Severo Sarduy (SAHR-dwee) was the most prominent link between twentieth century Latin American culture and the Parisian poststructuralist intellectual gay circles (the Tel Quel group). He was also a promoter of the “boom” of Latin American narrative in France in the 1960’s and after. He was born into a working-class family in a provincial Cuban town; at his birth, it was prophesied that he would become a writer. In 1956 he left for Havana to study medicine. There he joined the splinter group of gay writers who had recently abandoned José Lezama Lima’s journal Orígenes and had begun publishing Ciclón (1955-1957). Yet Sarduy remained dazzled by Lezama, whose work continued to be a major influence on his writing and on his concept of Latin American culture. Following Lezama’s lead, he developed an interest in art criticism, and visual arts would become an important influence on his novels.
Sarduy welcomed the Cuban Revolution of 1959, working on the “cultural front” until his departure for France at the end of that year to study art criticism at the Louvre. The intellectual ferment in France in the 1960’s proved too irresistible for him to return to Cuba after his government scholarship expired; he chose to stay in France and became a French citizen in 1967. An emigrant, and therefore a traitor, in the eyes of the Cuban government, Sarduy was ostracized there almost up to his death from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1993. Sarduy, however, dutifully maintained his faith in the revolution for many years, in spite of the ongoing savage persecution in Fidel Castro’s Cuba of gays in general and of his literary mentors, Lezama and Virgilio Piñera, in particular. Only much later would he exchange his faith in modern utopia for Buddhism and Afro-Cuban santería; strangely enough, after 1989, the revolution itself took similar steps, selling out its deteriorating rites of “machismo-Leninism”...
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