sábado, 1 de septiembre de 2012

The Argentinean Literature of Doom


This probably won't come as much of a surprise to those of you who are already aware of some of my many vices, but I, ahem, still seem to have a ton of unread books left over from the recent Spanish Lit Month excesses.  So, inspired by various interactive reading projects hosted by both Amateur Reader (Tom) of Wuthering Expectations and Nicole of bibliographing in the past couple of years (and in particular whipped up into a delayed reading frenzy by these two posts by Tom here and a year earlier here), I've decided to devote most of the rest of 2012 to the Argentinean Literature of Doom.  "What is the ALoD?" you ask.  Well, it's not a reading challenge--it's more, like Spanish Lit Month on a more expansive scale but only focused on a single country, a reading project/doomathon designed for me and possibly you to sample some great lit specimens from an often overlooked book culture in the company of a handful of virtual others.  I'm pretty sure that I'll at least in part be looking to test Roberto Bolaño's thesis, mentioned in one of Tom's posts above, that a prominent strain of post-Borges Argentinean literature has been infected by a particularly virulent doom virus.  You, on the other hand, may read whatever you like from the entire corpus of sickly or non-sickly Argentinean letters (as Wilhelm Doommeister, I'll also commit to rounding up the links of all participants' posts at least once a month and sharing them here for others to enjoy).  Having already said that the Argentinean Literature of Doom proyecto isn't a reading challenge, I should probably clarify that there is a reading challenge-like component available for anybody who'd like to take me up on it: using the world-famous "the only challenge that matters rules" popularized by the Wuthering Expectations braintrust, you can "challenge" me to read any work of Argentinean literature with you before the end of the year.  That is, we work out an agreeable schedule that works for both of us and then you and I post on the book, poem, or short story more or less around the same time.  Please note that for things I've already read, I reserve the right to just comment on your post rather than rereading a Rayuela-sized book in its entirety; also, I'm open to a challenge title from any author from a country adjacent to Argentina (Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile) as long as the novelist in question isn't named Isabel Allende or Paulo Coelho--I'd like to be geographically flexible, you understand, but this is the Literature of Doom and not the Literature of Middlebrow we're talking about after all.


The Argentinean Literature of Doom
runs September-December 2012.* Your attendance is requested but not required.

Reading Suggestions
Let's say you might want to participate in this project but you're not sure what to read for it.  No problem--no experience necessary.  However, here are a handful of ideas.  If you're of a 19th century bent, you could always read Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's 1845 Facundo [Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism] with Tom from Wuthering Expectations and me at some point during the second half of this month (it's the first Argentinean Literature of Doom "challenge" that's been agreed upon).  Sarmiento's work, written from exile in Chile during Argentina's mid-century civil wars, is a political biography as ethnography and history screed that has had a profound impact on many other Latin American thinkers since its publication.  Other major 19th century works: Esteban Echevarría's "El matadero" ["The Slaughterhouse," reviewed at Wuthering Expectations here], often considered to be one of Latin America's first short stories, and La cautiva [The Captive, possibly unavailable in translation], a long poem having to do with Argentina's Indian wars; Lucio V. Mansilla's 1870 nonfiction Una excursión a los indios ranqueles [A Visit to the Ranquel Indians]; and José Hernández's two-part gaucho epic poem, Martín Fierro, from 1872 and 1879 [described at Wuthering Expectations here and here].

Moving on to the 20th century, you have even more choices--so I'll try and limit myself just to the major names.  Leopoldo Lugones and Macedonio Fernández are said to be two of the bigger deals in pre-Borges 20th century Argentinean letters although Lugones seems to be in decline and Macedonio seems to be in the ascendant right now.  I've read little by either, but Scott from seraillon enjoyed Lugones' Strange Forces short story collection here and E.L. Fay of This Book and I Could Be Friends seemed to like Macedonio's posthumous provocation The Museum of Eterna's Novel (The First Good Novel) here.  Borges' lifelong friends Adolfo Bioy Casares and his wife Silvina Ocampo both have long bibliographies of "fantastic literature" you could choose from, as does crackpot acquaintance J.R. Wilcock although most of his work was written in Italian after he left Argentina for Italy. If, on the other hand, you want a near contemporary of Borges' who was "less literary" and a clear precursor of the Literature of Doom that Bolaño talks about, you could do a whole lot worse than Roberto Arlt and his 1926 El juguete rabioso [Mad Toy] and 1929 Los siete locos [The Seven Madmen].  The latter title, about a plan to foment violent revolution in the Americas through funding obtained from a proliferation of brothels, is visionary fucked-upedness at its best if I do say so myself.

