January 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
January 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Bueno, pues ya me reventaba. Ya estaba harto uno de ver a esa gente que luego va y se vuelve y espera el efecto; espantapájaros amigos de la pausa, de las voces en off, o de los que siempre gritan «muy bien, muy bien», sonríen y acotan con una espátula sus gritos en los discursos. Alquimistas de mierda que en mierda todo lo transforman. To get the thing potruding, ser mosca o ser sardina, o que haya algún buen Dios en la enramada que te saque del lío y te perdone. Séneca, y siglos antes de Séneca un anciano argonauta, y detrás de él un compadre de Aristótles, un físico iracundo que examinaba los procesos de la digestión. Los procesos en vivo, con esclavos de barriga abierta, el ir y venir del bolo alimenticio, el quilo, el exudado perpetuo y excitado de las linfas. Siempre quedan esclavos que rajar y siempre hay sabios para el peri fiseos. Descapullar o no descapullar, y el resto déjalo en inglés, que todo el mundo entiende, a falta de esperanto. Es ese ciertamente un problema hebreo, muy propio de eruditos. Hay prepucios de izquierdas, sindicados, de hiedra viva que se ciñe al tronco y le impide liberarse. A un palmo de la filosofía está el prepucio pensante, y a un palmo del prepucio la filosofía, que va del ojo reventado de Filipo a los esquíes de Heidegger. A la nana ea, a la nana, ea. (p. 10)
Well, I was already busting. I was already fed up seeing one of those people who then goes and turns and awaits the effect; scarecrow friends on pause, of voices on “off”, or those who always shout “very good, very good,” smiling and narrow with a spatula their cries in speeches. Fucking alchemists that transform everything into shit. To get the thing potruding [sic], be it fly or sardines, or there is some good God in the arbor to take you and forgive the mess. Seneca, and centuries before Seneca an old Argonaut, and behind him a compadre of Aristotles , an angry physicist who examined the digestive process. Live processes, with belly-opened slaves, the coming and going of the bolus, the chyle, and the perpetual exudation and excitement of the lymph nodes. Always remain slaves that crack and there are always wisemen for peri fiseos . To unwrap or not, and leave the rest in English that everyone understands, lacking Esperanto. It is certainly a Hebrew problem, very scholarly. There are left foreskins, syndicals, of living ivy that clings to the trunk and impedes it of freeing itself. In a hand of philosophy is the thinking foreskin, and in the palm of the foreskin philosophy, which will trap the eye of Philip to Heidegger’s skies. A la nana ea, a la nana, ea.
Héctor Vásquez Azpiri’s 1967 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel Fauna is the most experimental winner of the first iteration of this Spanish-language award. It is a monologue that stretches over 240 pages and covers all sorts of topics, ranging from the sample provided above (as always, errors in translation are mine, particularly with rough drafts) to matters of faith and love. Fauna certainly is not a story read for its plot, although its themes certainly provide lots of grist for pensive mills.
Like many writers from the mid-20th century, Vásquez Azpiri appears to be influenced by James Joyce. In his meandering monologue, there are echoes of both Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, particularly in how certain phrases are reused in ways to accentuate the connections between phonics and semantics. But there are some interesting parallels with Vásquez Azpiri’s contemporaries. In reading Fauna, I found myself thinking occasionally of Alfonso Grosso’s Florido Mayo (which won the 1973 Premio Alfaguara) and how each used stream of consciousness to raise questions about socio-cultural issues that troubled Spain during mid-century. Where Grosso used the past to address these matters, Vásquez Azpiri couches these concerns in questioning passages, such as this repeating question from near the end of Ch. 6, where after exploring desires embodied in classical prose, this question, «¿Era eso libertad?» (“Was that liberty?”) closes out key sections.
Desire is never far from the surface of the narrative, as each form of it (sexual, monetary, wisdom-seeking, power-grabbing, etc.) is explored in often playful passages. Vásquez Azpiri is careful never to sate these desires, instead raising more and more questions that drive the reader to consider more and more what is transpiring. The free-flowing stream of consciousness narrative serves as a vehicle for question consideration, allowing the reader to shape the import of each passage to his or her liking. The result is a monologue that somehow acts simultaneously as a dialogue, between the always-speaking narrator and the “silent” audience (in the opening paragraph, the narrator refers to this gathered silence on a couple of occasions).
