jueves, 17 de diciembre de 2015

Blog, Interrupted

Dear Readers,

Having had a heart attack this past weekend, I've decided to take some time off from the blog until life returns to "normal."  In the meantime, I wanted to wish you all a happy holiday season and a Happy 2016 in advance.  Hope to be back in touch before too long.


Estimados lectores:

Después de haber tenido un ataque cardíaco este fin de semana, he decidido tomar un descanso del blog hasta que la vida vuelve a la normalidad.  Mientras tanto, yo quería desearles felices fiestas y un feliz año nuevo por adelantado.  Espero que sigamos en contacto.



jueves, 10 de diciembre de 2015

La raza de los nerviosos

La raza de los nerviosos (Seix Barral, 2006)
por Vlady Kociancich
La Argentina, 2006

"Pertenecemos a la raza de los nerviosos, que da delincuentes o artistas" (7).  Citando al chiste de Marcel Proust en su prólogo, Vlady Kociancich, vieja amiga de Bioy Casares y Borges y una distinguida autora por derecho propio, empieza con el pie derecho en este sumamente interesante libro de 23 ensayos dedicados a algunos de sus escritores favoritos (por ejemplo, Conrad, Lampedusa, Poe y Sciascia, entre otros).  De muchos comentarios memorables, me gustaría compartir tres sobre Dostoyevski ("En la literatura, como en las religiones, no es el Paraíso sino el Infierno el que tiene los mejores cronistas" [de Dostoyevski y sus demonios, 37]), Italo Svevo ("¿Hay algo más repetido en la historia de la literatura que la indiferencia de los contemporáneos?" [de La historia del buen viejo y la hermosa muchacha, de Svevo, 77]), y el género del ensayo ("En la obra de un narrador, el ensayo es como un cuarto en la intimidad de su casa, ahí donde sólo entran los amigos" [del pasaje Robert Louis Stevenson, ensayista de Sobre el ensayo, 100]) para dar un ejemplo del sabor del libro.  Sin lugar a dudas, hay una variedad de anécdotas memorables también.  Ésta, sobre una charla entre Kociancich y Borges, es un buen ejemplo del cariño que tiene la ensayista por uno de sus escritores argentinos favoritos:  "Cuando Borges decía que prefería ser reconocido como un buen lector antes que como un buen escritor, estaba definiendo su personalidad de escritor, no haciendo gala de modestia.  Un día me preguntó si recordaba la primera novela que yo había leído, porque él había empezado leyendo cuentos.  'La novela entró tarde en mi vida', dijo borgeanamente".  La respuesta a la pregunta de Borges, sigue Kociancich, era Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer, de Mark Twain.  "--Pero no --dijo Borges suspirando--.  Usted leyó Huckleberry FinnTom Sawyer es muy floja".  Un momento más tarde, "compadeciéndome por haber leído la novela equivocada", Borges añade "--Qué pena....  Huckleberry Finn es mucho mejor" (de La lectura, 162).  En resumen, una lectura encantadora.

Vlady Kociancich

martes, 1 de diciembre de 2015

The 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom: November Links

JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri

Frances, Nonsuch Book
(on The Stranger by Albert Camus and The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud)

Pat, South of Paris Books
The Angels Die by Yasmina Khadra

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Les chercheurs d'os by Tahar Djaout
Thanks to Amateur Reader (Tom), Frances, JacquiWine, Miguel, Pat, and Scott for keeping me company during the first two months of the 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom.  Hope y'all enjoy this second round of links for the event.  For a preview of December's Doom finale, here's a "typical" quote from one of my current reads, the nonfiction Journal 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000) penned by Algerian Mouloud Feraoun:

At Béni-Douala on the slope where the market is held behind tangles of twisted barbed wire, soldiers, in shorts blackened by dust and sun, busy themselves around jeeps, trucks, and tanks.  It seems that the cannons and machine guns pointed at the sky are there to convince you that you are not lost, that you are with fine people who know how to live and proclaim the benefits of a motorized and armored civilization.

This quote, translated by Mary Ellen Wolf and Claude Fouillade and found on page 16, comes from Feraoun's November 13, 1955 journal entry.  In a particularly cruel twist of fate, Feraoun was murdered by a right-wing death squad just three days before the cease fire that ended the war.

lunes, 30 de noviembre de 2015

Old Masters

Old Masters [Alte Meister] (The University of Chicago Press, 1992)
by Thomas Bernhard [translated from the German by Ewald Osers]
Austria, 1985

For whatever reason--poor timing, a bad attitude, a fatal case of been there, done that ism mayhaps, who knows?--the insult machine known as Old Masters really wasn't doing it for me until about a third of the way into the indignities.  After that, I kind of wondered WTF I possibly could have been disappointed about early on.  The concluding salvo in Bernhard's bilious, ranting arts trilogy, Old Masters slyly links an art criticism-laced conversation about Tintoretto's The White-Bearded Man held by two old friends at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum with a series of Karl Kraus-like mudballs lobbed at Vienna's true Kultur: e.g. "Viennese lavatories are altogether a scandal, even in the lower Balkans you will not find a lavatory which is quite so neglected" (80).  While the final pages of the work take an unexpectedly-warm-for-Bernhard detour to touch on the importance of love and friendship in this, "our age of chaos and kitsch" (154), insult meister need not be deterred from reading this uplifting Austrian Jonathan Livingston Seagull because the abuse heaped on targets as diverse as the vagaries of the Austrian justice system ("not just arbitrariness but a perfidious machine for grinding human beings" [109]), sculptors ("those brutal common proletarian men of violence with their chisels" [110]), and the common Austrian himself  ("a common Nazi or a stupid Catholic" [122]) proves that Bernhard's defamation ammo is of the same high caliber as usual.  Consumed, with the child-like delight one usually associates with the consumption of the humble ice cream cone, in honor of the German Literature Month V festivities perpetrated by Caroline of Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life.

Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989)

miércoles, 25 de noviembre de 2015

Les chercheurs d'os

Les chercheurs d'os (Éditions du Seuil, 1984)
by Tahar Djaout
Algeria, 1984

Tahar Djaout was only 30 at the time of the publication of Les chercheurs d'os [The Bone Collectors, unavailable in English] and all of 39 the year he was assassinated by Islamist extremists.  While this depressing biographical note certainly colored my reading of the novel, it'd be a mistake to attribute the novel's emotional power to any sentimentality on Djaout's part: Les chercheurs d'os is a wrenching affair but also a low-key one that's understatedly told.  To help explain the significance of the title, I should probably begin by mentioning that the narrator of the work is a young teenage boy who sets out with a distant relative, Rabah Ouali, in search of the remains of the older brother who had perished three years earlier fighting "l'armée d'occupation" ["the army of occupation"] (140) during Algeria's war of independence against the French.  The ensuing travelogue gives the boy a chance to comment on all of the new sights he's taking in upon leaving his Kabylie village for the first time and gives Djaout a chance to rue the continuing famine and poverty and other aftereffects of the war during the boy's quest for the "os martyrs" ["martyred bones"] of his older brother (44).  Highlights.  As might be expected from a "simple" but convincing first person narration, Djaout is a master of voice and nuance.  At the very least, the older brother's explanation to his younger brother concerning his reasons for joining the resistance--"Le sang est parfois nécessaire" ["(The shedding of) blood is sometimes necessary"] (106)--rings particularly true within the confines of a fictive space which also muses on French military abuses in an evenhanded and non-partisan way.  In one of the more memorable scenes from the novel, for example, Rabah Ouali tells the young narrator about his discovery of a dropped or discarded letter from a father in mainland France which had been sent to the army commander occupying the main characters' village.  The gist of the letter?  The father warns the son not to bring shame upon his "famille très respectable" ["very respectable family"] by perpetrating cruelties on the very people whose country he was occupying so "arbitrairement" ["arbitrarily"]--a perspective which surprises  Rabah Ouali because he never knew "des étrangers" ["outsiders"] existed who shared this view of their land (41).  Great anecdote.  While not a highlight per se, I was also very taken by Djaout's restraint and subtlety.  In a novel ostensibly devoted to the search for and repatriation of the "cadavres héroïques" ["heroic cadavers"] (70) of the fallen and in a novel in which man and boy earnestly discuss whether death arrives and whispers "Je suis la mort" ["I am Death"] to its victims (153), I was hardly expecting to be so won over by non-flashy prose that instead trades in the currency of an almost picaresque-like immediacy (sans the jokes, of course).  Djaout was supposedly murdered, by the way, for having "wielded a fearsome pen that could have an effect on Islamic sectors," a cowardly act to be sure but a cowardly act that proves that even cowardly murderers might know a thing or two about literary criticism from time to time.

Tahar Djaout (1954-1993)

martes, 17 de noviembre de 2015

L'homme à l'envers

L'homme à l'envers (J'ai Lu, 2015)
by Fred Vargas
France, 1999

Stupid ending and previsible villain aside, Fred Vargas' L'homme à l'envers [literally Inside-Out Man but Englishized as Seeking Whom He May Devour] was still an otherwise intelligent and entertaining enough page-turner that I wouldn't hesitate to read another of her Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries or to give a try to her so-called Three Evangelists series or even both.  Intelligent and entertaining?  The proof is in the pudding, dude.  For most of the whodunit/"roade-mouvie" (182), Vargas is sufficiently understated and amusing to get away with spinning an audaciously farfetched story in which characters actually debate whether an enormous wolf or an actual werewolf is at all responsible for a series of barbaric wolf attack-like slayings across France.  No mean feat!  Pros: Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is appealingly enigmatic as the intuition- rather than logic-based crime-solving star of the show, and both the Parisian Commissaire and his love interest and even the minor characters are all way more subtly drawn/believable than the narrator Dino in Alberto Moravia's Boredom or the overwrought mother-in-law Fay in Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter (two supposedly "good" books I totally hated and now no longer need to review, thank you very much).  Cons: Although I jotted down a fair amount of new to me French vocab to look up during my time with the novel, I didn't take note of any cool lines to share with you here and my emphasis on characterization above probably should be construed as damning with faint praise.  Bottom line: OK, serviceable prose, not as dumb as most thrillers.  Wait, did I just say a fucking werewolf?!?

Fred Vargas

sábado, 14 de noviembre de 2015

Meursault, contre-enquête

Meursault, contre-enquête (Actes Sud, 2015)
by Kamel Daoud
Algeria, 2013

"Aujord'hui, M'ma est encore vivante" ["Mama is still alive today"] (11) intones the narrator at the outset of Meursault, contre-enquète [The Meursault Investigation] in words that clearly echo but just as clearly subvert the familiar opening lines of Albert Camus' L'étranger.  The subversive narrator of this postcolonial call and response almost three quarters of a century in the making?  Haroun, a now 70-something Algerian who claims to be the brother of "l'Arabe" gunned down on the beach by the French Algerian protagonist of the 1942 best seller that inspired this counter-inquiry into l'affaire Meursault.  So how does what Haroun refers to as "un crime commis dans un livre" ["a crime committed in a book"] (27), a book itself described as a "mensonge sublime" ["sublime lie"] (58), morph into such fascinating intertextual reading matter? To begin with, beyond the expected settling of scores with L'étranger's author on literary accounts--"As-tu vu sa façon d'écrire?" ["Have you seen his style of writing?"], he asks.  "Il semble utiliser l'art du poème pour parler d'un coup de feu!" ["He seems to use the art of the poem to speak of a gunshot!"] (12); for sloppy ethnocentrism--"On le désignait comme l'Arabe" ["He's called the Arab"], Haroun says of his murdered brother Moussa, "même chez les Arabes.  C'est une nationalité, 'Arabe', dis-moi?  Il est-où, ce pays que tous proclament comme leur ventre, leurs entrailles,qui ne trouve nulle part?"  ["even among Arabs.  Tell me, is 'Arab' a nationality?  Where is it, this country which everybody claims as their womb, their heart, but which can't be found anywhere?"] (148); and for the perhaps much greater crime of having become famous for the writing of a book about a murder in which he couldn't even be bothered to mention the name of "l'Arabe" whom he had killed under a blinding sun, Haroun goes off script so to speak and dialogues not just with the author of L'étranger but with Algerian history and memory.  One particularly juicy example of how his rambling monologue intersects with Algerian history and lit in such delightfully messy ways is that Haroun expressly politicizes the situation by mocking Meursault and his kind for never really belonging in or to Algeria in the first place.  "Le meurtre qu'il a commis semble celui d'un amant déçu par une terre qu'il ne peut posséder" ["The murder which he committed resembles that of a lover deceived by a land which he could not possess"], we read.  "Comme il a dû souffrir, le pauvre!  Étre l'enfant d'un lieu qui ne vous a pas donné naissance" ["How he must have suffered, the poor guy!  To be the child of a place which did not give birth to you"] (13).  On that note, this is probably a good time to point out how Haroun's strange gendered topography of both Oran ("cette ville a les jambes ouvertes vers la mer, les cuisses écartées, depuis la baie jusqu'à ses hauteurs, là où se trouve ce jardin exubérant et odorant" ["this city with its legs open to the sea, thighs spread, from the bay to its hills, there where this exuberant and fragant garden is located"]--a garden which he has just compared to a woman's vagina! (22)--and Algiers ("vielle actrice démodée de l'art révolutionnaire" ["an over the hill, old-fashioned actress of the art of revolution"] (62) frames Algeria as a once desirable female fought over by possessors and possessed.  Whatever the character's views on whether this "woman" was really worth fighting over, the salient point is that Haroun--who, to be fair, also admits to loving Oran at night "malgré la prolifération des rats" ["despite the proliferation of rats"] (59) in what seems like a mischievous reference prompted by another Oran-situated novel by the name of La peste--suggests that even though "chasser tous les Meursault" ["hunting all the Meursaults"] (92) was an explicit strategy of Algeria's quest for independence, the anti-intruder violence didn't cease after all the Meursaults were pushed into the sea.  In fact, "La mort, aux premiers jours de l'Indépendance, était aussi gratuite, absurde et inattendu qu'elle avait l'avait été sur une plage ensoleillée de 1942" ["in the days following Independence, death was as gratuitous, absurd and unexpected as it had been on a beach bathed in sunshine in 1942"] (115).  In other words, et voilà!

