miércoles, 29 de febrero de 2012

Corazón tan blanco

Corazón tan blanco (Debolsillo, 2010)
by Javier Marías
Spain, 1992

I have a couple of things I'd like to say about this book--in particular a rather tricky one on translation which I now think I better save for another post since I'll need some assistance with it anyway--so I hope you'll forgive me if I take the easy way out and start with a quote from the very beginning of the novel:  "No he querido saber, pero he sabido que una de las niñas, cuando ya no era niña y no hacía mucho que había regresado de su viaje de bodas, entró en el cuarto de baño, se puso frente al espejo, se abrío la blusa, se quitó al sostén y se buscó el corazón con la punta de la pistola de su propio padre, que estaba en el comedor con parte de la familia y tres invitados" ["I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn't a girl anymore and hadn't long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father's gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the dining room with other members of the family and three guests"] (19 in the Spanish edition, 3 in Margaret Jull Costa's 2000 New Directions translation of A Heart So White).  "The girls," it turns out, refers to the suicide victim, who would have been the narrator's aunt had he been born yet, and the narrator's eventual mother, who married her sister's widower some time after the tragedy took place--a very messy state of affairs to say the least.   But as anyone who has read one of Marías' novels dating back to the 1989 Todas las almas [All Souls] might guess, the narrator Juan, himself just back from a honeymoon in which he was beginning to suffer from an unspecified "malestar" ["feeling of unease"] and "los presentimientos de desastre" ["unspoken presentiments of disaster"] (29 in the original, 12-13 in Jull Costa) that will later become clear are related to concerns about possible infidelity, will spend much of the rest of the novel looking back on and amplifying this comment about the secret in his father's past involving three women--two of whom perished under mysterious circumstances.  I don't want to say much more about the surface what that Corazón tan blanco is about, about how people in the narrator's life practically force him to learn about the dirty laundry in his family's past, but it's a juicy tale, told with the usual Marías verve and complexity, if maybe just the teeny tiniest letdown in its resemblance to a mini Tu rostro mañana [Your Face Tomorrow] in terms of its thematic preoccupations with telling and not telling the truth, the Shakespearean allusions to guilt and culpability and complicity, and things of that nature (of course, people who'd rather read a 300-page novel than a 1,300-page novel might not share my concerns).  However,  it's also livened up considerably by multiple truly amusing setpieces like the one where Juan tells how he met his future wife Luisa while they were serving as interpreters for two bigdeal politicians who appear to be prime ministers Felipe González and Margaret Thatcher.  Annoyed by González's incessant jangling of his keys, Juan breaches translation etiquette by pretending to have the British leader ask: "--Perdone, ¿le importaría guardar esas llaves?  Todos los ruidos me afectan mucho últimamente, se lo agradezco" ["Would you mind very much putting away those keys?  I'm terribly sensitive to noise lately.  I'd be so grateful"] (81 in the original, 63 in Jull Costa).  Then putting words in the mouth of the Spanish leader, Juan pushes his luck with a fake question to the Iron Lady herself:  "--Si puedo preguntárselo y no es demasiado atrevimiento, usted, en su vida amorosa, ¿ha obligado a alguien a quererla?" ["If you don't mind my asking and you don't think I'm being too personal, have you, in your own experience of love, ever obliged anyone to love you?" (82 in the original, 63 in Jull Costa).  Impertinent questions, with deliciously unexpected answers, all put in the service of a novel obsessed with "creative" translations and lies and concerned with the sense in which an untruth might be more revealing and less deceitful than the truth itself.  (Debolsillo)

Javier Marías

'My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white.'

o bien:

'Mis manos son de tu color; pero me avergüenzo de llevar un corazón tan blanco.'
(Epigraph to Corazón tan blanco maddeningly absent from A Heart So White--New Directions, what's up with that?)

martes, 28 de febrero de 2012

Ignacio Echevarría on the Essential Books in Spanish-Language Literature since the 1950s

Ignacio Echevarría

Ignacio Echevarría, the esteemed Spanish literary critic perhaps best known outside of Spain for having at one time been the literary executor of Roberto Bolaño's estate, put out an eye-popping little art book last year under the title Los libros esenciales de la literatura en español: narrativa de 1950 a nuestros días [The Essential Books in Spanish-Language Literature: Narrative from 1950 to the Present]: Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona and Madrid, 2011.  Although I don't know when I'll have the chance to give the thing a proper review, I thought I'd share Echevarría's selections with you now--with English translations noted in brackets where I know of them--in case any of you would like to start arguing about which books should or shouldn't have made the list!

