sábado, 5 de julio de 2014

Crónicas de Bustos Domecq

Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Losada, 1998)
by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares
Argentina, 1967

In his commentary on Crónicas de Bustos Domecq [Chronicles of Bustos Domecq] for Los libros esenciales de la literatura en español: narrativa de 1950 a nuestros días, the critic Ignacio Echevarría claims that "quién acerca este libro a su oído puede todavía escuchar los ecos de las carcajadas con que fue escrito a cuatro manos" ["whoever holds this book up close to his ears will still be able to hear the echoes of the peals of laughter with which it was written by the four hands who penned it"] (Barcelona: Lunwerg Editores, 2011, 57).  In his commentary on the work for the great blog Obooki's Obloquy, the critic and title character and Spanish Lit Month 2014 participant Obooki claims that "one imagines [Borges and Bioy Casares] laughing a lot writing it."  Who the hell am I to argue with these second four hands?  In other words, Crónicas de Bustos Domecq is a delightful and laugh out loud funny book not to mention a particularly lively specimen of the fake essay genre.  "Homenaje a César Paladión" ["Homage to César Paladión"], sort of a four-page takeoff on Borges' classic short story "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ["Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"], is an excellent introduction to the fun and games here: a defense of a serial plagiarist, one César Paladión, whose life's work revolves around publishing exact repros of texts as diverse as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Goethe's Egmont, and Virgil's Georgics--all under his own name.  Bustos Domecq, a would be avant-garde art critic given to flights of grandiloquence and prone to peppering his Spanish with copious amounts of show-off French and Latin, takes great pains to extol Paladión, celebrating the "writer"'s excesses because "ya había ido más lejos" ["he had already  gone further"] than his contemporaries in matters of style; where Ezra Pound had merely led off one of his Cantos by including a "copioso fragmento" ["copious fragment"] of Homer's Odyssey, for example, Paladión clearly surpassed him because "anexó, por decirlo así, un opus completo, Los parques abandonados, de Herrera y Reissig" ["he annexed, so to speak, a complete opus, Herrera y Reissig's Los parques abandonados"] (25).  Paladión, we are told, "le otorgó su nombre y lo pasó a la imprenta, sin quitar ni agregar una sola coma, norma a la que siempre fiel" ["claimed authorship of the work and passed it on to the printer without adding or removing a single comma, a standard to which he was always faithful"]--a great achievement when compared to "el libro homónimo de Herrera" ["Herrera's homonymous book"] because the original Los parques abandonados "no repetía un libro anterior" ["didn't repeat an earlier book"] (Ibid.).  Late in in life, Paladión, with no knowledge of "las lenguas muertas" ["dead languages"] according to his chronicler (26), ambitiously set his sights on the classics of antiquity.  His The Gospel According to Luke, "obra de corte bíblico" ["a work biblical in nature"] as it's devilishly described (24), is unfortunately interrupted by the wordsmith's death; however, not to fear because Paladión still had time to grace us with The Georgics "según la versión española de Ochoa" ["in Ochoa's Spanish translation"] and, a year later, "ya consciente de su magnitud espiritual, dio a la imprenta el De divinatione en latín" ["now conscious of his spiritual magnitude, he submitted the De divinatione in Latin to the printer"].  Bustos Domecq, a true believer as an aesthete, can barely restrain himself, and neither could I when I read the irrepressible outburst that follows: "¡Y qué latín!  "El de Cicerón" ["And what Latin!  Ciceronian Latin!"] (26).  In her prologue to this winning Borges and Bioy collaboration, Julià Guillamon notes that "la vulgaridad barroca" ["baroque vulgarity"] of Bustos Domecq and the fact that the character's writing offers something far removed from that which you'd expect from a "crítico coherente" ["coherent critic"] (13-14), make him "encarna los valores a los que se opusieron toda su vida.  Es católico, nacionalista, pronazi, peronista, mercantil e interesado" ["incarnate all the values which (Borges and Bioy Casares) opposed throughout their lives.  He's Catholic, a nationalist, pro-Nazi, a Perón supporter, money-grubbing, and self-promoting"] (Ibid.).  In other words, a great character!  Some of these flaws produce some truly inspired comedy.  In "El ojo selectivo" ["The Selective Eye"], an essay on a sculptor who's a practitioner of what BD refers to as "la escultura cóncava" ["concave sculpture"] (96) or what in reality is the open spaces or plain old air to be found in between the charlatan's generic busts and casts, Bustos Domecq interrupts his reminiscence about a fancy cultural night dedicated to agape and the muses to lash out at a waiter whom he describes as "ese Tántalo de gallego con frac" ["that Spanish Tantalus in tails"] (95).  The reason for this obscure mythological insult?  The waiter had forgotten to bring dessert to the critic's side of the table.  Quelle horreur!  Later in the same piece, Bustos Domecq confesses to having been the "boletero" or ticket seller at one of the concave sculptor's expositions on an evening that saw an incensed public take to physically abusing the artist.  Bustos Domecq escapes to a nearby hotel, where he says he gathered information for a "estudio detectivesco" ["detective study"] of his by the name of La víctima de Tadeo Limardo ["Tadeo Limardo's Victim"] (97).  What does this really have to do with the sculptor?  Using the royal "we," Bustos Domecq is all too happy to explain via a footnote at the bottom of the same page: "Dato importante: Aprovechamos la ocasión para remitir a los compradores a la adquisición inmediata de Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi, de H. Bustos Domecq.  (Nota de H.B.D)" ["Important fact: We take advantage of the occasion to suggest customers make an immediate purchase of Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi by H. Bustos Domecq.  (Note by H.B.D.)"].  For non-Borges and -Bioy Casares fans, suffice it to say that the footnote joke gets better once you understand that the Isidro Parodi book was a detective parody pseudonymously attributed to H. Bustos Domecq way back in 1942.  For confirmed Borges and Bioy Casares fans, suffice it to say that the footnote joke gets a lot of play here including one footnote attributed to the proofreader (70, pedantic genius!) and, in a fitting encore, another H.B.D. clarification in which readers are encouraged to consult a study by the name of Una tarde con Ramón Bonavena ["An Evening with Ramón Bonavena"].  Where can one get a hold of this study?  Don't be silly.  Naturally, it's to be found "inserto en el indispensable vademecum Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Buenos Aires, 1966)" ["inserted in the indispensable vade mecum Chronicles of Bustos Domecq (Buenos Aires, 1966)"] (110) which is on sale now!