Kamel Daoud

Thanks to The Modern Novel blog for introducing me to Meursault, contre-enquête just over a year ago in this review here.  Thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book for reading Daoud's novel with me this past week.  Her review can be found here.

jueves, 12 de noviembre de 2015

Total Khéops

Total Khéops (Folio Policier, 2014)
par Jean-Claude Izzo
La France, 1995

Ils étaient de Marseille, marseillais avant d'être arabes.  Avec la même conviction que nos parents.  Comme nous l'étions Ugo, Manu et moi à quinze ans.  Un jour, Ugo avait demandé: << Chez moi, chez Fabio, on parle napolitain.  Chez toi, on parle espagnol.  En classe, on apprend le français.  Mais on est quoi, dans le fond ? >>
- Des Arabes, avait répondu Manu.
Nous avions éclaté de rire.
(Total Khéops, 257)

Il y a vingt ans, Manu, Ugo et Fabio étaient copains d'enfance dans le quartier des immigrés à Marseille.  Manu et Ugo sont devenus escrocs.  Fabio est devenu flic.  Quand Manu et ensuite Ugo sont tués dans un court laps de temps vingt ans après, le seul survivant des trois, Fabio Montale, mène une enquête criminelle pour savoir qui a tué ses vieux amis et se retrouve soudain dans le milieu d'une guerre des gangs entre le crime organisé, des ripoux marseillais, et des truands locaux.  Une rude tâche, bien sûr!  Un très bon policier raconté avec brio et beaucoup d'energie et marqué par une quantité prodigieuse de l'argot, Total Khéops c'est une introduction géniale à l'oeuvre du marseillais Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000).  Stylistiquement, Izzo utilise des phrases courtes à la James Ellroy pour accélér la vélocité de sa prose avec succès.  Il aussi excelle dans l'art de la petite phrase: << Une gueule à la Lee Marvin.  Une gueule de tueur, pas de flic >> (73).  Même si tout le monde sait que le romancier était un créateur d'ambiance par excellence, j'ai été très impresionné par ses descriptions méticuleuses sur la nature de la transformation de Marseille au cours des années: << Le sol était jonché de sacs d'ordures éventrés et il s'élevait des rues une odeur âcre, mélange de pisse, d'humidité et de moisi >>, commence un tel passage.  << Seul grand changement, la rénovation avait gagné le quartier.  Des maisons avaient été démolies.  Les façades des autres étaient repeintes, en ocre et rose, avec des persiennes vertes ou bleues, a l'itallienne >>  (51).  Quant à ses idées, Izzo se donne beaucoup de mal pour faire voir á Marseille dans toute sa complexité.  En d'autres termes, cela explique l'attention de l'écrivain à l'intersection du crime et de la corruption policière et au sujet du racisme, et caetera.  Devant le cadavre d'Ugo, par exemple, Fabio parle de comment << mes collègues avaient joué les cow-boys.  Quand ils tiraient, ils tuaient.  C'était aussi simple.  Des adeptes du général Custer.  Un bon Indien, c'est un Indien mort.  Et à Marseille, des Indiens, il n'y avait que ça, ou presque >> (71).  Autre part, Fabio parle de << la saloperie humaine du monde >> (252) avec le pessimisme d'un flic de longue date et décrit avec force détails comment Marseille est devenue la ville auquelle la fin du monde avance à cause de la haine et de la violence sans contrainte: "Il n'était nul besoin d'armes nucléaires.  Nous nous entre-tuerons avec une savagerie préhistorique >> (282).  Cela dit, dans un roman qui se concentre sur le racisme à la France en général et à Marseille en particulier comme autre exemple de << la connerie humaine >> (98), je suis encore pris pour dépourvu pour rencontrer cette réflexion déchirante sur l'exil dans une scène où un pere avait appris que sa fille avait été violée et tuée: << Mouloud venait de perdre la deuxième femme de sa vie.  L'Algérie n'était plus son pays.  La France venait de le rejeter définitivement.  Maintenant il n'était plus qu'un pauvre Arabe >> (140).  Époustouflant.

Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000)

Total Khéops paraît dans La trilogie Fabio Montale de Jean-Claude Izzo (Paris: Folio Policier, 2014, 43-304).

