Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sex, Consolation For Misery

Sex, consolation for misery!
The whore is queen, her throne a ruin,
her land a piece of shitty field,
her sceptre a purse of red patent leather:
She barks in the night,
dirty and ferocious as an ancient mother:
she defends her possessions and her life.
The pimps are swarming around
bloated and beat
with their Brindisi or Slavic moustaches
are leaders, rulers:
in the dark they make their hundred lire deals,
winking in silence, exchanging passwords,
the world, excluded,remains silent
about those who have excluded themselves,
silent carcasses of predators.

But from the world's trash
a new world is born,
new laws are born
in which honor is dishonor,
a ferocious nobility and power is born
in the piles of hovels
in the open spaces
where one thinks the city ends
and where instead it begins, again, hostile,
begins again a thousand times,
with bridges and labyrinths,
foundations and diggings,
behind a surge of skyscrapers
covering whole horizons.

In the ease of love
the wretch feels himself a man,
builds up faith in life,
ands despising all who have a different life.
The sons throw themselves into adventure
secure in a world which fears them and their sex.
Their piety is in being pitiless,
their strength is their lightness,
their hope is having no hope.

Sesso, Consolazione Della Miseria, Pier Paolo Pasolini

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Extract From Ferdydurke

A delightful passage from Ferdydurke, this great novel by Witold Gombrowicz.


Memories! Mankind is accursed because our existence on this earth does not tolerate any well-defined and stable hierarchy, everything continually flows, spills over, moves on, everyone must be aware of judged by everyone else, and the opinions that the ignorant, dull, and slow-witted hold about us are no less important than the opinions of the bright, the enlightened, the refined. This is because man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man's soul, be it even in the soul of an idiot.I absolutely disagree with my fellow writers who treat the opinions of the dull witted with an aristocratic haughtiness and declare: odi profanum vulgus. What a cheap and simplistic way of avoiding reality, what a shoddy escape into specious loftiness! I maintain, on the contrary, that the more dull and narrow-minded they are, the more urgent and compelling are their opinions, just as an ill-fitting shoe hurts us more than a well-fitting one. Oh, these judgements, the bottomless pit of people's judgements and opinions about your wisdom, feelings, and character, about all the details of your personality- it;s a pit that opens up before the daredevil who drapes his thoughts in print and lets them lose on paper, oh,printed paper, paper, paper, paper! And I am not even talking about the heartfelt opinions of those other aunts- the cultural aunts, those female semi-writers and tackled on semi-critics who make pronouncements in literary magazines. Indeed, world culture has been beset by a flock of superfluous hens patched-on, pinned-on to literature, who have become fine tuned to literature, who have become fine tuned to spiritual values and well versed in aesthetics, frequently entertaining views and opinions of their own, who have even caught on to the notions that Oscar Wilde is passe and that Bernhard Shaw is a master of paradox. Oh, they are on to the fact that they must be independent, profound, unobtrusively assertive, and filled with auntie kindliness. Auntie, auntie, auntie! Unless you have found yourself in the laboratory of a cultural aunt and been dissected, mute and without a groan, by her trivializing mentality, unless you have ever seen an auntie's critique of yourself in a newspaper, you have no concept of triviality, and aunty-triviality in particular.

Ferdydurke, translated from the Polish by Danuta Borchardt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sufi Jazz

Under the rubric of Sufi Jazz, many artists are making a name for themselves and some are famous, in what is considered great and beautiful music. And even though Sufism is itself eclectic and genuinely intellectual, Sufi jazz therefore must be more intellectual, almost anti bourgeois, proletarian, commonplace. The very heart of Sufism is an act of rebellion, an act against the established religious order of its times. It is an intellectual response to any totalitarian stranglehold, but this Sufi Jazz is only Jazz and no zikr!

The very concept of a popular music that is religious and acceptable, that is popular and mainstream is somehow more acceptable to bourgeoisie values than a music that is religious and on the wrong side of the established sensibilities. For that takes it somehow to be almost in opposition, in perpetual fight against an establishment that wants to reduce it and diminish its loudness. For any new kind of expression is almost tantamount to a rebellion, even if this new voice only sings and does not proclaim to preach. If it assumes the shrill voice of a cult, if it becomes loud or if it assumes the voice of discontent, then it usually falls foul of the establishment and becomes cultist, and in the end that spells its doom.

Sufi's of various denominations have always kept one or another type of music as part of their repertoire, albeit religious. And yet, it is only the whirling kind of Sufi or dervish that gets the maximum publicity in the Western world for that seems an event, an anthropological event, another difference between us and them and perhaps another point to refresh the argument of clashes of values. Most Sufis don't usually start dancing de novo, there are moments that lead to it and it is a consuming act, a religious act as I understand, one that is born of humility in the beginning and passion and fervour afterwards, leading to what should eventually be an ecstatic phenomenon.( A psychological act)

The dervishes that whirl in Turkey do so in devotion, for a purpose and it is part of a process called supplication. Now all religions use music, in temples and churches and so on. And yet, that is heard and even sold as part of a genre called devotional. However, this new music of Sufi jazz, marketed and branded, sung and imported, and recognised as part of world music goes perhaps against the very concept or grain of such music, for it is immaterial, away from any form of jazz , ( and by jazz I mean colour, rush, delight, or fame) this negates the very concept of this music for this is private, born out of desire and love, torture and melancholy.

If the proponents sell this to an audience that is susceptible, that wants and thinks that it has partaken of a particular Sufi or religious experience, then surely it is another form of a nauseating commercialism, a kind of designer emancipation, a thing I would unhesitatingly call- commodity fetishism. For it sells a myth, an experience, a tear and a whirl, a dream, sighs and welds together experiences for different people that are actually un -understandable, for at its very heart, intense or even normal Sufi chat is profoundly difficult to understand, as it is extremely philosophical and not commonplace.

I am not for a moment saying that this kind of music is not enjoyable. I only think that its basic colour, its figure ground must be understood. It is only after that, after that discussion, that its suitability for new listeners can be discerned and he or she actually whisper what this Sufi Jazz is. We see in the past Hindu sages doing what the rest consider beyond reach. Similar distance needs to be had before one can begin to understand the elements of what is now designer Sufism generally. Till then, more Kind of blue.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Witold Gombrowicz : Possessed

To the haunting pantheon of Gothic fiction, of this tradition, one must surely add this wonderfully well written novel by Witold Gombrowicz, a writer who is generally regarded as one of the best writers never read. But surely that is changing. Sontag's well written essay on Ferdydurke spurred me last year to read it and I thought it was one of its kind, a novel that stands on its own, really unrivaled. But Possessed is a totally different experience, a different novel altogether.