The '50s
Juan Carlos Onetti's La vida breve [A Brief Life]
Jorge Luis Borges' La muerte y la brújula [Death and the Compass]
Camilo José Cela's La colmena [The Beehive]
Juan José Arreola's Confabulario [Confabulario and Other Inventions]
Alejo Carpentier's Los pasos perdidos [The Lost Steps]
Carmen Laforet's Siete novelas cortas
Adolfo Bioy Casares' El sueño de los héroes [Dream of Heroes]
Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo [Pedro Páramo]
Antonio Di Benedetto's Zama
Virgilio Piñera's Cuentos fríos [Cold Tales]
Rodolfo Walsh's Operación Masacre
José María Arguedas' Los ríos profundos [Deep Rivers]
Francisco Ayala's Muertes de perro [Death as a Way of Life]
Silvina Ocampo's La Furia

The '60s
Felisberto Hernández's La casa inundada
Ramón J. Sender's Réquiem por un campesino español [Requiem for a Spanish Peasant]
Armando López Salinas' La mina
Ernesto Sabato's Sobre héroes y tumbas [On Heroes and Tombs]
Carlos Fuentes' Aura [Aura]
Luis Martín-Santos' Tiempo de silencio [Time of Silence]
Miguel Delibes' Las ratas [Smoke on the Ground]
Julio Cortázar's Rayuela [Hopscotch]
Ignacio Aldecoa's Los pájaros de Baden-Baden
Juan Benet's Volverás a Región [Return to Región]
Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude]
Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares' Crónicas de Bustos Domecq [Chronicles of Bustos Domecq]
Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres [Three Trapped Tigers]
José Revueltas' El apando
Osvaldo Lamborghini's El fiord

The '70s
Alfredo Bryce Echenique's Un mundo para Julius [A World for Julius: A Novel]
Juan Goytisolo's Reivindicación del conde don Julián [Count Julian]
Juan García Hortelano's El gran momento de Mary Tribune
Julio Ramón Ribeyro's La palabra del mudo
Manuel Puig's The Buenos Aires Affair [The Buenos Aires Affair]
Juan Marsé's Si te dicen que caí [The Fallen]
Augusto Roa Bastos' Yo el Supremo [I, the Supreme]
Juan Carlos Onetti's Cuentos completos
Francisco Umbral's Mortal y rosa [A Mortal Spring]
Eduardo Mendoza's La verdad sobre el caso Savolta [The Truth about the Savolta Case]
Mario Vargas Llosa's La tía Julia y el escribidor [Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter]
Jorge Ibargüengoitia's Las muertas [The Dead Girls]
Esther Tusquets' El mismo mar de todos los veranos [The Same Sea as Every Summer]
Carmen Martín Gaite's El cuarto de atrás [The Back Room]
Juan Iturralde's Días de llamas

The '80s
Elena Garro's Andamos huyendo Lola
Juan Benet's Saúl ante Samuel
Cristina Fernández Cubas' Mi hermana Elba
Ricardo Piglia's Respiración artificial [Artificial Respiration]
Juan Eduardo Zúñiga's Largo noviembre de Madrid
Luis Goytisolo's Antagonía
José Donoso's El jardín de al lado [The Garden Next Door]
Juan José Millas' El jardín vacío
Osvaldo Soriano's Cuarteles de invierno [Winter Quarters]
Juan José Saer's El entenado [The Witness]
Camilo José Cela's Mazurca para dos muertos [Mazurka for Two Dead Men]
Alejandro Gándara's La media distancia
Álvaro del Amo's Libreto
Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio's El testimonio de Yarfoz
Antonio Muñoz Molina's Beatus Ille [A Manuscript of Ashes]
Jesús Díaz's Las iniciales de la tierra [The Initials of the Earth]
Fernando del Paso's Noticias del Imperio [News from the Empire]
Javier Marías' Todas las almas [All Souls]
Álvaro Mutis' La última escala del Tramp Steamer [The Adventures of Maqroll: Four Novellas]

The '90s
Álvaro Pombo's El metro de platinio iridiado
César Aira's La liebre [The Hare]
Enrique Vila-Matas' Suicidios ejemplares
Sergio Pitol's La vida conyugal
Ray Loriga's Lo peor de todo
Rafael Chirbes' La buena letra
Javier Tomeo's La agonía de Proserpina
Severo Sarduy's Pájaros de la playa [Beach Birds]
Gustavo Martín Garzo's El lenguaje de las fuentes
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's El estrangulador
Fernando Vallejo's La Virgen de los Sicarios [Our Lady of the Assassins]
Ignacio Martínez de Pisón's El fin de los buenos tiempos
Germán Marín's El Palacio de la Risa
Francisco Casavella's Un enano español se suicida en Las Vegas
Rodrigo Rey Rosa's Que me maten si...
Alejandro Rossi's La fábula de las regiones
Fogwill's Cantos de marineros en La Pampa
Ramón Buenaventura's El año que viene en Tánger
Roberto Bolaño's Los detectives salvajes [The Savage Detectives]
Rodrigo Fresán's La velocidad de las cosas
Juan Villoro's La casa pierde
Rafael Gumucio's Memorias prematuras
Luis Mateo Díez's La ruina del cielo

The '00s
Sergio Chejfec's Boca de lobo
Belén Gopegui's Lo real
Isaac Rosa's El vano ayer
Mercedes Cebrián's El malestar al alcance de todos
Horacio Castellanos Moya's Insensatez [Senselessness]
Roberto Bolaño's 2666 [2666]
Pedro Lemebel's Adiós, mariquita linda
Colectivo Todoazen's El año que tampoco hicimos la Revolución
Mario Levrero's La novela luminosa
Sergio Bizzio's Era el cielo
Roberto Brodsky's Bosque quemado
Alberto Fuguet's Missing (una investigación)
Luis Magrinyà's Cuentos de los 90
Francisco Ferrer Lerín's Familias como la mía

