Conrad and Venezuela | Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

A few weeks ago I wrote on the Arq. Martín Vegas Pacheco, who was my teacher. I referred then to the time in which I did of his teacher assistant in the “Workshop Fertile plaines” of the Faculty (It was traversing then 1962-63) together with other colleagues that my memory makes me difficult to enumerate.

Joseph Conrad

The certain thing is that the conviviality that today we would call “academician” and that in these times was looking like rather a matter of simple affinities and opportunities of the life that was spreading out with more enough dynamism of what our stagnation of today allows, this conviviality, I repeat, it was not too harmonious. Enough frequency Martin and I were facing, or rather I was facing to Martin because the chief was he, immediately after disagreements on the foundation of what we were doing. I remember especially one day in which I appeared to the meetings where the topics of the semester were prepared by a series of schemes encouraged with “magic marker” (a typical scoreboard of then) on the way how the topics of design were originating and defining from the “family notion.

It was a very ideological approach, to tone with the Venezuelan circumstance of then very affected by the Marxist zeal to gain this country to the “revolutionary reason” as correlato from what it was coming happening in Cuba. On having insisted on the family as origin of the set of social activities to which it was answering the architecture, I wanted to reinforce a “Christian” point of view, matter that in the context of the political debate of then that was very strong and even I force, saw as a necessary testimony, a capture of party. It was, I can say it now with more distance, my obsession of this moment; and as such obsession me was necessary to defend her with too many vehemence (my natural way of defending any thing) that was stumbling over the incredulity or maybe coldness does not exempt of antipathy of the Chief of the Workshop. Still I guard in some corner of my files these dibujitos and his scrawled text, which does to me few nostalgia to go back with not to the most spontaneous moments of my life that me provided small and big difficulties.

But the Chief of the Workshop was nevertheless, in spite of his distrust towards the ideological arrests, a person to whom he was interested in the ideas. He was insisting that the students should prosper as part of his tasks. So it happened one day to put a questionnaire in which it was investigating on the books that every the one who had read recently and, especially, on that they were reading in this moment. I agreed very with the questionnaire, but intimately one was feeling rather inconviniently because it happened that in these moments he was not reading anything, or that my last book was a bit distant.

And this way I remained in the years for continuing. I was never a persistent and customary reader but rather occasionally. In stages I read very much on architecture, or rather on “theoretical” speculations with the architecture as pretext; and the literature in general has never stopped attracting me, but sometimes I approach my library and I surprise the quantity of books that there are, of which I did not happen from the first fifteen pages. It, while nearby persons were speaking always about the last well-read book and old friends or companions of adolescence could be catalogued easily of “tragalibros”.

I would say that like that I was in general until I had fifty years. The age that nowadays has my major son, who certainly reads very little up to the point of looking alike that I must say it to him, if it was not because things to say him to so huge children is of the practices of which every father must abstain. Of this age in forward I have started reading in a much more assiduous way, and already in the last times I enjoy very much my routine of reading always on having begun the morning. Not a lot of time, certainly, because I am not a person capable of centering during many followed minutes.

The case is that finally I have become convinced that the reading is a matter that I must turn partly routine of my life. And it is not that before he was not thinking the same thing, but now the alive of an intense way, advantages of become major. And in the reading one goes finding often allusions and more than allusions precise enough representations on matters that to one him have come worrying and that there it is expressed by the clarity or the poetical beauty that escapes from one.

I have not been a reader of poetry but in case of certain authors who have turned for me into companions of life, as Fernando Pessoa for example. But during the time, which began two decades ago or a bit more, when I started connecting with the philosophy it obtaining only by half and from philosophical visions that rather distancian of the historical philosophy; during this time, I repeat, there was formed in me almost conviction of which the modio of philosophizing more authentic is the one that uses the poetical forms. The poet, the writer in prose or in verse philosophizes using the poetical resources to his scope or using the speech of someone of his prominent figures, of a way that seems to me to be much more vital than the philosopher that it demands the reader to share a “game of language” that leads it to entering a metaphysical world. The poet not. The poet suggests with words that the whole world understands, or rather simple words turned into instruments for the poetical dream, that it opens multiple meanings and they stimulate to think.

I see in the poem, the poetical prose, the novel, as vehicles of to philosophize. Maybe because of it in these autumnal times the novels attract me so much.

And I have returned this way to some that I read years ago or to read those that I have should to have read.

Since it is the case of Joseph Conrad1‘s novels. In which, since in Nostromo, I have found many keys for reflexionar.2

Some of them are summarized in the appointments that I include down below in them notes3. But here I make these different, so to point for us the Venezuelans:

“…Since so many things that seemed to be scandalous, strange and grotesque … had to be accepted like normal in the country…”

“…When we have done the peaces strictly between ourselves and have become decent and honourable, already we will not still have anything…”

“…But what does happen when you cannot work honestly until the thieves are satisfied?…”

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, october 2012,
Entre o Certo e o Verdadeiro


1. Reading Borges I stumbled at some time over the name of Joseph Conrad, Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), British writer, actually civil Pole emigrated to England. Mentioned under his original name in the first lines of the story of Borges “Guayaquil” who forms a part of his book “Brodie’s Report”, published in 1970.

