viernes, 30 de septiembre de 2011

Libro de buen amor 1606-1617: De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an

De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an
Quiérovos abreviar la mi predicaçión,     [1606]
que sienpre me pagué de pequeño sermón
e de dueña pequeña e de breve razón,
ca lo poco e bien dicho finca en el coraçón.

Del que mucho fabla ríen, quien mucho ríe es loco;     [1607]
es en la dueña pequeña amor grande e non de poco;
dueñas di grandes por chicas, por grandes chicas non troco,
mas las chicas e las grandes e las grandes non se repienden del troco.

De las chicas que bien diga el Amor me fizo ruego,     [1608]
que diga de sus noblezas; yo quiérolas dezir luego,
dirévos de dueñas chicas que lo avredes por juego:
son frías como la nieve e arden como el fuego.

Son frías de fuera, en el amor ardientes:     [1609]
en cama solaz, trebejo, plazenteras, rïentes,
en casa cuerdas, donosas, sosegadas, bienfazientes;
mucho ál ý fallaredes, ado bien paráredes mientes.

En pequeña girconça yaze grand resplandor;     [1610]
en açúcar muy poco yaze mucho dulçor;
en la dueña pequeña yaze muy grand amor;
pocas palabras cunplen al buen entendedor.

Es pequeño el grano de la buena pimienta,     [1611]
pero, más que la nuez conorta e calienta:
así dueña pequeña, si todo amor consienta,
non ha plazer del mundo que en ella non sienta.

Como en chica rosa está mucha color     [1612]
e en oro muy poco grand preçio e grand valor,
como en poco blasmo ya e grand buen olor,
ansí en dueña chica yaze muy grand sabor.

Como robí pequeño tiene mucha bondat,     [1613]
color, virtud e preçio e noble claridad,
ansí dueña pequeña tiene mucha beldat,
fermosura, donaire, amor e lealtad.

Chica es la calandria e chico el ruiseñor,     [1614]
pero, más dulçe cantan que otro ave mayor;
la muger que es chica por eso es mejor:
en doñeo es más dulçe que açúcar nin flor.

Son aves pequeñuelas papagayo e orior,     [1615]
pero, qual[es]quier d'ellas es dulçe gritador,
adonada, fermosa, preçiada cantador:
bien atal es la dueña pequeña con amor.

De la muger pequeña non ay conparaçión:     [1616]
terrenal paraíso es e consolaçión,
solaz e alegría, plazer e bendiçión:
mejor es en la prueva que en la salutaçión.

Sienpre quis muger chica más que grande nin [mayor]:     [1617]
non es desaguisado del grand mal ser foidor,
del mal tomar lo menos, dizelo el sabidor,
por ende de las mugeres la mejor es la menor.*
Is medieval Spanish poetry the book blogosphere's equivalent of box office poison?  Although I have the feeling that I'm about to find out, let's get to it anyway, shall we?  The Libro de buen amor or Book of Good Love is a poem of over 1700 strophes written circa 1343 by a Spanish poet known variously as Juan Ruiz or the Arcipreste de Hita or both.  One of the canonical works of medieval Spanish literature (pun intended: one of the built-in literary and historical ironies of the LBA is that Juan Ruiz might in fact have been a disgraced real-life "archpriest" or cleric himself), the poem is an often ribald affair chronicling the poet's ambiguous efforts to differentiate "good love" (the love of God) from "crazy love" (the love of the ladies) for his readers' benefit.  In any event, the twelve stanzas above, from a passage titled "De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an" ["On the Attributes of Little Women"], constitute one of my favorite sections in the poem for their mix of post-Ovidian amatory humor and mock scholasticism.

While I'm not going to provide a full translation of the verses in question, it'd be wrong of me not to share how "De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an" begins in Saralyn R. Daly's rendering of lines 1606 a-d.  To wit:

My lords, I want to make my preaching to you very brief,
For in short sermons I have always found delight and art,
Also in a little lady and in reasoning that is short.
For what is little and well said stays fixed within the heart.**

What follows, as you might be able to imagine from this opening, is a brief "sermon" on the greatness of little women delivered as a parody of the scholastic rhetorical device in which two opposite sides of a question are compared to one another: here, the topoi of the más and the menos (more and less) according to Alberto Blecua's helpful footnote on page 415 of my Spanish edition of the text.  Commenting on this beginning, Jeremy N.H. Lawrance wryly notes, "Perhaps only a medieval poet, writing in the scholastic tradition of artificial conceptual correspondences, could introduce the far-fetched comparison between a short sermon and a small woman, even as a joke, with so little ado."*** So what makes little women so great?  According to the poet, it has to do with things like the fact that there is great love to be found inside the little woman out of all proportion to her size (1607b's "es en la pequeña dueña amor grande e non de poco").  He supports his argument by claiming that while they may appear to be cold on the outside, in love they are "ardientes" (ardent, passionate) and a great joy in bed (1609a-b).  He extends the less is more comparison by referring to the abundant sweetness to be found in a tiny lump of sugar (1610b), the heat to be found in a grain of black pepper (1611a-b), the great amount of color evident in a tiny rose (1612a), and--moving on to the animal kingdom--the parallel to be found in the example of the skylark and the nightingale, which despite being diminutive creatures, sing more sweetly than any other birds of a greater size (1614a-b).

