Art Predicting Life in Venezuela – On Predictive Fiction

“He withdrew from his satchel his old notebooks, writings that had begun in prison and extended through his wanderings across the country, from the deceased general’s lair of sumptuous violence, to the self-governed villages attempting to free themselves from the chaos, to the communist camps and the religious libraries and onwards. It was his collection, his lessons, and his learning—his life. “I offer you only this,” he said. “What I have learned over these years as I have watched one political experiment after another descend into agony, finally turning my beloved Venezuela into a wasteland.” He gestured at the smoldering buildings…

In an essay called “The Decay of Lying” famous novelist and poet Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. But there is another side to this ancient philosophical argument going back to Plato and Aristotle (mimesis or anti-mimesis). That is, art predicting life.

Today Reuters ran a sad article titled “With Venezuela in collapse, towns slip into primitive isolation”, and then proceeded to report on the different ways that towns lost in the eternal greens of Venezuela’s jungles or the deep blues framed by white sands of their storied beach villages are reverting to prehistory to survive. Bartering for nuts and berries, for fish taken from the seas in exchange for a plantain pulled from a bush. A potato for an artisanal doctor’s consultation.

“‘Residents of the coffee-growing region now exchange roasted beans for anything from haircuts to spare parts for agricultural machinery. Based on the cost of the product, we agree with the customer on the kilos or number of bags of coffee that they have to pay,’ said hardware store manager Haideliz Linares. The transactions are based on a reference price for how much coffee fetches on the local market, Linares said. In April, one kilo (2.2 pounds) of beans was worth the equivalent of $3.00.”

Amazingly enough, and in a case of art predicting life, this emergent reality seems to come directly out of my second novel “The Burning of San Porfirio”; written in January 2013 before even the death of Chavez, to say nothing of the collapse which has lopped 50% from the GDP. Is then, the below quote from the article, or the novel? And, might this have been averted, if people learn to read fiction…? For often, truth is stranger than fiction – and less often, but sometimes that same fiction becomes the truth.

“We no longer have to deal with the government,” said the farmer. Pancho thought about his science classes at the university—astronomy specifically. The revolutionary government had been like a red giant that had expanded beyond its natural bounds, becoming too big and unstable, and then in decay and waste, it had gone supernova, collapsing upon itself in violence and abandoning the rural areas. “Now it’s the mafias that are the problem—filling the space the government used to. I suppose,” he said, “that it’s the same thing. Hard men wandering around, sitting here at the cantina drinking cerveza and glaring malevolently at the townspeople. They talked in hushed tones and often didn’t pay. Extortion was their business, and guns the tools of their trade. But without work and without a future, too many of our young people—those who had not moved to the cities—took up arms to try their hands at the ‘work.’” He shrugged. “So we built walls. When there is no government, people always build walls of one kind or another.”

Pancho signaled the barkeep for two more glasses of beer. “How do you sell your food?”

“We all bring it here—those of us who can. When we’re ready, we pool our resources and rent a truck or two and an escort. Then we drive it up the valley to El Triunfo, where we exchange it all at a government warehouse for bonos—they usually don’t have asnos. We take the bonos and exchange them for items we can use here and can’t make ourselves and make the trip back. Usually somebody is lucky enough to get their hands on some asnos. When we’re back here, we turn those in to the mayor’s office in exchange for tokens.” He pulled out a bottle cap hammered with a special insignia on the back. “We use these locally. Mostly we barter these days. A potato for a beer, a piece of bacon for a visit at the clinic …” His voice trailed off for a second. “The value of the tokens is fixed to the market price of coffee. It’s our greatest commodity and has increased in value as the economy around has collapsed. The traders buy the asnos at the mayor’s office using tokens and make the dangerous trip to El Triunfo as often as they have to.”

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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