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What word will be spoken that will give meaning to all this?

José Saramago

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Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

🦋 Christ in Elqui

I bought a book last night on the strength of its cover -- The magnificent cover photo (a still from Buñuel's Simon of the Desert) made me pick it up and read the back cover, made me buy the book and start reading... It is an homage to Nícanor Parra's Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui, about a young man from Chile's Elqui Valley who discovers that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Very dry humor and lovely prose.

Here is a bit of linguistic confusion I found entertaining -- early in the novel the narrator is talking about Christ's difficulties with his good-for-nothing apostles, who are always stuffing themselves, guzzling liquor and smoking -- he compares this with the Messiah's ascetic ways using a quick shift from third to first person, which is made more subtle and confusing by Spanish's imperfect tense.

In Spanish, the first person singular imperfect and the third person singular imperfect are usually (maybe always?) the same. So when Letelier writes

Él, por su parte, que debía ser luz para el mundo, no fumaba ni bebía. Con un vaso de vino al almuerzo, como exhortaba en sus prédicas, era suficiente. Y apenas probaba la comida, porque entre mis pecados, que también los tengo, mis hermanos, nunca figuró la gula. Tanto así que a veces, por el simple motivo de que se olvidaba de hacerlo, se pasaba días completos sin ingerir alimentos.
The first sentence is obviously the narrator speaking, because its subject is "Él". The second sentence is still referring to Christ in the third person, speaking of "sus prédicas". The beginning of the third sentence looks like it is still doing so until we get to "mis pecados" and "los tengo", and realize Christ is speaking now. Then in the fourth sentence we are back to third person as evidenced by the use of "se" instead of "me" -- I found it surprising what a small proportion of the words in this passage distinguish between the two voices.

posted afternoon of November 9th, 2010: 3 responses
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Saturday, December 5th, 2009

🦋 Antipoetry

(Every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me.)
Today at MobyLives, Tom McCartan has written the first installment of their series on Roberto Bolaño's reading habits -- this one is about Nicanor Parra, Chilean anti-poet of my dreams. Bolaño believed that Parra's poetry will "endure... along with the poetry of Borges, of Vallejo, of Cernuda and a few others.... But this, we have to say it, doesn't matter too much."

Gives me a nice opening to mention that I read the opening pages of The Savage Detectives in a book shop this morning, and it moved several spots up on my priority list of what to read next -- just a hilarious book.

posted evening of December 5th, 2009: Respond
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Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

🦋 Dream Blogging: Dream Poetry

I dreamt last night, at first, that I had made my way to Santiago and had sought out a famous poet (I cannot remember who; he was also a professor of literature) with the idea that he was going to enlighten me about Chilean poetry. We were sitting in the (oddly very noisy) university library and I was asking him, in better Spanish than I speak but still hardly fluent, to show me which books I should read to learn about poetry in Chile -- as we walked up the staircase I specified, yelling to make myself heard over the din, that I was interested in the latter half of the twentieth century. He brought me to the shelf of books on the topic; there was very little there, maybe 20 dog-eared books, half of them in translation -- it seemed very strange to me. I picked up the heavy Oxford Companion to Chilean Verse and started leafing through it.

In the second half of the dream I was debugging a web server I had written to render the work of Nicanor Parra. (Highly specialized, yes.) Sylvia and her friend Giulia came in and wanted to read the poems, also they wanted to play baseball -- I gave them the computer and while swinging their bats, they read three short poems about morning -- the poems were lovely, though they did not sound much like Parra; the only one I remember is:

On my birthday I arose
And drank the subtle
Health of morning.

posted morning of April 21st, 2009: Respond
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Thursday, January 29th, 2009

🦋 Read out loud

Sergio Chejfec turned out not to be the highlight of the evening. His work -- the portion of it that is excerpted in BOMB -- is lovely and introspective; but because it is introspective it did not lend itself to being read aloud. You want room for your mind to wander while you're reading it. My favorite thing I heard this evening was the poetry of Nicanor Parra, read by his translator Liz Werner from the recent book Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great. For instance, from the poem "Something Like That":

THE TRUE PROBLEM of philosophy
is who does the dishes

nothing otherworldly

      the truth
                  the passage of time
but first, who does the dishes

whoever wants to do them, go ahead
see ya later, alligator
                and we're right back to being enemies

Also very nice to listen to was Lina Meruana's short story "Ay" -- she writes a flowing, engaging narrative that pulled me in. She only read the first half of the story but it was enough to make me want to read the rest of it on the train coming home. Raúl Zurita was also there, reading some oddly dream-like poems about the coup of 1973 and about Akira Kurosawa; he has one of the most pleasant reading voices I've ever heard -- it was almost hard to get past the immediate sensory delight of listening to him speak, to get at the content of the poems. Zurita also has a piece in this issue of BOMB about Nicanor Parra, sort of bringing me full circle.

posted evening of January 29th, 2009: Respond
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