Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Juan Goytisolo

I have been reading Juan Goytisolo's Count Julian. Very difficult and challenging to read but also very compelling and occasionally even funny. Fans of Thomas Bernhard should immediately get hold of this book. This is another great contribution to the literature of anti-patriotism (in the sense of active hatred of one's country and not just hatred of patriotism). And like Bernhard he has his own way with punctuation and sentence construction too. (He doesn't believe in full stops for one thing.)

I will probably have more to say about the book once I finish it. For now here's a great interview of the author which discusses this particular book. Very helpful actually because I really couldn't figure out what was going on even after reading the first fifty pages. In particular I found this interesting. Emphasis mine:

JO: In your own work, I find that the moment of breaking with tradition is fundamental to an essential reformulation of your creative endeavor. What importance do new critical ideas have in this process? To what extent do you think that an awareness of critical theory can affect the formal nature of a work of fiction?

JG: All creative work is indissolubly linked to the exercise of a critical faculty. Count Julian is, simultaneously, a work of fiction and a work of criticism, which defies deliberately a tyrannical conception of genre. The old-fashioned novel (with "round" characters developed psychologically, with its verisimilitude and its "realism," etc.) no longer interests me, and I don't think that I will write such any more (which does not mean that I renounce those I published earlier). The only kind of literature which interests me at the moment is that which lies outside the labels of "novel," "essay," "poem," etc. When I wrote my essay on Blanco White, I also included in it my own autobiography. I have appropriated Blanco White into my own myth. In Count Julian I simply proposed to create a text which would allow for diverse levels of reading. My approach is the natural result of a series of critical reflections based, in part, on my reading of the Russian formalists, Benveniste, Jakobson, the Prague Circle, etc. A writer who is unaware of the movements in poetics and linguistics seems to me an anachronism in today's world. The writer cannot abandon himself simply to inspiration, and feign innocence vis a vis language, because language is never innocent.

I was also surprised to find two very well-written, well-informed and comprehensive profiles in The New York Times and The Guardian. He is a very interesting figure even outside his books.

And now that we are here some quotes from the blurb of the book:

"Goytisolo's Count Julian is to Spain what Joyce's Leopold Bloom is to Ireland, and what Malcolm Lowry's Consul in Under the Volcano is to Mexico. I am fully aware of the dangerous implications of comparing this work to such masterpieces; but Count Julian strikes me as fully worthy of such comparison."
- Le Nouvel Observateur

"In the long tradition of Spanish heterodoxy, Count Julian is the moment in which rational criticism becomes the pawn of mockery, and mockery turns into a poetic invention."
-Octavio Paz

"The most moving of Goytisolo's works, and also the one most full of despair...The book is a crime of passion...an attempt at purification through fire. An epic work, to be read and reread."
-Mario Vargas Llosa, Le Monde

Also an extract which will perhaps make sense in the context of the Joyce comparison above with its mixture of scatological detail and verbal invention. Here's a description of a man urinating:

you reread it several times as you stand there with your legs apart, not daring to venture into this yawning, Cyclopean cavern, unbuttoning your fly: freeing the lowest buttons of the restraint of the decorous buttonhole holding them in bondage and groping about in effort to determine the precise position of the indispensable instrument: called upon, alas, to perform its most vulgar and simplest functions: brought out into the open at last: defenseless and flaccid: possessed of all the tender vulnerability of of your child poets: a state of affairs that obliges you to lift it delicately with your fingers: and once in position aiming it at the Elysian domain three feet or so away: it proves reluctant at first, like a willful, badly spoiled crown prince: but finally obeying, manfully and forcefully: haughtily pumping out the yellow fluid until an anxious, plaintive voice reaches your ears from shadowy depths below, and an infernal shade, whom you have greatly discomfited as it crouches there in a humiliating and painful posture, calls up in an incredibly urbane tone of voice: hey up there, watch what you're doing, I'm down here below you!


Cheshire Cat said...

Reading about Goytisolo and Bosnia, I think I like him without even having read him.

I wonder how much Goytisolo suffers in translation. With someone like Julian Rios, it's clear he's not really coming through in English, but I don't know if Goytisolo uses wordplay to the same extent...

Alok said...

He will definitely be a difficult writer to translate because most of it is indeed wordplay and playing around with stylistic conventions but the translation I am reading now feels quite accomplished.

More difficult part is that he assumes an extensive familiarity with the Spanish cultural traditions. He is responding to and critiquing very specific elements in the Spanish tradition which to an outsider will feel a little too obscure at places.

KUBLA KHAN said...

Pleased that you like him so. recommending writers is like feeling the onus is on oneself, you feel personally responsible for their faults!
Helen Lane has translated the 2nd and 3rd part of his trilogy but wait till you lay your hands on Makbara......i will post an extract soon, once my heartburn ceases and my espresso behaves.

Alok said...

official thank you coming your way in the next post on the book.

KUBLA KHAN said...

there is no need to thank! I have found out a few more great novels,and went on a manic spree recently, buying no less than 10!
however, i feel tired of reading suddenly, suddenly i cd not be bothered but i know this too won't last.
i will post about these books soon but only when this heartburn ceases!

Alok said...

yes it happens with me also. excitement, energy and enthusiasm come in bursts and then everything subsides... the key is to be able to find different things that can can keep one engaged.