Fauna is one of the better Premio Alfaguara winners that I have read over the past several years. Its blend of introspective questioning and wild imagery make it a memorable read that promises to retain its exuberance upon future re-reads. While it owes something to Joyce and other mid-20th century writers of stream of consciousness narrative, Fauna does not feel too derivative, as it contains enough originality of thought and theme to make it worthwhile readers’ time to read. It is a shame that it, along with most of the older Premio Alfaguara winners, are not available in English, as there likely would be some interest for these tales from those readers who are drawn to Joyce, Pynchon, or Faulkner. Regardless, Fauna holds up well nearly fifty years after its initial publication, possessing a “freshness” that would appeal to many readers who seek more than the mundane when they open a book.
January 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
Life is a tricky creature to capture in media, whether it be film or the printed word. The gestures endemic to one place and time do not always map out well when transported into a static medium. The petty gestures and grandiose quirks of people often become distorted when transcribed. Writing a story “true to life” is a much more daunting (and all too frequently, unrewarding) task than most readers realize. This is especially true when the author is foolhardy enough to start his or her tale by looking at the lives of several people. When done correctly, such tales have a profound power because we can see in them the people around us, their foibles and their triumphs, their dreams, aspirations, and most of all, their grounded actions and expressions. Some great writers express this spectrum of humanity in picturesque terms, with characters that might be slight modifications of those that appear in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Others, however, dig into our collective quotidian muck and dredge something profound out of it. Ugliness can yield a repulsive beauty, sometimes, and this can be seen in some of Faulkner’s works or in some of Joyce’s tales. Whenever a writer manages to achieve, even partially, this elevation of the vulgar to a artistic verisimilitude, it is a work to be cherished.
Luís Berenguer’s 1972 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Leña Verde (Green Firewood), is one of those novels that has pretensions to achieving this difficult feat. Set in Spain of the author’s youth of the Spanish Civil War and its immediate aftermath, Leña Verde is the tale of Juan Antonio Carvajal’s return to his Andalusian village after being gone for four years. Last in a line of rich landowners, Carvajal observes the changes that have occurred in the interim, as well as the enduring problems of class divisions. The effects of these inequalities are seen throughout the novel and they drive the plot.
If reduced to simply providing a synopsis of the main plot, that of a frustrated love and the tragedies that follow, Leña Verde would be merely yet another variation on a well-worn theme. Yet the characterizations and Berenguer’s use of imagery and symbolism make this a rather remarkable novel. When I read it several days ago, I found myself thinking of Faulkner’s use of place to create deeper connections between the characters and also with the reader. Berenguer’s countryside setting is rich with those “little things” that make this tale feel “true to life.” From the ways that the characters spoke to their actions, every little thing felt vital, imbued with a liveliness that helps the reader to identify with these characters and their situations. The rivalry of Carvajal and Donaire is played out in such a fashion that when the final sentence is reached, the reader has the impression of lives lived out before them.
Berenguer’s prose is fascinating in part because of the author’s background. Unlike most of his peers in late Francoist Spain, Berenguer was not an academic critic or trained artist. He was a naval officer who was largely an autodidact in literature. His writings show traces of Faulkner and Joyce, particular in the use of language to create a setting and setting to establish character. His characters, based in part on people he knew in his youth of the 1920s-early 1940s, feel like they have walked into a novel rather than being created by their author. Leña Verde, however, is not an “easy” novel; it does not yield up all of its treasures in a single reading. In reading it, I was struck by the sense that there were hidden depths that I was missing. Certainly it will be a novel that I will revisit, likely several times, in the years to come. It may not be the most famous of the Spanish novels of the 1960s and 1970s, but it certainly is a tale that deserves the accolades that it has received and hopefully there will be a new generation of readers that will discover this fine novel in the years to come.
January 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
The Red Tentacle (Novel), selected by Kate Griffin, Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, Anab Jain and Annabel Wright:
- Red Doc> by Anne Carson (Jonathan Cape)
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
- Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (Jonathan Cape)
- More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker)
- The Machine by James Smythe (HarperCollins / Blue Door)
The two highlighted titles made my year-end Top 25 and the Carson intrigues me enough to place a pre-order for the paperback. The Ness I likely will read in the near future as well, but the story doesn’t appeal to me as much as the others. Not much interest in the Smythe title, to be honest.
The Golden Tentacle (Debut), selected by the above panel:
- Stray by Monica Hesse (Hot Key)
- A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock (47 North)
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
- Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
- Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Leckie I read back in December and found it to be underwhelming. The descriptions of the other books are fairly boilerplate and until I read something more substantive about them, I likely will not read them at all.