jueves, 29 de octubre de 2015

Le planétarium

Le planétarium (Folio, 2009)
by Nathalie Sarraute
France, 1959

A propensity for backstabbing their family and friends notwithstanding, callow Parisian lovebirds and interior decoration snobs Alain and Gisèle Guimier outwardly appear to be a most charming young couple--or at least it almost seems that way until entitled eternal student Alain lets his annoying Aunt Berthe know that he'll do just about anything in his power to hound her out of her fashionable Passy apartment so that he and his wife can inhabit it instead (at a critical juncture in this family squabble, in fact, a sly observation is made to the effect that the emotionally cornered Berthe awaits the next attack from the couple "comme le vieux sanglier quand il se retourne et s'assied face à la meute" ["like the old wild boar when it turns around and sits facing the pack of hounds"] (183)...with apologies if I've already revealed too much about the almost plotless plot (pure nouveau roman effrontery!), rest assured that Nathalie Sarraute's amusingly caustic and narratively frisky Le planétarium--looked at one way, a character assassination of an entire generation of shallow contempo Parisians & looked at another way, a proto-Seinfeldian "show about nothing" livened up by breathless interior monologues and a series of unnamed narrators who are sometimes only properly introduced in subsequent chapters' gossipy narrative orbits--is just mad fun, I kid you not...to leave you with a specific example of why ça marche pour moi, one need only contrast this somewhat restrained class-conscious dismissal of Alain Guimier as "un bien gentil petit, insatisfait, inquiet... produit trés pur de sa classe : jeune intellectuel bourgeois marié à une petite fille gâtée comme lui... Écureuils tournant dans leur cage dorée" ["a good-looking, nice young man--unsatisfied, anxious...very pure product of his class: young bourgeois intellectual married to a young girl just as spoiled as he...  Squirrels wheeling back and forth in their golden cage"] (233, ellipsis added at the very end) with the totally unrestrained personal attack on the couple courtesy of Alain's high-strung mother-in-law which likens their hypocrisy and lies with the sort of words which "autrefois révélaient l'hérésie et conduisaient droit au bûcher" ["in former times revealed heresy and led right to the stake"] (43).  Yep, c'est vachement drôle.

Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999)

 With apologies to Obooki, I believe I'm the first member of the Wolves to join him in this now nearly five year old group read.  Let's do it again sometime, shall we?

jueves, 15 de octubre de 2015


L'étranger (Folio, 2014)
by Albert Camus
French Algeria, 1942

"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte.  Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas" ["Mom died today.  Or maybe yesterday, I don't know"] confides the eerily detached narrator at the outset of L'etranger [The Stranger].  "J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile : << Mère décédée.  Enterrement demain.  Sentiments distingués.  >> Cela ne veut rien dire.  C'était peut-être hier" ["I received a telegram from the old people's home: 'Mother deceased.  Burial tomorrow.  Regards.'  That means nothing.  Maybe it was yesterday"] (9). Meursault, the pied noir narrator of Camus' first novel and an enigmatic character who variously comes across as either "slow," mentally ill, evil or some toxic mix of all of the above even if you don't buy his oddly persuasive story that he's extremely debilitated by the blinding power of the Algerian sun, coolly goes on to cop to the crime of having gunned down a man described only as "l'Arabe" ["the Arab"] (92).  In the trial that follows, a guilty verdict is arrived at which seems to stem more from the accused's apparent lack of sorrow over his mother's death and from his lack of remorse over the unnamed homicide victim's death than from the possibly premeditated hate crime slaying of "l'Arabe" itself.  Having not read L'étranger in something like 25 or 30 years but having wanted to reacquaint myself with the novel in anticipation of finally getting around to reading Kamel Daoud's 2013 literary sensation Meursault, contre-enquête [The Meursault Investigation], I was happy to be reminded about how powerful and, well, unsettling Camus' classic is--not least for the primal nature of the spare first person narration; the ethical sleight of hand with which the novelist manages to build some sympathy for the narrator even though Meursault's guilt as a cold-blooded killer is never in doubt; and for the occasional moments like this one in which four bullets gratuitously shot into a dead man's already inert corpse are almost lyrically transformed into a description equating them with being something like "quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur" ["four brief knocks on the door of misfortune"] (93).  In short, the best novel penned by a French Algerian Joe Strummer lookalike that I'm likely to sing the praises of all month.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)

miércoles, 7 de octubre de 2015

Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller

Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller (Folio, 2014)
by Boualem Sansal
Algeria, 2008

As my first selection for the 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom, Boualem Sansal's heralded Le village de l'Allemand ou Le journal des frères Schiller [a multiple prize winner inaccurately rendered into English as The German Mujahid in the U.S. and An Unfinished Business in the UK--way to honor the author's intentions, publisher clowns!] was just about everything I could have hoped for in terms of a novel delivering a full payload of in your face doom.  Put another way, it's maybe not all that surprising that Sansal's novels have been banned in his native Algeria the last 10 years or so.  Told in asynchronous diary entries by Algerian-born German-Algerian brothers Rachel (Rachid-Helmut) and Malrich (Malik-Ulrich) Schiller whose lives as Parisian banlieusards take permanent turns for the worse after they learn that their parents have had their throats slit in a terrorist massacre perpetrated by the GIA in the rural Algerian village of Aïn Deb in 1994, the work is a desperation-ridden affair which takes successive descents into the maelstrom once the older brother learns a secret about his father's past so traumatic that he himself eventually takes his own life over it.  The skeleton in the closet?  The father, a German expat who had become something of a hero during Algeria's war for independence against the French and who died a respected village elder after his conversion to Islam, was once a member of the SS.  To Sansal's credit, the contours of this plot are just a starting point for the novel's examination of evil and of Algerian expat life in France.  Philosophically, one of the most arresting things about Le village de l'Allemand is the manner in which the Schiller brothers bluntly equate Islamist violence with that of the Nazis; in a single conversation with a young friend, for example, Malrich describes Hitler as "l'imam en chef" ["the Imam in chief"] of Nazi Germany and rails against the "Gestapos islamistes" ["Islamist Gestapos"] who have set up shop all across France.  His specific warning?  What happened in World War II could happen again if fundamentalist violence isn't stopped in its tracks--the threat of which is evident from the present day examples of Kabul and Algeria, where "les charniers islamistes ne se comptent plus" ["the Islamist charnel houses are legion"] (147).  Writing wise, the prose lives up to the challenge presented by the downer subject matter with attacks on the Islamist presence in the French banlieues such as the one in which a local religious leader is characterized as "leur führer" ["their Führer"] and his teachings as "les dix commandements du kamikaze" ["The Ten Commandments of the Suicide Bomber"] (93) and conversational riffs on the ubiquity of violence in human affairs--"l'histoire de ce monde" ["the history of this world"] (42)--and, well, ditto--"Ce que je veux dire, c'est que la mort exprime mieux la vérité des choses que la vie" ["What I mean is that death conveys the truth about things better than life"] (159-160).  That being said, another less pessimistic strength of Le village de l'Allemand is that, all the heavy duty stuff notwithstanding, Sansal seems equally at ease describing relatively drama-free characters like tonton [Uncle] Ali and tata [Auntie] Sakina: the adoptive parents of the Schiller brothers who as "des émigrés qui sont restés des émigrés" ["emigrants who remained emigrants"], "vivent en France comme ils avaient vécu en Algérie et comme ils vivraient sur un autre planète" ["live in France as they had lived in Algeria and as they would live on another planet"].  In other words, "braves gens" ["good people"] who don't ask much more of life other than a place to sleep and "de temps en temps des nouvelles du bled" ["from time to time some news from the bled"] (97).  Fascinating stuff.

