viernes, 31 de agosto de 2018


by Silvina Ocampo
Argentina, 1959

Alfajores Havanna or Cachafaz?*  Whatever, it's now time for the dessert & coffee portion of Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 at long last!  "Mimoso" ["Affectionate"], a four page-long morsel from "Silvina is a Borges" Ocampo's 1959 La furia which brings unwanted attention to that previously innocent term "animal lover," is the giddily effed-up taste treat in question--a morally dubious tale about a woman who so loves her dog Mimoso that she decides to embalm him after his passing only to eventually arouse the suspicions of her neighbors.  Ocampo's peculiar sense of humor is clearly the dulce de leche filling of our alfajor argentino with the cookie-like descriptions of 1) the pet owner Mercedes--"Con su tejido en la mano esperaba como Penélope, tejiendo, la llegada del perro embalsado" ["With her fabric in hand, she awaited the arrival of the embalmed dog like Penelope, weaving away"]; 2) the now glass-eyed Mimoso himself--"Nunca había parecido de mejor salud...lo único que le faltaba era hablar" ["He had never seemed in better health...the only thing that was lacking was that he couldn't talk"]; 3) and in particular Mercedes' reaction to the new and improved, "bien peinado y lustroso" ["well-groomed and shiny"] post-embalming Mimoso--"Ese perro muerto la acompañaría como la había acompañado el mismo perro vivo, la defendería de los ladrones y de la soledad.  Le acarició la cabeza con la punta de los dedos y cuando creyó que el marido no la miraba, le dio un beso furtivo" ["That dead dog would accompany her just as the same dog had done in life, he'd defend her from thieves and loneliness.  She stroked his head with the tips of her fingers, and when she thought her husband wasn't looking, she gave Mimoso a furtive kiss"]--all leading to uncomfortable laughter.  To help wash this all down, I will avoid all mention of the gross-out ending and will instead propose a lágrima** for all #Spanishandportugueselitmonths readers who are so inclined in honor of one Jorge Luis Borges' almost tearful response to this story: "Borges lo odiaba" ["Borges hated it"], Mariana Enriquez writes in her recent must read Ocampo bio, "siempre le pedía a Silvina que no lo incluyera en sus recopilaciones" ["he would always ask Silvina to leave it out of her anthologies"].  Mmm, alfajores.

*The correct answer, of course, is "both!"
**If curious, please see "A Buenos Aires Coffee Guide (with pictures)" for a handy primer.  Nature of primer: thirst-inducing.

"Mimoso" appears on pages 197-200 of Silvina Ocampo's
Cuentos completos I (Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1999).  Author photo: Sara Facio.

domingo, 26 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/19-8/25 Links

Juan Carlos Onetti

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Older Brother by Daniel Mella

Juliana, the [blank] graden
Ana Cristina César (profile and bibliography)
To confront desire (poems by Ana Cristina César)
Victor Heringer (profile and bibliography)
The first tear opened up that day (on O amor dos homens avulsos by Victor Heringer)
Ricardo Domeneck (profile and bibliography)
May it sting me until it extinguishes me (poems by Ricardo Domeneck)

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
"Felisberto, el 'Naïf'" by Juan Carlos Onetti

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
"The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader" by Jorge Luis Borges

viernes, 24 de agosto de 2018

Felisberto, el "naïf"

