Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Juan Goytisolo

There are times when one, searching in vain or after howling at the moon in vain or after having discarded the poem that was written the previous night, searches again for words that come from a region that might be haunted, might be unreal or even deliriously sane or insane. And after such ethereal nights and days, after absinthe dreams, after vague notions of literary intoxication, after humid nights, cold days, surreptitious hours, minutes longing for hours, hours for days, after nights of boredom, days of torpor, after many many such existences, chance or design gives you new words, a new writing, a new writer. I am referring to a writer I just discovered 2 weeks ago, and having decided to read him, I immediately got hold of his trilogy called Marks of Identity. I am referring to the greatest living Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo.

Goytisolo is the quintessential writer. He lives in exile, he is an exile, he lives in the most fabulously named place called Djemaa el Fanaa in Marrakesh. He is a rebel, he writes novels, he writes like a poet, like an angel. He is not afraid of writing, he has written. Writing is not just an exercise, a craft, a literary activity for arts sake. Here writing is an affirmation, an act of morality, a position, a stance, a political act, a serene not always gentle act. It can mean violence or limpidity or both. But never correctness, never doublespeak, never facile dolor.

Goytisolo is described as being a poet and a prose writer, but to me he writes like a poet. He writes a poet's prose. However, I am just beginning to read the first part of his trilogy and will write in great detail after I finish this brilliant novel. Suffice it to say here that he writes in, believe me, sentences of such beauty, such matchless quality that I thought ...." he writes like Genet" and was surprised to know that he considers Genet a personal hero and a mentor. It was his encounter with Genet that might have led to his self discovery as a bisexual, even though Goytisolo was married, interestingly to Proust's neice, and refused to live in their home after her death, calling it a tomb. His attraction to Muslim culture could, like Genet be traced to political activism, anti-imperialism and his own sexuality.

At Guardian Books, Maya Jaggi has written an excellent review of his major works besides providing biographical details including his present living style, habits. Goytisolo left Spain and its political climate after Franco's dictatorship was in power because of his political and moralistic stands. His brothers are writers too. Thus he is at once a rebel living a rebellion. He is against the climates that foment dictatorships, consumerism, wars, sexual repression and homophobia. He has adopted Morocco as his abode and has fiercely celebrated Islamic culture.

As being loyal to both literary concerns and social ones, the commitment is both for craft and creed. An interesting study of his fiction has been done by Stanley Black, in his Goytisolo and the poetics of contagion. Black finds Goytisolo' encounter with Saussarean linguistics as an interesting phase of his stylistic development, something I am not conversant with or understand. However, Goytisolo's literary work is to be seen in conjunction with his critical and journalistic essays. A novel must concern itself with the reality of the national context in which it is written. Hence, the writer is not just an artist but an activist too. Apart from his trilogy, Goytisolo has written extensively, his memoir is considered a classic besides esssays, newspaper columns, war reportage and a collection of essays called Landscapes of War and a meditation on Love called Makbara.

A note of caution here.....Goytisolo is tough reading. There are monologues, third person narrations, poems and prose of ferocious intensity. This sort of fiction, writing is not meant for a cosy read or for getting acquainted with a new writer. It demands participation, as Black says...shaking the bourgeois reading pattern. The sentences run over pages, without any stops, just colons, occasionally semicolons, no capitals, paragraphs of, honestly, fantastic prose.

I will endeavour to quote him in these posts here but can only say that reading him is to invent a new language for oneselfIt is punishing but rewarding. A good review here.

1 comment:

sharif said...

I discovered him several months ago, really liked Garden of Secrets. Haven't read anything else yet.