Boualem Sansal

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2015

The 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom

With the end of the year right around the corner, I thought it might make a fun comp lit experiment to add a non-Río de la Plata-based "Literature of Doom" course to the menu this year alongside the traditional South American Doom fodder--hence the 2015 Argentinean (& Algerian) Literature(s) of Doom in full effect from now until December 31st.  To participate, all you have to do is read and review at least one piece of fiction written by an Argentinean or an Algerian author, read and review at least one nonfiction work on Argentina or Algeria, or watch and review one film that falls under the same general criteria (for this year's anti-festivities, French Algerian writers and filmmakers will be accepted as Algerian writers for qualification purposes on the African side of things).  Naturally, I'll post links to your reviews at the end of each month.  So why Argentina and Algeria and what the hell's all this talk about doom?  Let's start with Argentina.  If you'll pardon me the impertinence of quoting from last year's intro post, "the ALoD was originally inspired by two great posts from Tom of Wuthering Expectations that you can read all about here and here and was at least partly dedicated to testing Roberto Bolaño's thesis that a 'strain of doom' evident in post-Borges Argentinean belles-lettres was due to the noxious influence of one Osvaldo Lamborghini and his art terrorist pals and successors (César Aira, take a bow)."  As far as Algeria goes, suffice it to say that its literature is a natural test case as a potential Literature of Doom co-host country as so much of the little that I know about its high-energy contemporary fiction seems fueled and scarred by the country's '50s/'60s independence movement and/or its own dirty war of the '90s.  Let's read more, shall we?  Failing that, recommendations welcome.  Out.


miércoles, 23 de septiembre de 2015

Le docker noir

Le docker noir (Présence Africaine, 2008)
par Sembène Ousmane
Le Sénégal, 1956

Le docker noir, le premier roman de l'écrivain et réalisateur sénégalais Sembène Ousmane, s'agit d'un livre, << Le dernier voyage du négrier Sirius >>, et du conflit sur la paternité de ce livre qui se termine avec la mort d'une Blanche aux mains d'un Noir.  Etait-ce un meurtre ou etait-ce un accident?  Pendant que Diaw Falla, << le docker noir >> du titre, attend le verdict qui déterminera son destin dans le << pays des toubabs >> (12), Ousmane contourne les clichés du drame judiciare en jugeant une civilisation entière pour les mauvais traitements des ouvriers africains à Marseille par les français.  << Civilisation ou barbarie >>, de quel parti êtes-vous?  À mon avis, Le docker noir a pour le moins trois points forts comme roman.  En premier lieu, la prose de Sembène, bouillant de colère de temps en temps, met au premier plan le problème économique avec audace: << Ces êtres qui sombrent sont des naufragés que l'océan du temps emporte, et qui, pauvres épaves, se cramponnent aux goulots >>, dit un personnage d'Afrique aux Docks à Marseille.  << On ne peut descendre plus bas, il n'est rien de pire >> (136).  Ensuite, le romancier ne recule pas de souligner le racisme comme un patrimoine culturel de l'esclavage pratiqué par les Européens comme dans ce coupure de presse français sur l'accusé sénégalais: << On a l'impression de se trouver devant un être n'ayant jamais subi l'influence de la civilisation >> (27).  En dernier lieu, la complexité du point de vue de Sembène sur les rapports entre les races c'est admirable et ne succombe pas à la Polémique: << Tu m'as pris pour un "Noir" >> Diaw Falla dit à Ginette Tontisane peu avant de la mort de celui-ci.  << Il avait fini par le dire.  Le " Noir ", pour lui, signifiat l'ignorant, la brute, le niais.  C'était plus qu'une lutte entre voleur et volé, deux races s'affrontaient, des siècles de haine se mesuraient >> (192-193).  Enfin, un très bon roman par l'auteur de l'exceptionnel Les bouts de bois de Dieu.  Vif et percutant.

 Sembène Ousmane (1923-2007)

jueves, 27 de agosto de 2015

Spanish Lit Month(s) 2015: 8/8-8/22 Links

With only four more full days left in Spanish Lit Month(s) 2015 and no more "I'm on vacation" excuses cards for me to deal from the stacked deck, your nattily-attired SLM shill/croupier is pleased to distribute a full two weeks' payout of reviews for your reading and gambling pleasure.  Thanks, as always, to the high rollers who kindly submitted the following book (and one film!) review posts.

Chelsea, The Globally Curious
XXY directed by Lucía Puenzo

James B. Chester, James Reads Books
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño

Obooki, Obooki's Obloquy
Canaima by Rómulo Gallegos

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Séamus, Vapour Trails
Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas

Tony, Tony's Reading List
Music and Literature No. 6
(featuring Alejandra Pizarnik)

viernes, 14 de agosto de 2015

Fuera de campo. Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp

Fuera de campo.  Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp (Anagrama, 2006)
by Graciela Speranza
Argentina, 2006

