Friday, March 16, 2007

Manuel Puig : Pop Art Or Pain Unlimited

Serendipity gives pain and pleasure, perhaps not in equal manner, but it gave me the blood of requited love, many restless hours, sleepless nights, heart pain and such wondrous delight that, for once, I thought I was lucky.
I am referring to the blood of requited love, this masterpiece that makes me want to re -read it again and again. Written by the Argentinian novelist Manuel Puig, it cemented his reputation as one of the best writers in any language, in any world.
This novel is a Socratic dissection of a love affair, told from the perspective of lovers from the distance of time in a dialogue form. It is simultaneiusly a deconstruction, a relentless dissection of this same love, again from the same lovers perspective but now, with a different slant. The result is a new fiction of love, about their love and new explanations for not taking the right steps. The book is in questions and answers, written in a prose that borders on the sublime.
This novel is not just an exercise in the craft of writing, it is a parody of language, of the language used by the main actors. It, to me, was also a parody of their love or their efforts to call it so. That there is sometimes an adolescent clamour for dandy love is effectively parodied here. Our hero Josemar, having high ambitions, gets involved with a blonde of middle class sensibility, called Maria. I am not sure whether Josemar loves her always, but he does love her. Maria, we are told, has lost her senses and thus all love, either for josemar or because of him.
There is no doubt that Josemar is ruthless, twisted, selfish, a kind of a brute. But Josemar is a lover too. In the end, one wishes that the story should have ended differently, because this love seems real, because they speak of a love.
The language as I mentioned earlier is exceptional. However, the over riding effect is of an elegy but not a dirge. It is moanful but not a wail, it is sad but not depressing. The genius of Puig lies in elevating Josemar's love to a complexity, of such beauty that one feels sorry for love and lovers in general. There is a common or unintelligent impression that the protoganists convey, about their haste, their animal instinsts and so on. The beauty of the prose elevates their animal coupling to enviable high art.
At the same time, the style mimics the language and sentiments of a person that I would not want to know in reality. Yet, the heartache that this love gave me and the new language it celebrates is Puig's success.
When was the last time you saw me?
This is how it begins and this is how it ends. My impression of this book is of enormous sad love, fullness of heart in its fullness of heartache, unhappy love, unhappy fun. After each lusty selfish thought, Josemar reflects and his reflections are sad, unhappy.
The book ends where it begins, with construction and deconstruction of similiar questions.
This is the work of a supreme artist, of such excelling quality that it makes other great fiction look feeble and weak.
Most of my impressions about writer's I read or have read so far are actually informed from prejudices that are native to me. Readers of these posts can make that out. One tries to single out sorrows that one likes, leaving brilliant pain untouched. Such is life, often. Yet, one tries to leave such weaknesses behind, albeit unsuccessfully most times. I don't often investigate the lives of writer's i read, or scholarly works about them. Life doesnt permit that and anyway, I am too lazy. Though, if a writer loves murder, loves genocidal mayhem or undoes recorded facts, then I prefer to not hear those words.
However, in this instance, I tried to know more about Puig after reading this novel.
Puig has been called as a writer of pastiche, combining dialogue with B-grade movie scripts, and sometimes footnotes to challenge the authority of narration. Puig challenges memory, the authority of memory. A critic felt that Puig uses Lacanian psychoanalysis in his narrative fiction, but I am mistrustful of such analysis, always. Puig is Latin America's first great writer. Puig invented a new art form, one that gave language to street love and makes it admissible to discuss it in the same breath as bourgeious art.
Rene campos calls Puig's novels the poetics of bolero, and equates his style to this dance form. Well, I am not an expert in bolero, suffice it to say that in the end, Puig trivializes what I call street junk love, movie-given wisdom, cinema acquired vanity and makes us hear that language with such vitality that one sighs for the man, wretched though he is.
Even though Puig is better known for his kiss of the spider woman and betrayed by rita hayworth, I read the blood of requited love first, it was star given reward. The other two novels are really fine as well but I decided to mention this one as it was my first Puig.
Perhaps Puig is not for readers who like this now boring alienist fiction and nicely worded sentences, who like descriptive chaos, Freudian jingoism, existential angst as intellectual food and Post modernist surreal phoney art.
Puig is for those whose nights require words, whose beaches are littered with coke cans, whose love is suppressed in letters half written, in the language of manic unrest, in every unrealizable promise, in every undone ambition.
This fiction is for those who live the melodrama of movie stars, who live that phoney love, that cheap five pound movie ticket. This novel is for people who like elegies written on the back of movie tickets, poems in public places and love notes hidden in cheap toffee wrappers.


Alok said...

I have seen his books but never picked it up. You make it sound very interesting...

and that phrase "Socratic dissection of love affair" is wonderful!

Kubla Khan said...

thanks. if i dare suggest, you must try to read his novels.
you won't be disappointed.