One of the more curious things I've seen Borges taken to task for over the years is the idea that his oeuvre is so lacking in sex and romance that it might almost be classified as asexual as a whole. Fortunately for Borges and his admirers, in the Argentinean Literature of Doom: Año 2 year of 1983, Fogwill came to JLB's rescue so to speak with this graphic sex-ridden, scatological, and drug use-filled parody of Borges' "El aleph" in which a vibrator referred to as "el concejal" ["the Town Councillor"] plays an all too prominent role. Shall I continue? Although I'm not sure how many other people could have even dreamed up a Borges meets Osvaldo Lamborghini hallucination of this nature, Fogwill mostly pulls it off with a pair of nifty Borgesian anagrams (Help a él = "El aleph," of course, and the narrator's suicide muse Vera Ortiz Beti is a not so subtle re-scrambling of "The Aleph"'s Beatriz Viterbo sans the second "B" for Borges, who's never mentioned by name in the novella), a frisky sense of humor, a series of Buenos Aires in-jokes, and a surprisingly tender ending given all the bodily fluid excesses and occasional sadomasochism that precede it. Those sex scenes are something else, though, and I don't mean that in a good way! Thankfully, the humor is both verbal and visual: in one instance, the uncle of the narrator's writer friend Laiseca calls his nephew a great writer before quickly adding: "--... Lo que quiere decir --agregó-- que será un perfecto fracasado. ¡Lástima que la prima no viva para apreciar el éxito de su fracaso...!" ["'Which means,' he added, 'that he'll be a perfect failure. What a shame that his aunt isn't alive to witness the success of his failure!'"] (246); in another, the narrator notes how the photos of Evita and Perón on the wall of Laiseca's bedroom are accompanied by others of Mao, Mussolini, Hitler and Oliveira Salazar (249). The in-jokes, too, are both literary and political. Adolfo B. Laiseca, the narrator's "perfect failure" of an acquaintance, bears a name that pays homage to both Borges' well-known writer friend Adolfo Bioy Casares and Fogwill's lesser-known writer friend Alberto Laiseca, for example, and there's another reference to an "inédito de Leonor Acevedo, que atesora Piglia" ["an unpublished work by Leonor Acevedo which Piglia possesses"] (261) which would seem to be an approving wink at the stunt that Ricardo Piglia pulled off in 1975 when he published an original novella titled Homenaje a Roberto Arlt [Homage to Roberto Arlt] and passed it off as the critical edition of a lost Arlt manuscript that had just been discovered. It may help you appreciate Fogwill's literary joke more if you realize that his Arlt, Leonor Acevedo, just happens to share the same maiden name as Borges' mother; similarly, it may help you appreciate Fogwill's edgy political game more if you realize that the name of Vera Ortiz Beti's friend, Idische Zeitung, was the name of a Buenos Aires Yiddish weekly that was once closed down by the military government in the 1940s and that another minor character is an arms importer who likes to play cards at the nearby naval base. Considering that Fogwill's previous claims to fame for me were the writing of "Muchacha punk" (one of my all-time favorite short stories), the penning of Los pichiciegos (one of my all-time favorite Spanish-language novels), and the nicknaming of García Márquez as García Marketing (one of my all-time favorite dismissive nicknames), I'd have to say that even though Help a él doesn't quite resonate for me at those same sorts of levels, it's still quite the one-stop shopping experience for anyone desiring a late Dirty War era read that insults "turistas argentinoides" ["Argentinoid tourists"] playing Beatles songs in Uruguay (242) and riffs on the concepts of Buenos Aires as a "puerta falsa en el tiempo" ["trap door in time"] (Ibid.)) and the way that the dead live on in "las memorias y las fabulaciones de los vivos" ["the memories and the inventions of the living"] (284) all while--hmm, how can I put this delicately?--sexing Borges' cherry.
Help a él appears on pages 235-284 of the Fogwill anthology Cuentos completos (Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 2009). Naturally, this novella (and hardly anything else for that matter by the mighty Fogwill [1941-2010]) isn't yet available in English translation.
Do you know if Borges saw this novella? JLB was still alive and living in Geneva in 83, wasn't he?ResponderBorrar
Scott, great question! Not sure of the answer offhand (my guess would be that Borges at least knew about the novella), but of the many Fogwill/Borges anecdotes I've come across here and there over the years, two of my favorites are Borges' supposed comment that Fogwill knew more about cars and cigarettes than any other writer he knew (a Borgesian insult!) and Fogwill's comment that mutual friends of the two writers would sometimes read Fogwill's short stories to Borges while skipping over all the racy parts. No idea if the stories are true, of course, but they amuse me anyway!ResponderBorrar
This is great public service! I never heard of this Fogwill guy before, but now I'm hellbent on reading him. Borges parodies, yay!ResponderBorrar
Miguel, Fogwill's one of Argentinean literature's best dirty little secrets: quite the man according to his many fans but always in trouble with the non-fans because of his nose for controversy and his polemicist tendencies. Apparently he was quite the character in real life.Borrar
That's good stuff. I like Borges a lot, but sometimes you read interviews with him and wish he'd lighten up a little more, you know?ResponderBorrar
"The Aleph" is a great, weird story. "I saw your face." That's wacky enough without Fogwill's assistance. And to defend JLB, there is at least desire for Beatriz in the story, yes?
For "Help a el," I am imagining a Henry James story as rewritten by William S. Burroughs. I imagine I'm very far off base. But it's still a fun idea.
Borges' interview comments never bothered me in that way that I can remember, Scott, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't alone either--a lot of people didn't like his politics, that's for sure. As far as "Aleph" rewrites, I like your idea of a Henry James/William Burroughs mash-up. Fogwill's rewrite was also interesting to me because it reminded me that the Beatriz Viterbo character in Borges' tale had a lineage going back to Dante's Beatrice--desire, for sure. Speaking of fun ideas, I should prob. mention that Beatriz Viterbo is also the name of a small publishing house in Buenos Aires. They take their fun & games & literature seriously down there!Borrar
I don't know anything about Borges' politics; I just think he should've told more jokes. Writers tend to become very earnest when they talk about writing, though we all know that fiction is an immense toybox. Even Nabokov would become stern when telling you that fiction is a magical box of magical toys.Borrar
I'll have to read "The Aleph" again. I remember ideas about infinity and the ability to see everything all at once, which does tie in with Dante (and there's the idea that the Aleph was hidden in a cellar? is that right?).
Someone should get busy translating some stuff into English. Or, yes, I could shift myself to learn another language.
I could stand for an "Aleph" reread myself. I actually last reread it within the past year, but it's so dense with details that it wouldn't hurt to read it again. I understand your point about writers perhaps needing to lighten up during interviews. The political side of things that Borges was criticized for was in not standing up enough against the last military junta, in making favorable comments about Franco, and that sort of thing. I'm not familiar enough with Borges' comments to know how often he said those things, but I understand his political leanings tarnished his otherwise massive personal appeal/popularity for many Argentineans among the youth and the left in particular. I should probably read up on that at some point.Borrar
This is just what I figured Fogwill was like.ResponderBorrar
You, like Fogwill, have a vivid imagination, Tom. Wuthering Expectations is prob. a little less NC-17 than Help a él was, though!Borrar