Gothic fiction has its high and low points. I am slightly sympathetic to this genre. For a long time I believed that only Edgar Allan Poe could write it well. I have read Hawthorne too and think that H.P Lovecraft occupies a niche in this genre, but Poe is really a master. There is a definite religious element to this genre, sin and redemption, mostly christian concepts. But if one steps away from the glaring mundane novels and movies that are called Gothic, one realizes that some of this fiction is really readable and actually quite artistic.

Possessed was serialized in 1939 in a Polish newspaper and was largely ignored by Gombrowicz till after he returned back to France. This English translation is based on the French one, and while not really brilliant, serves the purpose of this story, which is in a vein that is neither excessively sloppy nor unduly ghostly. It is Rita Gombrowicz, his widow who helped in reclaiming this novel, which is surely a great addition to this kind of fiction.

We have the usual elements that characterize such stories........a young man called Walchak, beginning his employment in the remote countryside with Maya, an aspiring tennis player. Nearby is the 170 roomed castle, haunted naturally, belonging to a mad prince, a faithful servant and a devilish secretary. Naturally Maya and Walchak fall in love, discovering how like each other they are and how they repel each other too, because of class differences. The haunted room in the castle, wherein a towel keeps trembling and moving, discovered by Walchak, holds the key to the prince's madness and Walchak discovers the plot that the secretary is hatching to take over the castle, just in time. We have tribulations and separations, a brief period in Warsaw, a friendly clairvoyant who unriddles the mystery and in the end, the solution but not before a murder.

The usual gore and bloodbaths of a Gothic tale are not found here. Here there are no overactive graveyards, stunning but sexually frustrated witches, baying wolves, talking skulls and so on. The explanation of these mysterious events must come from certain psychological angles. As we are told,............"The trembling of this towel is enigmatic to say the least. Anyone who has ever attended a spiritualist seance is aware that unknown forces are capable of lifting objects, moving furniture about, and even striking the participants. These phenomena are not necessarily supernatural in character. Certainly the forces are unknown, but they depend upon our psychological make-up".

I liked this novel and not just because I wanted to read something different. There is an inherent tone inside this novel which actually mocks the way these stories are usually told. Certain basic themes that Gombrowicz excels in, familiar to readers of Ferydurke, like childhood fears, immaturity, the understanding of evil and innocence, one's responsibility and understanding of the daily actions that we undertake are the themes of this novel. The plot is gripping, the style brilliant, the pace fast and while one has suspicions of what is actually going on, one likes the suspense too. The beginning of this novel is true to tradition and I felt it is quite well written and the transitions from darkness to a more urbane understanding of such phenomena is well handled.
A passage in the beginning that I liked, reflective of the atmosphere.

The train sped on, swaying monotonously. The bleak green countryside stretched away on either side, lit by the last rays of the setting sun..........soon they were bowling along a dirt road through sparse woodland that every now and then opened out to afford views of the surrounding countryside- a flat and cheerless prospect.
The sun had just set. They drove in silence, overawed by the silence all around them. Forests still ringed the horizon, but now their way lay across open meadowland with only the occasional stunted tree to relieve the monotony. Dusk had cast its veil over the land, and now a huge moon emerged from the clouds hanging low on the horizon. Dogs barked in the distance, and Walchak, peering into the gathering darkness, was unable to shake off a strange feeling of unease. Looming abruptly out of this enigmatic landscape was a large mound topped by a building of quite breathtaking proportions.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Woman In The Dunes

I warm up to any one generally, anyone who is searching for something, even for tiger beetles, in a desert. That is what the protagonist of this wonderful movie is in search of, as he walks and stumbles across a desert that has been beautifully choreographed in this movie, released in 1964, and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. He tells us that this place is not fit to live and then realizes he has missed the last bus home. He meets villagers who are too eager to help and decides to stay for a night in a sandpit with a woman, who lives there alone.

Never has sand, suspense and sexual tension been as beautifully portrayed as in this movie and what follows is a bizarre turn of events as the woman asks his help in shoveling sand up the pit to the villagers, who sell it to a construction site. Naturally he refuses and attempts to escape till all attempts fail. "Are you shoveling to survive, or surviving to shovel?'' the man asks the woman. Then he resigns himself to helping her and releasing his and her frustrated sexual menace, against a constant background of sand, sand that fills all the voids, all the gaps in the life of this lonely woman, whose husband and daughter lie buried in the sand.

His plea to the villagers to let him free is answered by them ordering him to have sex with this woman in their view, against cries, drums and masks, as they build up his frustration to a frenzy, trying to force himself on this woman. In the end he has the chance to leave which he does not take, preferring to stay in the pit with this woman, his woman of the dunes.

One of the first things that comes to mind is the Camusian Sisyphus tale and perhaps all of Kafka. Yet this hero is different, for he seems more credible, more humane and importantly he tries to fight a situation that is odd, mysterious, bizarre, without losing his will, his instinct to survive. He is strong within the context of the situation and his sexual frenzy with this woman is a natural result of the environment he finds himself in, one of shadows, of mystery and of sand. May be there are more angles to this story than the usual existential ones that come to mind.

And yet what about this woman? She is far greater a tragic figure than in any other such cinema, more than any in other dry angst ridden existential concern cinema, for in her resigned attitude, in her innocent wistfulness, in her self sacrificial pose, her acceptance, her acceptance of sand and shadows, of the constant shovelling of this ever pervasive sand at night and her quick acceptance of this man and her knowledge of other women, in Tokyo and the ready acceptance of her family lying buried in the sand lifts this figure to the heights of saintliness.

The performance by Kyoko Kishida, as the woman in the dunes is brilliant. The background score is scorching, it sears the skin as you hear it. The sand and the desert in this movie is the best choreographed that I have seen so far, and for hours afterwards, you can see it fall, fall. This is not just a great movie but a wonderfully crafted piece of work, complete, sure, subtle, mysterious and disconcerting.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Qasida Of The Rose

The rose
was not looking for the dawn:
almost eternal on its stem,
it looked for something else.

The rose
was not looking for science or shadow:
confine of flesh and dream
it looked for something else.

The rose
was not looking for the rose.
Through the sky, immobile,
it looked for something else.

From The Tamarit Divan, Federico Garcia Lorca

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Absinthe

Now Absinthe is a drink I have never had but thought of. I thought it didn't exist any more. But it does, and though I am not entirely sure, not even banned in England. It has gone through the process of being banned in France, and then other places and so on. But my interest in it is primarily of the link it has had with literature, poetry and writers, for it has been claimed to be inspirational, inspiring poems and grand thoughts, fights of fancy and other similar escapes. It has been called the Goddess of artistic rebellion, and surely that sounds interesting.

The relation of absinthe with creativity seems to be quite old. It has been called the green fairy as it induces hallucinations and other perceptual experiences. I understand that hallucinations are not always unpleasant and this fairies do not actually exist but I am willing to believe that this particular green fairy does. If she brings escape with her, poems in her arms and literature on her wings, then surely only a fool would not feel tempted.

