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3 January 2012

The Soul's Compass Points South: Interview with Miguel Serrano - Part 1

Francisco Vejar
(Translated by Alex Kurtagic)

We are not the first ones to observe that Miguel Serrano’s country scrimps him deserved awards—he, an author published by prestigious British and American publishing houses, and published even in Farsi and Japanese translation. It’s not long since another of his works, C.G. Jung and Herman Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships, has come out in French (Geneva: Georg Editeur, 1991) and it is in the Belgian magazine Vouloir that essayist Bruno Dietsch reserves the following comment for the Chilean writer: Nemo propheta a acceptus est in patria (Ciudad de los Césares, No. 39, Year 1991). To this we must add that his work has been recently republished in France and Russia.

What memories have you from ’38?

Miguel Serrano: It was a secret generation. We lived thinking the world was us and nothing else. There other groups with whom we had no great contact. We got together in night cafés, where we talked. It was the era of the cafés. Our meetings were in the restaurant called Miss Universe, which was located on San Diego’s second block. I always lived around those neighbourhoods, around Lira street. And I remember that at night I walked around those places—one could walk at any time of the night—in a marvellous Santiago of low houses, where it was all sky and muggings did not exist. So many things have vanished, even if the rails on Lira street still exist, those rails along which we walked with Héctor Barreto, who was the leader of that group and that generation. Sometimes we remained in conversation until they closed the bars, and then everyone left for home. We had an excess of money that took us no effort to earn because it was an allowance given to us by our families. At the time we stopped on rails of Lira street and hurled up the money. It was a generous gesture for the ghosts and we carried on walking, on the rails, one on one, and one on the other until I arrived home and he got lost in the night. Walking along those streets I arrived at the Miss Universo restaurant. Who was there? Julio Molina Miller (author of La Primavera del Soldado [The Soldier‘s Spring], poetry, 1944); Robinson Gaete, a personage no one knows existed; Guillermo Atías, who later came to be a leader of the communist party and died exiled in Paris. Also Santiago del Campo, the Smoked Tiger; formidable people, who lived the night talking about books, about European authors: Panait Istrati, Knut Hamsun, authors of their time and philosophers with an affinity to Greek culture, so admired by Barreto and Santiago del Campo. That was our group, which would later make contact with another group, interestingly thanks to me: one day, while attending a family wedding, I had the opportunity to meet Vicente Huidobro, who was my mother’s cousin: when Huidobro learnt that I wrote, he invited me to his home and there I met Braulio Arenas, Enrique Gómez-Correa, and Eduardo Anguita. Also thanks to Braulio Arenas, I made contact with the notable poet, Jaime Rayo, who wrote an extraordinary book: Sombra y Sujeto [Shadow and Subject] (poetry, 1939) and who subsequently committed suicide. Thus we gradually connected with each other, until the moment came of Barreto’s murder. It was the time of the Spanish Civil War (1936). Until Barreto’s death, we, who dispensed with politics, considered becoming preoccupied with politics an act of treason against poetry or literature. Barreto was killed by Nazis in a street scuffle, because Barreto had previously become a socialist. I remember that Atías, who was the most political among us all, would say to Barreto ‘how is it that you, Jason, have gotten into the contingent struggle?’ He replied: ‘I have become a socialist because I feel sorry for the children barefoot in the rain.’ But, in reality, he had nothing to do with politics. In fact, on the same day he was murdered, he came to see me at my home in Lira to invite me out for a coffee. On that occasion he confessed to me that he was very disillusioned with politics and, above all, with the socialists. He was writing short stories of a social type, some fantastic ones like ‘La Noche de Juan’, and he said to me: ‘I wanted my book to be illustrated by a friend of mine, a painter. The party told me they would not allow this because they had their own painters and illustrators. Then, I told him: “It’s just that the one I want to bring to you is an extraordinary guy, because he can draw a perfect circle with his eyes closed and this only Leonardo was able to do”. For this reason they would stand staring at me and think: “This guy is mad”’. That evening he went to the Volga café, which was on Matta avenue. It was the time of street scuffles. The socialists at the time were mobilised militarily. And in this scuffle Barreto died. The socialists then came out on the street. Vicente Huidobro materialised immediately and said to us: ‘You come to fight against fascism’. And that is how I entered politics. The truth is that I have never belonged to a political party. I did collaborate during those years with Blanca Luz Brum, who was a(n Uruguayan) poetess based in Chile and was of the Left and published a magazine called Sobre la Marcha [On the March]. The Popular Front, something like what today is the ‘Concert’, an alliance of all kinds of parties, was also being created in the world—bourgeois, Marxist, and even liberal, in order to combat Nazism. The Spanish war, in particular. I myself wrote for the Frente Popular daily, but I gradually became disillusioned. Vicente Huidobro said to me one day: ‘Miguel, I invite you to come with me to fight in Spain’, and I replied: ‘Why should I go there? I will first read the books by Marx; Capital, and all those books from that time’. And after spending six months locked in reading those books, I ended up completely anti-Marxist. I said to myself: ‘This is absurd’. I then distanced myself from all political action. I then came to know in those years La Marquesa estate. It was the estate of Pilo Yáñez (Juan Emar), friend of Vicente Huidobro, where many people of the Left met. Alvaro Yáñez, who was a fantastic character. He rose at night in order to write. He was a noctambulist. At lunch time he sat at the head of the table, did not speak a word, would grab a fly swat, and if he saw a fly he would rise to kill it. And Eduardo Anguita also visited there. Leopoldo Castedo also visited some time and he relates it in his memoirs. Anguita had a great sense of humour; I remember that we slept in the same room as he; at night we would talk for hours about David Herbert Lawrence: Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Those were the books in fashion at the time. Vicente Huidobro and Eduardo Anguita had a great sense of humour. Thus when the countryman who was the estate manager arrived, they would sit him at the table with his hat on. Vicente Huidobro would say to Anguita: ‘Look at those beautiful red carnations in that vase!’ and Anguita would reply: ‘But, why, Vicente, they are blue roses’; at which point the countryman would say, ‘Gentlemen, how can that be, those are not roses, they are white petunias!’ Anguita, right off the bat, would say to Huidobro: ‘The problem is that your sight is failing, and you need to have your eyes examined’. The countryman would stand up, furious, and say ‘These gentlemen are nuts’.

To be continued tomorrow . . .

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