Diarios 1988-1989: La insubordinación de los márgenes by Victoria de Stefano

Diarios 1988-1989: La insubordinación de los márgenes. Victoria de Stefano. Caracas: El Estilete. 2016. 98 pages.

The writer Victoria de Stefano, born in Rimini, Italy, began her lived experience in Venezuela when she was a small child. Each successive experience there transformed her, through thought, until she arrived at the disturbing activity so common to university philosophy professors: the constant questioning of reality and the configuration or de-configuration of its margins. Based on her experience, and through her unyielding passage between worlds—the present and the past, the maternal and the academic, the successful and the disastrous—her writing became the narrative of a personal experience, published over the course of years, months, and days. Diarios 1988-1989: La insubordinación de los márgenes [Diaries 1988-1989: the insubordination of the margins] is a work that includes the dynamic of “travel diaries, diaries of writers, of painters, even war diaries,” reminding us, for example, of “Kierkegaard, Kafka, Klee, the three big K’s of diary-writing.”

In this way, based on a sort of existential abstraction, de Stefano approaches her fondness for diaries. Through one of them, she emphasizes her commemorations of the past, like a sort of “break point” or a place where the writer’s immersion allows for the conjunction of historical turns and ideological breaks, which coincide with situations that mark the world’s political changes, like Perestroika, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dark days of the Caracazo, among other moments mentioned by the author. De Stefano makes use of an unstable balance between what happens in the world and her personal experience, since, in her Diarios, she delves into details of the exact month and day at hand, with memories noted in her diary that go from the intimate, like music and desires, to conversations with friends, through that which can be felt and analyzed by others. Her close, deep experience of the ambiguous phenomena of reality leads to the writing of a novel that, although it is constantly mentioned in the work, is not the work itself.

As de Stefano indicates, “the seed starts to grow,” and in this act of writing something takes place that becomes connected as a part of the accents of her own memory, her internal “scrutiny,” through the alternation of moments and experiences that are directly linked to her readings. The reflections of Pushkin, Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Diderot transcend the spirit of implacable limits and, along with them, many other writers and philosophers are inserted into the diary’s pages, to later be contrasted with other personal thoughts and experiences, like a certain sad impulse of the author, clinging on to a gray, cloudy day.

Moving through the days and years of the Diarios, we could lay out the way De Stefano has read, first with interest and later with passion, the works of many authors on many subjects, from different perspectives and angles. From this point, her thought complexifies until later, when it is transplanted to lines of text, it affirms that “I write as if I were another person (or other people), as if I were inhabited by a will, a creative vigor of another nature.” In her work, long days of deep reflection alternate with short days. While the months of the year advance, each personal experience of the body or mind (like getting sick or diving into a philosophical text) passes by until we arrive at a space outside of time where events are postponed in a sort of dilated present where illusions and memories begin to protagonize each one of her days. In the context of her writing, lengthy and unpredictable interruptions include more and more reflection on the political crisis, vandalism, supermarket closings, the suspension of guarantees, the curfew, the fear. Nonetheless, each situation she suffers also makes her stronger, as contrary feelings confront each other in her stories: for example, on one page of her diary, one morning while looking at the mattress where her children used to sleep, she is overcome by a devastating feeling that blows her away: “Affection is love with pain, with fear; fear of what could happen to those we love.”

So, over the course of multiplying days, the Diarios induce a questioning of those difficult moments that could be overcome by the force of thought. De Stefano’s writing suggests that, before any uncertainty, hesitation, pain, and innocence, one can turn to the possibility of overcoming misfortune through humble, affectionate labors of service, like those of maternity, which de Stefano contemplates as the completion of a destiny in which archetypically maternal women, whether or not they have had children, can access the experience of this fire whose force converts maternity into a feeling of virility. From this perspective, a woman writer could go even further, since, if her alter ego is masculine—like the feminine alter egos of many male authors like Flaubert or Tolstoy—she can access through her works “an innocent exit to the secrecy of our most intimate desires through others.”

What’s more, as De Stefano points out, when faced with affection, just as when faced with misfortune, we close our eyes and begin, once again, to question the euphemism of reality. Just as T.S. Eliot said, “to be a ruined man is itself a vocation.” It is through this vocational aptitude for surviving ruin in order to return, every day with greater frequency, that narrative reality establishes a gentle connection, which helps the writer herself to survive. In this way, de Stefano displaces herself through the timeline, surviving pain, the sensation of nausea and suffocation that combine in her body each time she receives bad news from her difficult surroundings. For this reason, her diary sometimes looks like Kafka’s autobiography, as both are “more sustained by guilt and shame than by the biographic,” coinciding with what Bakhtin defines as the most elemental transgression in which we can objectivize life artistically. From there, de Stefano puts forth her opinion to define a diary as that reflexive process necessary to “revise, reformulate, rethink the values of the crisis and make the leap to the second coming,” constituted by rebirth from the ashes, that finally defines in detail the events of her own life, whose higher justice always shines through in thought and writing.

Claudia Cavallín Calanche
Universidad Simón Bolívar/University of Oklahoma

Translated by Arthur Dixon

Reviewer 

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LALT No. 5
Number 5

LALT No. 5 features powerful literary voices from across Latin America, including dossiers of essential writers Sergio Pitol and Victoria de Stefano, a special selection of Latin American chronicles curated by Felipe Restrepo Pombo, and a moving collection of trilingual poems by Mapuche poet Liliana Ancalao.

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