A Brief and Arbitrary Encyclopedia of Literature in Spanish (2)
Cortázar, Julio. Bestiario. It’s Cortázar. His first collection, eight assured storiesthey’re always assuredwhich seem simplethey always seem simplebut open onto the void. “Casa Tomada” is the justly famous showpiece.
Cortázar, Julio. Historias de Cronopios y de Famas. I’d like to write something up, or see something written up, about this and On Certainty. He’s hit something about twentieth-century life, the idea that when you put on your wristwatch there is a chance that it might bite you with tiny metal teeth. You just don’t know.
Cortázar, Julio. Queremos Tanto a Glenda. A later collection, after more explicitly political material starts to creep in. One story is an oblique take on political violence in Argentina (different from Bolaño’s obliquity) which quite effectively upset me.
Diego, Gerardo. Antología poética. Selection from the copious output of another Generation-of-’27er. Diego was the actual point man for the 1927 Góngora trecentennial. See below.
Donoso, José. El Lugar sin Limites. What is the place without limits? Why, it is Hell; the English translation, Hell Has No Limits, quotes Marlowe’s Mepistopheles precisely. The unstable sexual identities and demonic aristocrats of El Obsceno Pájaro de la Noche are here too, but this is an earlier and briefer work and takes the common Boom strategy of cordoning its weirdness inside an ostensibly realistic account of a rural town. Here that caution is rewarded; like a lot of Donoso’s readers, I get the most satisfaction from his bizarre genius when it has boundaries to work with.
Fuentes, Carlos. La Muerte de Artemio Cruz. For a long time I was wary of many of the biggest Boom authors; they just seemed too popular, and to be publishing too many books, to be trustworthy. While I can’t speak to Fuentes’s later career, this book is completely wonderful. It isn’t much like Pedro Páramo but does take the same tack of centering on an aged jefe and scrambling his life to juxtapose his humble beginnings and ruthless maturity. The reader can then piece together the particulars of his rise and fall; but as I discovered last year while trying and failing to teach Pedro Páramo to a room full of freshmen, this relation of childhood to adulthood is nothing like the North American model which takes adult behavior as intelligible by reference to childhood trauma. Fuentes and Rulfo work with a deeper-running, collective sort of fatalism that frustrates these explanations; it cuts across individual personalities and doesn’t reduce to psychology. I wish I’d found a better way to explain it.
Góngora, Luis de. Sonetos Completos. He’s the master and there is no one like him. Imagine a central figure in the English canon who manages to combine Spenser’s lushness with Milton’s syntax, and that might land you in the ball parkor the hunting groundsthere’s a recent bilingual edition which I can’t look up right now because I’m on another goddamn airplane, observing from above the sublimity of the Midwest’s peopled fields, but I believe the translator makes a good selection and fails honorably at the foredoomed task of Englishing his poet.
Góngora, Luis de. Soledades. The weirdest and loveliest. Unfinished, and I want to say it’s on account of being just too fucking beautiful for its own structure, like Keats’s Hyperion, but actually it’s so difficult that my sense of the structure is pretty vague. Its reception history is a bit like Joyce’s; it wasn’t until the twentieth-century revival that any kind of critical consensus emerged as to what’s actually going on in the poem, and its longevity makes me hopeful for those types of twentieth-century beauty that skirt the edges of nonsense. This semester you may find me playing hooky in the PQ library stacks, trying to find out more.
Portrait of Don Luis de Góngora by the young Velázquez, from a study by Francisco Pacheco, 1622.
Goytisolo, Juan. La Chanca. See below.
The Gongara bilingual edition seemed both inadequate and effective, like a sonnet about the impossibility of paying the lover due homage.