“I write only in order to make myself well. I am a neurotic creature, a prey to phobias, burdened with obsessions and anxieties.”
TRQ: Severo Sarduy, Born February 25, 1937
Writer and critic Severo Sarduy, regarded as one of the 20th Century’s most brilliant writers, was born in Camagüey, Cuba. Interested in science at an early age, Sarduy was top of his class in high school.
Sarduy moved to Havana to study medicine but chose instead to pursue a career in the arts. He wrote poetry, painted, and his social circle included writers José Rodríguez Feo and José Lezama Lima. In 1960, the Cuban government awarded Sarduy a scholarship to study art in Paris at the École du Louvre.
Because of Castro’s persecution of homosexuality and censorship of Cuban writers, however, Sarduy never returned to Cuba. In Paris, Sarduy connected himself to intellectuals responsible for publishing the magazine Tel Quel. He also began a relationship with one of the group’s philosophers, François Wahl. At the College de France, Roland Barthes held seminars on language and structuralism, which Sarduy appropriated into his writing approach.
Sarduy’s work evidences his passion for both the arts and science, the creative and the analytical. In his poetry and novels, Sarduy often writes about male homosexuality and transvestism.
Sarduy’s first novel, Gestos, was published in 1963. In 1967, he published De Donde Son los Cantantes?, which was praised by Barthes as an entirely new form of novel in which Sarduy had developed a new of way of handling words. Unfortunately, Sarduy’s work did not appeal to the general public. His novels are described as difficult and require close attention.
At the same time, Sarduy remained actively interested in genetics, astronomy, and chaos theory. For Radio France Internationale he wrote science essays and radio programmes. Sarduy was one the first the first to introduce the Big Bang to the general public.
In 1991, Sarduy published his last novel, Para que Nadie Sepa que Tengo Miedo (“So that No One May Know I am Afraid”). Here, he deploys his characteristic humour and fantasy to write about his long struggle against AIDS. Sarduy used his writing as therapy to “to make myself well.”
Severo Sarduy died on June 8, 1993. Able to reunite only twice outside of the country, his family relate that Sarduy longed to see Cuba again. Sarduy remained in contact with his family throughout his life, telling them of his writing and art exhibits in Paris. Sadly, they only learned of his death when a cousin living in the United States called to offer condolences, two days later.
Posthumously, Sarduy’s autobiography was published in 1993. In Pájaros de la Playa (“Beach Fowl”), Sarduy writes about a sanatorium for those suffering with AIDS.