Absinthe has long had romantic associations, especially in Europe, particularly France where it was banned in the last century because of addictive potentialities. The origin of the word itself is unclear, probably derived either from the Greek absinthion or Persian aspand ( familiar to me) or a combination of these. It is derived from wormwood and anise and goes through a complex process and perhaps it also contains methanol. All these components add and conspire to give birth to this green princess.There is a lot of information here about its chequered history through the centuries, its birth, death and near revival. Among artists, Picasso and van Gogh have been devotees. Oscar Wilde one said that " After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world." Hemingway, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and so many others have sung praises. In more contemporary and popular culture, Marilyn Manson has been a fan and is supposed to have developed his own brand called Mansinthe.

There are countless societies and dedicated sites to absinthe on the internet and I was really surprised as to its dedicated following. This folklore is called absinthiana and I was surprised to find this site here calling itself the Absinthe literary review, with numerous articles, and other trivia, all an ode to the green fairy. There are quotes from Shakespeare and other fun essays too.

People have attributed inspiration to various drugs, herbs and other extraordinary things from times immemorial. These thoughts or ideas are not limited to the West or the East. It is also widely believed that Manic Depression is commoner in poets and writers, and in such mental states, Poesy drops her guard and lets the senses soak with delights. Does poetic inspiration really follow from such experimental acts? Is it a matter of coincidence or one of those myths that time lends to such phenomena? I don't know the answers but am trying here to understand these strange flights. I hope poetry is more prone to arise from the inner heart, whatever that is.

Yet, one must search and seek monsters and fairies. They exist at the rims and edges of out of normal experiences. Mystics, near and Eastern have been lenient to such influences. Why not? Why must one always be so patient for poems to drop in our laps? Artistic creativity is surely not journalistic reportage. Creativity and rebellion, madness and brilliance, these are old mates.

And when night hunts, with its witchery and its insomnia, a friendly fairy can frighten it off!

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Century Of Posts!

A century in cricket is generally a sign of respectability, even if a batsman might have plodded to it. I feel like one of those lower order batsmen who are still unsure of how they managed a hundred! This is my 100th post even though it is not about anything. ( Not counting the 3 last year)

I started writing here last year and was generally unsure of whether it would continue. I am still here which perhaps shows that one should remain unsure of most things. I am not prolific by any means but I try to be regular and write whenever I can. Sometimes I try to write in spite of myself. I started to write ages ago but those poems and what I then called Notes are within the pages of diaries, small, now mellow notebooks, margins dirty and much thumbed, too much saliva and too little sense.

I was searching last year for something on Satantango when it all started and I discovered Dispatches from Zembla. I found it delightful and quite readable and I felt that perhaps I too could muster myself to try and write. Since then, I have discovered other fine blogs too, but Alok and Antonia are the two that shall remain linked to the child like delight of early posts. I thank you both for reading this blog. I admire your blogs for they have inspired me to be here still! I also thank the mysterious alpha2Omega, who encouraged me when it all seemed thin ice. May be one day, I will persuade him to write too! ( His contribution at present is unvoiced reproach)

I try my best to avoid being shrill and too opinionated and my own prejudices and lack of clarity must be forgiven.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Land Of Sad Oranges

Continuing with the short stories of Ghassan Kanafani, I think there is one story which, though only a few pages long, actually succeeds where a novel might usually fail. It is from the book called Men in the sun and other short stories, a novel that some consider Kanafani's best. This story shows that Kanafani's prose is not always politically preoccupied but there are other personal and humane concerns at work too.

The land of sad oranges is a technically perfect story. First, it is really short, just a few pages. Secondly, it allows the reader to see and feel exactly what the writer perhaps wanted. The language is a mix of the bare and the essential, a key to success for a short story. Emotionality and rhetoric are kept at bay. No blame is apportioned towards any quarter, only facts are narrated.( The narration of plain facts nowadays is considered rhetorical and a sign of political incorrectness). The key images of total helplessness, personal sufferings, misery and loss of a family are narrated, for the reader must see and perhaps depart too, saddened as that land.

The story is that of a family that leaves Palestine, following its destruction and occupation to Lebanon, for a refugee camp ostensibly. The narrator's family gets bundled into a lorry, leaving their land behind, forever. In their new one room house, where there is no space to stretch, the loss is borne home, even though the narrator was a child then. Any hope that still lingers is crushed with the defeat of the Arab armies and permanent exile stares the family in their faces. the narrator's father, perplexed and angry decides to take matters in his hands by attempting to kill his children and himself though this doesn't eventually happen. The story ends there, in defeat and failure.

This story or rather a sketch essentially conveys the grief of those Palestinians who lost not just their country but home, which includes land, the sun, sea, trees, clouds and so on. As the narrator points out.........

You and I and the others of our age were too young to understand what the story meant from beginning to end ( the night of expulsion) but that night the threads began to grow clearer. Lamenting at the loss of his home..........
The groves of orange trees followed each other in succession along the road. We were all eaten up with fear. I also doubted whether God could see and hear everything. I was sure that the God we had known in Palestine had left it too, and was a refugee in some place that I did not know, unable to find a solution to his own problems.

Fear is what this child experiences, fear of sleeping and living on a pavement. However as the inevitability of this exile settles in, the narrator says.........I realized that our life had ceased to be pleasant, and it was no longer easy for us to live in peace. The imagery of the oranges is evoked, but we are now told that the oranges are dried and shrivelled up.

Exile and permanent loss of identity is a theme that most Palestinian writers have tried to express within the confines of their fiction. Similar concerns are poetically expressed in khoury's Gate of the sun, where stories of dispossession and loss are expressed with grace. Inevitably, there will be desperation in such fiction but surely why not? Similar stories of exile and loss are a part of what happened in the Indian subcontinent after the division along religious lines. Talking and making sense of such deathly migrations is not a sign of mawkishness but an attempt by present generations to try, if not understand the pain of previous generations, who were human too.

This short story adds to the rich pantheon of such literature and adds a page to the universality of such tragedies.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ghassan Kanafani: All That's Left To You

True artists, and those who actually live their philosophy, politics or literature exist mostly within books, confined to pages, between lines. Very rarely do artists rise above the mundane and declare their true affiliations. Nowadays, writers are afraid to take sides in political and social quarrels, let alone show solidarity for real issues, for the causes of life, humanity, freedom or politics. There is one name, from the middle east, a novelist and activist, in whose death and murder, true artistic activity was able to flourish, albeit, briefly.

Ghassan Kanafani, Palestinian novelist, writer of short stories and political activist was killed in a car bomb explosion along with his young niece in Beirut in 1972, the alleged responsibility later on accepted by the Israeli secret services supposedly, a death that was neither condemned by the Israeli left, its writers or in the west. Kanafani was a man of the left, and was one amongst the many intellectuals who were murdered by the Israelis, some of them as punishment for the terrorist outrage at Munich. The Palestinians lost a voice and Arab literature a new influence, and it is intriguing to think how his growing influence would shape Arab literature, considering that his published work is considered of much importance. He was only 36 when he was killed.