Even though English readers may not be able to appreciate how delirious and giddily propulsive this playful rhetoric comes across in Spanish meter, there's probably little extra translation help needed to understand the dirty wordplay behind Juan Ruiz's skirt chasing persona and predicaçión.  The everyday word caliente, for example, used to convey the heat of the grain of pepper in 1611a-b, can also double for the heat of sexual arousal if you're able to read between the arcipreste's carnal lines.  With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that verses 1611c-d offer up a similar potential double entendre in praise of one of little women's special attributes: using Saralyn R. Daly's translation once again, "Just so, with a little woman, if she grants you all her love,/There's no delight on earth which isn't found in her encased."  Near the end of "De las propriedades que las dueñas chicas an," the poet uses some innuendo-laden language of the sermon to preach that little women are without peer as an "earthly paradise" and sexual "consolation" to man (1616b), a "pleasure" and a "blessing" (1616c), and "better in the proof than in the salutation" (1616c).  Then, while appearing to poke fun at the tradition that portrays women as the agents of sexual sin and evil, the arcipreste offers this advice to his listeners in the concluding strophe of his homage to the little ones he loves so dearly (translation by Daly once last time):

I've always loved a little one more than the big or tall!
It never has been wrong to flee great evil, I suggest,
"But of all evil, choose the least," so says the ancient Sage.
Therefore, of all the women, littlest women are the best!**
Notes & mini-bibliography
*This part of the poem was transcribed from my battered paperback copy of Juan Ruiz's Libro de buen amor in the wonderful edition put out by Alberto Blecua for Cátedra's Letras Hispánicas series.  See pages 415-419 for the verses presented here and information including notes on the text and textual variants.
**I haven't seen many English translations that do the Libro de buen amor justice.  However, Saralyn R. Daly's translation of "About the Qualities Which Little Women Have" that I made use of here is a very nice exception in that regard, wisely offering the facing text in "Old Spanish" edited by Anthony N. Zahareas.  See The Book of True Love, pages 396-398, for the bilingual verses in question.
***Jeremy N.H. Lawrance, "The Audience of the Libro de buen amor," 226.

The Poem
Ruiz, Juan (Arcipreste de Hita).  Libro de buen amor. Madrid: Cátedra, 2001.
Ruiz, Juan (The Archpriest of Hita).  The Book of True Love [translated by Saralyn R. Daly).  University Park: The Pennsylvania Stae University Press, 1978.

A Study
Lawrance, Jeremy N.H.  "The Audience of the Libro de buen amor."  Comparative Literature, 36/3 (1984), 220-237.

miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2011

Daphne Du Maurier's "Monte Verità" & "Don't Look Now" (Peril of the Short Story for R.I.P. VI)

"Monte Verità" & "Don't Look Now"
by Daphne du Maurier
England, 1952 and 1971

I love that Daphne du Maurier photo up above.  Despite the weird Project Runway fashion statement that she's making with her ensemble, there's something about her expression that makes me feel that I could bond with her--or, more realistically, that makes me feel that I'd at least want to bond with her--should our two worlds ever meet.  Unfortunately, my first two reading dates with Daphne didn't go as swimmingly as I would have hoped.  For starters, experiencing "Don't Look Now," the 1971 short story of hers which I read first, was a little like watching a cool, edgy Hitchcock thriller for about an hour and a half and then finding out that M. Night Shyamalan had been brought in for the last 15 minutes to deliver one of those lame-o, implausible endings that he's famous for.  What the hell, girl and/or "M"?  You had me with the creepy old clairvoyant sisters and the sudden reappearance of the beloved but unfortunately long deceased young daughter.  You lost me with that ending--particularly the goofball last line which reads like a parody.  The 1952 "Monte Verità," at 79 pages maybe more a novella than a short story, was a disappointment for other reasons.  A genre splice pairing a mountain climbing adventure and a supernatural mystery focused on a mystical cult of true believers hidden away from the modern world, it all just got a little too H. Rider Haggard She outlandish for me although people more inclined to Brit adventure/supernatural mystery pastiches may naturally have a higher tolerance for this sort of thing.  Oddly enough given all this kvetching, though, I'm not at all opposed to seeking out a little more Daphne du Maurier action in the future.  If reading her at long last was kind of like being set up on a blind date with a hipster chick and then finding out that the hipster chick in question was not only inexplicably all bent out of shape about R.E.M. breaking up but also wrongly excited about Sting's Back to Bass solo tour, I still think she's a fine stylist in terms of her storytelling mechanics, in drawing attention to the emotional nuances of (and between) her characters, and--despite apparent disagreements with her judgement from time to time--also fairly good company in terms of how many of the supernatural aspects of these two stories are grounded in character reactions that feel realistic for the most part.  But R.E.M.?  Sting?  "Hipster"?  WTF?