More on this book later.
Until then, this post is dedicated to Obooki, who's hosting a Latin-American Readalong featuring three of these titles this year, and Rise, who's shared a number of juicy book lists of his own over the past several months.

lunes, 27 de febrero de 2012

The Loser

The Loser [Der Untergeher] (Vintage International, 1993)
by Thomas Bernhard [translated from the German by Jack Dawson]
Austria, 1983

The Loser, the opening salvo in Bernhard's arts trilogy in which our cantankerous hero would later take aim at the theater (1984's Woodcutters) and painting (1985's Old Masters) in a sustained three-year broadside directed at creativity and the arts, is a spluttering 170-page rant about the despondency and envy felt by two childhood friends who are left scarred for life after having studied piano alongside the virtuoso Glenn Gould some twenty-eight years previously.  Fortunately, it isn't necessary to know anything about "The Goldberg Variations" or "The Art of the Fugue" to appreciate the unnamed narrator's own insult virtuosity: "What lousy teachers we had to put up with, teachers who screwed up our heads.  Art destroyers all of them, art liquidators, culture assassins, murderers of students" (18]).  Nor is it necessary to be a musician to appreciate the obsessive drive that separates the Glenn Gould types from the losers who are merely technically proficient: "The ideal piano player (he never said pianist!) is the one who wants to be the piano, and I say to myself every day when I wake up, I want to be the Steinway, not the person playing the Steinway, I want to be the Steinway itself...  All my life I have dreaded being ground to bits between Bach and Steinway and it requires the greatest effort on my part to escape this dread, he said.  My ideal would be, I would be the Steinway, I wouldn't need Glenn Gould, he said, I could, by being the Steinway, make Glenn Gould totally superfluous" (82, ellipses added).  Not bad, not bad at all as a sort of unforgiving excursus on madness and the quest for perfection--but at a grand total of four paragraphs in length, nowhere near as impeccably well-crafted and tight as the single-paragraph Wittgenstein's Nephew!  (Vintage International)

Thomas Bernhard

martes, 21 de febrero de 2012

El escritor en el bosque de ladrillos. Una biografía de Roberto Arlt

El escritor en el bosque de ladrillos.  Una biografía de Roberto Arlt (Debolsillo, 2008)
por Sylvia Saítta
Argentina, 2000

Sylvia Saítta, profesora de Literatura Argentina del Siglo XX en la Universidad de Buenos Aires y la autora de aun más obras sobre el entorno cultural bonaerense que me gustaría leer en algún momento, nos ha regalado un trabajo de gran valor en El escritor en el bosque de ladrillos: una biografía mesurada, de confianza, y estudiosa sobre el controvertido autor de Los siete locos.  Si la biografía de Saítta es hasta cierto punto carente de anecdótas alocadas acerca de la vida personal de su sujeto, en su lugar la obra profundiza en algo más importante: el sentido en que el novelista, dramaturgo y periodista Arlt se retrató como un hijo de sus propias obras y un escritor de las calles mediante su escritura estilo "cross" a la mandíbula.  Como de costumbre en materias arltianas, me gustó saber algo de las rupturas estéticas entre Arlt y Borges.  Saítta, por ejemplo, comparte las anécdotas de cada escritor en cuanto a la creación de sus primeras obras publicadas y nos deja con esta observación llamativa acerca de "la muy precisa y nada romántica vinculación entre literatura y dinero" de Arlt:

  En este sentido, se diferencia notablemente de Jorge Luis Borges quien confiesa que, cuando en 1923 publicó su primer libro Fervor de Buenos Aires, no sólo pagó trescientos pesos por la edición sino que no se le ocurrió llevar ni un solo ejemplar a las librerías ni a los diarios, y recuerda que Arturo Cancela negaba que sus libros se vendieran mucho porque 'si los otros escritores se enteraban de eso pensarían que sus libros estaban escritos para el vulgo y que no tendrían ningún valor'.  Para Arlt, en cambio, escribir es hacerse pagar, y el dinero, como señala Ricardo Piglia, aparece como la garantía que hace posible la apropriación y el acceso a la literatura" (21-22).

Además de estos asuntos literarios más o menos esperados, a mí también me gustó la inesperada complejidad psicológica de la obra en general.  Dos anécdotas relacionadas con el viaje a Sevilla de Arlt en el año de 1935 serán suficientes para apreciar el sabor de esto.  En la primera, Saítta llama la atención a cómo el periodista de El Mundo sufrió "tres emociones violentas y inolvidables" (en las palabras de Arlt) al "tener en sus manos una carta original de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra dirigida al rey, contemplar el retrato de Hernán Cortés y leer las cartas de Cristóbal Colón.  Con el material recopilado, escribe una nota de divulgacion para la revista El Hogar" (198).  En la segunda, Saíta hace hincapié en las calidades de Arlt como una especie de canalla entre canallas cuando describe cómo el cronista superó las protestas de unas gitana al ser fotografiadas: al confesar que "soy ladrón", el estafador bonachón Arlt ganó la partida y las gitanas "se dejaron retratar gratis" (198).  Quizá a causa del éxito de Saítta en lo que refiere a presentarnos un Arlt de carne y hueso en vez de un Arlt del mito, tengo que decir que era más y más difícil leer de los años últimos de Arlt y de cómo su desesperación económica se había "casi convertido en un personaje de sus propias ficciones" con su entusiasma para inventar medias eternas y cosas por el estilo (289).  En un epílogo conmovedor, la biógrafa sostiene que la última mujer de Arlt, entrevistada por el libro por Saítta, podía entender los sentimientos encontrados provocados por la vida del grosso ríoplatense: "Con mi marido me peleaba eternamente, y sin embargo pienso en él todas los días" (299).  (Debolsillo)