"Felisberto, el 'naïf'"
by Juan Carlos Onetti
Spain, 1975

Onetti's book talk--I hesitate to call it criticism--almost always strikes me as hurried but loaded with insight with the caveat that "loaded with insight" sometimes means accompanied by the perfect anecdote.  Here's a good example of one such piece I've been wanting to share for a while. "Felisberto Hernández fue uno de los más importantes escritores de su país" ["Felisberto Hernández was one of the most important writers in his country"], he begins.  "Muy poco conocido en España --según estoy comprobando--.  Esto no debe preocupar, cuanto la ignorancia de su obra es también comprobable en el Uruguay" ["Hardly known in Spain--as I'm finding out.  This needn't concern us insofar as the ignorance of his work is also ascertainable in Uruguay"].  After this set-up, Onetti suggests that "factores políticos" ["political factors"] might have had something to do with his fellow Uruguayan's lack of celebrity because "Felisberto --siempre se le llamó así-- era conservador, hombre de extrema derecha" ["Felisberto--as he was always called--was a conservative, a man of the far right"] taken to arguing out loud about politics in gatherings during World War II and its aftermath. Although Onetti is quick to make clear that it's Felisberto the writer rather than "Felisberto político" ["political Felisberto"] who interests us here, he adds that an anecdote or two which will help us to understand Felisberto better or to reassess him are on the other hand fair game.  Unsurprisingly, this is where things start to get good.  Onetti reveals that he first met Felisberto early on at a time when his countryman was so lacking in confidence about the "pequeños libros" ["little books"] that he'd published that he told Onetti he couldn't even think up new themes to pursue.  "En aquellos tiempos" ["In those days"], Onetti explains, "Felisberto se ganaba la vida golpeando pianos en ciudades o pueblos del interior de la república, acompañando a un recitador de poemas.  Es fácil imaginar sus públicos" ["Felisberto earned a living thumping pianos in the cities and small towns of Uruguay's interior, accompanying a reciter of poems.  It's easy to imagine their audiences"].  Given the musical subject matter of so much of Felisberto's output, Onetti then makes the rather startling claim that he suggested that Felisberto's piano tours through Uruguay's backwaters might make a good source of material, something which the piano man thanked him for but seemed undecided about, as if he weren't sure that Onetti wasn't putting him on or blowing him off.  Fast forwarding a bit, Onetti then recalls his first encounter with Felisberto the writer when, due to a friendship with one of the author's family members, he was able to get his hands on one of Felisberto's hard to find earliest books, 1931's La envenenada: "Digo libro generosamente: había sido impreso en alguno de los agujeros donde Felisberto pulsaba pianos que ya venían desafinados desde su origen.  El papel era el que se usa para la venta de fideos; la impresión, tipográfica, estaba lista para ganar cualquier curso de fe de erratas; el cosido había sido hecho con recortes de alambrado.  Pero el libro, apenas un cuento, me deslumbró" ["I say book generously: it had been printed in one of the holes where Felisberto played pianos that were permanently out of tune.  The paper was the kind that was used to sell pasta in; the printing was fit to win a typo contest; the binding had been stitched with pieces of wire.  But the book, barely a short story, amazed me"].  Why?  "Porque el autor no se parecía a nadie que yo conociera... Y era díficil --e inútil-- encontrar allí lo que llamamos literatura, estilo o técnica" ["Because the author didn't seem like anyone else I knew... And it was difficult--and useless--to find what we'd call literature, style or technique there"].  In much of what follows, Onetti traces his subject's later trajectory in pursuit of the idea that "Felisberto, sabiéndolo o no, perseguía el malentendido llamado fama" ["Felisberto, knowingly or not, was pursuing the misunderstanding called fame"].  Contrasting the quality of 1942's Por los tiempos de Clemente Calling [Around the Time of Clemente Calling] with 1960's La casa inundada [The Flooded House], Onetti casts the latter as a stylistically inferior example of the author's deliberate attempt to "conservar la pureza, la sinceridad de sus primeros libros" ["preserve the purity, the sincerity of his first books"] given the so-called "naïfismo" ["naiveté-ism"] for which he'd become known among a small but vocal circle of friends and admirers.  Onetti ends his appreciation with an unhurried and unexpectedy corrosive critical double whammy first saying that his personal admiration for Felisberto's work on balance still remains strong "pese a los avatares mencionados" ["in spite of the ups and downs mentioned"] and then attributing a couple of mischievous references to Felisberto's late life morbid obesity and string of broken marriages as a "homenaje al malhumor de Sainte-Beuve, que estropeaba cada lunes el apetito de los Goncourt y sostenía que era imposible hacer buena crítica sin conocer la vida íntima de cada víctima" ["homage to the ill humor of Sainte-Beuve, who ruined the Goncourt brothers' appetites each Monday and maintained that it was impossible to give a good review without knowing the private life of each victim"].  Ouch!