I recently read his novella called All that is left to you, and this book also includes a few short stories. Kanafani is usually identified with his Men in the sun novella and as a writer of short stories.In an excellent introduction to the latter mentioned novel, Hilary Kirkpatrick writes that Kanafani lived and died according to his ideals. Yet, unlike many committed writers, he refused to impose an ideological scheme on his fiction in any but the most general terms. Although his literature served the cause of Palestine, they have a universal appeal, thanks to his literary talents and his tenacity in preserving that freedom without which art is stifled.

In the novel All that is left to you, ( useful link) there are five characters, two of which are time and the desert. The novel thus has different voices which are initially difficult to relate to. But the type face for each voice is different, and we soon find how and when the desert and time speak. The story is that of a man, called Hamid who flees across the desert to Jordan, leaving his sister, Maryam behind, who has married Zakaria, who had gotten her pregnant outside wedlock but has eventually married to.Hamid cannot take the shame his sister has subjected him to and leaves her with the promise of writing to her when he gets there. He runs into an Israeli border guard and ambushes him, while his sister, who is faced with her husband ( previously married with five children) cannot take her new subjugation and sharing her husband with another woman any longer, and in a frenzy stabs him.

The other two narrators, namely time and the desert reveal what happens to these three characters from their point of view, adding perspectives that would be otherwise hard to see. As events escalate, the prose gets quick and pacy till we reach the final denouement. It seemed to me that there was no need to have different type faces for the narrators but that is just an observation. Perhaps, it should have been left to the readers to differentiate. I found it slightly tedious.

The style was supposed to be highly experimental for Arab fiction at that time and it clearly is a fore runner of similar experiments elsewhere. The prose is never sloppy nor excessively fable like( which is a problem with Arabic novels). The narrations merge with each other but we can separate them. The images are brilliantly constructed and the usual cliches of male dominance, honour and manhood are subtly woven into the situation of Palestine itself. Hamid tells his sister Maryam, a woman seething with repressed sexual desires that don't talk about marriage before our national cause has been decided. Maryam reflects on her first sexual experience with her going to be husband thus:

He pulled himself closer to me, and the heat of his breath set me on fire. I knew it was going to happen and I couldn't resist him. My nakedness was fluid beneath him. The darkness throbbed with excited hisses. I began relentlessly undulating, up and down, rhythmically, crushed beneath his shoulders, flung, pulled, crumpled, left quiet and then dragged, squeezed, kneaded and soaked in water in a terrifying melange of heat and cold....................This perhaps seems necessary to her and I felt it might reflect what is happening to her land too. Kanafani's two characters, brother and sister are thus on a journey, separately and in the end both take the plunge.

This novel is not the most poetic but deft and stylish. The terrors of the desert and the main protagonists are conveyed well. Kanafani conveys the miseries of his land quite well, a cause for which he died and at the same time, writing a highly innovative and charged document of Arabic fiction.

The moods of my eternal body, says the desert, love and hate and an unwillingness to forget. Time itself was rooted in my depths. Violence and anger. And before and above everything: submission. And says Maryam when thinking of her brother.........

He seemed to be like the last train that has left a deserted platform, listening to that silence which belongs to places of exile and loneliness.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To My Love On New Year's Eve

This is a poem from the collection of love poems by Nizar Kabbani, the Syrian poet.

I love you
And I don't want
To link you
To the water or the wind,
To the ebb and flow of the sea,
To the hours of the solar eclipse
I don't care
About what the astronomers say
About what appears
In the lines of the coffee cups.
Your eyes are
The only prophecy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This Bolano Love: Language and Rebellion

It is my feeling that a particular type of literature or a poem or for that matter a colour like black, even a certain kind of sadness can only appeal to a few people. It does not make those people privileged or necessarily more receptive, it only reflects a way of responding to words, colours, life, sadness. From time to time, we talk of melancholy, the pretensions of melancholy even and how well educated it can be as a mood, a pose. Yet, certain anarchic attitudes, rebellion, surrender when it is required, welcome loves, hideous heartbreaks are more than a pose, an affect, for they can reflect the underlying persona of an individual.

I want to talk about the literary style and language of Roberto Bolano, for my eagerness about this writer, my enthusiasm is less than the generosity of delight and sorrow or sadness that I have found in his books. It is my naive consideration or opinion that Bolano can only become the chosen writer of a select band of literary maniacs, for whom style and form is as important as meaning and context. Bolano's fiction, for want of a better word is the screaming heartache of a generation, a generation of men and women, whose voices are shushed by the loss of youth and the advancement of hopelessness.

It must be the prerogative of literature and writers to invent a new language and to culminate rebellion and angst ( a word I dislike) on paper, through poetry, through the promise of poetry. This needs a total reinvention, because the exigencies that prompt this heartache are the results of cultural dominance by unfriendly powers, by social norms continued through a kind of imperial insistence, a denial of the right to live and die, political uncertainty, loss of human rights, slavery, death, disease, destruction. Thus this new writing must turn the old away and find a new idiom, a new love.

Most of The Savage Detectives is a kind of an answer, against the old kind of poetry, basically a cry against the established order. Thus visceral realism as I understand it, is a youngish attempt to fight, to reinvent the left, to reinvigorate the ideals of revolution against the tyrannical powers of unmoralistic capitalism, fetishism and the boredom of philosophy and classical literature. However, the savagery of this literature is evident in the total chaos of this attempt, in the unmitigated disaster of this realism, for it only survives briefly and then dies, for it is not well thought through because it is the naive response of youth, destined to die.

Language does not only belong to philosophers or to those who read it, or those who read philosophy or the semantics of everything. Language is created after heartache and after reason, for the language without terrible pain is droll, dull and inconsequential. Bolano's language is the language of a defeated revolution, a slangy heartache. It is important to recognise it. I may not speak this language myself because I don't know how to. It is a field language born out of living such loves, such terrible flights. Thus it gives expression, a ready expression, for it now revivifies the pestilence of defeated ideals, the triumph of the establishment and the defeat of youth.

Bolano's language, especially in his novels ( barring By night in Chile perhaps) is a street smart, earthy, frantic elegy, an elegy born on the roads of various continents, tried during the day and perfected during the nights. It is not recognised as an impossible deity by its speakers for it metamorphoses their hidden naivety or their earnest desires. It is a great language because it is a tragic language. It is not pretentious, not wordy, never classical. Far from it, it is funny and vastly idiomatic and reflective of the weather and seasons of the speakers and their lives and where they live them. It has a universal accent because it is deeply poetic. It is magical and not elusive. It does not hide behind tame metaphysics nor does it allow or want psychoanalytic reduction, a reduction to plain sexual emptiness.