Sylvia Saítta

Perdiendo tiempo en línea hace poco, descubrí este enlace al programa de la materia para la asignatura de Literatura Argentina II enseñada por Sylvia Saítta en la UBA en 2011.  ¡Qué enloquecimiento genial! Por supuesto, este programa va a ayudarme mucho en lo venidero.

lunes, 13 de febrero de 2012

Pereira Declares

Pereira Declares [Sostiene Pereira] (New Directions, 1996)
by Antonio Tabucchi [translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh]
Italy, 1994

Pereira Declares begins with, ends with, and in reality even bludgeons you with its recurring use of the two words "Pereira declares," a stylistic tic presumably designed to emphasize the fact that Pereira's testimony isn't written by him but is mediated by another whose friend or foe status remains unclear.  Thankfully, the "Pereira declares" word truncheon is about the only thing I didn't appreciate about Tabucchi's otherwise graceful novella.  Pereira, I should point out, is a middle-aged ex-crime reporter turned culture page editor of a Catholic nightly trying to cloak himself in literature to protect himself from the political realities of 1938 Lisbon.  This is of course much more easily said than done, the proof of which is that the die is cast for a clash between the newspaperman's wish to remain apolitical and the encroaching fascism of Salazar era Portugal once Pereira enlists the aid of an idealistic young assistant to help prepare future obituaries for still living writers.  Having wasted two precious sentences on plot, I hope you'll forgive me if I return to more pressing matters.  To begin with, I really enjoyed Tabucchi's sweet, gentle humor here--like the way the widower Pereira's relationship with his dead wife's photo, which he speaks to and packs in his suitcase when traveling but "face upwards, because his wife had all her life had such a need for air and he felt sure her picture also needed plenty of room to breathe" (63), says so much about the character's loneliness without mocking his devotion to his spouse's memory.  I was also won over by the emotional pull and lyricism of moments like this one, where Pereira ecstatically reacts to dancing a waltz with the beautiful twenty-something Marta: "And during the dance he looked up at the sky above the coloured lights of the Praça da Alegria, and he felt infinitely small and at one with the universe.  In some nondescript square somewhere in the universe, he thought, there's a fat elderly man dancing with a young girl and meanwhile the stars are circling, the universe is in motion, and maybe someone is watching us from an everlasting observatory" (16-17).  Finally, in a work in which obituaries and optimism are constantly at one another's throats, it was refreshing to witness an example of the reader/writer struggling to remain true to himself/herself in trying circumstances: "He read over what he had written and found it nauseating, yes, nauseating was the word, Pereira declares.  So he chucked that page away and wrote: 'Fernando Pessoa died three years ago.  Very few people, almost no one, even knew he existed.  He lived in Portugal as a foreigner and a misfit, perhaps because he was everywhere a misfit.  He lived alone, in cheap boarding-houses and rented rooms.  He is remembered by his friends, his comrades, those who love poetry'" (21).  (New Directions)

Antonio Tabucchi

viernes, 10 de febrero de 2012

La última ronda de la modernidad: Los detectives salvajes y el mezcal "Los Suicidas"

