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[NOVEMBER 2014.]

Hotel register 2014.008

Cambio de armas

Sex and power are usually a cold brew, no matter how many French herbs you stir in; writing with desire can lead anywhere at all, but writing about desire is a bad-faith invitation to get hot and bothered over a lab report. So what makes this book different—why is Luisa Valenzuela so obviously the real thing? The claustrophobia of state repression rendered as in an exacting horror movie, by what it leaves out, avenues closed. That desire still exists, a familiar beating heart, and has only these channels to pump through is as sickening as it should be. Something of Cortázar’s precise play, and a vocabulary that kept sending me to the dictionary to find out it was perfect.

At the studio, an olive tree became his friend. ‟When he had had a good session in his studio at Les Lauves,” reported Gasquet, ‟he would go down at nightfall to stand outside his front door, watching the day and the town go to sleep.

‟The olive tree was waiting for him. He had noticed it immediately, on his first visit there, before buying the land. While the building was being done, he had a little wall put up around it, to protect it from any possible damage. And now the old twilit tree had an air of vigor and fragrance. He would touch it. He would talk to it. When he parted from it at night he would sometimes embrace it.... The wisdom of the tree entered his heart.

‟‘It’s a living being,’ he said to me one day. ‘I love it like an old friend. It knows everything about my life and gives me excellent advice. I should like to be buried at its feet.’”

—Alex Danchev, Cézanne: a life

Proposition Q would require an immediate seismic event on the Hayward Fault with a Richter magnitude of no less than 7.0 and a Mercalli intensity of no less than VIII, with certain districts authorized to experience shaking up to Mercalli X, at the discretion of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. (Source: California Legislative Analyst’s Office.) The fiscal impact would be considerable. Yet the logic is persuasive. Assuming that the quake has to come at some point—and no one is about to deny that, everyone concedes that certain fundamental structural forces are out of our hands—there might be considerable benefit in dictating its circumstances. To the extent that they can be dictated. There are bound to be unforeseeables. But would this not be preferable to absolute uncertainty? Opinions don’t split cleanly along party lines. Some Democrats advocate taking our lumps now, lest we burden future generations; others counter that while a major earthquake might serve the interests of certain groups, this is hardly the time for so draconian a measure. Some feel that the debate throws into relief the irrationality of the popular initiative system, and that the proposal ought to have come through the proper legislative channels. The Republicans, for their part, are on the far side of the hills, burning their usual effigies—you can see the smoke plumes—and nobody wants to actually get on the web to find out what they think. So along comes the day of decision, and early in the morning, or on lunch break, we stand in line at the church reception hall or the middle school gymnasium to cast ballots, nodding pleasantly at our neighbors; and that evening we curl up together on the couch, hitting refresh on the browser every few seconds, with our five-gallon water jug and battery-operated radio waiting beside us on the floor, just in case the foundation starts to slide.

Hotel register 2014.007

La última niebla / La amortajada

The jacket claims to collect “la totalidad de la obra narrativa en castellano de María Luisa Bombal,” which is untrue. Many later stories are missing, an especial shame because they get more haunting as they go. It starts with that thirties Spanish-American sense of both author and milieu finding their feet, an immediate talent for evoking the dreamland and some uncertainty about what to do with it. In the short tales of unhappy marriages, gender is very essential (nature-woman: society-man); the longer pieces give it more room to complicate, all to the good since an unhappy marriage is nothing if not complicated and Bombal, who once tried to shoot herself in her lover’s house and later on tried to shoot her lover, knows the facts on the ground.

In 1937, when she was writing “La Amortajada,” Borges told her that a deceased narrator was a bad idea because she would have to combine the realistic and supernatural. It works, of course; the broad view of life anchors the mystery of death. The innocent, destructive beauty in “La Historia de María Griselda” seems to come out of a Kleist tale, though without the Kleist sentence structure. Bombal’s sentences and paragraphs are short, powered by adjectives, sometimes ending three phrases in a row with the same adjective; this works too. (Los cipreses se recortaban inmóviles sobre un cielo azul; el estanque era una lámina de metal azul; la casa alargaba una sombra aterciopelada y azul.) On the misadventures of a submarine pirate ship: “Furiosos pulpos abrazábanse mansamente a sus mástiles, como para guiarlo…”

In sum, it’s probably worth trying to track down those uncollected stories.

I like what Josh says on why we still do it.

Hotel register 2014.006

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

What most impresses me is his ability to pitch the lecture to the front and back of the class at once. I know it caught the attention of Nobelists and all, but being entirely unschooled in economics I had to take it as a highly digestible introductory textbook. A tendentious introduction, to be sure, but that keeps it interesting. Corrections to Marxism and monetarism are administered more or less impartially. The jokes are few but well judged (“Did Bill invent the computer or just the mouse? Did Ronnie destroy the USSR singlehandedly or with the help of the pope?”). More references to Balzac than to The Aristocats (not a typo). One would call the book “centrist,” if one’s country had any sort of reasonably placed center.

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