Felisberto Hernández (1902-1964, top) & Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994, here pictured in Madrid in 1975 in a photo by Dolly Onetti, bottom)
"Felisberto, el 'naïf'" can be found on pp. 532-535 of Onetti's Obras Completas III.  Cuentos, artículos y miscelánea (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2009).

domingo, 19 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/12-8/18 Links

Agnese, Beyond the Epilogue
Comemadre by Roque Larraquy
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

John, The Modern Novel
Bilbao-New York-Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe
La prueba (The Proof) by César Aira

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Cora Coralina (profile and bibliography)
The mere life of the obscure (poems by Cora Coralina)
Alejandra Pizarnik (profile and bibliography)
Very soon I will send you something, a few birds of fire (on Nueva correspondencia Pizarnik by Alejandra Pizarnik edited by Ivonne Bordelois and Cristina Piña)

Pat, South of Paris Books
The Night of the Singing Ladies by Lídia Jorge

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
La hermana menor.  Un retrato de Silvina Ocampo by Mariana Enriquez

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
Jaime Gil de Biedma's ambiguous poetry (on Jaime Gil de Biedma in the Phillipines: Prose and Poetry/Jaime Gil de Biedman en Filipinas: prosa y poesía)

sábado, 18 de agosto de 2018

La hermana menor. Un retrato de Silvina Ocampo

La hermana menor.  Un retrato de Silvina Ocampo (Anagrama ebook, 2018)
by Mariana Enriquez
Argentina, 2014

An absolutely stupendous profile of Silvina Ocampo--during her lifetime (1903-1993), a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful cipher famous for being the little sister of Victoria Ocampo, the wife of Adolfo Bioy Casares, the close friend of Jorge Luis Borges, and a person whom Mariana Enriquez refers to as  "una de las mujeres más ricas y extravagantes de la Argentina" ["one of the richest and most eccentric women in Argentina"] and "una de las escritoras más talentosas y extrañas de la literatura en español" ["one of the strangest and most talented writers in Spanish-language literature"].  Enriquez, who in an interview just out a few days ago admits that she's more an admirer of Ocampo's than a true fan ["es una escritora a la que admiraba más que ser fan"], still went out and did the fan-like dirty work of interviewing a number of Ocampo's surviving acquaintances--many of whom have since passed away.  She then paired those first-person testimonies with archival selections from the voluminous diaries, memoirs and other biographical material having to do with Ocampo and Bioy Casares that are already out there, resulting in a splendid read.  You want mostly good-natured literary gossip?  Multiple people attest to how the loud joking and outbursts of laughter from Bioy and his pal Borges audible from the next room would prompt Ocampo to ask dinner guests at her Buenos Aires home: "¿De qué se reirán esos dos idiotas?" ["What are those two idiots laughing about?"].  Prefer scandal?  Ocampo's rumored lesbianism or bisexuality and in particular the alleged love affairs between her and Alejandra Pizarnik and even her and Bioy Casares' mother receive some serious attention.  Some well-placed literary criticism more your cup of tea?  Enriquez, discussing the impact of the spoken word on many of the tales from 1959's La furia, notes the artistic advance in which "Silvina Ocampo, a diferencia de Borges y Bioy, y cerca de Cortázar y Manuel Puig, incorporaba a sus cuentos el habla coloquial rioplatense" ["Silvina Ocampo, unlike Borges and Bioy and more like Cortázar and Manuel Puig, incorporated colloquial Río de la Plata speech patterns into her short stories"].  On that note, I'll close by mentioning that La hermana menor also asks whether Ocampo, now a canonical writer, was undeservedly overshadowed by her two more famous male peers in her lifetime.  Her writer friend J.R. Wilcock, a fan of both Ocampo's and a really rabid fan of Borges', gave this answer at one point in time: "Silvina es un Borges, piensa y escribe como un hombre, es uno de los mejores escritores de la Argentina" ["Silvina is a Borges, she thinks and writes like a man, she's one of the best writers in Argentina"].  And Ernesto Schoo, a novelist and newspaper critic acquaintance of Ocampo's and one of the many people interviewed by Enriquez for this work, more politically correctly adds this: "Era un ser rarísimo y con una literatura que no se parece a nadie.  Muchos dicen: 'Es Borges con falda.'  Para mí es más interesante que Borges porque tiene pasión, tiene amor.  Borges es muy cerebral" ["She was a super odd person with a literature that didn't resemble anyone else's.  Many people say 'it’s Borges in a skirt.'  For me, it’s more interesting than Borges because it has passion, it has love.  Borges is very cerebral"].  In that recent interview, Enriquez says that she’d love to do a similar piece on Nick Cave someday.  I’d gladly read that book too.