One of the greatest achievements of this language is that it mocks and laughs at the speakers because the speakers are not as naive as the reader might think. The success of Bolano's attempt is in his distancing from the grandiosity of the dreams of this generation because his superior knowledge, from hindsight perhaps knows that success cannot be achieved. Thus his use of B as an alter ego in his stories and simply Belano ( same professions, habits etc) in his novels shows his realisation of Belano's success perhaps and Bolano's defeat, for this is a literature of equal participation and he would have failed in reality had Arturo Belano succeeded in his books.

Politics and social rage are important components of his stories and find expression in his language. Unlike European literature, especially the tame Eastern European type, Bolano has method and politics in his novels and stories and his characters are ready to die and hunt for the missing poem, for Mexico, for Latin America as they say, for the Third World. Thus this language is not new but compared to the processed and genteel politics of European writers, seems savage and harsh. But it too is only a pose, a slang, a response as Bolano is clever to point out.

Nights are duller and days insipid without any more Bolano to read.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Threnody In The Desert

Threnody, our young 17 year old poet, Garcia Madero tells us, is an elegy that is not recited in the presence of the dead. And that is what The Savage Detectives is.........a threnody for unsung poets, lost, forgotten, dead and killed sometimes, sometimes in a desert.

This is my 3rd post about the The Savage Detectives, a novel for which I have now stopped using adjectives, as I have run out of them. The third and final section of this novel is called The Sonora desert, and brings us back to the narrator of the 1st section, Juan Garcia Madero, 17 years old, young, poetic, in love, fleeing, fleeing into the desert dust with Belano and Lima and Lupe, in search of the mythic poet Tinajero, followed at every step by Lupe' pimp, the murderous Alberto. The beginning of this section is one of the most delightful parts of the book, in which Madero, to kill time or to distract the others and to entertain them starts testing their knowledge about poetic forms and meters, asking them if they know what free verse is followed by terms like glyconic, hemiepes, paragogic, chiasmus, ictus and so on.

All the while, as they blaze into the desert, they are searching for Tinajero, of mythic and forgotten fame. Each step is dangerous as Alberto is always just a step behind. This section and the novel ends in eclipse and exile, a blaze of sunsets, heartbreaks and dust. And so at last, we reach the end of a novel, which to borrow from the inside jacket is..........mesmerizing, multi layered, tragicomic, an odyssey, a journey, a search for the meaning of literature in a world on the edge of collapse, a novel in a class entirely of its own.

One of the most important aspects of this novel is its structure, in spite of its length. There are multiple narrators, each with his or her own story, in each way revealing or talking about literature, broken dreams, love, sex, life, that kind of thing ( To borrow from Bolano.) Each story can exist on its own, as a sketch, a dream, a desire and nowhere do the stories seem superfluous or un neccessary. They are a part of this cosmic desire to search for meaning or an explanation for the reasons that we need to live, amongst so many to die. And these reasons are part of the same reasons to read and write, same life and the same death.

Bolano refused to accept that his was mostly a literature of exile. However, exile is an important part of his entire oeuvre, for it seems that without this or other tragic circumstances, literature and poetry will not reveal to the seeker or in this case the savage detective. And maybe, if we read his other stories and novels, one feels an interconnected, underlying current, from his glorious Last evenings on earth to the fascinating amulet and this novel too, perhaps the stories are the same, the same search, pain, loss, exile.

Bolano's stories, heart wrenching and cataclysmic as they are, end in defeat. All the loves too. And the constant refrain is that then we never met again, or we parted forever or this love was lost or he died or killed himself, that kind of thing. He gives their stories space, expression, words and poetry. Thus Bolano, in one story and other stories writes of defeat and loss, exile and suffocation. Not for a moment should we think that he is always on their side for there is a sharp, cruel and almost merciless sense of underlying sarcasm and humour behind the words, in perhaps the lesson of each narration. It is in laughing at these participants in this game of love and literature that Bolano lifts their stories and catapults them into the high territory of tragedy.

Amadeo, we will find Cesarea ( Tinajero) for you even if we have to look for every stone in the north. I said don't do it for my sake. It is no trouble, it is a pleasure. And I insisted don't do it for me. We are not doing it for you, we are doing it for Mexico, for Latin America, for The Third world, for our girl friends because we feel like doing it.

This game is not really savage, this hunt, this escape. It is tragic and tender. But it is never ordinary. I think Bolano is a writer of elegies, of dirges, wails and epitaphs. Bolano has written a beautiful threnody or a succession of them, for all those who died when they were young, with poems in their hearts or for those who live still, in spite of having been in the heart of love and poetry but find themselves in deserts of one or the other sort, having lost all poetry. That kind of thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Invention Of Morel: Adolfo Bioy Casares

Having kept off reading this novel till now, I finally read it, adding it the collection of fantastic fictions, part of a literary genre that was extolled by Borges. This short novella, written by Adolfo Bioy Casares has been long regarded as a literary classic, having influenced the so-called Latin American fiction "boom" of the sixties and many movies including the elusive Last Year In Marienbad.

Casares grew up in Argentina and became very close to Borges and it seems was under his shadow, literally. In fact, they collaborated together in their work called Fantastic Fictions and this novel is dedicated to Borges, who has also written a prologue for this novel. Borges was his friend and mentor and it will be out of place for me to say how close they really were and whether there was a literary rivalry between them, as some historians have suggested. However, it is quite clear that Borges was his mentor and helped to introduce Casares to Argentinian literati and to Casares' future wife too.

This novella, called The Invention Of Morel has a dream like quality about it. One gets the feeling that one is not actually sure of what is being read. The prose has a hypnotic cadence about it and since one wants surprises here and one is constantly on the lookout, there is a constant sense of dread, suspense and alarm that lurks in these pages.The sentences are short, sure without explanations, for the narrator is himself unsure of the nature of events that are happening around him.

Perhaps I must try to understand and enumerate what Borges and later Casares meant by fantastic fiction? From my previous encounters with Borgesian fiction, I think it generally means to question the real or apparent and actually see how similar it might be from dreams or fantasy. To try to understand natural causation and see how imagination, fantasy and fiction are closely impinging on the natural or scientific explanation of events. Octavio Paz describes this novel as more metaphysical than cosmic, with we traversing a realm of shadows, for we are shadows ourselves.

The story in brief, without revealing it all is that of a fugitive narrator, living on a deserted island who finds it peopled one day, suddenly. He in particular notices a woman, gypsy like, called Faustine with whom he falls in love. However, after many attempts to speak to her, the narrator realizes that he cannot be seen by her or others on the island. This naturally seems strange though our narrator gives explanations, from the possibility of his hallucinating to his having turned invisible to these people having come from another planet. The events soon lead all these people assembling together and the events explained to them by Morel, whose island it seems it is. All these people happen to be merely shadows, Morel's invention, for in essence they do not exist, these are merely images, sensations, shadows and photographs with the souls of these people having passed on to the photos and thus ending their lives.