These first lines refer to the novel Conrad’s “Nostromo” of which Borges extracts the prominent figures with whom it weaves the curious history that allows him to say with the ingenuity and the seducer language that is difficult not to admire, some accurate things on the different versions that exist on the historical interview of Bolivar and St Martin.

It had heard of Nostromo in a very particular circumstance, it does more than thirty years, in a waiting room of an isle of the Carib where it was expecting to approach a small plane together with a loquacious North American who maybe motivated by the place in which we were or on having known that I was Venezuelan, spread himself in praises of his recent reading. It mentioned again and again the name, which I retained since then until finally, a few months ago, I bought the novel in pocket edition.

And a few days ago I stopped reading it, not without certain sorrow, since it happens with the novels that they catch you, and affected by Conrad’s aptitude to enter landscapes, atmospheres and prominent figures with the depth that Englishman might be forbidden an Englishman too much and that turns out to be explained well by the reflexive withdrawal that on the English wanderings as the world a Pole can have. It chased during the whole reading the idea of that Costaguana, the South American republic described in Nostromo was an imagination of Venezuela.

2. Many names, places and prominent figures were making it think me. Higuerota is the name of an enormous mountain that guardianship Sulaco’s city. The Placid Gulf did not seem to myself to be different that our Sad Gulf, of protected and pleasant waters, which Conrad had to navigate when at the age of twenty, like sailor of a merchant ship, Hair was going of Port, where it had landed, towards the West and the Colombian coast of the Carib. Guzmán Bento had been the last dictator, the plainsmen are a principal part of the village of Costaguana, the republic invented by Conrad, in which the sales of provisions are called groceries, the people remembers a legendary hero called Páez, and the grandfather of one of the central prominent figures had fought in the British Legion under the control of Bolivar.

Nevertheless, given Conrad’s friendship with the prologue writer Englishman of the statement of a Colombian gentleman, Santiago Perez Triana, on his adventures like exile who ends up by ending up at England; and the fact that Conrad refers to him as the model of an important personage of his novel, it has been said in Colombia that Costaguana is a blurry figure of this country. Thesis paid by the idea of that the Western Republic that separates of the rest of Costaguana in the novel, might be a reference to Panama, province that separates of Colombia also to instance of the foreign interests, but in this case for the construction of the Channel.

In any case Conrad does a magisterial exploration in what they have been our republics marked by the hypocrisy of his leaders and for the greed of everybody. And it does it in addition with a capacity of surprising penetration that underlines his greatness as writer and intellectually.

And Conrad, who was pleasing of doing prolix descriptions of geografías, places and stays up to the point of which some commentator was attributing to him a desire to draw with the words, does not stop being an intelligent observer of the architectures in which the statement passes. It was called me the attention especially the description of the house of the family Gould, the protagonists of European ancestry:

Rows of plants in pots, arranged on the balustrade between the columns of the arches, were concealing the corridor … whose paved space is the real heart of a South American house, where the succession of light and of shade in the tiles marks the calm hours of the domestic life.

But there are other demonstrative reflections of a critical mien affirmed in an educated vision, which reveals knowledge and comprehension of ours to travel historically:

…We put in eruption to the whole continent with our independence only our institutions turned into the passive dam of a democratic parody, the unarmed victims of crooks and bullyboys, a jeer, our laws a farce: a Guzmán Bento our owner! …

Perhaps we might not say the Venezuelans exactly it, not only about Guzmán (Blanco) but of many of that they it happened?

And the attention calls this elegant very English critique, to the American capacity, of those of the North and those of the South, to replace the reality with the words:

…Both Americas segregate big quantities of eloquence of a form or of other one … Certain phrases we touch in a direct way the today Venezuelans: … it can surprise nothing that there are bandits … when those that govern us … they are not any more than thieving … And this one specially: As most of his compatriots, he was getting enthusiastic with the sound of the rhetorical words, especially if declared by him…

3. And the idea returns to me, following the thinkers’ fingerprint that they have approached the topic, that the only way of escaping of the private exclusive or specialized languages that so many distancian on having passed philosophically of the people in general, is philosophizing from the poetical, literary language. This work can be a confirmation of this supposition, since it it are so many big novels or the work of the poets who last.

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

Es un arquitecto venezolano, nacido en 1939, Premio Nacional de Arquitectura de su país en 2002-2003, profesor de Diseño Arquitectónico por más de treinta años en la Universidad Central de Venezuela, quien paralelamente con su ejercicio ha mantenido ya por años presencia en la prensa de su país en un esfuerzo de comunicación hacia la gente en general de los puntos de vista del arquitecto acerca de los más diversos temas, entre los cuales figuran los agudos problemas políticos de una sociedad como la venezolana. Tenreiro practica así lo que el llama el “pensamiento desde y hacia la arquitectura”, insistiendo en que lo hace como arquitecto en ejercicio, para escapar de los estereotipos y cautelas propios de la “crítica arquitectónica”. Respecto a la cual no oculta su desconfianza, que explica recurriendo al aforismo de Nietzsche sobre el crítico de arte “que ve el arte desde cerca sin llegar a tocarlo nunca”.

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