Oswaldo Zavala

As my last planned contribution to late January's Los detectives salvajes/The Savage Detectives group read, I have to warn you that I'm all geeked up to talk about a wonderful essay by Oswaldo Zavala I discovered shortly after finishing Bolaño's novel.  In the hopes that some of you will find Zavala's interpretation of some key moments in the work just as inspiring as I did, I'd like to present a quickie summary of his study, "La última ronda de la modernidad: Los detectives salvajes y el mezcal 'Los Suicidas'"  ["Modernity's Last Round: The Savage Detectives and Los Suicidas Mezcal"], which can be found in the 2010 collection of essays on Bolaño edited by Felipe A. Ríos Baeza and published by Ediciones Eón, Roberto Bolaño: Ruptura y violencia en la literatura finisecular [Roberto Bolaño: Rupture and Violence in the Literature of the End of the Century].
Zavala, Assistant Professor of Latin American literature at CUNY Staten Island, begins his essay with a nod to the importance of mezcal as an agent of altered consciousness in Malcolm Lowry's 1947 Under the Volcano--as you'll recall, a novel that's the source of the epigraph to The Savage Detectives.  A short version of the rest of the professor's essay can be broken down as follows.  Zavala maintains that the Amadeo Salvatierra interview thread that runs throughout the middle portion of Bolaño's novel can be read as a "reescritura" ["rewriting"] of Plato's Symposium (203), with Arturo Belano and Ulisses Lima playing the part of the Los Suicidas mezcal-drinking acolytes who seek to situate Cesárea Tinajero's visual poem "Sión" within a specific context in Mexican avant-gardism and literary history.  The two young poets' characterization of the poem as both "una broma" ["a joke"] and as "algo muy serio" ["something very serious"], in combination with the visceral realists' identification with radical predecessors los estridentistas ["the Stridentists"], leads Zavala to claim that Bolaño is presenting a two-pronged critique of Mexican ideas about modernity here: on the one hand, the novelist is affirming the self-marginalizing nature of visceral realism and, by extension, its real-life double Infrarrealism; on the other, he's satirizing Octavio Paz' vision of modernity as mapped out by Paz in many essays contemporaneous with the mid-1970s setting of the novel.  A conclusion is then arrived at that "la radicalidad de los dos polos elegidos" ["the radical nature of the two chosen poles"], i.e. the distance between a joke and something very serious, will turn out to be "cruciales en la estructura de la novela y aún para el proyecto literario de Bolaño en general" ["crucial in the structure of the novel and even for Bolaño's literary project in general"] (207).  OK, so what does this all mean for the more or less casual reader of the novel?  For me, one of the exciting things to take away from Zavala's close reading is the confirmation that there's a lot more going on in The Savage Detectives than meets the eye for those that are interested in a possible reread of it.  For example, even a moderately better understanding of the literary turf wars between estridentistas and contemporáneos in 1920s and 1930s Mexico will shed light on how the late-'90s Bolaño regarded himself in relation to a younger generation of post-Boom peers like the mid-'90s "Crack" group in Mexico (I'll have to sidestep a summary of Zavala's explanation of this for now as it's a bit too complex for me to reduce in any reasonable amount of time).  Even more importantly, Zavala provides what for me is a fascinating interpretation of the cryptic scene at the end of the Savage Detectives' middle section where Amadeo turns out the lights on his two young visitors--one of whom has been making oracular-like pronouncements while seemingly asleep.  To help refresh your memory, right before the end of his testimony, Amadeo asks his visitors about their quest: "Muchachos, ¿vale la pena?, ¿vale la pena?, ¿de verdad, vale la pena?" ["Boys, is it worth it?  Is it worth it?  Is it really worth it?"].  To which the one who's asleep famously responds: "Simonel" (554).  Zavala explains this "simonel" as slang for yes and no, "afirmación y negación" ["affirmation and negation"], presenting it as yet another allusion to the end of the Symposium where Socrates tries to convince the comic playwright Aristophanes and the tragic poet Agathon "de que la comedia y la tragedia deben ser obra del mismo escritor, síntesis de ambos géneros" ["that comedy and tragedy ought to be the work of the same writer, a synthesis of both genres"] (216).  He then adds, "En una escena significativa de Los detectives salvajes, uno de los personajes llega a la misma conclusión que Sócrates y afirma: 'Todo lo que empieza como comedia acaba como tragedia'" ["In a significant scene in The Savage Detectives, one of the characters arrives at the same conclusion as Socrates and affirms: 'Everything that begins as comedy ends as tragedy'"] (Ibid.), before comparing Socrates' exit in the Symposium with Amadeo's in The Savage Detectives.  Suffice it to say that this comparison of the putting of the four writers to bed, Zavala's ensuing comment about the "bipolaridad lúdica" ["playful bipolarism"] of Belano and Lima as exegetes (Ibid.), and the way that Bolaño chose to rewrite a text from Plato as a commentary on Mexican modernity wouldn't have occurred to me without outside help.  Gracias, profe, gracias.

Zavala, Oswaldo.  "La última ronda de la modernidad: Los detectives salvajes y el mezcal 'Los Suicidas'."  In Felipe A. Ríos Baeza, ed. Roberto Bolaño: Ruptura y violencia en la literatura finisecular (Mexico City: Ediciones Eón, 2010), 201-218.

miércoles, 8 de febrero de 2012


Kuroneko [Yabu no naka no kuroneko] (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2011)
Directed by Kaneto Shindo
Japan, 1968
In Japanese with English subtitles

Although I'm probably not the best judge of ghost stories ever, I don't think I'm really going out on a limb by saying that Kuroneko [a/k/a Black Cat], a/k/a "a vintage Japanese ghost film not named Ugetsu," is both ridiculous and stylish at one and the same time.  In any event, it's easily the coolest looking movie I've seen in quite a while thanks to the collaboration between director Kaneto Shindo and cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda.  Set near the Rashomon Gate in Kyoto in the Sengoku period, when roving bands of samurai terrorized the land, and shot in an exquisite black and white that reminds me a little bit of Dreyer's spectral Vampyr, the film follows the supernatural transformation of two peasant rape-and-murder victims who come back to life as black cats after death to take their revenge on samurai everywhere.  When the man who's the husband of the younger "catwoman" and the son of the older one returns after a three-year absence and seems to recognize the spirits of his missing loved ones, his newfound samurai status seriously complicates the longed-for family reunion--first, because he's been assigned to kill the samurai-killers or be killed himself; second, because they in turn have sworn a vow to feast on samurai blood until all samurai are dead; and third, because the brave Gintoki doesn't know whether the two specters are just ghosts or demons.  Even though the dialogue boasts its fair share of howlers and I didn't find the film's alleged feminist overtones quite as provocative as others seem to have done, Kuroneko's visual style is so artful and striking in composition that it more than makes up for its creaky narrative.  For example, multiple shots of people traveling through a bamboo grove at night, all the fog-shrouded scenes where humans and shapeshifters do battle, and--perhaps my favorite individual freezeframe candidate of all--the stunning image of a lone rider racing on horseback in front of a blazing, nearly full-screen, golden sun are all just awesome to behold.  Surrealistic, too: I mean, hey, what's that woman doing with a cat arm in her mouth?!?  (The Criterion Collection)

 Ghost or demon?