Yet despite the terseness of my reactions here, on the whole, I do find this award to be more to my taste than most other SF/F-oriented awards, with perhaps only the World Fantasy Awards being esteemed more. Certainly would be nice if some of the Novel finalists would appear on other genre-related awards ballots in the coming months.
January 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
January will apparently be an English-free reading month, at least in terms of completing books. I have already read 24 books and none of those are in English. 12 Spanish, 4 Portuguese, 4 French, 3 Italian (and just begun #4), and 1 in Serbian. I have a few others I’d like to read before month’s end, so it seems that my original goal of reading at least 50 books each in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian will be on pace or above. If I have another month or so like January, I might extend the Spanish goal to 100 books read/re-read this year.
Next month, I probably am going to devote time to re-reading/reviewing most, if not all, of Gabriel García Márquez’s output. It surprised me to realize recently that I had never reviewed any of his works here, probably because I read them before I really was active blogging.
Starting in March, I’m going to aim to do a weekly set of posts with a World Cup theme. I want to introduce readers (and myself, foremost) to some of the prominent writers from each of the 32 countries participating in the football tournament. Later, I might then do “matches” after I have reviewed the works in hand.
From now until likely April or May, I’m going to continue to post my 1994 prose translation of Vergil’s The Aeneid that I did for an intermediate Latin class, as I am really enjoying re-reading the poem in Latin and seeing ways that my old self understood it and how 20 years later I can still “hear” it as I read.
Beginning in June, I’m going to do a series of posts on the centennial of World War I/Great War. There will be a few histories discussed, along with several poems, novels, and other writings from that time period, as well as writings from subsequent generations.
Also sometime in the summer, I’m going to review the major works of one of my favorite Southern writers, Thomas Wolfe, likely 1-2 books a month during that span.
Looks like my reading/reviews of the Premio Alfaguara winners might be finished sooner rather than later. Going to write reviews of 4 books from that list later this week/weekend and I might be on pace to finish most of the 25 books (once the 2014 winner is announced in the spring) before autumn.
I know these are a lot of projects, but I’m finding this to be exciting and deeply rewarding rather than a checklist of chores to do. Sometimes, having a direction and goals to (over)achieve is a great motivating force, at least for me. Hope some, if not all of these, are of interest to you and that you’ll continue to visit this blog in the weeks and months to come.
Finding a deep appreciation for a work is not the same as being a "fan" of something or "geeking out" over something
January 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
The difference, as far as I could understand writing at nearly 4:00 AM CST while doped up on codeine cough syrup and antibiotics, is that of the scale of appreciation. It seems to me that being a “fan” of something is as much about the fan as it is the object/person subject to the desires and expectations of the fan. Vergil wrote this great unfinished poem nearly two thousand years before I was born. The world in which he wrote and personages he addresses in (mostly) oblique form had sometimes very drastic differences in social/personal values than the ones that influence us today. Yet what he wrote influenced countless other writers, even though Vergil has always been overshadowed by Homer, at least the minds of the hoi polloi. Since it is difficult to identify the Vergilian source, seeing as it has been filtered down through Dante, Ariosto, Camões, and others, the relationship becomes a more generalized yet somehow deeper one between reader and text (or perhaps the text as metastasized by centuries of attributions and alterations of motif and wording to fit other media of storytelling) than that between an extant author and his/her “fans.” “I sing of arms and of the man…” – there are echoes of this that still reverberate around us even today. Much as someone might like the work of a current writer, chances are that the relationship revolves more around how that “fan” can craft his/her own relationships with the author than with the text itself.
This is not to say that “fans” cannot greatly appreciate what an author has produced or means as a person him/herself, but rather that it is very possible to appreciate something quite deeply without engaging in the behaviors (including perceptions of close ties existing between fan/object of fan’s passion) commonly associated with “fandom.” Related to this is the concept of “geeking out.” I find this term to be loathsome, at least in the context of it being applied to things that otherwise would fall outside the parameters of what is considered to be “geekish” actions (intense, sometimes overly so, connections with a created object being a prime example). In coming to appreciate what a Vergil or a Dante has produced (to continue with the epic poetic references), for myself at least, there is no obsessing over what these poets could have meant in certain passages. Yes, studying deeply their writings for themes certainly would be lauded, but such studies are generally more considered, reflective responses than the perceived overly passionate responses of those who enthuse over a subject. Historians often are taken with the fields that they study, but their writings reflect a more reflective tone than what generally is produced when the so-called “history buffs” wax eloquent over their chosen historical era of interest.