This invention of Morel is basically a machine that he has invented, whereby images can be reproduced, that could later on have souls, of those very people, whose images these are. There is also mention of two suns and two moons, tides, for instance neap tides, reality and its ensuing hyper reality and so on. This is science fiction but not of a jarring nature for it induces one to question the nature of things around oneself.......the very nature of time, its linear or circular nature, migration of souls in to images, the possibility of immortality for memories if not physically and the migration of consciousness.

This novel was published in 1940 and hence was quite far ahead of its time. There are explanations towards the end for every event described including a fascinating metaphysical contemplation of love. I would not necessarily call this novel science fiction though it deals with fantastic ideas, ideas that most people generally have but are afraid to voice. Regarding the connection between this novel and Marienbad, for those who have read this novel and watched that movie, the effect is perhaps the same disconcerting chill, that feeling of having been through an illusion, of words and mirrors. The style is very much in keeping with the drama and mystery of the occurrences, and I think this novel is suitable for a dream session reading, wherein, afterwards, one asks..........Did I actually read anything? Like the narrator himself as he asks the reader..............

To the person who reads this diary and then invents a machine that can assemble disjointed presences, I make this request: Find Faustine and me, let me enter the heaven of her consciousness. It will be an act of piety.

An interesting article in TLS about the relationship between Borges and Casares here, and a website dedicated to Casares fans.

Friday, October 12, 2007

And Then ( Y despues)

The labyrinths
that time creates

( Only the desert

The heart
fountain of desire

(Only the desert

The illusion of dawn
and kisses

Only the desert

Federico Garcia Lorca

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Autumn Pain

These autumn nights are merciless, they come so suddenly and then stay stuck, stuck to one's skin, soul, eyes. They seem limpid to begin with, at times serene, benign, easy to have, easy to live with, weightless. Then they spread their net, their long arms and start scratching, leaving livid marks on oneself, but they are all inside, these marks, these fears, these nights.

But what are these nights actually? Why should I even think to think about these things? Is it the melancholy of loneliness or the acid taste of darkness? Where do such heartaches come from? Why are just a few people prone to such disasters or do we misunderstand the geography and the climate of our inner hearts? Do innermost hearts have a different weather?

I believed once that loneliness and autumn are good for one's soul, they bring colour, albeit a different colour, like they do it to leaves, which are lying scattered everywhere in the courtyard outside my window. Such colour, such bleeding. The trees are slightly morose, the leaves are aching, some are crimson, the neighbour's wall is on fire. Other leaves are slightly more fortunate but they too will fall, turn hectic and die and then the bare colour of winter, which is transparent and white, sullen and heavy will invade everything.

But I digress. I was talking about nights, these slightly cold nights, when getting up in the morning is a disaster. I would just lie down, next to my fictitious cat, and would want to look at my pale hands as night lifts its cover and a new autumn day spreads its blue. It is the silence of these nights that halts poetry. Even music, of whatever colour pales and whimpers as these nights blur fantasy into reality and dissolve desire into memory.

I have always loved autumn, a particular autumn, in that garden, under a magnolia, my feet soaking in a struggling sun, a book, a poem and a dream in my arms. But then it brought nights of love, of colour and joy and sun and peace. Now it gives silence, shadows on walls and longing for poetry.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jose Eduardo Agualusa

This is my first foray into Angolan fiction, or for that matter fiction from that part of Africa, having limited myself, sadly, to Achebe, North Africa and thereabouts. However, this rising star of African and Portuguese fiction, who has won numerous prizes, including the Grand prize for literature, Independent foreign fiction prize 2007 and others is being considered as a rising star in Portuguese literary circles. He is also the first Angolan writer to be translated into English and having come across this writer on the Internet and at Three percent, I took the chance to buy two of his novels Creole and The Book Of Chameleons.

One must perhaps ask whether this is Angolan or Portuguese fiction and whether both are actually the same? Is Salman Rushdie an Indian writer or an Indian writer writing in English, though his nationality is British. Indian readers of Rushdie's fiction are perhaps reading a different writer compared to his English readers. This question might be academic or perhaps political. Agualusa is white and Angolan but the novels are written in Portuguese which to me are not the same. However, that, maybe later.

I decided to read The Book Of Chameleons, published in the Portuguese as, "O vendedor de passados," which simply means The seller of pasts though the English title is different, there being not even one chameleon in it. This novel has been described as "Strange, elliptical, charming" and "humorous and with a fierce originality" with the Independent claiming that "not since Gregor Samsa's metamorphosis have we had a convincing non-human narrator". The narrator of this novel is a gecko, who in a previous life was a man. This gecko lives in the house of Felix Ventura and we are introduced into Ventura's world slowly. Ventura invents pasts for people if they are unhappy about it, with new lineage and new memories, photos and a completely new biography. Into this strange world, as the gecko lets us in, comes a man who wants a new past which he is easily given. but as it turns out, this new past turns out to be this man's , Buchmann he is called, as actually his real past, memories and all.

The gecko, who meditates and reflects on these events and lets us share his own past, his dreams and his memories, and his conversations with Ventura, clearly is amazed at this turn of events but not surprised. For the gecko is convinced of the frailty of human memory and the state of human desire. His conversations or his narrations have the flair of poetry sometimes and usually they are grim and sad thoughts of his own previous life, childhood and so on.

I am surprised as to why the narrator of this novel is a gecko and what is the purpose? Is this of a symbolic or allegorical importance? Even though Angola has gone through a traumatic civil war with millions displaced, there are flimsy references to these events though the invention of past for a Government minister serves some purpose at least. The style of this novel is impressive, it is not weighty, in fact I breezed through this novel. It is easy reading, compact and at times rises to attempt poetry but fails at the final moment when words usually overflow over the brim. Some passages are quite good, the evocation of Luandan smells and sights, its evenings is at times well done. However, nowhere does this novel rise above the level it takes to become really great. I find it still readable but I doubt whether I will read it again.

Ventura gives a few insights into his profession and at one point says...."name a profession - any profession - that doesn't sometimes have recourse to lying, a profession in which a man who only tells the truth would be welcomed." "I think what I do is really an advanced kind of literature,” he told me conspiratorially. “I create plots, I invent characters, but rather than keeping them trapped in a book I give them life, launching them out into reality.” Nowhere did I feel that our gecko reminded one of Samsa and I find this comparison unnecessary.

There are some very good reviews of this book here and here, the authors website ( I think he is quite good looking) To be honest, I am not really sure what I think of this novel. May be I didn't even understand it. I am hoping that creole will be better for it looks into slavery, Angolan history and related issues. I am quoting this passage, which I thought is the best in the entire book.