Kuroneko, watched in a spectacular Blu-Ray transfer from Criterion, is the first of what I hope will be at least two February picks for Caroline's World Cinema Series and my own Foreign Film Festival.  See other February movie reviews here.

lunes, 6 de febrero de 2012

Réquiem por un campesino español

Réquiem por un campesino español (Austral, 2010)
por Ramón J. Sender
Estados Unidos, 1960

Leer a Réquiem por un campesino español inmediatamente después de haber leído Los detectives salvajes probablemente no era la cosa la más inteligente que jamás pudiera haber hecho.  Un buen libro pero indudablemente de estilo antiguo, esta conocida novela corta --escrita en exilio después de una fuga desde la España de Franco-- se trata de un par de horas en la vida de Mosén Millán, el cura de un pueblo aragonés, como él prepara ofrecer una misa de réquiem en honor del aniversario de la muerte de un tal Paco el del Molino y piensa en la culpabilidad que tiene por el asesinato de Paco por los nacionalistas al comienzo de la guerra civil. Como con Bodas de sangre de Lorca, ambos el pro y el contra de Réquiem tiene que ver con la manera en cual la novela se parece a una obra de tragedia.  Entre los éxitos, hay que señalar que hay un ambiente convincente en cuanto a la inevitabilidad del destino en cuanto a los hechos narrados en escenas retrospectiva dentro las memorias de Mosén Millán.  Entre las debilidades, hay que apuntar que el simbolismo  --como la escena en cual el caballo salvaje de Paco entra en una iglesia un año después de la muerte de su dueño-- parece ser demasiado obvío a veces.  Aunque no entiendo la fama literaria de la novela, una cosa que sí me gustó es cómo el lector puede tener piedad del cura al mismo tiempo que uno reconoce la culpabilidad del personaje en su compotamiento con las fuerzas del mal.  Además, es posible que esta novela es más sútil de lo que parece; estas líneas, por ejemplo, sugieren que debo repensar mi opinión: "El cura le advertió que lo mejor que podía hacer era ir a su casa.  Cuando Dios permite la pobreza y el dolor  --dijo-- es por algo" (96).  (Austral)
Reading Réquiem por un campesino español [Requiem for a Spanish Peasant] right after I finished my reread of The Savage Detectives last week probably wasn't the smartest choice I ever made.  A  decent enough read but a decidedly old-fashioned one at that, this celebrated 1960 novella--a staple on grad reading lists for 20th century Spanish peninsular literature but written by Sender in exile after his flight from Franco's Spain--zooms in on a few hours in the life of the Aragonese country priest Mosén Millán as he prepares a requiem mass in honor of one Paco el del Molino and tries to process the guilt he feels for his part in Paco's murder by nationalist forces soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  Like Lorca's famous play Blood Wedding, both the strengths and weaknesses of Requiem have to do with its over the top tragedic sensibilities.  Among the strengths, there's a convincing air of the inevitability of destiny in the events leading up to Paco's death as replayed by flashback in Mosén Millán's memories.  Among the weaknesses, the symbolism--like the scene where Paco's horse runs wild in a church a year after the Republican hero's death--tends to run toward the obvious.  Although I don't quite get the literary fame of the novella, one of the things about it that I did appreciate is how the reader is likely to feel some compassion for the priest while at the same time still recognizing the complicity of the character with the forces of evil.  Also, it's quite possible that this novel is just more subtle than I'm willing to concede; these two lines, for example, give me pause: "El cura le advertió que lo mejor que podía hacer era ir a su casa.  Cuando Dios permite la pobreza y el dolor  --dijo-- es por algo" ["The priest advised him that the best thing he could do was to go home.  'When God allows poverty and suffering,' he said, 'there's a reason for it.'"] (96).  (Austral)

Ramón J. Sender

viernes, 3 de febrero de 2012

Bolaño + los estridentistas

 Germán List Arzubide, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Manuel Maples Arce, Leopoldo Méndez, and Arqueles Vela, Mexico, 1925.