Noting these differences is not to praise one uncritically and condemn the other, but rather is just a musing over why, for myself at least, that it is baffling when some want to conflate the two. I enjoy what I do. I consider what I have read and appreciate it. But I do not feel an intense, passionate feeling toward the creators of such things nor do I believe that the measured reactions that I typically have when reading/watching these things is akin to the enthusiastic rhapsodies that some people apparently produce when they “geek out” over something. But perhaps there are things that I am forgetting here that others can discuss?
January 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
The story here turns to Juno’s visit to the wind god Aeolus. Juno’s anger, which takes turns that might be disconcerting to modern readers, underscores just how differently moral codes were in the first decades of the Christian/Common Era compared to the early 21st century CE. To the left is my handwritten translation notes from late January/early February 1994 (if you click on the image, it’ll appear nearly the size of the original paper). I’ll transcribe here (and add lines 76-80, which are on the opposite page and were appended as part of an ad hoc assignment (the next assignment was lines 81-100). Here at least two and maybe three edits of the translation can be seen; more undoubtedly would have been done if the class called for it. I’ll post the Latin original first, for comparison’s sake:
Talia flammato secum dea corde volutans
nimborum in patriam, loca feta furentibus austris,
Aeoliam venit. Hic vasto rex Aeolus antro
luctantes ventos tempestatesque sonoras
imperio premit ac vinclis et carcere frenat.
Illi indignantes magno cum murmure montis
circum claustra fremunt; celsa sedet Aeolus arce
sceptra tenens, mollitque animos et temperat iras.
Ni faciat, maria ac terras caelumque profundum
quippe ferant rapidi secum verrantque per auras.
Sed pater omnipotens speluncis abdidit atris,
hoc metuens, molemque et montis insuper altos
imposuit, regemque dedit, qui foedere certo
et premere et laxas sciret dare iussus habenas.
Ad quem tum Iuno supplex his vocibus usa est:
Pondering in her inflamed heart such thoughts, Juno came to the country of the stormclouds, a place teeming with raging Auster, there she came to Aeolia. Here in a vast cave King Aeolus rules the roaring winds and storms, represses them and by bondage restrains them. There frustrated and with a great mountain roar overhead they roar against their bolts [confinement[; in his towering citadel Aeolus sits, holding his scepter and he soothes their spirits and controls their anger; if he did not do this, the seas, lands, and the high heaven indeed [itself] the winds in their rapidity would carry them away and [they] would sweep them through the airs. But the almighty father, in fear of this, hid them in these black caverns and the high mountain and mass he placed above them, and he gave the kingship to a sure ally who would know when ordered to restrain and when to let them go. To whom Juno as a suppliant used these words:
‘Aeole, namque tibi divom pater atque hominum rex
et mulcere dedit fluctus et tollere vento,
gens inimica mihi Tyrrhenum navigat aequor,
Ilium in Italiam portans victosque Penates:
incute vim ventis submersasque obrue puppes,
aut age diversos et disiice corpora ponto.
Sunt mihi bis septem praestanti corpore nymphae,
quarum quae forma pulcherrima Deiopea,
conubio iungam stabili propriamque dicabo,
omnis ut tecum meritis pro talibus annos
exigat, et pulchra faciat te prole parentem.’
”Aeolus, for to you the father of the gods and men has granted the power to soothe the wwaves and to raise them by the wind, a [people hostile to me] a hostile people to me is sailing on the Tyrrhenian Sea, carrying with them Ilium and their conquered household gods into Italy: strike [them] with the force of the winds, sink and overwhelm the ships, and drive them in different directions and scatter their bodies on the sea. I have to me twice seven [fourteen] nymphs of surpassing bodies, the one who is most beautiful, Deiopea, I will join with you in permanent wedlock and I will call her your own so that she might spend all of her years with you as a reward for the sake of such merits and that she might make you the father of beautiful offspring.”
Aeolus haec contra: ‘Tuus, O regina, quid optes
explorare labor; mihi iussa capessere fas est.
Tu mihi, quodcumque hoc regni, tu sceptra Iovemque
concilias, tu das epulis accumbere divum,
nimborumque facis tempestatumque potentem.’
Aeolus replies: “You, O Queen, it is your task to figure out what you want. It is proper for me to undertake your commands. Whatever this is in way of a kingdom, you have by the uniting of your power and Jove’s, you give me the right to recline at the banquets of the gods, you make for me the clouds and the powerful tempests.”
This is a fitting place to close, as the next section will see the first fruits of Juno’s machinations against the refugee Trojans.