Bypassing Ezequiel Martínez Estrada's essayistic 1933 Radiografía de la pampa [X-Ray of the Pampa] and Leopoldo Marechal's humorously post-Joycean 1948 Adán Buenosayres for the moment, let's jump ahead to the "modern era."  A relatively little known nugget for English readers but a standard in Argentina is Rodolfo Walsh's 1957 Operación Masacre, a pre-In Cold Blood work of "novelistic" investigative journalism.  Of the many Julio Cortázar works you could choose from, I'm most fond of the 1959 novella El perseguidor [The Pursuer, reviewed by Rise of in lieu of a field guide here] and of course the 1962 Boom classic Rayuela [Hopscotch].  Alejandra Pizarnik, who almost went down in history as the woman who lost the manuscript of Cortázar's Rayuela, was a poet whose signature work "La condesa sangriente" ["The Bloody Countess"] is almost surrealistically gory and lyrical. Ricardo Piglia and Juan José Saer, two novelists and critics whose writing and professorial careers stretched from the 1960s up to the 2000s, have both written multiple intellectual but hard-hitting novels that floored me--Piglia's 1980 Respiración artificial [Artificial Respiration] and Saer's 1985 Glosa [The Sixty-Five Years of Washington] probably being my favorite examples of each's work.  Fogwill and César Aira,  two fans of Argentinean Literature of Doom anti-hero Osvaldo Lamborghini (more on him before too long, not to worry), have contributed three of my all-time favorite Argentinean works to date: the 1979 short story "Muchacha punk" and 1983 novella Los pichiciegos [Malvinas Requiem] by Fogwill and the 1987 short story "Cecil Taylor" by Aira.  That's probably way more information than anybody cares for, so fans of either Manuel Puig or Tomás Eloy Martínez will have to pardon me for not saying anything about them here.

*Thanks to Stu, who has agreed to co-host Spanish Lit Month with me again but in a winter month next year, Spanish Lit Month will return in January 2013.  That kind of gives you savvy rule-breakers an extra month to participate in the Argentinean Literature of Doom should you choose to do so.*

32 comentarios:

  1. ALoD wreaked havoc on my reading plans, and I am happy. Doomsters are prepared for this kind of contingency. The rich vein of possibilities you enumerated feeds the imagination. What better way to welcome the yearend apocalypse?

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    1. Rise, I'm excited to have confirmed that the ALoD will be such a positive destructive force for you. "What better way to welcome the apocalypse," indeed! Re-started Sarmiento's Facundo today, by the way, and have already come across one of those lightning-on-the-pampas scenes that you had heard had so intrigued César Aira. Really interesting stuff!

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  2. I still haven't finished last month's Spanish Literature Month, and there's already a new one on the horizon? Guess I'll just keep reading what I'm reading. I have several Argentinian works already idling with their engines fully primed, so I expect to join in.

    Heck, I just have - between starting this comment and finishing it now, I found and read "Cecil Taylor" on-line. A great story indeed.

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    1. Scott, love your plan to faire le pont between Spanish Lit Months 2012 & 2013--you're a man after my own heart, ha ha! Also, glad you had a chance to dip into Aira's superb "Cecil Taylor" and naturally am looking forward to hearing more about whatever other Argentinean and/or non-Argentinean Spanish-language roadsters you care to chat about.

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  3. Uh oh...I don't know whether to be excited or concerned to hear that Spanish Lit Month 2 is coming up in January! I'll have to start planning now if I aim to do better on the second go-round. As for this ALoD thing, maybe seeing enough Argentinian-flavored posts will give me the push I need to finish Ficciones.

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    1. Amanda, official Spanish Lit Month rules allow you to be both excited and concerned as long as you eventually participate! But naturally, I look forward to hearing what you make of Ficciones whenever you get around to it (I hope to finish it one day, too). Cheers!

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  4. Just started reading Diego Trelles Paz' anthology, "El futuro no es nuestro" (the Mexican edition thereof, which I'm pretty sure is the edition that's being published in translation soon by Open Letter) and it has some nicely doomy Argentine short stories.

