On Lem's Pericalypsis

perfectVacuumIn the foreword of that joke book that is Perfect Vacuum, where its author, the Polish essayist Stanislaw Lem, reviews a series of nonexistent literary works (they reside only in the universe of his boundless imagination), the prologue writer tells us that, with this, Lem tries to give life to — or perhaps get rid of some of his overabundant ideas, considering that he has much more literary projects than biological lifespan to accomplish them. Thus, by the resource of ‘reviewing’ a few novels that, attributed to equally fictitious authors, he would’ve written himself were his life to last longer, he at least can offer to us the thought arguments or plots, along with the possible, suggested controversy or debate the hypotetical lecturers of the nonexistent books might have come up with. By the way, and for icing the cake, by the end of the foreword we are hinted to suspect that this, too — the foreword itself — is, in turn, Lem’s own craft, and not another person’s. Quite a feat of literary juggling.
Perfect Vacuum is an excellent work; a display of dialectic dexterity, intelligence, logic, and fantasy in equal measure with imagination, all of which at some passages has made me swoon.
And because I have so much liked it, I’m quoting here four of such paragraphs; not necessarily the best, but in any case remarkable ones, most of all considering the decade (the 70’s) they were written, which should suffice to give us an idea of Lem’s amazing clearvoyance and prophetic dowry. All four quotes belong to Perycalipsis, one of the book ‘reviews’ featured in the volume. Continue reading “On Lem's Pericalypsis”

The Devil on wheels

This September 9th will be highlighted in my logbook as, by far, the worst date in this journey; and in my personal calendar as one of those few regrettable days that life inflicts on us once in a while.
Last night it’s been a restless one. I had maximum two hours of poor quality, unsettled sleep; as if foreboding what I was doomed to undergo today. When, in the morning, I accepted the defeat against insomnia, I packed my things, left the hotel room and hit the road. But I was already tired, even before starting the day’s journey. A bad beginning for a biker; a bad omen too — or is it the same thing?
From Daugavpils (that’s Latvia), I had planned a route to Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) along the by-roads bordering Belarus. As usual, I’d take the less busy ones. And indeed they were quiet: lonely and also–but how could I have known?–dangerous, because those are the regions where freely breeds, grows and dwells, wild and unchecked, predatorless, the savage truck driver. But more on that later. Continue reading “The Devil on wheels”

