Friday, August 03, 2012

A hundred years of Virgilio Piñera

Mario López-Goicoechea writes about Cuban author Virgilio Piñera

Virgilio Domingo Piñera Llera was born in Cárdenas, western Cuba, on 4 August 1912 – 100 years ago tomorrow. Nothing in his normal upbringing (his father worked as a public servant and his mother was a teacher) could predict that he would one day become one of Cuban literature's trailblazers. But from an early age, Piñera was an avid reader; among the books he considered essential reading were À la Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust, and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This capacity to draw inspiration from different genres was fundamental in the development of his career and unlike the sesquipedalian Lezama Lima, author of the masterpiece Paradiso, Piñera combined Cuban vernacular with more refined language.

In the same week that the anglophone world mourned one of its literary giants, Gore Vidal, it is perhaps serendipitous that in Latin America we're celebrating the centenary of an author of equal stature. Like Vidal, Piñera was known for his caustic wit and acerbic tongue. This earned him a reputation for being difficult, capricious and snobbish. And like the American controversialist, he was a prolific writer: he left behind more than 20 plays, three novels, tomes of short stories and a vast number of poems. In 1955, he co-founded the magazine Ciclón, a journal exploring trends such as surrealism and the theatre of the absurd through their literary, aesthetic, philosophical and psychoanalytical concerns.

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