Using the nine months that Marcel Duchamp spent in Argentina over the course of 1918-1919 as her springboard, Universidad de Buenos Aires professor Graciela Speranza has come up with a clutch, cross-disciplinary leap into uncharted waters that's pretty close to a perfect 10 for me on the art history and literary criticism scorecards.  As presumably can be gathered by chapter titles like "César Aira, literatura 'ready-made'" ["César Aira, 'Ready-Made' Literature"] and the fact that the non-Aira subjects include fellow Caravana favorites Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Ricardo Piglia and new to me visual artist Guillermo Kuitca, Fuera de campo.  Literatura y arte argentinos después de Duchamp [Out of Bounds: Argentinean Literature and Art after Duchamp] is an ace, thoroughly compelling study on the way that "el efecto Duchamp" ["the Duchamp effect"] has left its mark on and/or dialogued with an unexpectedly large swath of post-Duchampian Argentinean artistic culture despite Duchamp's 1918 contention that "Buenos Aires no existe" ["Buenos Aires doesn't exist"] (381).  Although Speranza's tome is way too rich to do justice to in a single hurried vacation post, there's no reason we can't take a quick look at a few of the highlights before returning to the volume in more detail later.  "'Eclosiona un arte': Borges conceptual" ["'Hatching an Art': Conceptual Borges"], for example, has some great bits linking Borges' "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ["Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"] to Duchamp's 1919 L.H.O.O.Q. and 1965 L.H.O.O.Q Rasée in which Speranza connects the dots between what she refers to as the "piedra angular de su depurado arte de la reproducción, la falsificación y la copia" ["cornerstone of (Borges') refined art of cloning, falsification and copying"] (91) and Duchamp's shaved facial hair reproduction of his libidinous and mustachioed Mona Lisa and the various ready-made urinals the Frenchman produced over the years.  Moving on to the Borges- and Bioy Casares-penned Crónicas de Bustos Domecq [Chronicles of Bustos Domecq], Speranza makes the point that even though many of the spurious artists that populate the work confuse the notion of original art and copies in ways that are ridiculous and sublime at one and the same time, these "variantes estrafalarias del arte menardiano" ["eccentric variants of Menardian art"] also underscore "la fragilidad cada vez más evidente del concepto de autoridad" ['the ever more evident fragility of the concept of authority"] (119) much like Duchamp was prone to do himself.  Lest anybody fear that a serious academic work of this nature might make for dry reading not befitting a provocateur like Duchamp, I should probably mention that its anecdotal juiciness ought not be underestimated.  In a book in which the "tradicionalmente irreconcilables" ["traditionally irreconcilable"] Argentinean literary traditions of Arlt and Borges are said to intersect in such a way that proves that "nuestra literatura se funda en el plagio, el robo" ["our literature is founded on plagiarism and on robbery"] (265) and a book in which famous nutjob Raymond Roussel seems to make a cameo in every other chapter, one of my favorite stories of all has to do with the "insidioso mapa" ["insidious map"] Manuel Puig sent to Guillermo Cabrera Infante in which some of the heavyweights of the Latin American Boom were "travestidas" ["decked out in drag"] as movie stars from Metro Goldwyn Mayer: Borges as Norma Shearer (Puig: "Oh, tan refinada!!" ["Oh, so refined!!"]), Cortázar as Hedy Lamarr ("Hermosa pero tan gélida y remota" ["Beautiful but so cold and distant"], García Márquez as Liz Taylor ("Hermoso rostro pero piernas tan cortas" ["Beautiful face but such very short legs"]), and Puig himself as Julie Christie ("Su suerte en los asuntos amorosos es la envidia de todas las estrellas de MGM" ["Her good fortune in love affairs is the envy of all MGM's female stars"]) (219).  OK, that's enough for now, but I promise to return to this either later in the month or just in time for the 2015 edition of the Argentinean Literature of Doom.  Feel free to make me keep my word.

Graciela Speranza

domingo, 9 de agosto de 2015

Spanish Lit Month(s) 2015: 8/1-8/8 Links

With Spanish Lit Month 2015 now being extended into August, Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog and I would like to encourage any of you who are still interested in continuing to read along with us to notify us of any Spanish language literature (in the original language or in translation) you post on throughout the end of the month.  On that note, here are the Spanish Lit Month(s) reviews from the first week and a day of August, featuring two more titles from Argentina, another one each from Guatemalan and Mexican authors, and our first submission of the year representing a Nicaraguan writer.  Thanks to all of you for your reading and writing prowess as far as SLM 2015 is concerned!

Nicole, bibliographing
(on The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by César Aira)

Pat, South of Paris Books

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Fogwill, una memoria coral by Patricio Zunini

