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The Venezuelan philosopher J. R. Guillent Pérez (1923–89) launches into his article quoting Heidegger and Krishnamurti on the subject of nihilism. He then shares some very pessimistic opinions about Venezuelans, whom he considers to be victims of bitterness and envy. He claims that Venezuelans are cursed with “an unhealthy attitude that corrodes us from within, that poisons our existence.” He takes this reality as the basis for his comments about nihilism as defined by the authors mentioned above, initially as applied to philosophy, and then in terms of how it is expressed in modern art, in the theater of the absurd and in Abstract and informalist painting. He concludes with a critique of Marta Traba’s attitude and style of arguing.
This is the third in the series of four articles published by J.R. Guillent Pérez—who graduated with a degree in philosophy when he was living in Paris in the early 1950s and was a member of Los Disidentes—as part of the debate prompted by the article “El Arte Latinoamericano: un falso apocalipsis.” This was, of course, the essay by Marta Traba, the Argentinean art critic who lived in Caracas, which appeared on May 2 in the Papel Literario supplement of El Nacional, the Caracas newspaper. This debate dragged on until September, with dueling articles appearing in this Sunday supplement and in the Revista Nacional de Cultura. As a result, Traba was invited to give three lectures at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas, the controversy was featured on radio and television programs, and there was a final debate held at the Ateneo in Caracas. In addition to Guillent Pérez and Traba, the other main participants in the debate were the painters Alirio Rodríguez and Alejandro Otero, the critics Roberto Guevara and Perán Erminy, and Ludovico Silva, who had also trained as a philosopher.
Drawing on his philosophical education, Guillent Pérez takes great pains to show that Traba’s negative spin on the idea of “apocalypse” is invalid; he states that, on the contrary, it would be more appropriate to speak of “nihilism” in a positive sense. The author attempts to analyze the concept of nihilism as a philosophical truth rather than as a simple, metaphorical concept, as Traba does. Guillent Pérez sees nihilism as state of individual and collective consciousness that, from its annihilated nothing, “calls for salvation” (Martin Heidegger). That redemption, therefore, appeals to neither chaos nor depersonalization.
It should be noted that this relaxed article is in sharp contrast to the provocative tone of Traba’s essay and to the general mood of the debate. On the other hand, it is not strictly a critical text on art, since it is written more in the style of an academic philosophy lecture. It is expressed in the voice of a professor who stands far about the average reader who must be trained and led along the path of “truth.”
The articles that appeared in the Papel Literario supplement of El Nacional newspaper were assembled into the Colección Delta Solar as Modernidad y postmodernidad. Espacios y tiempos dentro del arte latinoamericano (Caracas: Museo Alejandro Otero, 2000). A selection of the articles that appeared in the Revista Nacional de Cultura was published in Roldán Esteva-Grillet’s (Compiler) Fuentes documentales y críticas de las artes plásticas venezolanas. Siglos XIX y XX (Caracas, CDCH/UCV, Vol. II, 2001).
For additional information, see the two earlier articles by Guillent Pérez entitled “El falso apocalipsis del arte latinoamericano” [doc. no. 799219] and “América y el nihilismo: Respuesta a Marta Traba” [doc. no. 799193].