House "Tables Alarcos", will be at the homage to a truly critical edition of the complex theater by Piñera, Omar Baliño, director of Tables magazine and member of the commission, Union Ediciones already has five titles said Olga Marta Pérez, the director, which will allow the bill works as Orbit by Virgilio Piñera; Virgilio Piñera in person by Carlos Espinosa; The Island by weight (where he will meet his poetry); René´s meat (novel), and a volume for his correspondence.
The festivities included a performance with poetry, prose and excerpts from plays, directed by Carlos Diaz, a proposal of the National Council for the Performing Arts to inaugurate the centenary year of Virgilio Piñera, next January 22nd, coinciding with the Cuban Theater month, which is also dedicated to this great Cuban letters.
Piñera died on October 18th, 1979, the Mayor Playwright will be remembered with the participation of all art forms. Documentary, allegorical features the artist in charge of the National Ballet of Cuba, premieres in the performing arts; cancellation stamp; academic courses throughout the year, exhibitions of photographs and documents, conferences, journals devoted to the honoree, among many other surprises are some proposals that make up the largest entertainment that will become this big celebration, aims to place Virgilio Piñera among the leading motivations toward reading and knowledge of his work and life, debt which we are all called to settle.
Anderson, Thomas F. Everything in its Place: The Life and Works of Virgilio Piñera. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006.
Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. Mea Cuba. In Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff (eds.) The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press (2004).
Chichester, Ana Garcia. “Virgilio Piñera and the Formulation of a National Literature.” CR: The New Centennial Review, 2.2 (2002): 231-251.
Molinero, Rita (ed). Virgilio Piñera: la memoria del cuerpo. Editorial Plaza Mayor, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2002.
Wiki / RobertoGonzalez / InternetPhotos / TheCubanHistory.com
Virgilio Piñera / TheCubanHistory / Arnoldo Varona, Editor