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) & Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999)

14 comentarios:

  1. A pleasant surprise, I didn't expect this one, Richard! I was never crazy about Don Isidro's sleuthing, but JLB and ABC really got into their stride with the fake essays in their further collaborations; these are some of the best parodies of modern culture and art that have ever been penned!

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    1. Glad I can still surprise you every once in a while, Miguel. I wasn't actually all that interested in the Bustos Domecq novels until the last year or two, but this one was so juicy that I can now understand your enthusiasm! Have you read Juan Rodolfo Wilcock's 1972 The Temple of Iconoclasts, by the way? That one, a series of fake biographies originally written in Italian by a Borges/Bioy Casares/Silvina Ocampo friend who left Argentina for Italy, rivals Crónicas de Bustos Domecq for imagination and entertainment value. Wilcock was cracked!

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    2. No, I did not know Wilcock's book; but now I have to read it!

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    3. I have to think you will like it, Miguel; however, I hope you find an inexpensive copy in Italian or Spanish because Séamus tells me the English translation is out of his price range and I don't know if it's available in Portuguese. Good luck!

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  2. Fake essays sound like such a fun idea. A defense of plagiarism seems too good to be true.

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    1. Brian, agreed on both counts. One of the lines about the defense of the plagiarist Paladión that I didn't run in the post but that I really got a kick out of had to do with his choice of a translation of Virgil's Georgics rather than the original. Bustos Domecq, already having lauded Paladión for his "modesty," says that Paladión published the translated work rather than the Latin source "con una timidez que hoy nos conmueve" ["with a timidity that now moves us"] (26). Great stuff!

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  3. These sound great Richard - They certainly sound like stuff Bolaño read - inspirations for Nazi Lit...?

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    1. Séamus, they are great indeed and would appear to be an almost definite influence on the Bolaño book you mention! Other inspirations for the Bolaño in probable order of importance: J.R. Wilcock's Temple of Iconoclasts, Marcel Schwob's Imaginary Lives, and Borges' A Universal History of Iniquity (the title of this one is better than the stories).

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    2. Thanks for these pointers, Richard. The Temple of the Iconoclasts is outside my price range though.

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    3. No worries, Séamus. I hadn't realized that The Temple of Iconoclasts is pricey, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised since I don't think I've ever seen it in a store anyway. I have a post up on one of Wilcock's fake biographies from that book if you care to get a feel for what it's like--see "Llorenç Riber," from September 2011 on the blog, if interested.

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  4. The plagiarism bit is directly stolen for Nazi Lit, in the "The Many Masks of Max Mirebalais" chapter. If only B & BC could witness the art world now, and see how limited their imagination was.

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    1. I'd forgotten about Mr. Max Mirebalais, Tom, so thanks for bringing it up here. I do think Bolaño's Nazi Lit is closer in spirit/tone to this Bustos Domecq title than to Borges' Universal History of Iniquity, which was "educational" for me as well. Love your second line, by the way!

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  5. It's fun, isn't it. I'm inclined to see it as the key to Borges' work: that it is all parodic, full of nonsensical paradoxes; that it is all laughing at the avant-garde, at admirers of the avant-garde, and most especially any reader who's inclined to take the works of Borges at all seriously.

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    1. Obooki, fun indeed--just like that great finale to your comment! By the way, thanks for having helped inspire me to read the book before I would have otherwise.

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