Séamus, Vapour Trails
The Mulatta & Mister Fly by Miguel Ángel Asturias

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

sábado, 8 de agosto de 2015

Fogwill, una memoria coral

Fogwill, una memoria coral (Mansalva, 2014)
por Patricio Zunini
Argentina, 2014

"Entre marzo y diciembre de dos mil trece", escribe Patricio Zunini, editor del blog de la librería Eterna Cadencia ubicada en Palermo, Buenos Aires, "entrevisté a amigos, escritores, editores y diferentes personas del ambiente cultural que conocieron a Fogwill, con la intención de enhebrar una narración a partir de esos testimonios de primera mano....  El resultado es un texto coral que, sin la pretensión universalista de la biografía ni la ligereza del anecdotario, da cuenta de cómo la memoria colectiva recuerda (construye) a uno de los escritores argentinos más relevantes de los últimos treinta años" (9).  Así empieza este estupendamente divertido libro, una historia oral dedicada a Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill (1941-2010) en que el "cocainómano social" (Daniel Guebel, 22), "rompebolas atómico" (Sergio Bizzio, 47), "dandy malvado" (Daniel Molina, 59), "Google antes de Google" (Silvio Fabrykant, 105) y "psicópata perfecto" (Alan Pauls, 127) cabalga de nuevo (por así decirlo) en las contradictorias memorias y palabras de sus conocidos.  Como con otra obra parecida, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, de Legs McNeil y Gillian McCain (1996), los testimonios jugosos recogidos por Zunini en Fogwill, una memoria coral salvan muchas buenas anécdotas de las ruinas.  Alan Pauls, por ejemplo, habla de la editorial que Fogwill fundó en los tempranos ochenta: "Tierra Baldía fue un proyecto increíble.  Fogwill trataba de poner en práctica técnicas de publicidad y marketing para vender poesía argentina contemporánea, poetas como Perlongher, Lamborghini o él mismo.  Se le había ocurrido vender los libros en sachets: metía cuatro en una bolsa de plástico transparente y los colgaba en los kioscos.  Muy demencial, muy de vanguardia" (24-25).  Y Daniel Molina hace hincapié en cómo Fogwill "se autoconstruyó muy conscientemente como un dandy malvado" con el resultado de que "era una comunista de derecha" y "una especie de nazi comunista" y "un ser oximorónico" a la vez.  ¿Cómo?  "Era muy homofóbico pero vivía rodeado de putos.  ¡Vivía rodeado de putos!  Coqueteaba con ser bisexual o haber tenido algunos affaires con hombres (nunca contó, por lo menos delante mío, alguno específico), pero siempre hablaba desde esa cosa de ejército nazi del sometimiento: hacerse chupar la pija, romperle el culo a alguien.  La cosa romana donde lo que vale es el activo.  Lo más degenerado en el ejèrcito romano era el cunnilingus, que un hombre se rebajara a chupar una concha.  Esta visión romana era un poco la visión sexual de Fogwill. Y al mismo tiempo te editaba a Perlongher, que era muy maricón, muy afeminado.  Me parece que era parte de su dandismo malvado" (59).  A continuación, Luis Chitarroni, Daniel Molina, Martín Kohan y Daniel Guebel versa con otros lados del hinchapelotas profesional en citas que se pueden encontrar en las páginas 21, 37-38, 51, y 63 del libro genial de Zunini.  Fenomenal.
  •  LUIS CHITARRONI.  Quique se presentó al concurso Coca Cola-Sudamericana con el libro más importante y disruptivo del realismo.  En una frecuencia distante está Ema, la cautiva, de César Aira, pero el costumbrismo y el realismo argentino y todas sus rarezas, incluida la literatura fantástica, está en Mis muertos punks.  Después lo llamó Muchacha punk, pero el título de la primera edición era Mis muertos punks, un título más lindo, pero también más hermético, más indescifrable.  Siempre me quedé con ganas de preguntarle por qué le había puesto así.  Es cierto que cuando saca el libro, el punk --por lo menos el punk real de las primeras bandas inglesas-- ya había muerto.  El libro está lleno de guiños y de pulseadas con el jurado; hay muchos cuentos referidos al Grupo Sur y uno de los jurados era Enrique Pezzoni.  Fogwill gana el concurso, pero el libro no se publica  entonces porque les dice: "¿Ustedes se creen que un tipo como yo, con ideas de izquierda, va a publicar con una empresa supranacional como Coca Cola?"  Un gesto muy canchero que le ayuda marketineramente --en el márketing pequeño de esa época-- a imponer su libro.
  • DANIEL MOLINA.  Él era híper noctámbulo por su consumo de drogas; yo nunca consumí cocaína pero también era noctámbulo: me levantaba a las once o doce del mediodía y me acostaba a las cinco de la mañana.  Iba a su casa de Arenales a las doce de la noche  --que es como decirte hoy a las tres de la tarde-- y nos poníamos a tomar el té a las dos de la mañana.  Me ponía arias y óperas, charlábamos, me recitaba poemas y si tenía una duda me decía: "Vamos a llamar al maestro", y le preguntaba versos o traducciones.  Quién era el maestro: César Aira.  Cada vez que hablé con Fogwill de Aira, para él Aira era el maestro.  Para mi generación y la de Fogwill, Aira es nuestro Borges.  Y si Aira es Borges, Fogwill es Sarmiento.  ¿No lo dijo una vez Josefina Ludmer?  Fogwill es Sarmiento porque tiene la impronta maldita híper genial de Sarmiento, de saber todo, mezclar todo, tiene esa cosa performática, tanto en la escritura como en el cuerpo.  Fogwill es Sarmiento.  No es poco.
  • MARTÍN KOHAN.  Mi primer contacto con Fogwill fue telefónico, por una nota que yo tenía que escribir.  No recuerdo sobre qué era, pero se las arregló para decirme que había sacado la cuenta de cuánto había ganado con "La larga risa de todos estos años": hizo una ecuación de cuánto le llevó escribirlo y cuánta plata le había entrado.  Eso era algo que yo sólo había visto con Mike Tyson, que, como noqueaba en el primer round, se podía hacer la cuenta de cuánto había ganado por segundo.  En ese primer contacto asistí a la relación literatura y dinero que él planteaba de un modo brutal.
  • DANIEL GUEBEL.  El último Premio Planeta se lo dieron a Andahazi: ahí tenés una anécdota mucho más simpática.  Dicen el nombre de Andahazi y Fogwill grita: "¡Esto es una vergüenza!  ¡Esto es un escándalo!" Termina la fiesta y me lo cruzo afuera: "Esto es un escándalo, vení Guebel, rompamos un vidrio, hagamos algo".  Le digo: "Quique, tenés hijos, vas a ir preso, para qué mierda vas a romper un vidrio".  "Por autopromoción", me contesta, "por los mismos motivos por lo que hago todo".
 Patricio Zunini

Más Fogwill
Muchacha punk (1979)
Help a él (1983)
Los pichiciegos (1983)

martes, 4 de agosto de 2015

Spanish Lit Month 2015: 7/26-7/31 Links

Barring any unexpected changes to my travel & leisure plans over the next couple of weeks, this late Spanish Lit Month 2015 links round-up bringing everybody up to date on the reviews from the last week of July should be followed by a regularly scheduled one this Sunday intended to bring everybody up to date on reviews from the first eight days of August.  After that, it's anybody's guess because more travels, visiting family (and maybe friends) far away from the soupy confines of New England, and finding a way to eliminate the weak link of oatmeal out of today's otherwise perfect vacation meal plan of chiles rellenos and enchiladas will only leave a limited amount of time for this fatass' blogging in the near future.  In related news, I'm now three book reviews behind on my SLM 2015 posting schedule for July and August and--more importantly--it appears I've just run out of beer in my 24 oz. Corona Extra.  Time to go fix one of those two problems!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

Caroline, Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat

Chelsea, The Globally Curious
Selena Sirena by Mayra Santos-Febres

Frances, Nonsuch Book
A Heart So White by Javier Marías

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos

lizzysiddal, Lizzy's Literary Life
While the Women Are Sleeping by Javier Marías

Maria Behar, MindSpirit Book Journeys

Mee, Bookie Mee
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

Scott, seraillon
Where There's Love, There's Hate by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo

 Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Polaroid by Suso de Toro

Tony, Tony's Reading List
Una vez Argentina by Andrés Neuman

viernes, 31 de julio de 2015

Spanish Lit Month 2015: Excuses, Updates, More Excuses

Due to imminent--and I do mean IMMINENT--travel & leisure plans for your bookish road warrior, the SLM link round-ups for the end of July will appear sometime next week instead.  Sorry if that's a bother.  To make matters worse, my write-up of Adolfo Bioy Casares' La invención de Morel [The Invention of Morel] likely won't appear until late August as it's not one of the four or five books plus a Kindle that made the cut for the trip.  I did enjoy it, though.  Happy reading, let's do lunch! who loves you, baby? etc., etc.

domingo, 26 de julio de 2015

Spanish Lit Month 2015: 7/19-7/25 Links

GOALLLLLLLLLL!  So the good news for those of you who haven't already heard it is that Spanish Lit Month 2015 will be continuing on into extra time fútbol style for the entire month of August.  Yep, one more month to keep postponing those reviews!  Yep, one more month of snarky Spanish Lit Month 2015 link round-ups!  On that note, here's the latest round of SLM reviews, which sees Cuban (Alejo Carpentier) and Guatemalan (Rodrigo Rey Rosa) writers getting onto the scoreboard for the first time this year as well as yet another replay-worthy corner kick from a Catalan hero (Josep Pla).  Woot!

