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Interview with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

By Ezio Neyra

Ezio Neyra: Tell me about the origin of the anthology Cuba in Splinters.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: Cuba in Splinters is the portable homeland that I brought from Cuba. It´s a literary miracle rescued from the solemn censorship on the Island. It´s a bunker of outlaws resisting the barbarity of cultural collectivism. We met in the early 2000s at book readings and presentations in Havana. Then we edited several alternative digital magazines to circulate our writings. We published part of our works in Cuba, but soon we became intolerable for the regime. Thanks to John Oakes at O/R Books, a conceptual compilation of eleven of our stories was translated into English by Hillary Gulley. It was launched last year in New York, with a preface written by me.

EN: Do all of the authors included in this anthology live in Cuba?

OLPL: Of the eleven authors included, eight live permanently in Cuba, most of them in Havana (this anthology is eminently an urban event). Two of the authors are now based in Spain, and I have been residing in the US for the last two years. But none of us type a single thing (not even a typo) that's not about the alter-Cuba that we are constantly imagining.

EN: What were the criteria behind this selection of eleven short stories? Is there a common narrative you can trace among these stories?

OLPL: There is a multiplicity of topics and styles, but the attitude is the same: chipping away at Castroism as one of the fine arts. The appropriation of the sacred ideological icons is our token, including the commander-in-corpse, Fidel Castro, as a protagonist (a long-due black hole in Cuban narratives). There´s also the notion of pleasure as a painful search in a context where any private intimacy is invaded by an intimidating public sphere. A little bit of original perversion and another bit of uncreative plagiarism. Morality is our enemy in this anthology. This is a book born orphan, posthumous. 

EN: Why do you consider the authors included in this anthology to be part of a generation called Year Zero? How would you describe this generation? What do they have in common?

OLPL: We do not belong to a single generation in terms of age. We arrived late to everything. We are marginals in terms of not having a humanities education. We are amateurs and we do love one another, contrary to those who wrote/wrought before. We´d rather write/writhe. We began to publish on the verge of the 2000s or the 00s. We started from zero. Cynical cycles, clinical circles. Arid arithmetics of a vital vaccum: EXITencialism. Revolution remix. We are withering witnesses. We believe in a Cubanless Cubanness. But we shall overcuba, we shall overcuba, we shall overcuba one day.

EN: Especially during the first decades after the Cuban revolution, Cuban literature produced a whole body of texts dealing with social realism. Can you find an interest in politics in the authors selected for this anthology? If so, how is the criticism of the political system done within the realm of literature written by these authors? How does the work of these authors make a difference from writers from older generations?

OLPL: Yes, all of these authors have a lot of interest in politics. But we understand politics as an extreme exercise of imagination, as a free line of flight, as an urge for deconstruction. Politics as a provocation from those displaced and at the same time those occupying the polis (despite the police). The Revolution is too important to leave it in the hands of the revolutionaries and thus, after over half a century of totalitarianism in the time of Castro, the reaction in Cuba might be much more creative than the action. We are quite different from all previous generations of authors that still sought an oedipal insertion in Cuban cultural institutions. We seek a deviation from Cuban literary tradition, a rampant rupture. Yet, in failure we trust.

EN: Which other actors of the Cuban literary and cultural fields were important in the configuration of this generation?

OLPL: The most influential factor was the independent literary and opinion magazine "Diáspora(s).Documentos," published underground in Havana from 1998 to 2002 by Rolando Sánchez Mejías, Carlos Alberto Aguilera, and Pedro Marqués de Armas (all of them later were to go into exile). Then, many of us decided to edit our own free-lance digital magazines, like the Revolution Evening Post  La Caja de la China, 33 y 1/3, DesLiz, and mainly Cacharro(s), which was led by Jorge Alberto Aguiar Díaz, JAAD (included in our anthology), probably the most radically lucid mind of these zeroauthors (first a zoroastrian, he is now a Tibetan monk named Lobsang Tandrup). The influence of the novelist Abel Prieto, former Minister of Culture and now the aide-de-camp of General-President Raúl Castro, was undeniable in the beginning. As a well-known repressor, he is still truly inspiring when needed most.

EN: In your preface, you mention that "the year 2000 didn´t mean the advent of a new century and millennium in Cuba." Can you tell us more about this idea?

OLPL: As creative writers, the average Cuban author is quite old-fashioned and out-of-date. Besides, Cuba is not open to cultural markets. So, books arrive late to the island and circulate mainly hand-to-hand. Cuban fiction is still a puppet of its own heart: sincerity is assumed as a proof of talent (or worse, of authenticity). Even our monolinguism forces us into a monologic misery. We are lacking bad writing and, of course, a tender touch of textorrism.

EN: If the year 2000 didn´t mean the advent of a new century, do you think the twenty-first century already started in Cuba?

OLPL: The twenty-first century in Cuba will only start when the death of Fidel Castro is publicly announced. This can take decades. However, the twentieth century in Cuba ended in 1989 when the socialist world collapsed. So, we Cubans are like zoocialist zombies waiting in a kind of unkind nowhere land and nowhen time. It´s the theme park of La Revolución that now welcomes Americans corporations with the ahistorical howl of "Yankees, come home!" 

EN: How was the process of working with Hillary Gulley on the translation if this book? What aspects of these stories were the most difficult to translate?

OLPL: Hillary Gulley is the one and only author of Cuban in Splinters, being able to reproduce our voCUBAlary in a foreign language that for us feels like home. Our opaque stories shine in her voice like a crazy diary, not only literarily but literally. She is now irreversibly bound to Cuban "liberature" or "limiterature."

Published Aug 5, 2015   Copyright 2015 Ezio Neyra

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