Mariana Enriquez

domingo, 12 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 8/5-8/11 Links

Norah Lange

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
"For I myself am my own fever and pain."  Fever and Spear by Javier Marías (Spanish Lit Month 2018).

David, David's Book World
I Didn't Talk by Beatriz Bracher

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Sacred Cow by Diamela Eltit

John, The Modern Novel
Patria (Homeland) by Fernando Aramburu

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Laura Liuzzi (profile and bibliography)
Just the rain and the word rain (poems by Laura Liuzzi)
Cutting and repetition (on um teste de resistores by Marília Garcia)
Adelaide Ivánova (profile and bibliography)
Felipa set the caravaels on fire (poems by Adelaide Ivánova)

Michael Kitto, Knowledge Lost
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

Paul, By the Firelight
Cinco horas con Mario (Five Hours with Mario) by Miguel Delibes

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Personas en la sala by Norah Lange

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa

sábado, 11 de agosto de 2018

La boda de Hitler y María Antonieta en el infierno

La boda de Hitler y María Antonieta en el infierno [Le nozze di Hitler e Maria Antonietta nell'inferno] (Emecé, 2003)
by J.R. Wilcock & F. Fantasia [translated from the Italian by Ernesto Montequin]
Italy, 1985

A total ringer for inclusion in the Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018 line-up given that the Argentina-born J.R. Wilcock (1919-1978) abandoned Spanish as his writing language after he traded in the land of Borges for the land of Pasolini in the year of our Lord 1957, La boda de Hitler y María Antonieta en el infierno [The Wedding of Hitler and Marie Antoinette in Hell] is, on the other hand, about as ridiculous and as farcical as you might expect from something with such a festive title and snazzy diabolical cover art.  Even if its own authors concede that it's perhaps "un texto que conviene regalar en vez de leer" ["a text that's better suited to give away than to read"] (119), don't heed that advice until you've savored the bad jokes about Marie Antoinette's wedding-threatening crush on Garibaldi ("Está loca por él, aunque se dejaría cortar de nuevo la cabeza antes que admitirlo" ["She's crazy about him even though she'd let her head be cut off again before she'd admit it"]) (11), listened in on Cagliostro's quackish confession to Seneca ("El estudio de la delincuencia y del ocultismo son los únicos pasatiempos dignos para un hombre de cierto gusto" ["The study of crime and occultism is the only worthy hobby for a man of refined taste"]) (23), overheard the horndog in hell act of piacere-seeking Gabriele D'Annunzio: "¡Ah, las diablesas...qué hembras excitantes!" ["Ah, the she-devils...what exciting females!"] (77).  In the afterword, one Du Garbandier--who I've since learned is a character borrowed from Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman--pays tribute to Wilcock's career as a paid fake critic with a doctored quote from that very same Flann O'Brien novel: "La belleza de la lectura de una página de La boda de Hitler y María Antonieta en el infierno reside en el hecho de que inevitablemente conduce al lector a la feliz convicción de que él no es, de todos los imbéciles, el más grande" ["The beauty of reading one page of The Wedding of Hitler and Marie Antoinette in Hell lies in the fact that the reader is inevitably led to the conclusion that he, of all idiots, isn't the biggest one of all"] (117).  Word.

