Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
Spanish Lit Month continues... At in lieu of a field guide, Rise has been poking around the dusty antiquarian book dealers' shops of Intramuros, and has discovered a most interesting manuscript folded between the pages of a tattered, dog-eared edition of Bartleby and Company. I am having trouble surpressing the urge to print out his post dozens of times over, and head down to the Barnes & Noble and fold them into the copies on the shelves -- somehow the book without this post will never seem like a complete thing to me.
Monday, July 9th, 2012
There is another variant of the Bartleby syndrome which I have not seen yet in Vila-Matas' enumeration -- one which seems to me like it must be pretty well-represented in the history of letters: writing the wrong book. Two, and possibly three characters in the story I am writing (and it goes without saying, possibly this applies to myself as well) spend their lives working hard on the wrong book.* They are not exactly emulating Bartleby -- they are after all striving to create, to produce -- but in terms of actual output it comes to very much the same thing.
Maximiliano Josner Ávala is a gifted poet, one who, however, never pursues poetry; he believes his calling is to theology and to metaphysics, and he works all his life writing a manuscript which will never be published. He leaves behind him thousands of pages, but his only publication is his thesis on the traditions and institutions of the indigenous tribes of Peru.
Ávala's young disciple Miguel Arroncoyo de Matoa is manically devoted to his teacher's philosophical work, and is too shallow of a thinker to really see the holes in it. He is also a seeker after fame, one who is bound to be disappointed; his dream is to use Ávala's manuscript as a stepping-stone to his own success in the field. He publishes some fragments of poetry from Ávala's journals with his own commentary, as a way of preparing the ground for what he considers the more important work, and then spends the remaining decades of his life attempting unsuccessfully to tame the monster manuscript. The volume of poetry does not make much of an impression, and is pretty well forgotten by the time Bolaño finds a copy of it in the university library in Santiago.
Bolaño includes some references to Ávala in the poems in La universidad desconocida, which is how Peter Conlay, a young man in upstate New York, catches wind of his existence. He finds a copy of Finidades on Abebooks and falls in love with Ávala's voice. So the question becomes, can Peter's translations succeed in introducing this forgotten and foreign poet to the world? Or is he too working on the wrong book? I see Peter as having things in common with both Ávala and de Matoa...
*And have I mentioned how it is tripping me out, that I picked up Bartleby y compañía just when I was starting to piece this story together?
Sunday, July 8th, 2012
...Why did I write? At the end of the day, the normal thing is to read. My accustomed answer was twofold: that firstly, my poetry consisted -- though I did not know this -- of attempts to invent a personality for myself. ...And furthermore, that it was based on an elementary confusion: I believed I wanted to be a poet, but essentially what I wanted to be was a poem.
Mi intenta en decir «últimamente sobre nada» fuera igual que cuando yo decía antes, «escribir sobre escribir sobre»; la iteración se puede infinitamente reflejar: una reflexión de la realidad y de una realidad reflejado. Si los espejos el otro precisamente alinean, si la recurencia puede proceder sin fin, últimamente se produce el contrario exacto de la realidad descrita, así precisamente nada. (Lo anterior es válido en doble en relación a «hablar sobre escribir sobre...»)
-- Jaime Gil de Biedma
quoted in Bartleby y compañia
Saturday, July 7th, 2012
It's the funniest thing -- somehow I had gotten it into my head that the title of Bartleby y compañia was Bartlett y companía -- this despite many times of reading the correct title, and of writing it out, and even of ordering it on Amazon [and it occurs to me now that I have not really read anything, anything that sticks in my memory, about it, just references to the title]... thinking it had something to do with the quotations dude. (And to be sure there are a lot of quotations in the text -- that's not really here nor there though.) This is my introduction to Vila-Matas and it sure is a pleasant one. The idea of "un cuaderno de notas a pie de página que comentaron un texto invisible" is just about exactly what I am wanting to be reading right now -- and here I am experiencing that reverse-projection which I refer to as identification with the text in spades, I feel like the first chapter of the book is written in my voice. Thanks for the impetus, Richard. (And I am going to throw caution to the wind disregarding the hinted warning in Jean de la Bruyère's epigraph. Tal vez soy yo entre los otros a quienes la gloria consistiría en no escribir, pero...)
... His second book was even more successful than the first, professors in North American, and some of the most distinguished ones among the academic world of those long-past days, wrote enthusiastic reviews, wrote books about the books which were commenting on the Fox's books.
And from this moment on, the Fox felt -- with good reason -- that he was content; the years passed by without his publishing anything.
Well, people started talking. "What's up with the Fox?" -- when he showed up right on time for cocktails they would come up to him and be like, You ought to publish something more.
-- But look, I've already published two books.
-- And good ones, too! -- would come the reply -- That's exactly why you should publish another one!
And here the Fox did not say anything, but thought to himself: "What they're really looking for, is for me to publish a lousy book. But because I am the Fox, I'm not going to do it."
And he didn't.
"Fox is the smart one."
The Black Sheep and other fables
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