"Memory is a landscape watched from the window of a moving train. We watch the dawn light break over the acacia trees, the birds pecking at the morning, as though at a fruit. Further off we see the serenity of a river, and the trees embracing its banks. We see the cattle slowly grazing, holding hands, children dancing around a football, the ball shining in the sun. We see the calm lakes where there are ducks swimming, rivers heavy with water where elephants quench their thirst. These things happen right before our very eyes, we know them to be real, but they are so far away we cannot touch them. some are so far, some very far away, and the moving train so fast, that we can't be sure any longer that they did really happen. Maybe we merely dreamed them my memory is already failing me, we say and maybe it was just the darkening of the sky".

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Bolano Effect

"The loves we have for cities", wrote Camus "are secret loves". And if we are to take this a bit further, the love that we have for writers or addiction to some is at times secret too. However, one must say that we find a particular rainbow haunting, a few sunsets too deeply sad, a few nights when restlessness rains loose a loose rain, and there we are, on our way, in the midst of this grip, this hold, this secret love.

Roberto Bolano, whom Sontag amongst others called a rare writer, has taken a hold over me, as the few readers of this blog might have noticed. I have become addicted to the unfixable loss that his writing leaves me with. Who cares about the outcome of this love like all other loves! The whirlwind sound of his words takes you on a journey that ends in poetry, in heartache and not just inside those words but afterwards as well. Have we not known all these characters before, that live in his pages or at least some of them, those who scribble poems in the margins of pages and read poems in the shower, leaving books and poems soggy and wet.

We know the climate of his novels, the raging sunsets of his cities and we know the beginning and outcome of such loves, for sometime surely some of us knew those who sang or loved when we too sang and loved and wrote names on trees.

Reading is not a recreational but a serious business and if reading is serious as writing is, as some would have us believe, then reading Bolano is to partake of that activity, to linger with him in the romance of writing, to simmer at the edge of those pages, and filter past those pages of love, rebellion and desire. Most of his characters exist before and after poetry, after life has failed them, as it always does, in the thundering heartache of night or in the mist of the early morning. There is no shame in saying that I find other literary fiction as rather tame after reading Bolano. Of course other literature and other writers exist and will come galore but the Bolano effect, as I have just called it, is different. With him is more tragedy, the awfulness of love, rebellion, poetry, music and heartache.

Bolano has written like no one else has before or perhaps I have not read anything like this. I try to accumulate these reading stones at this base of reading but I have given Bolano's stones different colours for they have given me new colours too, and yes, thunder, rain, poetry and literature.

I find myself getting a bit impatient waiting for his 2666, which is being rated better than The Savage Detectives!

(An interesting link)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Los Suicidas Mezcal

I have taken this license of naming my 2nd post on The Savage Detectives after this fabulously named drink, mezcal, that Amadeo Salvatierra offers to Belano and Lima, the savage detectives at the beginning of the 2nd section of this great novel."Ah, what a shame they don't make Los Suicidas Mezcal anymore," says Amadeo, "what a shame that times passes, don't you think? what a shame that we die, and get old, and everything good goes galloping away from us." It seems there is only one bottle and the rest of the time must be spent only in drinking tequila. "The two of them standing and me sitting, drinking and savouring each drop of Los Suicidas and thinking who knows what". And later he says, "when the glass is full, shall we say glazed with mezcal, the tequila is more at ease, like a naked woman in a fur coat". This conversation sets the tone for this section, which is the best Bolano I have read so far. "Salud, then! I said. Salud, they said."

This section which runs over a few hundred pages, is narrated by more than thirty narrators, who alternate with each other in a cyclical, almost rhythmic manner. The seemingly outward purpose is to construct a history and the actions of the two detectives as they crisscross across continents, unknown and unseen generally, like shadows, like ghosts. Their outward actions, or conversations with a few people, their motives, their words, their poetry, sighs, sadness and happiness is thus constructed from these narratives, which relies on the memory and the opinion of those few people who actually know them and in some cases from those who have heard about them. During this narration, we also get to know in more detail the various narrators themselves, for they form the outer thread or circle of this very clandestine group of visceral realists. Amadeo possesses the only copy of Caborca, the magazine wherein lies the only published poem of Tinajero, which our two poets are after.

Once we are familiar with one narrator, we can expect a particular form of voice or style which is peculiar to each one of them. Thus, as Amadeo speaks, we see his lamentation for Mezcal flow within his general heartache for lost time as he narrates wistfully his history of Cesarea Tinajero, the poet who vanished. Amadeo is thus a senior statesman, and our two Young men seemingly have some regard for his sighs. From narration to narration we rock and flow, from heartache to heartache to pain, from adventure to poetry but this adventure is all poetry.

One of the most important things that happens in the 2nd section is that we never actually get to know these two detectives, because they seem to be absent from the page themselves, as if they were being talked about only, if they had never existed or only were known to exist, or if their existence was so tragic and melancholic and abrupt that we must contemplate their poetry, or their attempt to be in poetry, for they are addicted and devoted to poetry, for they are supposed to be in poetry. thus what we see is the shadow of Belano and the ghost of Lima, we hang on the shadow of their words and on the promise of their poetry, for we actually know that they do exist for we have known their flight into a white impala, into the Sonora desert with our young poet Madero from the first section. This deliberate hush accentuates the savagery of these two poets or the savagery of their poetry which we never get to read but get to trust.

This novel flows on the wings of poetry and I know this sentence sounds too cliched. But yes, this is all poetry. what we see is a construction of a way of living, a romantic upheaval into the heart of Mexico city days and nights, which we must not forget is central to the existence of this novel. these narrators are all lynched by poetry, they have tried to be in the heart of literature or at least near those who were literature themselves. This novel evokes the childhood fire of some people who like moths dance around the young flame of life, in certain cities during certain nights, when those high on Mezcal or drunk with love and words float and drift and sing a high song, at a low or audible pitch, when their lover or lovers are around, when their love is about, when they have been and touched love and when love has just left them, as love has to leave and flee, when poetry and life has deserted them, when death has come or is about to strike.

Since there are more than thirty narrators, we get to trust their voice after sometime. we have amongst these Quim Font, who is most poetic, his daughters, luscious skin, and Auxilio, whose 10 pages are breathtaking, and these pages are even better than the whole of Amulet, where she is the only narrator. Belano's ex lover, Jauregi tells us "that visceral realism was his exhausting dance of love for me. The thing was, I didn't love him any more. You can woo a girl with a poem, but you can't hold on to her with a poem. Not even with a poetry movement". The loves these poets feel for each other are strange and real................"our relationship was spectral. I don't want to talk about love, and I am reluctant to talk about desire. we only had a few things in common: some films, some folkloric figurines, the way he liked to tell tales of desperation, the way I liked to listen to them".