"Don't Look Now" and "Monte Verità" are the first and last stories featured in Daphne du Maurier's nine-tale Don't Look Now collection, read here as part of the "Peril of the Short Story" festivities for R.I.P. VI.  New York: NYRB Classics, 2008, 3-58 & 267-346.

lunes, 26 de septiembre de 2011

Llorenç Riber

Llorenç Riber
por J.R. Wilcock [traducido del italiano por Joaquín Jordá]
Italia, 1972

Una de las biografías inventadas más absurdas de La sinagoga de los iconoclastas, de Wilcock (un libro que fue uno de los cianotipos posmodernos de La literatura nazi en América, de Bolaño), Llorenç Riber es una obra re divertida que trata de un director catalán, obsesionado con los conejos, cuyas producciones raras incluyen una versión musical de las Investigaciones filosóficas, de Wittgenstein.  Como corresponde a un relato de esta índole, el compilador de este homenaje documenta la vida del artista con carácter juguetón por medio de cuatro reseñas críticas de sus obras escritas por otros y el fragmento de un guión inédito de una obra teatral de Riber que se llama Tristán e Isoldo (una puesta al día gay del clásico medieval).  Aunque no tengo la menor idea de cómo ustedes reaccionarían al sentido de humor que se encuentra acá, no podía dejar de reírme a carcajadas con los pormenores biográficos falsos (dicho haber sido devorado por un león en una página, Riber es después llamado "el director prematuramente devorado" en la próxima página [242]) o las varias reseñas simuladas (Tête de Chien tiene tanto éxito en Lausanne que Riber "fue llamado a saludar hasta ocho veces"; sin obstante, el crítico entonces añade que "para un director, triunfar en Suiza es como recibir una cesta de huevos de regalo" [246]).  Al hablar de esto, una de las reseñas fingidas--la reseña escribida por un tal Matteo Campanari para Il Mondo en Roma--es particularmente interesante para razones imprevisibles.  Veamos si yo pueda hacer justicia a esta anecdóta literaria poco conocida.  Resulta que Wilcock, después de trasladarse a Italia de su Argentina natal, se convertió en un crítico de teatro suplente en algún momento.  Tan aburrido por la tarea de ir al teatro, el excéntrico Wilcock comenzó a escribir reseñas sobre espectáculos inventados por un semanario romano bajo un seudónimo. En este momento, ¡no es de sorprender que la revista fuera llamada Il Mondo, que el crítico estrafalario se llamara Matteo Campanari, y que una de las producciones falsificadas fue presentado por un director que esté mejor conocido como Llorenç Riber!
One of the wackier fake biographies from J.R. Wilcock's La sinagoga de los iconoclastas (available in English as The Temple of Iconoclasts and a work that's one of the indisputable postmodern blueprints for Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas), "Llorenç Riber" is a super funny piece of writing that celebrates a rabbit-obsessed Catalan theater director whose bizarre list of credits includes a musical version of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations among several other way off-Broadway oddities.  As befits a narrative of this nature, the compiler of this would-be homage playfully documents the artist's life with a selection of four critical pieces on his work composed by others and an extract from Riber's own unpublished play Tristán e Isoldo [Tristan and Isoldo], a sort of gay update of the medieval romance.  While I have no idea how many of you would embrace the absurdity of all this as much as I did, I couldn't stop laughing at either the faux biographical tidbits (said to have been killed by a lion on one page, Riber is then referred to as "el director prematuramente devorado" ["the prematurely devoured director"] on the very next one [242]) or the various mock reviews (Riber's Tête de Chien is so warmly received in Lausanne that the director's asked to come out for eight curtain calls; however, the reviewer then cynically notes that "para un director, triunfar en Suiza es como recibir una cesta de huevos de regalo" ["for a director, being lauded in Switzerland is like receiving a basket of eggs as a gift"] (246).  Curiously enough, one of the mock reviews that's most interesting--the one penned by one Matteo Campanari for Il Mondo in Rome--isn't particularly interesting for any of the reasons you might expect from the above.  Let's see if I can do this obscure literary anecdote justice.  As the story goes, Wilcock at one point in time became a substitute theater critic in Rome after moving to Italy from his native Argentina.  However, the eccentric writer was so bored by the chore of theater-going that he started inventing reviews of fabricated plays with made-up facts and casts and submitting the pieces to an Italian weekly under a pseudonym.  At this point, it should come as no surprise that the weekly was called Il Mondo, that Wilcock's pseudonym was Matteo Campanari, and that one of the fake directors Campanari-Wilcock wrote about was none other than our good friend Llorenç Riber!

