He lived in a constant state of anxiety, depression and insecurity. He was impatient and impulsive; methodical and suspicious. I had difficulty communicating with people. He often became violent and aggressive.
It has fueled countless fears and traumas. His thoughts were muddled and awash with imaginary constructions, most of them without logic or reasonable basis. He harbored complex questions about his own life, almost always unanswered.
He looked for explanations for everything, without success. He was unable to understand or seek solutions to his dilemmas. It was irrational, which led him to repeated hasty conclusions.
He suffered from existential nihilism – he did not attribute meaning to existence – and he was unable to free himself from the condition of insanity.
In short, I was desperate. The word insane is the one that best sums up his psychological state. With his life meaningless, he locked himself in a dead end tunnel.
The character who brings together the above elements is Juan Pablo Castel, visual artist and protagonist of “The Tunnel”, written by Ernesto Sabato (1911-2011).
The tunnel metaphor equates to loneliness, isolation, and the inability to interpret facts rationally.
In Sabato’s novel, Castel is said to be disenchanted with life, which in some cases can be even worse than death.
As Luiz Antônio Simas notes, in another context, “the opposite of life is not death, it is disenchantment”.
In the current context of pandemics and other evils afflicting humanity, this sentence could not be more relevant.
In the political psychology of international relations, it is common to attribute a person’s psychological characteristics or disorders to a country or region.
It is trivial to qualify a country as peaceful or aggressive; a national economy in a state of resources or depressed.
Some countries are trustworthy, while others arouse mistrust. Countries or regions are subject to post-traumatic stress after wars and conflicts. Countries may isolate themselves or insist on not joining the consensus. The examples are endless.
In the current situation of pandemic in Latin America, economic recession, rising unemployment and inequalities, falling incomes, setbacks in the fight against poverty, insufficient provision of public goods and services by governments, deficit democracy, popular dissatisfaction, increased intolerance, technological backwardness, etc. – This list is exemplary – it is possible to say that Latin America is disillusioned and imprisoned in a tunnel.
There are exceptions limited to a few Latin American countries that do not suffer from this condition.
Like Castel, Latin America is going through a period of anxiety, insecurity, questioning, mental confusion, lack of clarity, isolation, violence, pessimism, etc. This list is long. A myriad of questions that can be summed up with the word “disenchantment”, in the sense attributed by Simas.
Unfortunately, there is no indication of a reversal of this nebulous spiral in the short term.
It is common to say that a characteristic of classical works – like “O Túnel” – is the possibility of reinterpretations and interpretations which vary according to the reader, where and when the text is read.
Indeed, Castel’s trajectory is open to a universe of different meanings and reinterpretations grasped according to the sensitivity and thoughts of those who read and interpret it.
Interpreting texts is not giving them a unique meaning, but allowing semantic possibilities.
Hence the attempt to establish a minimally logical relationship between the psychological imprisonment of Castel and the current Latin American situation visibly imprisoned.
The current situation is one of mourning and disenchantment – we should soon reach the mark of one million Latin Americans killed directly or indirectly by Covid-19.
Nonetheless, it seems fitting to pay homage to a Latin American writer who has experienced charming moments in life, even though he has also been disenchanted with the evils of the world.
Ten years ago, on April 30, 2011, Ernesto Sabato, one of Argentina’s greatest writers, passed away. He died at the age of 99, just before his centenary.
Sabato became famous for his well-written texts loaded with existentialist questions, as well as for his pessimistic views on the future of humanity.
He can be seen as an activist and a reformer, even if he is disillusioned. He went so far as to assert that his sense of humor was a necessary means of dealing with the grim reality facing his contemporaries and the likely harsh reality facing future generations.
Before becoming a writer, Sabato was a nuclear physicist – a career he left very early on. He also ventures out as a painter. He left a recognized and appreciated artistic legacy.
In the political field, he chaired the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons in Argentina, which collected evidence on disappearances and centers of torture within the Argentine military government. The work was compiled in the “Nunca Más” report, known as the “Sabato Report”.
In an interview, he said the world has become soulless, something akin to the state of disenchantment discussed above.
In 1984 he received the Cervantes Prize for Literature, the most relevant in Spanish language literature. The award elevated him to the pantheon of Latin American literature with renowned writers such as Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994), Octavio Paz (1914-1998) and Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-). Although nominated a few times, he did not receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Even disillusioned with the world, he left a literary legacy and reflections for interested readers. Curiously, “The Tunnel” can be used to understand the life of Juan Pablo Castel and, perhaps, the thought of Ernesto Sabato.
Finally, it can also be a valuable source of self-analysis for Latin America.