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Reasons of State by Alejo Carpentier

JacquiWine, JacquiWine's Journal
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós

lizzysiddal, Lizzy's Literary Life
Delirium by Laura Restreo

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
Life Embitters by Josep Pla

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
El bautismo by César Aira
Trasfondo by Patricia Ratto

Scott, seraillon
A Heart So White by Javier Marías

Tony, Tony's Reading List
All Souls by Javier Marías

sábado, 25 de julio de 2015


Trasfondo (Adriana Hidalgo editora, 2012)
por Patricia Ratto
Argentina, 2012

Trasfondo, de Patricia Ratto, es una novela breve pero muy emocionante sobre la experiencia de Argentina durante la guerra de Malvinas.  A bordo de un submarino de combate argentino, un tal Ortega cuenta las peripecias de la tripulación; además del hecho de que todo está húmedo, hay problemas con la computadora de control tiro, a veces no se recibe señales en la pantalla de radar, y --probablemente lo peor de todo-- hay una tensión que continúa provocada por la falta de información.  "A veces me parece que alguien en tierra, cuando decide cuestiones como esta de la indumentaria o tantas otras, desde algún escritorio, se dedica a jodernos porque está aburrido, como si todos fuéramos parte de un gran chiste", Ortega explica en algún momento típico (19).  "Hoy no escuchamos radio", añade, "así que no sabemos nada de lo que pasa afuera" (65).  Aunque la prosa de Ratto es convincentemente realista a lo largo de la obra, el ambiente de Trasfondo saca provecha de un vaivén entre la realidad y la irrealidad y la sugerencia que el submarino argentino puede ser una especie de barco fantasma.  Quizás la mejor manera para hacer hincapié en el éxito de esta estrategia narrativa sea lo de poner en contraste la escena donde el submarino lanza dos torpedos destinados a barcos enemigos  --el primer torpedo no funciona y el segundo la pega a una frigata inglesa sin explotar-- con la explicación que el epígrafe de Borges al principio del libro  ("Sólo el que ha muerto es nuestro, sólo es nuestro lo que perdimos") tiene que ver con la manera de narrar los acontecimientos de la obra tanto con el fracaso del país durante una guerra particularmente inútil.  En todo caso, una novela rebuena.

Patricia Ratto

Llaman otra vez a cubrir puestos de combate, la una y media de la madrugada, puta madre, dice Gómez junto a mí mientras se pone de pie y se alisa el overol húmedo y arrugado, ¿qué les pasa a los ingleses estos, no duermen nunca?, se queja mientras se aleja hacia el área de torpedos.  Aunque mis piernas se han vuelto insensibles, me incorporo --no sin cierta torpeza-- y me dirijo a sala de máquinas, ya están allí Soria, Torres y Albaredo, pero igual me quedo, Albaredo sale un rato, Soria y Torres se miran entre sí, uno barbado, el otro lampiño, desde adentro de sus chalecos salvavidas, parecen uno el reflejo del otro producido por un espejo imperfecto.  Albaredo regresa con paso sigiloso, volvió el rumor, explica susurrando; ¿qué rumor?, pregunta Soria también en voz muy baja pasándose la mano derecha por la cabeza; el mismo que se escuchaba antes de que tiráramos el torpedo, le responde Albaredo; pero ¿y entonces?, ¿estamos igual que antes?; no se sabe, pero no hay rumor de hélices así que capaz que es un banco de krill.  Y entonces un recuerdo se me cae encima como una avalancha: una vez, en el Piedrabuena, alguien encendió un reflector en la popa para pescar y el krill se vino hacia la luz, apareció ante la luz como floreciendo de la nada, no se veía, no se ve de diminuto que es, pero al encender el reflector en minutos pasamos a estar en medio de una mancha tan roja y espesa que parecía que lo habían apuñalado al buque y se estaba desangrando, lenta y festivamente, sobre el oscuro mar de esa noche sin luna.
(Trasfondo, 107-108)

martes, 21 de julio de 2015

El bautismo

El bautismo (Grupo Editor Latinoamericano, 1991)
by César Aira
Argentina, 1991

Who knows just what the frick don César Aira's prattling on about for most of this approximately 150-page doorstopper--the representation of reality? literary criticism? Mother Nature and mass extinction?  LOL!--but does it really matter much what the human Cheshire Cat is up to given that his entire career is essentially an extended homage to the unreliable narrator?  I thought not.  In any case, El bautismo [The Baptism, not yet available in English] is ostensibly concerned with depicting two landmark events in bourgeois parish priest turned film critic Máximo's life--the first having to do with the storm-tossed night when he refused to baptize a prematurely born baby because it was so hideous to the eyes and of an undetermined gender that it was worth denying the sacrament to and the second having to do with a night some twenty years later when the now elderly priest realizes that the handsome young man he's been keeping company with during a catastrophic flood is the very same person he'd refused to baptize years and years ago.  Mischievous baptism/flood parallels notwithstanding (the incessant rain of the second night is said to be the cause of "la muerte por inmersión de millones de animalitos" ["the death by immersion of millions of little animals"] with "little animals" naturally including humans such as you and yours truly [83]), non-theological gags constitute the primary sources of humor here as in the free indirect discourse swipe at an infamously uptight American master of the same ("Como Henry James, tendría que dar los más interminables rodeos para evitar hablar del sexo" ["Like Henry James, he'd have to beat around the bush ad nauseam to avoid speaking about sex"]) (64); the several pages dedicated to competing lettered and unlettered interpretations of Campo Argentino [Argentinean Countryside] magazine's comic book feuilleton of what would appear to be a cross-dressing and particularly violent sequel to the gaucho epic Martín Fierro; Máximo's provocative claim that regardless of the intrinsic good or bad value of a movie, "el producto final del cine son los buenos críticos" ["the end product of film is good critics"] (115); and a surrealist sight gag in which the edifice in which the priest and the young man have taken shelter is revealed to be a doll house.  OK, so maybe that bit about good critics being the true end product of film is more provocative than funny.  Still, it's at least somewhat amusing to see where Aira and the priest go with the joke: "La verdadera astucia de un productor de cine es trabajar con muertos, no con vivos" ["The true cleverness of a film producer lies in working with the dead and not the living"], Máximo argues.  "Hay que ponerse del lado de la fatalidad.  Los muertos en la realidad no se mueven ni configuran argumentos interesantes, pero el cine puede crear esa ilusión, y es la que mejor le sale...  Cualquier película, la más trivial, mejora con el sencillo expediente de considerarla una danza de cadáveres" ["Put yourself in Fate's shoes.  The dead in reality neither come up with nor fashion interesting plots, but film can create that illusion and that's how things turn out for the best...  Any movie, no matter how trivial, improves by the simple expedient of considering it as a dance of cadavers"] (115, ellipses added).  WTF?  Word, homey!

 César Aira

Other Aira Works Reviewed on Caravana de recuerdos
Los Fantasmas (1990)
La prueba (1992)
La Vida Nueva (2007)