Héctor Libertella, ed.  11 relatos argentinos del siglo XX (Una antología alternativa) [11 20th Century Argentine Narratives: An Alternative Anthology]. Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1997, 241-266.


viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2011

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992)
by Raymond Chandler
USA, 1940

For anybody keeping score at home, I'm in the early stages of an ever so leisurely reread of all of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels--looking for reading kicks, sure, but also looking to see how well these books hold up against my memories of them from days gone by.  So far Chandler and Marlowe are a solid two for two.  It's a measure of Farewell, My Lovely's success as an entertainment vehicle, though, that a far-fetched storytelling moment or two, an all too neat resolution of a love triangle and a murder, and some Hardy Boys-style credibility gaps didn't dim my enthusiasm for the novel as a whole.  It's a flawed but engaging work.  Although brash private detective Marlowe's first-person narration is as snappy as always ("Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food," he memorably describes one goon [4]), one of the things that I'd forgotten about in this novel is that he engages in an unexpected running gag involving some none too subtle Hemingway-bashing: "Who is this Hemingway person at all?" asks the dirty cop who's just had the Hemingway nickname bestowed on him by Marlowe and is quickly getting fed up with the mysterious insult.  "A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good," Marlowe retorts (164).  Elsewhere, Marlowe's reaction when presented with a photograph of a missing person is typical of the high testosterone yucks to be found throughout the narrative: "It was a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window" [93]).  What makes this second Marlowe novel so fascinating from a thematic rather than a mere writing standpoint, though, is that Chandler took a genre tale of multiple murders in L.A. and boldly turned it into a kind of oblique commentary on the problems of race in big city America.  What was Chandler's message?  Thankfully, it's not so simple that I could tell you for sure.  However, in a novel where casual racism from white cops, criminals, and even Marlowe himself is often directed at "nigger[s]" (87), "Jap gardeners" (121), "a smelly Indian" (142) and the like, it's both uncomfortable and somehow bracing to see Marlowe's sarcastic indictment of the kind of justice available to blacks vs. whites: "Well, all he did was kill a Negro.  I guess that's only a misdemeanor" (118).  (

Raymond Chandler

Farewell, My Lovely was my third novel or novella read for R.I.P. VI.
The next title will likely be either James M. Cain's 1934 The Postman Always Rings Twice (also an old fave of mine back in my high school and/or college days) or a short story by Daphne du Maurier (since I appear to be the only guy on the planet who's never read anything by her).

miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2011

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor
por César Aira
Argentina, 1987