Honouring Torrente Ballester

Publicado en Estrella Digital
Publicado en Estrella Digital

Un reciente y por completo innecesario artículo de Ángel Vivas, publicado en el diario El Mundo el pasado diez de octubre, ha tenido el malaje de hacerme saltar de indignación en el asiento. En él, el periodista Ángel Vivas, en palabras del crítico literario José Carlos Mainer, tienen el desacierto de afirmar una serie de dislates en descrédito del escritor Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, entre otros. Según Mainer, o según Vivas, o ambos (pues no se sabe bien qué aporta cada cual), este literato encarnaba la cultura del bando franquista, formaba parte de la corte literaria de José Antonio, tras su literatura había una ideología hedionda, fue falangista convencido y, en definitiva, sólo su adhesión al franquismo le dio reconocimiento literario. ¡Por Cristo vivo, qué sarta de sandeces! Flaco favor les hacen Vivas y Mainer a la historia y a la literatura levantando tales infundios en desprestigio de uno de nuestros más grandes literatos.
Da la casualidad de que este humilde bloguero se conoce de pe a pa la obra de Gonzalo Torrente y no pocos datos de su biografía; y resulta que, a poco que se sepa sobre este gallego, no se puede ignorar que su escasa inclinación ideológica nada tenía que ver con la Falange, y que era más bien galleguista, si acaso con cierta tendencia al anarquismo. Antes de la guerra había militado en el Partido Galleguista, de corte regional, nada del agrado del Régimen; y si después se afilió a la Falange fue, desde luego, por razones de supervivencia, no de convencimiento. De hecho, en su obra no hay apenas un asomo de política y, si algo en ella se trasluce del escritor, es el gran apego a su tierra y un espíritu bastante liberal, de mente abierta y pocas certidumbres.
Y, para rematar el artículo, concluyen Mainer y Vivas diciendo que la novela Javier Mariño es el arquetipo de una conversión al franquismo. ¡Sálveme Dios! ¡Qué insólito disparate, dicho precisamente de un libro que fue secuestrado por la censura franquista!
Tal rosario de insidiosas inexactitudes revela, de un lado, un sentido crítico ofuscado por vaya usted a saber qué frustraciones, rencores o envidias; y, de otro, una perfecta incomprensión de la obra de Don Gonzalo. Me da la sensación de que los señores Mainer y Vivas no han entendido ni una sola palabra de lo que escribió Torrente Ballester; un hombre que, casi siempre tras una pudorosa envoltura humorística y metafórica, escribió sobre todo del amor y de la belleza: esto es todo lo que hay en sus novelas. Su único pecado, que la progresía no le perdona, es el de haberse mantenido al margen de ideologías y haber sobrevivido al franquismo sin exiliarse. De  hecho, no sólo es falso que su adhesión al franquismo le diera el reconocimiento literario, sino que fue su supervivencia al franquismo lo que le bloqueó el renombre que se habría merecido.
¡Ay, qué enorme daño a la Verdad puede hacer un mal uso del privilegio de ser publicado en la prensa!Spanish critic José Carlos Mainer and journalist Ángel Vivas have recently published a–totally unnecessary–article in paper El Mundo with apparently the sole purpose of dishonouring the name and works of some Spanish writers who lived during Franco times. An article that has made me jump on my seat. Particularly, they assert a good deal of nonsense to Gonzalo Torrente Ballester’s discredit, such as “the author personified the culture of Franco’s faction”, or “embodied the literary court of José Antonio” (a politician who inspired Franco), and also “behind his novels breathes a hideous ideology”, “he was a true member of Falange” (they only legal party during Franco’s dictatorship), for finally saying that his literary acknowledgment was due solely to his support for the Regime. By my faith, what a row of prattle! With such malicious lies for disparaging one of our greatest writers, Messieurs Mainer and Vivas turn out to be quite detrimental for History and literature.
It turns our that this humble blogger knows thoroughly Torrente’s works and biography; but, even for those who only know a little bit of him, it’s obvious that Ballester’s scarce ideological leanings had nothing to do with Falange, rather being quite fond of his region’s (Galicia) particular idiosyncrasy, and maybe with inclination to anarchism. Actually, before civil war, Don Gonzalo was a member of the Pro-Galician Party of regionalist undertones: nothing to the Regime’s liking. Yes, he afterwards joined Falange, just for survival reasons. Besides, there is close to nil politics in his novels, and the only ideological information a reader can possibly get from those books is a big love for Galicia–his homeland–and a liberal mentality, strongly open minded and of weak beliefs.
Worst of all, for topping the bill, Mainer and Vivas conclude their article with a downright allegation: Torrente Ballester’s novel Javier Mariño is paradigm of a conversion to Francoism. Good Lord! What a bizarre foolish remark meant for a book that was seized by Franco’s censorship!
Such a series of deceptive inaccuracies evidences, on one side, a critical sense blinded by God knows which frustrations, resentments or envies; and on the other side a thorough incomprehension of Torrente Ballester’s work. I have the feeling that Mr. Mainer, and perhaps Mr. Vivas as well, have not understood a single one of Torrente’s words; a man who mostly wrote, wrapped in a modest humorous veil, about beauty and love; that’s all about his novels. His only sin, never forgiven by the leftish to a writer, was to keep away from ideologies and having managed to survive Franco’s regime without going into exile. Actually, not only he didn’t owe his writer’s recognition to Francoism, but quite on the contrary: survival of the dictatorship severly hindered the much better acknowledgement he deserved.
What a big damage to Truth can entail the abuse of the privilege of being published!

Is literature dead?

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When I come to think of it, I realize that I can hardly set hands on any remarkable contemporary novel, not to talk about poetry. Sure, there are some good ones, but methinks that the era of talents in literature is gone; writers of stature like Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Nabokov, García Márquez or Conrad, just to name a few, are no more. We’re already beyond the end of a particular moment in human history, scarcely four centuries, where the conditions were optimal for such geniuses to spring. But nowadays, with capitalism and consumption suffocating us, most literature is rubbish; not because there aren’t good writers, but because almost everything that happens is about money. The very term best seller says it all: when it comes to literature, the most worldwide known indicator of what’s going on is not called best writer, best poet or best philosopher, but best SELLER! Even over the Nobel prize. So, what can we expect? Today you can publish anything under condition people would buy it, and people will buy anything if it’s properly advertised. Thus we come to… money! At the same time, talented writers won’t get published because they have no time for advertisement: they’re too busy writing good literature that will never see light. On the other hand, public powers are so obsessed with economical growth that they neglect their citizens’ education for a good taste. Besides, we’re in the audiovisual era: don’t expect our lazy natures to read if we can just watch and listen. Perhaps this is a good time for the seventh art! After all, not everything is lost for beauty.

