Saturday, April 10th, 2010
We're back from vacation! Pictures soon. I have a whole lot of new reading material on hand...
While we were in Modesto I visited my childhood hangout Yesterday's Books (it seemed so much smaller...) and got a cheap copy of Paradise Lost, which Mark (on Good Friday!) convinced me I ought to read. It certainly is easy to read -- not sure how much I am getting out of it, but it rolls in through my eyes quite easily.
In San Francisco we visited Ellen's old friend Maryam, who gave us copies of her new book Returning to Iran -- a look at events there from an expatriate's eye. Reading the first few pieces I am interested and looking forward to the rest.
Also in SF, I visited Libros Latinos on Mission and 17th, and picked up a bunch of books. They are a used book store specializing in Spanish and Portuguese lit with (seemingly) an academic target market. Definitely worth dropping in if you are in the area, a beautiful selection. I got:
- Prólogos con un prólogo de prólogos by Borges -- forewords that he has written for a wide variety of books, published in 1974. Cervantes, Whitman, Swedenborg, Martín Fierro, Ray Bradbury(!), his own translation of Kafka...
- Martín Fierro -- no idea if I will ever actually get to the point of understanding this, it seemed like a nice book to have on hand while I'm trying to understand Borges.
- Putas asesinos by Bolaño
- The black sheep and other fables by Augusto Monterroso (who will be the first author Bolaño has hipped me to) -- these are pleasant little fables about (mainly) animals. The blurbs on the back, from García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Isaac Asimov(!), might be the most compelling pull-quotes I've ever seen.
- I did not buy, because of the price, Borges Laberintos Dručmelić, which is "The Immortal" and "The Circular Ruins" illustrated with stunning color plates of the paintings of Zdravko Dručmelić -- if you're looking to buy me a present, look no further.
- The steep markdown which Libros Latinos offers on cash transactions meant I still had enough money in my pocket to stop at Nueva Librería México down the street and get a copy of Don Quixote.
...Arrived home lugging a big bag of books (Ellen and Sylvia also did some book shopping on the trip), and found on my doorstep a book I had ordered a while back from a used-book seller, Raul Galvez' From the Ashen Land of the Virgin: conversations with Bioy Casares, Borges, Denevi, Etchecopar, Ocampo, Orozco, Sabato. My shelves are full!
This is the second story in The black sheep and other fables -- the story of which Isaac Asimov says (and I'm dying to know now whether this book has been published in translation, or if Asimov reads Spanish...)* that after reading it, "you will never be the same again."
In the jungle there once lived a monkey who wanted to write satire.
He studied hard, but soon realized that he did not know people well enough to write satire, and he started a program of visiting everyone, going to cocktails and observing, watching for the glint of an eye while his host was distracted, a cup in his hand.
As he was most clever and his agile pirhouettes were entertaining for all the other animals, he was received well almost everywhere; and he strove to make it even moreso.
There was no-one who did not find his conversation charming; when he arrived he was fêted and jubilated among the monkeys, by the ladies as much as by their husbands, and by the rest of the inhabitants of the jungle too, even by those who were into politics, whether international, domestic or local, he invariably showed himself to be understanding -- and always, to be clear, with the aim of seeing the base components of human nature and of being able to render them in his satires.
And so there came a time when among the animals, he was the most advanced student of human nature; nothing got by him.
Then one day, he said: I'm going to write against thievery, and he went to see the magpies; and at first he went at it with enthusiasm, enjoying himself and laughing, looking up with pleasure at the trees as he thought about what things happen among the magpies -- but then on second thought, he considered the magpies who were among the animals who had received him so pleasantly -- especially one magpie, and that they would see their portrait in his satire, however gently he wrote it.. and he left off doing it.
Then he wanted to write about opportunists, and he cast his eye on the serpent, who by whatever means (auxiliary to his talent for flattery) managed always to conserve, to trade, to increase his posessions... But then some serpents were friends of his, and especially one serpent; they would see the reference. So he left off doing it.
Then he thought of satirizing compulsive work habits, and he turned to the bee, the bee who works dumbly and without knowing why or for whom; but for fear of offending some of his friends of this genus, and especially one of them, he ended up comparing them favorably to the cicada, that egotist who will do nothing more than sing, sing, who thinks himself a poet... and he left off doing it.
Then it occurred to him, he could write against sexual promiscuity, and he directed his satire against the adulterous hens who strut around all day restlessly looking for roosters; but then some of them had received him well, he feared hurting them, and he left off doing it.
In the end he came up with a complete list of human failings and weaknesses, and he could not find a target for his guns -- they were all failings of his friends who had shared their table with him, and of himself.
At that moment he renounced his writing of satire, and began to teach mysticism and love, this type of thing; but this made people talk (you know how it is with people), they said he had gone crazy, they no longer received him as gladly or with such pleasure.
* Yep, looks like it was published in English in 1971.
While I'm thinking of it, another story I really enjoy from The Black Sheep and other fables:
At first, faith moved mountains only as a last resort, when it was absolutely necessary, and so the landscape remained the same over the millennia.
But once faith started propagating itself among people, some found it amusing to think about moving mountains, and soon the mountains did nothing else but change places, each time making it a little more difficult to find one in the same place you had left it last night; obviously this created more problems than it solved.
The good people decided then to abandon faith; so nowadays the mountains remain (by and large) in the same spot.
When the roadway falls in and drivers die in the collapse, it means someone, far away or quite close by, felt a light glimmer of faith.
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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