Cecil Taylor empieza con una escena magnífica y totalmente asombrosa: una prostituta neoyorquina, al volver a su depto después de una noche de trabajo, se encuentra con un grupo de vagos que están mirando algo en la vidriera sucia de un negocio abandonado.  ¿De qué se trata?  La lucha inminente entre un gato y una rata.  De repente, la mujer golpea la vidriera con su cartera, distraendo del gato suficientemente para que se escape la rata.  Los hombres se enojan con ella a causa de la interrupción del show, y un hecho de violencia no especificado tiene lugar como resultado.  A pesar de ser tan cautivador, es facil pasar por alto la genialidad de este principio porque lo que sigue en lo demás del cuento no parece tener nada en común con ello.  En lugar de eso, encontramos la historia del pianista free jazz Cecil Taylor situada en el año de 1956.  Taylor, en aquel entonces un cero en cuanto a la fama, sufre la indignidad de ser expuesto a la mofa pública en bares con piano donde todos los clientes son músicos, drogadictos, o alcohólicos; en lugares prestigiosos como el Village Vanguard, donde él tontamente cree que al menos sus collegas los músicos tratarán de comprender sus inovaciones atonales; e incluso en una fiesta privada en la casa de Long Island de la señora Gloria Vanderbilt (los invitados aplauden cuando la heredera dice "para").  Frente al estilo de vanguardia del músico, casi todo el mundo reacciona con desaprobación a su arte atonal o, lo que es peor, con una pregunta sincera sino insultante cómo la del dueño del bar que especializa en el tráfico de la heroina: "¿No habrás querido tomarnos el pelo?"  Aunque las desdichas de Taylor nunca paran a lo largo del cuento de 14 páginas, la belleza salvaje y la artesanía del relato se encuentran en la escritura fiera de Aira y en la sugerencia provocadora que el proceso creativo--la realidad vivida en cual los conciertos de Taylor generan una falta de comprensión evidente como "escarnio invisible licuado en risitas inaudibles" [136]--es análoga en alguna manera a la historia de la prostituta y los vagos en cuanto al "fracaso" del artista de sobrepasar lo que se esperaba en la imaginación de la audiencia.  Aira, ¡vos sos un capo!
"Cecil Taylor" begins with a magnificently drawn and absolutely striking scene: a New York prostitute, returning to her apartment early one morning after a night of work, runs into a group of lowlifes apparently transfixed by something visible through the dirty windows of an abandoned storefront.  What are they looking at?  An impending fight between a cat and a rat.  Suddenly, the woman strikes the glass with her purse, distracting the cat long enough for the rat to escape.  The men then get mad at her on account of the interruption of the show, and an unspecified act of violence takes place as a result.  As attention-grabbing as all this is, it's easy to overlook the compositional brilliance of this opening scene because it doesn't really appear to have much in common with the rest of the short story apart from its atmosphere.  Instead, we're treated to a hard luck story about free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor set in 1956.  Taylor, at that time a virtual nobody in terms of his fame, suffers a series of public indignities in piano bars where the small crowds consist primarily of musicians, drug addicts, and alcoholics; in a disappointing showcase performance at the Village Vanguard, where he foolishly believes that at least his fellow musicians will understand what he's trying to accomplish; and even at a private party given by Gloria Vanderbilt at her Long Island mansion (the guests applaud when the socialite pulls the plug on him).  Confronted with the musician's avant-garde stylings, almost everybody responds to his atonal art with either open disapproval or, what's worse, this sincere but insulting question put to him by a bar owner almost exclusively occupied with heroin-trafficking: "Are you sure you're not just pulling our legs?"  Although Taylor's misfortunes never let up throughout the length of this fourteen-page story, the savage beauty and the craftsmanship of the tale are to be found in Aira's feral writing and the provocative suggestion that the creative process--the lived reality in which Taylor's performances generate a lack of understanding manifesting itself as "escarnio invisible licuado en risitas inaudibles" ["invisible derision liquified in inaudible laughter"] [136]-- is somehow analagous to the story about the prostitute and the night owl lowlifes in terms of the artist's failure to deliver what constitutes a show in the minds of the audience.  Aira, you the man!

Juan Forn, ed.  Buenos Aires: Una antología de nueva ficción argentina [Buenos Aires: An Anthology of New Argentinean Fiction].  Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 1992, 129-144.

Arriba/Above: Cecil Taylor; Abajo/Below: César Aira

lunes, 19 de septiembre de 2011

Ficciones: 2011 Argentina Reading Challenge

Like blog buddies Rise of in lieu of a field guide (who kindly made me aware of this challenge in the first place) and Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog, I've decided to sign up for Ficciones, a 2011 Argentina Reading Challenge hosted by Jen of Jen and the Pen.  Even though I still think most reading challenges (and most reading challenge participants!) are rather dopey, I'm going to try to be less hypocritically strident about that opinion in the future because this is just one of several challenges I've found this year that I'm actually quite fond of and still owe reviews to: Amateur Reader and Nicole's Anything Ubu Readalong Opportunity (click here and there for their final posts), Carl V.'s R.I.P. VI, Rise's 2011 Roberto Bolaño Reading Challenge, etc.  For me, though, Ficciones is a particularly interesting addition to the mix because it's dedicated to one of my top three countries in the world for foreign literature (France and Spain, eat your hearts out) and my my fave country anywhere for choripan, empanadas, and many other culinary goodies of that nature (unfortunately not a part of the challenge festivities).  So what will be my food for thought for this challenge?  Too many options for this glutton to choose from!  Since the challenge runs from February 15th, 2011 to February 14, 2012, I'll begin by backdating my participation to include Juan José Saer's Glosa and Julio Cortázar's Rayuela--two of my favorite reads from earlier in the year.  I might also turn to some of the titles mentioned in this post here and various titles on my sidebar for other possibilities.  But among all the great, non-mainstream choices, some of the main candidates at present include César Aira's Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero [An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter], Macedonio Fernández's wacky Museo de la novela de la Eterna [The Museum of Eterna's Novel], Beatriz Sarlo's Escritos sobre literatura argentina (literary criticism on Caravana favorites Arlt, Borges, Ricardo Piglia, and Saer), and, what the hell, the nonfiction War and Peace of recent Argentine letters: Adolfo Bioy Casares' 1600-plus page Borges diary (the undertaking of which will equal my version of an old school no supplementary oxygen ascent of Everest).  Plus, a whole mess of short stories even though short stories aren't really part of the challenge format aside from short story collections read as a whole.  If you'd like more info on signing up for Ficciones, click here, and if you'd just like a surefire way to get pumped up about the nature of the literature in question, check out Amateur Reader's "Bolaño, Aira, and the Argentinean Literature of Doom" here (you could also just read Aira's bitchin' "Cecil Taylor," as I finally did last night, if you want to know what all the fuss is about).  By the way, I'm aiming for porteño status (6 reads, at least one of which must be in Spanish); however, there are saner options available for the rest of you lot. Chau chau.

