sábado, 22 de julio de 2017

Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo

Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo (Debolsillo, 2012)
by Mario Levrero
Uruguay, 1975

In foodie terms, the extravagantly titled Nick Carter se divierte mientras el lector es asesinado y yo agonizo [Nick Carter Has a Good Time While the Reader Is Murdered and I Lie Dying] might best be thought of as a sort of Aira-esque--strike that, pre-Aira-esque--meringue in which the acidic quality of a couple of in poor taste abortion and incest jokes occasionally overwhelms the delicate  sugar and egg white flavor of its goofball detective and dime novel parodies.  Whatever, kind of a fucked-up meringue!  For readers of a non-Saveur persuasion, though, Levrero's 60-something page novella should offer plenty to savor: ongoing random jumps between first-, second- and third-person narration for you arty experimental types, lots of nods to Borges and Kafka and the feuilleton tradition for you highbrow and lowbrow types, and even a strong nymphomaniac secretary character for you strong nymphomaniac secretary character types.  In other words, something for almost  everyone as clearly demonstrated above without me even having to waste a single precious word on plot!

Mario Levrero (1940-2004)

lunes, 17 de julio de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/9-7/15 Links

Pedro Lemebel

Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza

David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Nona's Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Pat, South of Paris Books
Zigzag by José Carlos Somoza
Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
 "Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)" by Pedro Lemebel

Simon Lavery, Tredynas Days
Written Lives by Javier Marías

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
The Hive by Camilo José Cela
The Irish Sea by Carlos Maleno
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

domingo, 9 de julio de 2017

Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)


"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)"
by Pedro Lemebel
Chile, 1994

If this nightmarish two-page chronicle sounds like something straight out of a Roberto Bolaño novel, maybe that's because it helped inspire one.  At the height of the Pinochet dictatorship in the mid-1970s, a black-clad diva named Mariana Callejas presided over a swanky literary salon at her home in Santiago de Chile's exclusive Lo Curro neighborhood.  Callejas, well-known for her anti-Marxist views and apparently no stranger to the "aleteo buitre" ["vulturous flapping of wings"] of the secret police's unmarked cars in their comings and goings through this quiet, residential part of the capital, still managed to draw a crowd composed of the country's "jet set artístico" ["artistic jet set"]--an artistic elite that Lemebel (1952-2015, above) icily describes as "la desinvuelta clase cultural de esos años que no creía en historias de cadáveres y desaparecidos" ["the self-assured cultural class of those years which didn't believe in stories of cadavers and the disappeared"].  As time went on, though, this head in the sand posture became more difficult to maintain even for those most enamored of the free alcohol and the avant-garde aesthetic debates that flowed in abundance at Callejas' soirées.  Lemebel, who says he learned of the story as a 20-something and discussed his 1994 newspaper account of it with Bolaño shortly before the latter penned Nocturno de Chile [Chile by Night], explains that "todo el mundo veía y prefería no mirar, no saber, no escuchar" ["everybody saw and preferred not to look at, not to know anything about, not to hear"] any of the horrors beginning to be revealed by the international press even as Callejas' explanation of the accounts as "pura literatura tremendista" ["pure sensationalist literature"] meant to discredit the government rang hollow amid the telltale signs of something seriously wrong at her own house; it would later be revealed that the dying roses in the garden--supposedly caused by Callejas' husband's experiments with a gas to exterminate rats--and the intermittent surges in power at her parties that would make lights flicker and music be interrupted were due to state-sponsored torture sessions down in the basement where stray screams would occasionally punctuate the literary criticism and the "silencio necrófilo" ["necrophiliac silence"] that otherwise reigned supreme up above.


"Las orquídeas negras de Mariana Callejas (o el centro cultural de la DINA)" ["Mariana Callejas' Black Orchids (or the DINA's Cultural Center)"] first appeared in the Chilean newspaper La Nación in 1994.  It also appears as part of a book full of other Lemebel writings on pp. 112-114 of the collection Poco hombre.  Crónicas escogidas (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2013).

Spanish Lit Month 2017: 7/1-7/8 Links


It was both a pleasure and a relief to see so many people join us for the first week of Spanish Lit Month 2017 despite our late announcement of this year's event.  And with the arrival of internet service at the new Caravana de recuerdos manor, it should be even easier to keep up with your output in future weeks.  In any event, here's a list of last week's SLM links--feel free to let me know if I've missed any posts either here or by e-mail or on Twitter (Richard@caravanablog) if you prefer to avoid Blogger's comments-squashing security apparatus.  In the meantime, happy reading!

Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
for my joy in the tooth of the wheel - a glance at Lorca's poems

Grant, 1streading's Blog
Field of Honour by Max Aub
The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto
The Children by Carolina Sanín

Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts
Colonel Lágrimas by Carlos Fonseca

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
In the Land of Giants: Hunting Monsters in the Hindu Kush by Gabi Martínez

Melissa Beck, The Book Binder's Daughter
The Proof by César Aira

Pat, South of Paris Books
The Woman of Your Dreams by Antonio Sarabia
The Murky Waters of the Tigre by Alicia Plante
The Shadow of What We Were by Luis Sepúlveda
The Heart of the Tartar by Rosa Montero

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Dietario voluble by Enrique Vila-Matas

Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Spanish Lit Month 2017
Nona's Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

miércoles, 5 de julio de 2017

Dietario voluble

Dietario voluble (Anagrama, 2010)
by Enrique Vila-Matas
Spain, 2008  

As its very title suggests, it's not entirely clear whether Vila-Matas' nonfiction-like Dietario voluble [Unhinged Diary] is really a diary at all or rather a novel only disguised as a diary--a matter the mischievous Spaniard doesn't help with when he confesses that the overarching theme of his work is "tal vez mi incapacidad de decir la verdad" ["perhaps my inability to tell the truth"] (183).  "Perhaps"!  Whatever the case may be, this book fiend's equivalent of a compilation album featuring one of your favorite artists' odds and sods finds Vila-Matas getting his anecdotal and aphoristic groove on with a series of soundbites dedicated to the reading and writing life.  In one 15-page span alone, for example, there are shout outs to the likes of Flaubert's pronouncements on the primacy of style ("La estética es una justicia superior" ["Aesthetics is a superior form of justice"]) (242); a tip of the hat to previously unknown to me author Ricardo Menéndez Salmón's fed up attack on "falsos escritores" ["false writers"]: "La literatura no es un oficio, es una enfermedad; uno no escribe para ganar dinero o caer bien a la gente, sino porque intenta curarse, porque está infectado, porque lo ha ganado la tristeza" ["Literature isn't a trade, it's a disease.  One doesn't write to make money or to sit well with people but to try to heal oneself, because one's infected, because sadness has gotten the upper hand"] (230); and a memorable inside baseball tidbit about a pair of Vila-Matas visits with Pierre Michon highlighted by Michon's definition of the three types of non-false writers that exist in the world: 1) "el bárbaro" ["the barbarian"], as exemplified by Céline; 2) the intellectual in the style of Beckett; 3) a third type that combines the best of both worlds.  In other words, "Faulkner or Bolaño" as Michon specified on both occasions  (228-229).  Mad, geeky fun not least for the sweet account of a pilgrimage to New Directions HQ in which Bolaño and Borges books are seen lined up like "vecinos neoyorquinos en la red del tiempo" ["New York neighbors in the net of time"] (141) and the entirely unexpected and non-bookish moment a page later when Vila-Matas waxes on about "la música hipnótica" ["the hypnotic music"] of CocoRosie and riffs on "el llamado espíritu lo-fi" ["the so-called lo-fi spirit"] of the Casady sisters (142).  Rockin'!

Vila-Matas & Bolaño in Blanes, 1998

domingo, 2 de julio de 2017

Spanish Lit Month 2017


Due to popular demand (i.e. one measly inquiry late last month from the seemingly genuinely enthusiastic Grant of 1streading's Blog), Spanish Lit Month will return in July and the overtime month of August this year for anybody interested in reading Spanish-language literature in the summer company of some like-minded fiends (as usual, works first published in Catalan and Galician will count as well).  To participate, all you have to do is to read one or more works in one of the original languages or in translation and then notify co-host Stu of Winstonsdad's Blog or me for us to share your reviews with fellow SLM 2017 readers across the globe.  In the hope that some of you will choose to join us despite the short notice, I'll say goodbye for now and try to return later in the week for some sort of an update once I dig some of my Spanish-language reading choices out of their storage containers necessitated by a recent move.  Any help with the unpacking appreciated.  Cheers!

Spanish Lit Month 2017 Readers
Stu, Winstonsdad's Blog
Amateur Reader (Tom), Wuthering Expectations
Bellezza, Dolce Bellezza
David Hebblethwaite, David's Book World
Dorian Stuber, Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau
Frances, Nonsuch Book 

jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

La Chanson de Roland

La Chanson de Roland (GF Flammarion, 2004)
Anonymous [bilingual edition translated into modern French from the old French by Jean Dufournet]
France, ca. 1100

