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.

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