Works Read for Ficciones
1. Juan José Saer's Glosa [title unwisely translated as The Sixty-Five Years of Washington]
2. Julio Cortázar's Rayuela [Hopscotch]

viernes, 16 de septiembre de 2011


by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Ireland, 1872

Since there's apparently no, ahem, lesbian vampire category for R.I.P. VI (tsk, tsk--let's hope that was just an oversight), I guess I'll have to count Carmilla as an ever so vague "horror" or "supernatural" entry for Carl V.'s reading event instead.  Which is just as well since the supposedly scandalous 1872 novella (first published in the magazine The Dark Blue, later included in Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly, and here featured as part of a bonus booklet packaged with the 2008 Criterion Collection DVD of Carl Th. Dreyer's 1932 film, Vampyr, itself partially based on this and another Le Fanu tale) is sort of nondescript and more than a little plodding if truth be told.  That being said, Carmilla isn't exactly a total loss even though it certainly doesn't come anywhere close to living up to its shocking rep.  Would I read it again?  Probably not.  But the  representation of female/female sexuality must have been edgy for its times, and there's a nice narrative arc behind narrator Laura's early, conflicted reactions to Carmilla's attentions ("It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheeks in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, 'You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever'" [130]) and her growing appreciation for her attractive friend/predator as time goes on ("I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love; that there is, at this moment, an affair of the heart going on," the teenaged Laura says at one moment.  To which Carmilla replies, "I have been in love with no one, and never shall, unless it should be with you."  The older Laura to the reader: "How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!"  [144]).  In addition, I also got a kick out of a couple of humorous horror tropes like the one where Laura's participation in the "sweet singing" of a funeral hymn (132) prompts the title character to ask, "Don't you perceive how discordant that is?" Apart from that, though, I don't have much else to say other than that Théophile Gautier's 1836 "La Morte amoureuse," Dreyer's 1932 Vampyr, and Alejandra Pizarnik's stupendously gory 1965 "La condesa sangriente"  (all posted on here in 2009, a banner year for the undead it would seem!) all deliver the carnal bite sorely lacking in Le Fanu's surprisingly timid "classic."  (

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
(image at top: Funeral, by Michael Fitzgerald, from the original publication of Carmilla in The Dark Blue)

lunes, 12 de septiembre de 2011

A Rage in Harlem

A Rage in Harlem (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1991)
by Chester Himes
France, 1957

While it took me a good couple of years to finally get around to reading my second Himes title, it only took me about two minutes to lose myself in the pages of this frantic, violently funny crime caper.  The first in a series of novels featuring badass Harlem detective duo Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, A Rage in Harlem (originally titled For Love of Imabelle) actually spends far more time following the scams and counter scams swirling in the wake of gullible sucker Jackson after he's swindled out of his life savings by a team of con men who convince him that they can chemically transform his ten dollar bills into hundred dollar bills in his apartment oven.  Himes doesn't take his foot off the gas pedal long enough to flesh out the high-octane plot all that much, but in a novel where pace and atmosphere and a delight in the double cross are everything ("Crime doesn't pay," lectures a fake marshal at the tail end of an early shakedown [12]), there's plenty of descriptive glee to be found in the depiction of faces "glistening like an eight ball" (5), cross-dressing Sisters of Mercy imitators selling tickets to heaven to Harlem residents to feed their dope habits, and irreverent preachers who mutter "Lord save us from squares" when some of the more naive members of the congregation come to throw themselves on the Lord's mercy (137).  A fun goof all in all--but one in which a graphic throat-cutting scene and a complex take on race relations as viewed from a late-1950s "Negro" underworld perspective ratchet up the pre-Tarantino intensity levels unpredictably.  (

Chester Himes

A Rage in Harlem is my "mystery" selection for R.I.P. VI.  While I'm not sure how much it has in common with other R.I.P. mystery picks this year, I'm guessing that it's probably the only one with as fine a readers imbibing peril line as the one on page 54 in which Himes tells us that "the cold snowy February night was already getting liquored up."  Top that, cozy mystery bloggers!

