I haven't really written much narrative (that I can recall) in the first person voice. Let's give this a try. Peter seems like a good place to start with the first person, being as he is at least roughly modeled after myself.
(The plan as it now stands is, write fragments as they come to me. Revise and post at READIN those that seem worth while. Wait and see, see if anything is coming together. And if not, well, I'm having fun with the fragments and the revisions...)
I found Fragmentos de la universidad desconocida when me and Laura were visiting Mexico City. What a poorly-planned trip! We had both just fallen in love with The Savage Detectives -- the idea came up on the spur of the moment, that we should make the trip as, well, an homage to Bolaño or something like that, something along those lines... didn't really bother to do much or any research though I guess, I guess we were both pretty busy with work around that time, felt lucky we could both take a week off and have it be the same week, and by the time we had gotten off the plane and stumbled to our hotel and stumbled out of the hotel, down the street, it was Day 1 and we were standing in the Plaza de la Constitución, rubbing our eyes, pawing at the map, trying to figure out how to get to the Calle Bucareli, and it was beginning to dawn on me that there were way better things we could be doing with our week than trying to retrace the footsteps of Leopold Bloom around Dublin.
It wound up being a good week, too -- we did not actually find our way to any of García Madero's bars, but we did visit a couple of his bookshops, and the Bosque de Chapultepec, and Trotsky's house. Ate well. When we came home my suitcase was stuffed with books.
I've been a sucker for Spanish poetry ever since college -- the professor had us reading Neruda and Cardenal, and then I found an old book of Pablo Antonio Cuadra, and I was hooked. Something about the foreignness of it, the unfamiliarity of the language (well and of course the specific lilt and rhythm of Spanish) makes it touch me, ring clear in a way that only rarely happens with English language poetry. But Bolaño! I had no idea he had written any poetry. (I know -- it sounds dumb now, just a few years later on; for me he was just the author of The Savage Detectives, like how I didn't know anything about Kerouac beyond On the Road, for what seems like an inordinately long time past my tenth-grade year.) But, but there it was on the bookshelf, right in front of me in Librería Sotano: The fragments of the unknown university. What a title! Seeing it felt like a revelation. I know, I know, the structurally correct thing would have been for me to steal it... The cashier gave me a Sotano bookmark, I was meaning to hang on to it but no idea where it has gone.
That was our last day in Mexico.
Let's walk down the street a little ways together, friend. (I'm feeling vaguely guilty about these insomniac episodes I must say, feeling as if they are just the most readily visible manifestation of a more general sense of being ill at ease in the world around me, and as if this awkwardness, this cowardice, is at heart a way of letting Laura down, of not being there for her.) We're on Market St. in Saugerties, a couple of blocks from where Laura and I are living -- I'm sort of brooding, taking in the early morning cool and the physical landscape of the town while I fret about not having gotten anywhere with my life, no real career, strictly limited prospects for any kind of recognition... This kind of thinking has become so habitual for me that it can be hard to distinguish it from the incessant buzzing of the cicadas. It goes both ways of course -- if I was looking for success and recognition why the hell did I decide I wanted to be a literary translator, do some freelance editing and web design on the side "to support myself" was my thinking, of all things. (Which, well, the truth be told I guess generally I manage to do or just about do, at least with a little creative fudging of memories.) No-one is up yet in town, it's about 4:30 and the sky is just starting to lighten in the east, across the river, and I'm nearly back home now. I see our bedroom light on and kick myself again a little, and grin.
When I get upstairs, Laura is smoking a cigarette and reading over a draft that I've asked her to look at, the Josner Ávala poem on "corta euforia ya no ciego" that I was working on last week, and I'm wishing she would just quit the smoking already, it annoys me but I don't feel like I have the relationship capital to be on her case about it. We moved out here from Santa Cruz two years ago, not long after the Mexico trip -- have been together nearly five years all told, together pretty much straight through; but there's still a sense in the air, an unspoken, unacknowledged suspicion between the two of us that we're like one major misstep on either of our part away from it being over.
press on, we change the language by what we say . No love lost that lives instory,that is heard anew with those balancing steps and feelings. I think a writing group for encitement or muse attraction might be added. Writing always seems like felting the imperceptible hooking into a surface from disparate chaotic pieces.
well I thought it is promising.
Thanks Leilani, "We change the language by what we say" is a great way of putting it. Sort of a repurposing of "We make the path by walking."
Maximiliano was making a trip into the city to buy paper and ink -- he had already left when she woke up. Flora sighed. She looked at the reams of paper already stacked at his writing desk, yellow paper covered with her husband's spidery cursive. He would not be back until dusk; the midday heat at this time of year made travel oppressive. For now the dark house was still pleasantly cool, as Flora poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the large, dusty table and considered the day ahead of her.
Una corta euforia ya no ciego/ (is what one of the sheets of paper on her husband's desk would have replied to Flora's sigh, had it been given voice) -- al hombre viejo le gustaría ver/ la cuerda corta que nosotros separa/ de dios. I was long dead and buried by this time of course, had died before my grandson ever introduced me to the woman who would be his wife, I would only meet her at my funeral. I have been pleased these long years (or was pleased, for all the long decades that I remained a separately conscious ethereal entity, an entity aware of the passing of time, an "I") at the degree of sensitivity that continued to reside in me, to link me to the places I stayed during my lifetime.
Her manner at my funeral appealed to me and I felt anxious (anxiety is, though, one of the first sensations to leave one as the time passes after death -- the sensation of the passage of time must be the very last one lost I guess, or nearly the last one) to know who this woman was that walked respectfully and almost regally at my grandson's side. Decades passed and I had little awareness of their life in Santiago, just occasional flashes and emanations... they moved north some years after the war had ended, moved into my house -- the house I had built as a young man, the house where he was born -- and I came to know her well. I spent the years happily fading away in her company, still many years after Maximiliano Josner had passed away.
(This project needs to get a title for itself soon. It is bugging me not to have a neatly labeled basket for it in my mind.)
Laura y yo no hicimos el amor aquella tarde. Lo intentamos, es verdad, pero no resultó. That line really made an impression. That first time reading La universidad desconocida I had been sort of flipping through the book, reading snatches of the poems, just a couple of lines at a time. That was all the attention I was able to pay it really, given my limited understanding of Spanish and given the amount of time that was going into work. Laura and I were still living in Santa Cruz then, it was a year or so after we got back from the DF trip I think.
And those words "Laura y yo" just shook me up, to tell the truth. A contributing factor was of course the dry spell that Laura and I had been having recently. This was about the second year we were living together I guess and we had sort of drifted apart in our physical relationship, we were spending more time talking and listening to music and, well, fantasizing about the future than really seeking a connection physically. We had a pretty pie-in-the-sky vision of how far we were going to get with our respective creative (creative and yet somehow neutering) energies. But even without all that -- just seeing this massive block of text lead off with "Laura and I" was enough to turn my head. I read that beginning passage to Laura and was surprised, happy, to find her turned on.
In a way I guess the unknown university, the Unknown University, was where I learned about poetry. This was in roughly '97 when I really started getting it, Laura and I would have been living together for (most of) four years by then. I felt a little surprised at the degree of sympathy I felt for Bolaño's poetic/narrative voice. Sometimes understanding an author that way can give you a nice feeling of on some level being the story or poem you are reading -- I was having trouble getting that sort of identificsation going with this text, until I came on the idea of translating it; and as I say it became the campus where I studied language and meanings and poetry.
This exchange is continued in a new thread.