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Cuando me paro a pensarlo, me doy cuenta de que muy pocas veces encuentro buena literatura contemporánea, y no digamos ya en el género poético. Desde luego hay algunos buenos libros ahí fuera, pero me parece a mí que la era de los talentos ha quedado atrás; escritores de la talla de Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Nabokov, García Márquez o Conrad, por nombrar sólo unos pocos, no se encuentran ya. Hemos traspasado la frontera de un momento muy particular (escasamente cuatro siglos) de la historia humana en que se dieron las condiciones idóneas para que surgieran esos genios de las letras. Pero hoy en día, con el capitalismo y el consumismo sofocándonos, la mayor parte de la literatura es mediocre, cuando no deplorable; no porque no haya buenos escritores, sino porque casi todo lo que sucede ha de estar relacionado con el dinero. El propio término best seller lo dice todo, aunque los hispanohablantes raras veces nos paramos a pensar en su significado literal: “mejor ventas”. Así, el indicador universal más conocido de lo que está sucediendo en literatura no se llama mejor escritor, mejor poeta o mejor ensayista, sino mejor VENTAS. Incluso por encima del premio Nobel. Entonces, ¿qué podemos esperar? Hoy puedes publicar cualquier cosa a condición de que la gente lo compre, y la gente comprará cualquier cosa que se anuncie lo bastane bien. Es decir… ¡dinero! Al mismo tiempo, los escritores de talento no serán recibidos por las editoriales porque no tienen tiempo para publicitarse: están demasiado ocupados escribiendo buena literatura que nunca verá la luz. Por otra parte, los poderes públicos están tan obsesionados con el monotema del crecimiento económico que descuidan la educación de sus ciudadanos hacia el buen gusto. Además, estamos en la era audiovisual: no se espere de nuestra perezosa naturaleza que leamos si podemos simplemente mirar y escuchar. Quizá sea este un buen momento para el séptimo arte. Después de todo, aún queda esperanza para la belleza.

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Ukrainian endurance

Estamos en Kiev. Los pasos subterráneos de los principales cruces y los pasillos de acceso al metro están atestados de campesinos y babushkas que intentan vender sus míseros productos a una indiferente muchedumbre de apresurados viandantes que apenas reparan en ellos ni en la mercancía que extienden ante sí: la magra y dispar producción de sus huertas o sus cocinas, unas pocas patatas, un ramillete de aburrido perejil, un saquito de semillas de kasha, una docena de grasientos dulces, acumulando las toxinas de cien mil pulmones, el polvo de cien mil zapatos.
Me resulta triste, conmovedora y admirable la abnegada vida de estos reclusos en la moderna catacumba urbana que esperan durante largas horas de sus días sin luz, al dudoso abrigo de las insalubres galerías, acaso al tibio calor que emanan los túneles del metro, a que la suerte les depare alguna ama de casa que advierta sus productos al par que recuerda que necesita unas zanahorias,  media docena de huevos o un litro de compota.  Pero las más de las veces estos siervos de la pobreza habrán de recoger al final de la jornada su raquítica mercadería casi intacta y llevarla de vuelta a sus lejanos hogares para volver a intentarlo de nuevo al día siguiente, las espinacas aún más mustias, los pepinillos más resecos y arrugados. Toda una muestra de aguante y resignación.

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It’s Kiev. The tunnels under the main crossings, and the subway passages, are stuffed with peasants and babushkas trying to sell their measly produce to a crowd of hurried and indifferent passers-by who scarcely take any notice of them or of their exposed goods: the meager and disparate output from their gardens or kitchens, a few potatoes, a handful of parsley, a bag of kasha seeds, a dozen greasy homemade muffins, collecting the toxins from ten thousand breaths and the dust from ten thousand shoes.

I find sad and moving the steadfast, long-suffering life of these captives in the modern urban catacomb who wait during the long hours of their lightless days–hardly sheltered in the noxious galleries, perchance barely warmed by the tepid draught ascending from the subway tunnels–for the hazard to bring them some housewife who, while remembering that she needs some carrots, half dozen egss or one litre of compote, will notice their merchandise and buy some. But most of the times these serfs of poverty will have to collect their paltry stuff, almost untouched, and take it back to their far-off homes for trying again next day–the spinachs more withered, the cucombers more wrinkled and dried up…

A touching display of edurance and forbearance.

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