lunes, 5 de septiembre de 2011


Image: Melissa Nucera, Flight 

Even though it's a well-known fact that most reading challenges are like the book blog equivalent of Loserpalooza, I have nothing mean to say about the annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril festivities hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings (click here for details).  In fact, I've wanted to join in at least the last two years in a row prior to this without having been able to get my antisocial act together in time.  This year, however, I've decided to give it a go and will be reading and watching a mix of novels, short stories, and movies from the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural wings of the bookstore or videostore during the R.I.P. VI months of September and October (OK, maybe not that fourth genre since the only fantasy I like to indulge in is pretending that cute twenty-something baristas will one day stop objectifying me for my looks when they serve me up my iced lattés and instead concentrate on that stack of Bolaños and Prousts carried in the crooks of my brooding, melancholy, but evidently still manly forty-something arms).  So what will I be reading?  Not sure at this point.  However, I'm looking forward to some classic U.S. crime heavyweights (James M. Cain, Chandler, Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, Jim Thompson) for the novels and novellas and some international authors (including some Latin Americans, for sure) to head up the list of the short story writers.  Until then, since I forgot to mention anything horror-related in this post, here's some trashy r&r for you as a genre gift from me to you!

Jukebox: Les Sexareenos, "Everybody Sexareeno!"

viernes, 2 de septiembre de 2011

Tu rostro mañana. 3 Veneno y sombra y adiós

Tu rostro mañana.  3 Veneno y sombra y adiós (Debolsillo, 2010)
por Javier Marías
España, 2007

La pregunta del día hiza por el lector desinteresado: ¿es que Javier Marías realmente necesitó todas las 1.332 páginas de Tu rostro mañana para contar la historia?  A lo que yo diría: sí, ¿Marías no podía compartir al menos 200 páginas más?  Me encantó la experiencia de leer este libro y en sumergirme en el brillo de sus digressiones narrativas hasta el punto de que sufrí una versión libresca de la depresión postparto cuando llegué al fin.  Qué librazo.  Sin querer revelar demasiado, digamos que el Veneno y sombra y adiós del tercer y último volumen se enfrenta con al menos tres temas grandes--nuestra incapacidad para verdaderamente conocer la gente en el círculo más interior de familiares y amigos íntimos; la fuerza imprevisiblemente transformacional de la violencia, incluso cuando aplicada a las "causas justas" como la llamada guerra sobre el terrorismo y la lucha contra el fascismo en la Segunda Guerra Mundial; y, finalmente, nuestra incapacidad para saber cómo nosotros mismos reaccionaríamos frente al trauma o a la pérdida o al mal en el futuro--mientras que evita dando respuestas superficiales y se narra por medio de monólogos interiores, la narracón tradicional, y más monólogos interiores de manera hipnótica.  Dado que mis compañeros Amateur Reader y Rise ya han escrito sobre la confiabilidad o la falta de confiabilidad del parlanchín Jacques Deza como un narrador y de cómo Tu rostro mañana se sitúa dentro de las obras completas de Marías, voy a limitarme a mencionar tres cosas sin orden ni concierto que se destacaron para mí en el volumen final de esta híbrida idiosincrática de novela de espionaje y historia sentimental.  Primero, para un texto que es esencialmente una elegía en prosa, me gustó el efecto de claroscuro ocasionado por el humor alegre de Marías.  ¿Esa escena donde el saco de arena humano y patán De la Garza pone a prueba su talento como un cantante de rap a la embajada española en Londres frente al famoso especialista del Siglo de Oro Francisco Rico?  ¡Un clásico de la comedia!  En segundo lugar, ¿qué puedo decir sobre la maestría de Marías en cuanto a la creación de personajes de carne y hueso además de don Francisco Rico?  Dentro de una obra en cual dos atentados brutales tienen lugar en primer plano, en cual Deza tiene que mirar el equivalente a snuff films grabadas en vídeo desde la guerra sobre el terrorismo, y en cual recuerdos perturbadores sobre las peores infamias de la lucha contra Franco y Hitler más y más son el centro de atención, un par de mis escenas preferidas tuvieron que ver con los momentos calladas y sutíles donde una mano sobre el hombro del padre de Deza y la ausencia de una mano sobre el hombro de su amigo Wheeler explican todo sobre el cariño que el narrador tiene por estos dos hombres que están acercando a la muerte.  Una escritura con alma, te digo.  Por último, nunca me cansé de pasar tiempo con Deza y los otros personajes y sus historias inacabables. Me gustaron sus pensamientos, sus anécdotas, y el estilo de narración (como un trance) donde todo empezaría con una conversación, seguiría con un recuerdo, continuaría con una escena retrospectiva, y etcétera hasta que el hilo origina reaparecería  párrafos, páginas, e incluso capítulos enteros más tarde.  En resumen, la única queja que tengo en lo que refiere a esta novela es que se acabó tan temprano.  Eso se remedia leyendo el nuevo Los enamoramientos en el mes que viene. (

Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 3: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell (New Directions, 2011)
by Javier Marías [translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa]
Spain, 2007

The casual reader might well wonder: did Javier Marías really need 1,332 pages to tell Your Face Tomorrow?  To which I might casually reply: I agree, couldn't he have given us just a couple of hundred pages more?  Loved, loved, loved reading this thing in all its digressional glory, to the point that I actually went into a bit of a funk after finally finishing it.  What a fantastic book.  Without wanting to give too much away, let's say that Volume 3's Poison, Shadow, and Farewell takes on at least three big ticket items--our inability to truly know those closest to us, be they loved ones or dear friends; the unpredictably transformative power of violence, even when applied to a "good cause" as in the so-called war on terror or in the fight against fascism in World War II; and, finally, our inability to predict how we ourselves will respond to trauma or loss or evil when put to the test--all while avoiding easy answers and seamlessly transitioning from interior monologue to narrative and back again in a tour de force of real time narration.  Since fellow readalongers Amateur Reader and Rise have already written insightfully snazzy posts on the voluble Jacques Deza's reliability or unreliability as a narrator and how Your Face Tomorrow fits into Marías' larger body of work, I'm going to limit my comments here to three rather random things that grabbed me about the final installment of this idiosyncratic spy novel/love story. First, for a text that's essentially an elegy in prose, I loved the chiaroscuro effect produced by Marías' playful sense of humor.  That scene where loudmouthed beating victim/boor De la Garza tries his rap act out on real life Siglo de Oro expert Francisco Rico in the Spanish embassy in London?  A comedy classic!  Secondly, what can I say about Marías' range as a creator of flesh and blood characters not named Francisco Rico?  In a work in which two brutal assaults presented in close-up, videotaped equivalents of snuff films from the war on terror, and disturbing memories of the worst infamies of a world at war against Franco and Hitler increasingly take center stage in the theater that's the narrator's mind, a couple of my favorite moments had to do with the quiet, understated backstage scenes where a touch on the shoulder of his father and the lack of a touch on the shoulder on his friend Wheeler say more about the depth of Deza's feelings for these two dying men than I'm usually privileged to witness in fiction.  A very soulful piece of writing.  Finally, I never tired of spending time with Deza or any of the other characters as their stories spilled out seemingly endlessly.  Enjoyed all their thoughts, their anecdotes, and that trance-like narrative style in which a conversation would lead to a memory, a memory to a flashback, and on and on until the original point of departure would resurface paragraphs, pages, and even entire chapters later.  In short, the only real complaint that I have about this work is that it wasn't long enough for me.  Hope to remedy that with a reading of Marías' new Los enamoramientos next month.  (

Javier Marías

Epilogue/Lost in Translation
Thanks to everybody who participated in the readalong and/or otherwise commented along the way.  I loved the novel, had a great time reading all your posts on the work, and look forward to adding all the other readalong posts here sometime soon.  Please note that in looking at the Margaret Jull Costa translation for Vol. 3 of Your Face Tomorrow (in the Chatto & Windus British hardback), I noticed that the epilogue material that's included in my Spanish edition is missing from the British one.  Amateur Reader has confirmed that the epilogue is also missing from the MJC-translated U.S. New Directions edition as well.  So what are you missing?  The Epílogo in the Debolsillo paperback I read has a 5-page addendum signed off by Javier Marías called "Los intérpretes de vidas" [literally: "The Interpreters or Translators of Lives"] in which Marías revisits the theme of careless talk and the work of the Tupra and Wheeler group and their translations of people's lives over the years.  I read it as a kind of standard but interesting postscript, but I probably should read it again.  The really fun stuff comes in what follows, though: three three-to-five page reports on well-known celebrities that alternate between hilarity and viciousness.  These include "Informe de Pérez-Nuix sobre Silvio Berlusconi (2002)" ["Pérez-Nuix's Report on Silvio Berlusconi (2002)"], "Informe de Rendel sobre Michael Caine (2002)" ["Rendel's Report on Michael Caine (2002)"], and "Informe de Tupra sobre Diana de Gales" (1996)" ["Tupra's Report on Diana of Wales (1996)"].  Anyone want to take a guess on the only celeb who receives a flattering "interpretation"?

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