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    1. e.g. Federico Falco's "Flores Nuevas", about a pregnant classmate's suicide.

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    2. Will have to look into that previously unknown to me anthology, Jeremy, but that story you mention sounds like maybe too much doom to me! Hearing more about your recent Oaxaca experiences, on the other hand, sounds just about right (hint, hint).

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    3. You can find out all about The Future Is Not Ours via piedepagina.net -- it is all young Latin American authors (where "young" is defined as "born after the publication of 100 Years of Solitude"), several editions have been published with different groupings of stories. I will try and write some more about Oaxaca this weekend.

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    4. Hm, looks like I mean piedepagina.com

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  5. I figured large parts of Facundo would be pretty dull - annual exports of beef, that sort of thing - but it gets off to a flying start in the first few pages. Maybe the dull stuff comes later, but it starts out pungent.

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    1. While "pungent" wasn't quite the word I had in mind, Tom, I too was kind of surprised by the non-dull intro/start. Remarkably lively stuff so far, in fact. Glad to be reading this in such fine company, of course--thanks for agreeing to it!

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    2. Very funny! Belated comedic props to you...

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  6. But, what is the Argentine Literature of Doom?

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    1. According to Bolaño, Miguel, it is/was a school of recent Argentine lit founded by vile cult author Osvaldo Lamborghini and "carried on" by some of Lamborghini's literary descendents, most notably César Aira. Bolaño was probably joking, at least a little that is...

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    2. Ah, OK, thanks for the explanation.

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  7. This sounds doomful,extraordinary,portentous and downright apocalyptic, will follow with interest & if the tarot seems suitable may even partake.

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    1. I hadn't thought about the possibility of employing the tarot for this project, Gary, but now that you mention it, why the h not?!? Hope you find something of interest along the way!

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  8. This is literally two pages into Facundo:

    "This insecurity in life, which is customary and permanent in the countryside, imprints upon the Argentine character, to my mind, a certain stoic resignation to violent death, making it one of the misfortunes that are inseparable from life, a manner of dying just like any other, and perhaps this may explain, in part, the indifference with which death is given and received, without leaving any deep or lasting impressions on those who survive."

    What a way to kick off a national literature!

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    1. Totally agree, Tom, and I'm likewise amused by that stentorian invocation of the "terrible shade of Facundo!" in Sarmiento's intro. Shades of Roman oratory!

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  9. right back on line after while with no wifi richard count me in I ve none in mind just yet but will try and pick something up in the next week or to for this ,loving the fact we're doing spanish lit month two ,all the best stu

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    1. Sorry for the delay getting back to you, Stu, but I'm happy to hear you're thinking about a Doom thrill ride with the gang. Spanish Lit Month II also will be great, I agree. Cheers!

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  10. Well, I'm in; once I've finished my other commitments, I'll have another go at Hopscotch; the first attempt was a failure, but this time I'm calm and determined.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, Miguel, but I'm happy to hear you're in as well. Obrigado! I think it took me three partial efforts to make it through Hopscotch, but it was way worth it in the end when the timing was right. Cheers!

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  11. The Argentine Literature of Doom is really very tempting and I'm looking forward to reading about it. But alas not participating in it, as at present I am embroiled in the Belgian Teacher Training of Doom - if my head doesn't explode from trying to assimilate buckets of new vocabulary every day, I will certainly not survive my first encounter with real actual schoolchildren. So I'll stick with spectating this time.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you as well, Helen, but I'm glad to have you as a "spectator" given that you're too busy for participant status these days. In any event, good luck making it through the Belgian Teacher Training of Doom--hopefully that Doom event pays better this than one. :D Cheers!

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  12. I'm really looking forward to this and I've compiled a skeleton-list to start. Thanks for hosting this and for giving excellent suggestions.

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    1. Thanks, R.R. First Doom posts coming within a week or so, I hope. The suggestions were really easy to cobble together, though--for the most part, they're all either books I've liked or books I've been told I would like!

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  13. Missed this post first time round. Been online only intermittently.I must dig up a book or two that will allow me participate. How could I resist Doom? I've always been known as a bit of a Cassandra. Doom's my natural element.

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    1. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, Séamus, but due to my slow response time I got to enjoy a second laugh out of your "Doom's my natural element" comment! Anyway, happy to hear you're thinking about participating and I look forward to discovering what nugget(s) you'll wind up digging up. Cheers!

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