by Copi [translated from the French by Enrique Vila-Matas]
Copi's wild art terrorist short story "El uruguayo" ["The Uruguayan"; titre original: "L'Uruguayen"; subgenre: cataclysmic comedy] is prob. the closest thing I've yet seen to a blueprint for César Aira at his most out, so it's a good thing that Aira has a 1991 book out on Copi so I can eventually figure out what I mean by that comparison. The tale begins as a letter from a student, conveniently named Copi, to his pedantic ex-teacher and ex-lover in Douce France. Having escaped to the distant city of Montevideo for reasons, "confesémoslo de entrada" ["let's be honest about it up front"], that now escape him (27), the irrepressible young narrator takes advantage of the local color to mix in a succession of attacks on Uruguay and its people and even its language in between the insults he's constantly lobbing at his "beloved" Maestro like so many verbal hand grenades. Given that the outlandish tone of much of the character Copi's insult merriment recalls another Montevidean, namely Le Comte de Lautréamont, you don't need to look at that unhinged photo of the actor and author Copi decked out as Evita above to know that this metamorphosis story disguised as a scornful travelogue is going to end badly for somebody. In point of fact, in the course of becoming canonized for his ability to perform miracles, Copi witnesses the destruction of Montevideo by sand, gnaws on his dead dog's bones to stave off hunger, is present at the aerial bombardment of soldiers on the beach, sleeps with and then falls in love with a corpse, watches the President of the Uruguayan Republic get recruited by the sham Pope of Argentina to work in Argentina's whorehouses--"Se lo vestía de bailarina española y había cola para sodomizarlo" ["He was dressed up as a Spanish ballerina, and there was a line to sodomize him"] (60)--agrees to mutilate himself to provide both a disguise and relics for his canonization, and then spends a somewhat happy night with the Uruguayan president's head stuck between his knees. He also sees thousands of (temporarily) dead Uruguayans resurrected thanks to his labors, but I have no time to go into all the medical details here. A non-Airean highlight: Copi (Raúl Damonte, 1939-1987), who was born in Argentina, spent a good chunk of his childhood in Uruguay, and then relocated to France for good, a perpetual exile it would appear, wrote this as a dedication for "El uruguayo": "Al Uruguay, país donde pasé los años capitales de mi vida, el humilde homenaje de este libro, escrito en francés, pero pensado en uruguayo" ["To Uruguay, country where I spent the capital years of my life, the humble homage of this book, written in French but thought out in Uruguayan"] (27). An Airean highlight: After the disaster in Uruguay, Copi tells the Maestro that he's thinking of giving a sort of post-apocalyptic Christmas present to his dead girlfriend. "Usted me dirá: ¿Cómo se lo va a hacer para saber que es Navidad? Y es ahí donde puedo contestarle: usted no ha entendido nada de mi relato: Navidad llegará cuando yo la decida, y esto es todo" ["You will tell me: 'How are you going to know that it's Christmas?' And that's when I can tell you: you haven't understood anything about my tale--Christmas will arrive when I decide it will, and that's that"] (45). Another non-Airean highlight (52):
Hemos decidido de común acuerdo que mi canonización ha de quedar en secreto (es una idea del presidente) puesto que si los uruguayos vinieran a comprobar mi santidad, automáticamente se creerían dioses (dada la idea que ellos se hacen de mí es casi seguro que cada uno de ellos se creería el díos de mi religión) y esto despertaría entre ellos una rivalidad muy peligrosa puesto que, siendo bastante agresivos de naturaleza, comenzarían a matarse entre ellos sin más, lo que sería poco caritativo por parte de un santo incluso falsificado, como es mi caso. Así pues mi canonización debe quedar anónima, es decir que hay que dar con la manera no sólo de esconderla a los uruguayos sino de hacerles creer que yo soy un uruguayo como ellos.
[We have decided by common agreement that my canonization has to remain a secret (this is the President's idea) given that, if the Uruguayans ever came to verify my saintliness, they would automatically believe themselves to be gods (given that the idea that they have of me is almost certainly that each one of them would believe himself to be the god of my religion) and this would awaken a very dangerous rivalry among them given that, being fairly aggressive by nature, they'd begin killing themselves without any further ado, which would hardly be charitable on the part of a saint, even a falsified one as in my case. So my canonization must remain anonymous, which is to say that not only must it be kept hidden from the Uruguayans but it must be done so in a way that makes them believe that I'm a Uruguayan just like them.]
"El uruguayo," sometimes classed as a novella but to me more like a long short story, appears on pages 27-62 of the Hector Libertella-compiled 11 relatos argentinos del siglo XX (Una antología alternativa), Buenos Aires: Perfil Libros, 1997, alongside these other Argentinean "alternative canon" tales by César Aira, Osvaldo Lamborghini, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Juan Rodolfo Wilcock. Fitting company.