Since I think I'm finally up to the challenge of waging some sort of a longue durée survey of French and Francophone literature over the course of the year, I decided a reread of La Chanson de Roland [The Song of Roland] was really the only way to kick things off reading project-wise w/anything like the requisite amount of style demanded by our programming.  My geekly instincts, as it turns out, aren't always bad.  A few quick hits on matters of language, content and style.  1) Given the # of times I've suffered through various stilted English translations of the poem in the past, it was a real rush to read Jean Dufournet's modern French translation w/the original old French on the facing text.  Perhaps vivid battle poetry having to do with combatants' vows to render their swords "bright red with hot blood" [Dufournet: "nous les rendrons vermeilles de sang chaud"; original text: "Nus les feruns vermeilles de chald sanc"] (laisse 76) and descriptions of meadows full of flowers turned "bright red with the blood of our barons!" [Dufournet: "les fleurs/sont vermeilles du sang de nos barons !"; original: "les flors,/Ki sunt vermeilz del sanc de noz baronz !"] (laisse 205) to cite just two variations on a vermilion theme would convey a sense of urgency in any language even sans that exclamation point at the end of the latter verse; however, I'd maintain that Dufournet's rousing Roland has an unmistakable energy and flow to it even in its less blood-spattered moments.  2) As many of you no doubt know, La Chanson de Roland was at least partly inspired by a real life battle in the year 778 in which the rearguard of Charlemagne's army was ambushed by Basques at Ronceveaux Pass in the Pyrenees.  However, somewhere along the line Muslims from Spain replaced the Basques as the villains of the pro-French pseudo-historical epic that has come down to us.  In his introduction to the work, Dufournet speculates that the Roland poet was a learned cleric "tout imprégné de l'atmosphère de la croisade" ["imbued with the crusading spirit"] (19) whose authorship of the poem likely consisted in reshaping extant traditional material associated with Roland and converting it into something artistically unique and of its time--what the medievalist elsewhere hails as "le texte fondateur de notre histoire et de notre culture, en même temps que la première manifestation créatrice de notre langue" ["the foundational text of our history and culture and, at the same time, the first creative manifestation of our language"] (10).  Without getting into the nitty gritty of Dufournet's case for this, which would deserve a post or twelve of its own given the thorny literary and historical contexts under consideration, suffice it to say that one of the most convincing manifestations of a crusading ideology in the poem is its retrospective equation of the enemies of Charlemagne with the enemies of Christendom.  The Saracens, for example, are commonly referred to as félons ["traitors" or, in feudal terminology, "vassals disloyal to one's lord"], pagans, and as members of a "criminal race" [Dufournet: "la race criminelle"; original: "la gent criminel"] (laisse 179).  Beyond this, the figure of the Archbishop Turpin sends the Franks out to battle under the Urban II-like promise that "Si vous mourez, vous serez de saints martyrs" [original: "Se vos murez, esterez seinz martirs"; "If you die, you will become holy martyrs"] (laisse 89) and in a later scene on the sacking of Zaragoza we learn that both synagogues and mosques are destroyed at the hands of the revenge-minded Christians.  In fact, lest there be any doubt about whose side God is on in the holy war portrayed in the poem, the poet sings of miracles like the day God stopped the sun in the sky so that Charlemagne could pursue the vanquished pagans who had left the battlefield in flight and of one disgraced Muslim leader who literally surrenders his soul to demons at the moment of his death [Dufournet: "il rend son âme aux diables en personne"; original: "L'anme de lui as vifs diables dunet"] (laisse 264)--a colorful moment that!  Poetic matters aside, this demonization of the enemy and the exaltation of the Christian hordes from douce France will no doubt sound very familiar to anybody who's ever chanced to dip into the contemporary crusade chronicles.  3) On that note, one of the most interesting things about La Chanson de Roland to me from a style standpoint this time around and one in which I had either totally forgotten about or somehow not really noticed before was the evident tension between the Chanson as a consciously poetic product and the written documents that had supposedly preceded its gestation.  That is, La Chanson de Roland deliberately positions itself both as a type of metafictional song--the "mauvaise chanson" [bad song] that Roland tells Olivier won't be sung about their trusty swords so long as Durendal and Hauteclaire are allowed to perform their usual handiwork [Dufournet: "L'on ne doit pas sur elles chanter de mauvaise chanson"; original: "Male chançune n'en deit estre cantee"] (laisse 112)--and as an assonant chanson informed by prose precedents in lines like "Il est écrit dans l'ancienne chronique/que Charles convoqua des vassaux de nombreuses terres" [original: "Il est escrit en l'anciene geste/Que Carles mandet humes de plusurs teres"; "It is written in the old chronicle/that Charles summoned vassals from numerous lands"] (laisse 271).  Whether this appeal to written authority is real--i.e. if the poem is occasionally premised on historical sources that are now mostly lost to us--or just imagined for literary sakes hardly matters in the end; for when Roland encourages Olivier to strike their adversaries dead with great blows "pour qu'on ne chante pas sur nous de funeste chanson !" [original: "Que malvaise cançun de nus chantet ne seit !"; "so that a distressing song not be sung about us!"] (laisse 79), the impact is such that it's an impressive feat even to those who already know the heroes are doomed.  AOI.

First page of the Oxford manuscript of La Chanson de Roland