Friday, August 08, 2008

Literary despotism

If statistical analysis was applied to literary works, a certain amount of literary works would be found missing from the annals of the common ground, from what is generally accepted and what is usually read. There is only a certain kind of literature that eventually finds acceptance, gets toasted, finds its author slipping into celebrity and the usual trappings that such things bring. I am not talking of censorship at all but the generally regarded good and great literary benchmarks that are set by invisible forces, those who have decided to represent the claims of good literature. And interestingly these makers of opinion can occasionally be literary figures themselves.

I was surprised at the review that Horacio Castellanos Moya's superb novel Senselessness received at Ready Steady Blog, in which the reviewer immediately sets about comparing this novella with Bernhard's Gargoyles, an act at once impudent and incorrect. Moya's novel has a different terrain, a different sensibility and the sentence structure has a different cadence from Gargoyles. Set in an all together complex world, Moya's novel, which many are claiming to be this year's best is described by the reviewer as brave and important but not great. However, we are not told what the criteria for a great novel are. Immediately the review begins and senselessness is described as a pastiche of gargoyles and umbrage is taken at Moya's tale being compared to a Kafka fable by another reviewer as if that comparison if valid is blasphemous!

The review then goes on to say that this novel is an alternative over Allende's House of the spirits which novel is described as a pinnacle of Latin American literature. ( Obviously the reviewer is not well acquainted with Latin American fiction or this book w'd not be mentioned) And that "what Senselessness adds to the Bernhardian form -- its terrible subject matter and the relatively conventional persona of the narrator -- perhaps doesn't go far enough". There are further allusions to Bernhard and then the review ends with a declaration of this novel as being only brave. The review, meant to be for senselessness ends in being a lecture on Bernhard's sentence structuring and the concerns of his fiction while Moya's novel simmers and boils down away in the dirt. So much for a review!

The above example illustrates the almost concrete and jungle monstrosity with which a book is received and then splintered away. Maybe the book is not for everyone and might not be the best but it shows how with a certain missionary zeal, a writer's foray into an alien language, through translation, can be stopped dead on its tracks. It has become customary to say the Bolano too used to approve of Moya while before it was.......Can Bolano be read or should he be read? In many American literary Publications over the last year or so, some people have been aghast at the so-called Bolano mania, expressing reservations about a literature of the outside. And now, Bolano approval is required for Moya.

English and Spanish are both imperial languages and languages of conquest and the fate of their writers is better than those of other languages, those that are exotic and underdeveloped and belong to the marginalized. I am surprised at this cultural and literary exclusion of certain writers on the basis of even the merit of their writings even if they must be ignored because of the shape of their noses. This is a form of despotism that takes on various manifestations, from popular representations to more serious dialectic. This difference must not be ignored but its ramifications pointed out. It is only after a few moons that writers as gifted as Moya appear and for those who do not like cultural barriers or even feel that talking about this is unfashionable or not even chic, this review as cited above is a case lesson. And for the unbiased, senselessness is a dream of a novel.

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