Wednesday, December 1

Juan Cardenas: Stopping the ear | Babelia

“In popular poetry there is and always was, without the philosophical advantages, a copious surplus of delicate sentimentality and a great priceless jewel of beautiful images. Thus, I have for me that it is only by cultivating it with the required dedication that nations achieve to found their true positive literature ”.

These words appear in the short cautionary note that serves as a didactic prologue to Popular songs from my land (1877), the book of poems where Candelario Obeso, the bastard son of a Momposino landowner and an ex-slave, invents the zamba speech of the Magdalena river bogas for literature. Until the introduction of steam navigation, in 1823, trade with the mountainous interior of the country depended exclusively on the labor of these men, in charge of rowing the champagnes that transported cargo and passengers from the Caribbean to the capital, to and from the capital. lap. The testimonies of the time describe these vogues to us under the inks of colonial exoticism: people of a dark race, well fed but uncivilized, who live in a kind of irresponsible symbiosis with wild nature, surrounded by tigers, alligators and mosquitoes.

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Humboldt, who had made the river journey at the beginning of that century, admired the freedom and “herculean strength” of the bogas, but complained bitterly of the uproar their songs produced. For the Prussian naturalist, these laments were nothing more than a form of physiological relief, the product of the great mechanical effort of rowing and rowing during the 35 days that the trip to Honda lasted. “They begin with a hissing has, has, has and end with long profanities”, writes Humboldt in his diary, “above all, every bush on the shore that they can reach with the crowbar is greeted in the most impolite way, or he has it soon becomes a roaring uproar, an oath ”. Well, where Humboldt only hears a monotonous hubbub, Candelario Obeso guesses a poem, an authentic project of continental literature based precisely on the voices ignored by the wise men of the time, on the popular poetry invented by the humble inhabitants of the river, in the street, in the market. “Hopefully, then, that today more”, concludes Obeso’s warning prophetically, “work on this purpose, in the measure and manner conducive to a civilized people, the young lovers of the progress of the country and of this fate soon the fury of imitation, so sad, that has delayed the expansion of Spanish-American letters will be calmed down ”.

Obeso’s avant-garde gesture thus inaugurates one of the happiest and least known aspects of our literature, that is, one that conceives its mimetic devices, not to imitate fashions, but to stick to the body of the countless dialects and languages ​​that are spoken. in this curious country, as Andean as Caribbean, Amazonian and Pacific, plains, islanders, indigenous to the core, European in so many ways and traveled from beginning to end by the African influence; a country full of linguistic recesses and geographical folds where variants of a Spanish survive on whose surface the shadows of the Moorish lattice and Sephardic exuberance are projected, sounds that today seem archaic and very new at the same time and that, in any case, they prevent speaking of a single Spanish from Colombia.

Those are the Spanish, thus, in the plural, that we manage to hear in the luminous works of Tomás Carrasquilla, Jorge Isaacs, José Eustasio Rivera, Gómez Jattin, José Asunción Silva, Manuel Zapata Olivella, Andrés Caicedo, Elisa Mújica, José Félix Fuenmayor, Jaime Jaramillo Escobar, León de Greiff, Arnoldo Palacios, Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Ernesto Volkening or Marvel Moreno. If they were not grouped under the significant Colombian literature, someone might think that these works belong to traditions from different countries. Hence, it is so difficult to construct a satisfactory account of who we are in literary and linguistic terms. In that sense, the best Colombian literature is not that which opposes the local to the foreign, folklore to the avant-garde, sensory ecstasy to thought, no. The best Colombian literature is always presented as a zone of resistance against the ideological uniformity of the language and is written from the anomaly, even from the disease, trauma and aberration. In a republic marked by peculiar relations between grammar and power, with a painful history where the economies of enclave and extraction see the regions and their people as a passive pantry ready to be exploited, the best Colombian literature continues to work on the inaugurated project by Candelario Obeso in 1877: paying attention to the sounds, the songs, the noises and the rhythms of the mountains or of the street, where the slick managers of the dead letter distinguish nothing but uproar and barbarism.

Juan Cárdenas is a Colombian writer, author of novels such as The strata (Peripheral) and Shade elastic (Sixth floor).

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