The constant feeling when one reads this novel is the sense of loss that pervades these narratives, as each potential poet packs in and fades, dies and disappears. This narration which does not appear to be but is a sad narration, a wistful narrative, a melancholic prose poem, a haunting history of the lives of these past lives, is a searing experience for it reminds us, some of us who might have had a faint ambition of being in poetry or in love, of our own failure, of our own savage ambition. this novel gives you , "moments, something truly beautiful, the kind of moment that can last for a second or two or your whole life, because there is something for everyone on this cruel earth."

There are fabulous passages in this section and this one one is one of the best............How late it was, that time when night sinks into night, though never all of a sudden, the white footed Mexico city night, a night that endlessly announces her arrival, I am coming, I am coming, as if she too, the devil, had stayed behind to watch the sunset, the incomparable sunsets of Mexico, the peacock sunsets.........

As Francisco Goldman observes, "Bolano shows how time punishes us for the rebellious dreams of youth, bringing disappointment, painfully modest accomplishments, broken loves, illness, even violent death and, simply, the end of youth. But for readers no longer young, the novel also conjures youth in all its hilariousness and overwrought drama, and reminds us of the purity of young people's faith—above all in poetry. It can also make a reader care deeply about the characters, almost like a parent, wanting happiness for them, fretting when it eludes them, and finally forced to accept that they will live out their destinies on their own."

I want you to make me see stars, I said to her one day. How long do you think stars last? she said. How long is a long time? she persisted.
With this novel, we see various and different stars, before they fall down and disappear. Before they fall and leave a melancholy trace in the sky, before they fall down and leave some poetry and some pain, huge separation in our eyes. We see acts of poetry and acts of love which are perhaps the same. We notice also the disintegration of this fatal world, but at least we have seen a few stars.

I will write soon my third and final post on the last section, and complete this humble homage to a great literary masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bartleby & Co

This work of fiction is surely one of the most outstanding I have read this year and stands on its own, as a work of footnotes and not necessarily as a novel. I heard very recently about Enrique-Vila Matas, and decided to read this book, along with Montano's malady, which I haven't touched yet.

Vila-Matas has been hailed as the best writer in Spanish at present though I am not sure where this claim is coming from, outside or inside Spain ( that is a political question). That notwithstanding, Vila Matas has written an outstanding book, an exercise in collating or writing a footnote or an essay about those writers who decided that writing was a useless exercise and served no purpose. The central premise of this work is actually an anecdotal history of those writers and poets who having written one or two books then gave up, having either finished or having found nothing more to stimulate them. Most of the writers Matas mentions are those who did not write of their own volition, having decided about the further futility of doing so, not because the wells of inspiration had dried.

The title Bartleby, as Vila-Matas explains, is named after the story about Bartleby by Herman Melville, who never reads, never drinks, never goes anywhere, who is always alone, aloof, a mystery, never revealing who he is, preferring not to. This book aims to investigate the examples of Bartleby's syndrome in literature, which Vila-Matas thinks is endemic, about those writers who never write or stop altogether after having written, becoming paralysed for good.

Our narrator, who I think is middle aged, starts by saying this.........I never had luck with women. I have a pitiful hump, which I am resigned to. All my close relatives are dead. I am a poor recluse working in a ghastly office. I have begun this diary which is also going to be a book of footnotes commenting on an invisible text, which I hope will prove my reliability as a tracker of Bartlebys. twenty five years ago, when I was very young, I published a short novel on the impossibility of love. Since then on account of a trauma I will go into later, I had not written again, I became a Bartleby, and that is why I have been interested in them for some time.

This work reads like a who is who of Bartlebys syndrome, giving an insight into certain interior aspects of the writers lives. I am not really sure how true each incident is for perhaps Vila-Matas might have actually invented a few himself. Most writers mentioned are well known, mostly from the Spanish speaking world, and there is wealth of reading material here, for one can actually catalogue all these writers, make a personal note and then begin to read these works of previous bartlebys.

The style of this book is not poetic nor is it meant to be. The prose is well written, measured, humorous, ironic, self aware, reservedly self sufficient and then quite morbidly reflective, honest and very candid. There are times when one laughs in earnest and at times when Marcelo, the narrator makes you wince for his hidden misfortune, his pain, his Bartlebys disease. For his is the world made up of these characters from literature, he lives with these writers and their characters in a world that negates the reality of the supposedly real world outside. Negation, Kafkaesque silence, a lack of desire, morbid melancholia, disquiet inside and outside are some internal themes that constantly well up inside Marcelo, and his clerkish quietish existence is very like Kafka himself, like Pessoa, like the heteronyms of Pessoa, somebody like the narrator of All the Names by Saramago.

However, our man is not ill or deluded for he is carrying out a research into a real phenomena, that of Barlebys disease and in doing so, builds up a profile of the writers, their personal experiences, perhaps their real reasons in giving up this heartache of fiction or poetry. Vila-Matas' narration thus is fundamentally an archive of melancholy and I could feel echoes of Sebald though the writing styles are quite different. Vila-Matas avoids melancholy and ends up in it which makes it more melancholic.

The writers that are mentioned are both great and famous. He starts with Walser, quoting him that writing that one cannot write is also writing. Walser's entire work is considered as a commentary on the vanity of life and writing. Going to Rulfo and his famous silence after Pedro Paramo, for thirty years, He calls Rulfo the writer of the No. After this there are stories about Rimbaud, Socrates who never wrote anything, and Robert Musil who mythologised the idea of an unproductive author in The man without qualities. Flaubert never completed Le Garcon, we are reminded.

From writers who fell into madness after one book to those who lived near each other and did not know each other, from opium as a substitute for not writing as in De Quincey's case to those who committed suicide, this book is filled with incidents and anecdotes. Mention is made of Felisberto Hernandez and his short story collection Incomplete narratives, Salinger, Pepin bello, Borges, Pessoa and him saying famously that the only metaphysics in the world were chocolates. Hofmannsthal, Keats and his negative capability, Mallarme, Tabucchi all get a mention. However, Melville and Hawthorne, who created Bartleby and Wakefield, two almost similar characters are considered in greater detail as the founders of the dark arts of the no.

Marcelo also writes about characters from his own past and the most poignant story is of a friend called Luis Felipe Pineda which is searing in sadness, a poet who only writes the first line of a poem and then forgets about them all together. There are so many other stories and writers mentioned in this book that it is not possible to mention everyone though I might post some extracts in the future. (A link to Sebald and Matas here, and here, another good link .)

I think this book is simply delightful, a treasure and a wonder, an enquiry into the subtle art of writing and the art of the No, for as even lesser writers know, writing something, even a small little poem is an affirmation, a record of the soul's fever chart, the answer to nights, fog, sunlight and mist. However, I have always believed what Hofmannsthal wrote in Lord chandos' crisis that words were a law unto themselves and could not explain life. Beckett would say that words abandon us and that is all there is to it. That is how Bartleby & Co ends and that is the fate of this post too.