Posts tagged Argentina
I hope to some day read the Collected Works of Mirtha Dermisache (Argentina, 1940–2012).
Image: Mirtha Dermisache, Carta, 1970
With only three books in print in English translation, it seems no one reads Juan Jose Saer (1937-2005). Believed by many to be the greatest Argentine novelist of the 20th century, Saer’s work, like his more well-known contemporaries Cesar Aira and Roberto Bolano, toys with the limits of genre, ultimately expanding our sense of what a novel can be. Befitting a novelist whose work straddled so many genres, Saer’s voice ranges from the lyrical to the hard-boiled.
Proof of his voluptuous lyricism is evident in the following passage from his novel of cultural dislocation and cannibalism, The Witness (trans. by Margaret Jull Costa, who has translated Saramago and Javier Marias):
Amongst so many strange things: the predictable sun, the countless stars, the trees that resolutely put on the same green splendor each time their season mysteriously comes round, the river that ebbs and flows, the shimmering yellow sand and summer air, the pulsating body which is born, grows old and dies, all the vast distances and the passing days, enigmas which we all in our innocence believe to be familiar, amongst all these presences that seem oblivious to ours, it is understandable that one day, in the face of the inexplicable, we experience the unpleasant feeling that we are just voyagers through a phantasmagoria…. But, despite its intensity, that feeling, which we all have sometimes, does not last and does not go deep enough to unsettle our lives. One day, when we least expect it, it suddenly overwhelms us. For a few moments familiar objects are totally alien to us, inert and remote despite their nearness.
And his hard-boiled, gritty realism is evident in the opening of the recently published translation of Cicatrices (Scars, trans. Steve Dolph):
There’s this filthy, evil June light coming through the window. I’m leaning over the table, sliding the cue, ready to shoot. The red and the white balls area across the table, near the corner. I have the spot ball. I have to hit it softly so it hits the red ball first, then the white, then the back rail between the red and the white ball.
In addition to Scars, Open Letter Books has also recently published The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which leaves us with the hope that we will one day be able to strike Saer from the roll of Writers No One Reads.
This is Santiago Caruso’s illustration for a new Spanish edition of “The Bloody Countess,” a 1971 prose work by Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936–1972), a writer I have not read (illustrator’s page / publisher’s page).
Pizarnik’s parents were Russian Jewish and she was raised in Buenos Aires. She published many volumes of poetry in the 50s and 60s (with titles like The Extraction of the Stone of Madness), studied painting, spent some time in France, translated Michaux and Artaud, and finally “died in Buenos Aires of a self-induced overdose of seconal.” (Check out some photos of the writer.)
Jason Weiss devotes a few pages to her in his book The Lights of Home: A Century of Latin American Writers in Paris. César Aira wrote a book on her.
An English translation of “The Bloody Countess” can be found in Manguel’s anthology Other Voices. The book Exchanging Lives: Poems and Translations contains translations of Pizarnik’s poems mixed with biographical details.
update: Chris at Dreamers Rise commented:
She was a good friend of Julio Cortázar and his wife. There’s some material about her in Jesús Marchamalo’s “Cortázar y los libros.” She inscribed a number of her books to him but towards the end you could see from the inscriptions that she was coming undone.
No one reads Roberto Arlt (1900-1942), an Argentine author of novels, short stories, articles, and plays—he even fancied himself an inventor: in 1932 he registered a patent on a method to prevent runs in pantyhose.
Borges praised Arlt’s prose; Cortázar read him passionately in his youth, and Juan Carlos Onetti (another writer no one reads) had this to say:
If ever anyone from these shores could be called a literary genius, his name was Roberto Arlt. … I am talking about art and of a great and strange artist. … I am talking about a writer who understood better than anyone else the city in which he was born. More deeply, perhaps, than those who wrote the immortal tangos. I am talking about a novelist who will be famous in time … and who, unbelievably, is almost unknown in the world today. [Translated by Michele Aynesworth; her notes from Mad Toy are the source for the above praises.]
Sources in English (Amazon US links):
Of the two works available in English, my favourite is The Seven Madmen (pictured above): ingeniously captured and articulated spasms of madness are littered throughout the book, one gem after another—reminiscent of Céline. Humorous tics of the psyche, eccentric characters, anarchistic undercurrents, and a portrait of living in the urban rain shadow are just some of the features that make this short novel worth a read—even if its sequel (The Flame-Throwers) is never translated into English.
(Image: designed by Oscar Zarate)
No one reads the self-styled Viscount Emilio Lascano Tegui, an Argentinian who, in addition to writing De la elegancia mientras se duerme (recently translated by Idra Novey as On Elegance While Sleeping), was at various times in his life a dentist, demagogue (it is reported that he made “incendiary speeches in perfectly rhymed verse”), bohemian, art dealer, world traveler, translator, painter, instructor in the culinary arts, as well as friend of Apollinaire and Picasso.
For more, see Isola di Rifiuti
No one reads Oliverio Girondo, who feuded with Borges and who claimed that “A book should be constructed like a watch and sold like a sausage.”