December 11, 2008

Severo Sarduy

Severo Sarduy [Cuba]

Severo Sarduy studied medicine, art, and literature at the University of Havana, and, with Guillermo Cabrera Infante, was one of the few writers involved in the fight against Batista. At an early age he was a writer for Lunces de Revolución, the official organt of the 26th of July Movement.

In 1960 he received a government grant to study art history in Europe and left the country, eventually settling in Paris. There Sarduy quickly became respected for his work in literary theory and linguistics, and became friends with French scholars such as Roland Barthes Jacques Derrida, and other associated with the literary journal Tel Quel. He was chosen as the editor of the Latin American collection of Editions du Seuil, and through that position introduced Gabriel García Marquez, José Lezama Lima and others to the French. Meanwhile, Sarduy was himself writing. His first novel, Gestos, was published by Seix Barral in 1963, and he followed it with the highly experimental De donde son las cantantes in 1967 and the essays of Escrito sobre un cuerpo (1969), and the novel Cobra (1972), all translated into English.

His first book of poetry was Overdose in 1972, which he followed the next year, with Big Bang. Both of these works were formally and lingusitically experimental. But later works, while retaining their experimental subject matter, looked to a highly Baroque style that was particularly influenced by the Spanish poet Gongora. Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado, Epitafros, and Daquari were highly charged works with homoerotic content.

Sarduy was also an artist of some note, and had several shows in Paris. He died in 1993 of AIDS.


Flamenco (Stuttgart: Manus Presse, 1970); Mood Indigo (Stuttgart: Manus Presse, 1970); Overdose (Las Palmas: Inventarios Provisionales, 1972); Big Bang (Paris: Fata Morgana, 1973; Barcelona: Tusquets Editor, 1974); Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado (Barcelona: Editions del Mall, 1985; Madrid: Hiperión, 1993); Epitafios. Imitación Aforismos (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1994); Daiquiri (Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Universidad Menendez Pelayo, 1994);

The oiled, shiny embolus
lays impetuous siege to the crack
spilling its burning white
liquid that scalds the slower it pours.

A veiled fleeting witness
licks and looks at the groove
that the bulk dilates and closes
with its own lava. In the oval

mercurial mirror over the carpet
(the slick tower penetrating,
dripping honey, coming out, entering)

he deciphers the ideogram of the shadow:
thought is illusion: fucking
the one we cannot name comes slowly

─Translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine

(from Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado, 1985)

Entering you, hair by hair
breathing in our languid air:
memory a still web in the dying

afternoon light: endless ray
piercing burning bones, touching
your body's edge: day's light

catching the shape
a wide void where
erases marks inthe sand, your face
as sounds devour the day

your thick
texture turning to ashes
in the hungry night of the senses

─Translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine

(from Un testigo fugaz y disfrazado, 1985)

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