I never really knew much about the journalistic works I'm about to talk about before making an exciting discovery at the library late last night, but I can now personally attest to the fact that the young Roberto Bolaño produced two super-interesting pieces on los estridentistas [the Stridentists] for the Mexican lit & arts mag Plural in 1976.  Given all the wonderful discussions about The Savage Detectives that have taken place since last weekend's group read of the novel (see my post aquí and/or Rise's post here for links to the various participants' thought-provoking takes on the work), I thought I'd contribute a summary of the two Bolaño articles here as they are fascinating both for the window onto the future novelist's literary sensibilities they display and as possible blueprints for the oral history-like middle section of The Savage Detectives itself.  Fun stuff.
Bolaño's "El estridentismo" ["Stridentism"], for some reason listed as "Los Estridentistas" ["The Stridentists"] in the magazine's table of contents, appears in Plural #61 (October 1976) on pages 48-50.  In terms of its relation to the later writing of The Savage Detectives, it doesn't look like much at first: a one-page illustration with the beginning of the MANIFIESTO ESTRIDENTISTA, a second page by Bolaño discussing the movement and its origins in the era of the Mexican Revolution, and a third page dedicated to the conclusion of the Stridentist Manifesto.  However, even a cursory look at the 23-year old Bolaño's text reveals some striking similarities to The Savage Detectives' preoccupation with the French and the Mexican avant-garde.  "Yo no pienso, yo muerdo" ["I don't think, I bite"], it begins.  "Para Alain Jouffroy, el artista de vanguardia es el primero en arriesgarse, el primero en tirarse al agua...  Para Alain Jouffroy, y en esto se toca con los situacionistas, el artista de vanguardia es el que, por sobre todo, subvierte la cotidianidad, transformando y transformándose" ["For Alain Jouffroy, the avant-garde artist is the first to expose himself to danger, the first to throw himself into the water...  For Alain Jouffroy, and in this he's connected to the Situationists, the avant-garde artist is the one who, above all else, subverts the day to day, transforming it and transforming himself"] (49, ellipses added).  From this starting point in the just-post student protest present, Bolaño moves back in time to look at the "very heroic spirit" necessary to create a new poetry in the Mexico of 1921-1928, the fictional Cesárea Tinajero's heyday.  Singling out Maples Arce's Andamios Interiores [Interior Scaffolding] and Poemas Interdictos [Banned Poems], List Arzubide's Esquina [Corner], and Luis Quintanilla's Avión [Plane] as "dancing stars" for their ability to help readers "comenzar a ver de una manera diferente la tradición de la poesía mexicana" ["to begin to see the tradition of Mexican poetry in a new light"], he then concludes: "Los estridentistas no pudieron sostener esas barricadas ácidas de la nueva poesía, pero nos enseñaron más de una cosa sobre los adoquines" ["The Stridentists weren't able to maintain those acid barricades of the new poetry, but they showed us more than a thing or two about the building blocks"] (Ibid.).  After a republication of the humorous 1923 Stridentist Manifesto that follows ("Ser estridentista es ser hombre.  Sólo los eunucos no estarán con nosotros.  Apagaremos el sol de un sombrerazo" ["Being a stridentist is being a man.  Only the eunuchs won't be with us.  We'll turn out the lights on the sun with a big giant blow from our sombreros"]) (50), a note at the end of the piece declares that interviews with original Stridentists Arqueles Vela, Manuel Maples Arce, and Germán List Arzubide (all mentioned by name in The Savage Detectives) will follow in the next edition of Plural. For those who didn't want to wait, though, a round of Richard Brautigan poems translated into Spanish by Mario Santiago (Bolaño's friend and the model for Ulises Lima) could be found on the next few pages.
The promised interviews with the three now-elderly writers appear on pages 48-60 of Plural #62 (November 1976) under the title "Tres estridentistas en 1976" ["Three Stridentists in 1976"].  Full-page contemporary photos of each of the subjects accompany the work, which is broken down into three separate interviews with a short introduction for each segment penned by Bolaño.  The opening intro could almost be a dress rehearsal for a description from The Part about Fate from 2666:  "Si Maples Arce a veces me recuerda físicamente a Floyd Paterson y List Arzubide a Sonny Liston, Arqueles da la impresión de un Kid Azteca posando demasiado, demasiado sereno en un rincón eléctrico del ring" ["If Maples Arce sometimes physically reminds me of Floyd Patterson and List Arzubides of Sonny Liston, Arqueles gives the impression of a Kid Azteca posing far, far too serenely in an electric corner of the ring"] (49).  That being said, if one were merely to remove the mini-introductions and the interviewers' questions from the text (NB: as in the 1998 novel, the flesh and blood interviewer sports company at times!), it wouldn't take any great leap of the imagination to see these testimonies as kindred spirits to the "interview fragments" found in The Savage Detectives some twenty years later.  Here, for example, is a Quim Font-style half-crackpot pronouncement from Arqueles Vela (1899-1978) on the subject of his 1922 novella, La Señorita Etcétera [Señorita Etc.]: "Quiere decir que yo, sin conocer todas las renovaciones que hacía el gran creador de Ulises, y guardando las desproporciones repito, porque es un monstruo el Ulises de Joyce, y mi novela es un microbio, es el principio de lo que puede ser un animal antediluviano y antidiluviano, de antes del diluvio y en contra del diluvio..." ["By which I mean to say that, without knowing about all the transformations that the great creator of Ulysses was realizing, and--I repeat--aware of the distance between what Joyce and I achieved, because Joyce's Ulysses is a monster and my novel is a microbe, it's the beginning of what might be an antediluvian and antidiluvian animal, that is before the flood and against the flood..."] (50).  Did I say Quim Font?  