J.R. Wilcock and friend

martes, 7 de agosto de 2018

Personas en la sala

Personas en la sala (Ediciones Barataria, 2011)
por Norah Lange
La Argentina, 1950

Personas en la sala, una especie de sueño febril supuestamente basado en el retrato de las hermanas Brontë pintado por su hermano Branwell en 1834, es una novela rara e inquietante, por no decir fascinante.  La narradora, una chica de diecisiete años en el momento de los eventos narrados, pasa casi todo su tiempo vigilando a la casa de enfrente en su calle de una zona tranquila de Belgrano, o espiando a o imaginando lo que pasa con los tres rostros borrosos visibles detrás de las ventanas de la casa vecina.  Un día, ella y las tres hermanas aisladas se conocen.  ¿Son éstas tres solteras inofensivas o "son tres criminales" o "tres aventureras" como especula la chica con la gran imaginación (31 & 50)?  ¿Realmente existen las tres o es la narradora mentalmente enferma como ese chico en El impostor de Silvina O'Campo?  ¿O, en su lugar, es el relato un homenaje simbólico al impulso creativo con la narradora jugando el papel del artista que tiene el poder de la vida y la muerte sobre los personajes del cuadro?  Aunque es difícil decir con certeza con una obra tan hermética, estoy a favor de esta última hipótesis.  No olviden que Branwell Brontë, como la narradora, tenía exactamente diecisiete años cuando pintó el retrato de sus hermanas y que es su rostro borroso y fantasmal, reemplazado por un pilar blanco, que efectivamente desapareció de su propio cuadro.  En todo caso, Lange se destaca por haber escrito un texto abierto y estilísticamente desestabilizador en el que las declaraciones de la narradora ("¡Están muertas!  ¡Están muertas!  ¡Yo las vi muertas!" [116]), las imagenes de pesadilla de un caballo muerto y algunas reflexiones morbosas sobre "escuchar venas abiertas" o suicidarse con veronal conviven con momentos de ternura (ojo: momentos ocasionales de ternura) en cuanto a las cuatro personajes que habitan este mundo enclaustrado y claustrófobo.  Un librazo.

Norah Lange (1905-1972)

domingo, 5 de agosto de 2018

Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018: 7/29-8/4 Links

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

Grant, 1streading's Blog
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza

John, The Modern Novel

Juliana Brina, the [blank] garden
Lívia Natália (profile and bibliography)
a hunchbacked happiness imitating wings (poems by Lívia Natália)
Marília Garcia (profile and bibliography)
it's a love story and it's about an accident (poems by Marília Garcia)

lizzysiddal, Lizzy's Literary Life
Completist reading for #spanishlitmonth from Teresa Solana and Carmen Posadas (on The Sound of One Hand Killing by Teresa Solanas and The Last Resort by Carmen Posadas)

Michael Kitto, Knowledge Lost
The Neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa

Pat, South of Paris Books
Red Dawn by Santiago Roncagliolo

Paul, By the Firelight
The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca
La vuelta al día (Around the Day) by Hipólito G. Navarro

