Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Extract from Juan Goytisolo's Marks of Identity

Juan Goytisolo's Marks of Identity is the first in a loose trilogy of novels (the other two being Count Julian and Juan the Landless) that were first published in the early 70s. All three were banned in Spain for a long time mainly because all three are about the negation and rejection of Spanish identity, or at least the official Spanish identity as propagated by the Franco regime. These are also loosely autobiographical. Goytisolo himself spent his childhood in the shadow of the bitterly fought civil war and then the repressive Dictatorship of Franco finally made him leave his country in bitterness. He settled first in France and then in Morocco where he lives even now.

I am still making my way through the book. It is extremely difficult and complex to read but there is also something very compelling about the prose which makes you curious and keeps you going on. The syntactical aspects of the prose (mainly his strange punctuation) are not that hard to get over but it is rather the extensive knowledge of Spanish history and tradition that he assumes that ultimately will deter even the most energetic and adventurous readers who are not Spaniards or who don't have a degree in Hispanic Studies. Still, I think he is one of the most original and important living European writers - certainly much more interesting than his countrymen Javier Marias or Enrique Vila Matas (two Spanish writers whose works are available in English and I have slight familiarity with. Any other names by the way?).

Here is one extract from the opening pages of the book. This is preceded by a long passage which talks about people's reactions to the exiled narrator's visit to his hometown:

That was how they were talking about you when the incident of the documentary became known, in cafes and gatherings, meetings and parties, the self-satisfied men and women with whom a laughable decree of fate had awarded you at birth as fellow countrymen: dim childhood friends, innocuous schoolmates, female relatives with cold and severe looks, virtuous and sad acquaintances, all entrenched in their impregnable class privileges, conspicuous and right-thinking members of an autumnal and doddering world which they had given to you, without asking your permission, with religion, morals and laws made to its measure: a promiscuous and hollow order from which you tried to escape, confident, like so many others, of a regenerating change and catharsis which, because of mysterious imponderables, had not come about and, after long years in exile, there you were again, in the painful and affectionate landscape of your childhood, deprived even of the bitter consolation of alcohol, while the eucalyptus trees in the garden aired their green branches and changeable and flighty clouds floated toward the sun like somber swans, feeling yourself less the prodigal son who humbles his brow before his father than the criminal who furtively returns to the scene of his crime, while the Voices - the congenital evil and frustration of your caste joined in one chorus - treacherously continued their dull singsong whispering in your ear: "you who have been one of us and have broken with us have the right to many things and it is not hard for us to see that you have the right to think that your contry is living a really atrocious existence we are sorry for your error but who has put up any gates in the fields Andalusian farmers are the only one who allow themselves that luxury and that is where those solitary isolated gates come from ones that seem neither to close nor to open outside of that exception which is like poetic license no one is obliging you to pass through the arch go ahead then with your ideas about politics and and other realities of Spain go right ahead too if it pleases you with your annoyances and mortifications concerning the racial qualities of our breed who is stopping you we know what you are a Barcelonan in spite of your Asturian name but Asturian or Barcelonan supposing that Barcelona does not inspire any emotion in you or the land of Asturias raise any warm feeling in your soul turn your back on all of us and look toward the horizons why must you contradict a spontaneous movement of your soul if some feeling carries you along pathways of such indescribable sadness after all you will not be the first Spaniard to stop loving his country but why come back then it would be better for your to stay away and renounce us once and for all think abou tit you still have time our firmness is unmovable and none of your efforts will succeed in undermining it we are made of stone and we will remain stone why do you blindly seek disaster forget about us and we will forget about you your birth was a mistake bear with it"

1 comment:

Troy said...

Almost impossible to find translated, but the most overlooked Spanish author is by far Miguel Delibes.

If you can find some of his work, give it a try, it won't disappoint.