Maybe the mezcal Los Suicidas-loving Amadeo Salvatierra character might be more like it; at the very least, it's interesting to note that the Spanish language version of Wikipedia lists Vela's full name as Arqueles Vela Salvatierra, which is quite a coincidence if nothing else.  Stridentist founding father Manuel Maples Arce (1898-1981) is the next in line to be interviewed, and here's where the connections between Bolaño's 1970s journalistic work and his 1990s fiction are at their most intertextually juicy.  As you'll recall, one "Manuel Maples Arce" has a speaking role in the oral history section of The Savage Detectives where he subjects himself to an interview by questionnaire but shuns being recorded by the four visceral realists in attendance because he claims that tape recorders bother him the same way that mirrors bothered Borges.  The foul-mouthed Barbara Patterson curses Maples Arce to hell and back in the following monologue fragment, calling him "Mr. Great Poet of the Pleistocene" in one of her milder sarcastic moments (178, in the Spanish edition).  In the Plural interview, the real Stridentist sounds remarkably like what you'd expect based on his fictional double--only nicer and totally undeserving of the Patterson scorn! Bolaño, calmly explaining the set-up to the interview: "Lo que aquí aparece son sus respuestas a un cuestionario que redactamos en su casa, ante su negativa de que pusiéramos a funcionar nuestra flamante  grabadora" ["What appears here are his answers to a questionnaire that we drew up in his house when faced with his refusal to let us turn on our brand-new tape recorder"] (54).  The fictionalized Maples Arce from The Savage Detectives: "Las preguntas típicas de un joven entusiasta e ignorante" ["The typical questions of an enthusiastic and ignorant young man"] (177).  The Savage Detectives' Barbara Patterson, raging that she noticed Maples Arce's "bad faith" from the outset: "Y pasó lo que pasa siempre.  Borges.  John Dos Passos.  Un vómito como al descuido empapando el pelo de Bárbara Patterson" ["And what happened is what always happens.  Borges.  John Dos Passos.  Nonchalantly throwing up all over Barbara Patterson's hair"] (Ibid.)  Bolaño in the Plural intro: "Hicimos la verdadera entrevista bebiendo un café turco que nos invitó, escuchándolo contar anécdotas bellísimas; mirando sus cuadros" ["We did the real interview drinking Turkish coffee that he offered to us, listening to him tell the most beautiful anecdotes, looking at his paintings"] (54).  Although the real life Maples Arce does mention Borges a couple of times, the only possible hint of what could have riled up a Barbara Patterson type is the Bolaño-like namedropping the gracious host indulges in when asked a question about Stridentism's ties with Ultraism and other Spanish-American avant-garde movements: "Con todas las publicaciones de alguna significación en América teníamos canje.  Envíabamos y recibíamos libros de todas partes, a veces con expresiones significativas.  Recuerdos de esta fraternidad tengo con Alberto Hidalgo, Jorge Luis Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Angel Cruchaga Santa María, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Jorge Carrerra Andrade, Salvador Reyes, César Vallejo, Mariano Brull, Salomón de la Selva, Eugenio Florit, Jorge Zalamea, José María González de Mendoza, etcétera" ["We had an exchange system with all the significant publications in the Americas.  We used to send and receive books from everywhere, sometimes with significant dedications.  I have memories of this brotherhood with Alberto Hidalgo, Jorge Luis Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Angel Cruchaga Santa María, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Jorge Carrerra Andrade, Salvador Reyes, César Vallejo, Mariano Brull, Salomón de la Selva, Eugenio Florit, Jorge Zalamea, José María González de Mendoza, etc."] (56).  I realize I probably didn't need to type all those names out twice, but it has recently come to my attention that almost all readers of The Savage Detectives really love a good list of authors!  The third Stridentist interviewed by Bolaño in 1976 was Germán List Arzubide (1898-1998), a real revolutionary considering he's said to have fought alongside Emiliano Zapata.  List Arzubide spends a good chunk of his interview time talking about the street fights and the altercations that Stridentist manifestos provoked among the establishment literati, but in one of my favorite quotes by him the then seventy-something professional agitator says something that could have come straight out of Arturo Belano's or Ulises Lima's mouth: "Habría que ver lo que se dijo aquí sobre el estridentismo," he begins.  "Dos historias de la literatura mexicana existen, la de Jiménez Rueda y este otro, no me acuerdo su nombre, en donde se va una incomprensión absoluta"  ["You'd have to see what was said about Stridentism here.  Two histories of Mexican literature exist, Jiménez Rueda's version and this other guy's, I can't remember his name, in which there's a complete lack of understanding"].  "No puede entrarles de ninguna manera el movimiento estridentista.  Para ellos es una gritería de muchachos que se divierten molestando a la gente.  No pudieron entender lo que es en realidad la ansia de crear una vida nueva dentro de la poesía.  Se necesita tener un espíritu heroico para, por encima de todas esas cosas; seguir trabajando" ["The Stridentist movement couldn't enter into the history books in any way, shape or form.  For them it's just a commotion among guys who get off provoking people.  They couldn't possibly understand what in reality is the anxiety to create a new life within poetry.  You need to have a heroic spirit, above and beyond all these things, just to keep on working"] (60).

Roberto Bolaño

miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2012

February Foreign Film Festival and World Cinema Series Links

Wong Kar-wai

Thanks to everybody who's already contributed movie reviews to either my Foreign Film Festival or Caroline's World Cinema Series.  I'll try to finish updating January's list sometime this weekend since I've already fallen behind, but links to posts about foreign films watched or written about in February will be collected at this post here throughout the month.  Just leave a comment below or at Caroline's blog if you'd like to let us know about a film review of yours.  Cheers!

February Foreign Film Reviews