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos

Tony Messenger, Messenger's Booker (and more)
Adam Buenosayres by Leopoldo Marechal

miércoles, 1 de agosto de 2018

El librero que no vende libros malos

"El librero que no vende libros malos"
by Hernán Firpo
Argentina, 2017

In honor of the continuation of Spanish and Portuguese Lit Months 2018, which will run through the end of August like it or not, here's a book geek air-kiss for y'all in the form of the first of two pieces on the Buenos Aires book collecting world I hope to bring to your attention before long/before the end of the year/eventually/none of the above.  First up: Hernán Firpo's "El librero que no vende libros malos" ["The Bookseller Who Doesn't Sell Bad Books"], a newspaper article from Clarín dated July 16, 2017 profiling Federico Turrín Sabot, a "dandy que jamás negocia sus cuidadosas tres horas diarias de lectura" ["dandy who never negotiates his precious three hours a day of reading time"], and the La Lengua Absuelta "librería boutique" ["boutique bookshop"] Turrín Sabot runs in the upscale barrio of Belgrano.  Talk eventually turns to César Aira because the shop, with a commercial strategy focusing on contemporary Argentinean authors "opacados por" ["overshadowed by"] the big name likes of Borges, Bioy and Cortázar, specializes in the out of print books and first editions of people like Fogwill, Pizarnik, Aira, etc.--"y no tantos etcéteras" ["and not that many other etceteras"] as the cheeky Firpo puts it.  Among other goodies, La Lengua Absuelta supposedly has everything ever published by Aira, numbered limited edition Osvaldo Lamborghini rarities, shit like that.  Turrín Sabot, alone among Buenos Aires book dealers according to Firpo, is also the only guy in town who could score you a copy of Aira's super rare 1975 debut novel Moreira.*  Not that he seems all that interested in selling it.  "How much would it cost?" Firpo asks.  "Ufff...30 lucas.  Moreira puede salir lo que sale porque no se lo vendo a nadie" ["Ufff...30,000 Argentinean pesos.**  Moreira can go for what it does because I won't sell it to just anybody"] the bookman replies.  "Did you ever sell even one of them?" the reporter asks.  "De seis que tenía, vendí tres, pero es como esperar el novio para la novia..." ["Of six that I had, I sold three, but it's like waiting on the right husband to turn up for the bride..."].  On the other hand, "encontrará El Aleph de Borges en una Primera Edición: 10 mil pesos...  Sucede que nuestra literatura tiene libros difíles de conseguir y el valor se desprende de esa dificultad.  Austria y Hungría (de Néstor Perlongher), Invitación a la masacre (de Marcelo Fox).  Y Moreira está en esa categoría" ["you'll find a first edition of Borges' El Aleph: 10,000 Argentinean pesos...***  It's just a matter of our literature having books that are hard to get a hold of, and the price skyrockets as a result of that difficulty.  (Néstor Perlongher's] Austria and Hungría, (Marcelo Fox's) Invitación a la masacre.  And Moreira also fits into that category"].  Firpo notes that La Lengua Absuelta's web page listed 111 Aira titles at the time of his article, a fact that left the bookseller who doesn't sell bad books both proud and a little testy: "Todos tengo" ["I have them all"] he replied.  "El Aira autor, el nouvellista, el traductor, el ensayista.  ¿Sabías que Aira hizo la traducción de tres libros de Stephen King?...  Pero no quiero que te quedes con la falsa idea de que esta es la librería de Aira.  Esto es mucho más.  Mirá bien--miramos bien--: ¿no es la biblioteca que te gustaría tener en tu casa?" ["Aira as author, Aira as short story writer, Aira as translator, Aira as essayist.  Did you know that Aira did the translation for three Stephen King books?  But I don't want you to leave with the wrong impression that this is the Aira bookstore.  This is much more.  Look closely--let's both look closely: isn't this the library that you'd like to have in your house?"].

*For more on Moreira and the Buenos Aires book world it was conceived in, perhaps my favorite Aira novella to date--the 2007 La Vida Nueva--offers many fond reminiscences that you can read about here.
**About $1,100 U.S. at the current exchange rate
***About $365 U.S.