November 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
Just as the geography of the city conditions us to accept change or novelty despite the fact that change and novelty are rarely within our grasp, assigning to the present the fantastic ability to contain infinite occurrences, people feel compelled to make their predictions: the city as an innumerable series of events that take place within a defined space, and what is to come as a hypothetical realm in which occurrences proliferate at the heart of a hidden moment, impossible but nonetheless concrete, similar to those that occur all the time on the streets of distant neighborhoods. Even this seemingly forced metaphor between the future and the city allows for the idea of proximity and its effects: nearness and immediacy — essential relations for those anxious about what is to come. On the other hand, the city offers validation to those who do not make predictions: change, the bustle that grows more or less feverish depending on the hour and the circumstance, which can be represented — and contemplated — from a single point. This observation often takes place from a cafe table or — in the neighborhood — from chairs set up on the sidewalk, open windows, et cetera. The city is not only simultaneous — we know that at any moment, in any place, there are always a number of different things happening — but also spontaneous: events unfold without reason or accord, which makes them appear autonomous and random. Those who live in the moment find, in this exercise, the natural model for their lack of foresight. The same thing happens with noise: noises do not fade into the distance, die out, or grow, they simply stop or are drowned out by another, stronger one. Yet the city — which, if one must define it, could be said to be the place in which the greatest number of obstacles comes together — finds its promise of privacy eradicated by sound. . . . From bombs to the clap of thunder, via the drip of faucet or the crackling sound of cars inching forward on the wet pavement — these noises moderate the inevitability of its construction. Geography is an art of vision; it is in its profound independence from geography, which is condemned to absorb it, that the difficulty of sound resides. Sound is equivalent to the future: that which one cannot see. M and I used to listen for sounds and reflect on this dubious philosophy, usually on our walks without a set destination — or with a destination that was so unknown that it ceased to be such — while we thought of ourselves as planets. It seems to me today that Buenos Aires had, at the time, a certain essential quality; it was a crystalline city. Now, though, its inhabitants are made of liquid.
— Sergio Chejfec, The Planets
May 22, 2012 § 2 Comments
Rather than review Sergio Chejfec’s novel My Two Worlds, I want to reflect instead on who should read it.
Parks and long walks separate me from time and install me in a different dimension, an alternate one , obviously compatible with the true one, shall we say, or in any case, with the regular one, isolated and at times autonomous as it may be. (75-76)
First & foremost, they should be walkers, for whom each step taken is also one lost — a taking that makes no lasting claim & a loss that is never so final. Their destinations are familiar for their being so incomprehensibly foreign — for every recognition and remembrance they find, of which they try to take hold, proves eventually too heavy with significance, and slips the grip of its proper naming.
Generally, when I walk I look down. The ground is one of the most revealing indicators of the present condition; it is more eloquent in its damages, its deterioration, its unevenness, and irregularities of all sorts. I’m referring to urban as well as rural ground, difficult or congenial. And I’m specifically referring to the ground of paths, to ground altered by humans in general, because ground in the abstract, the ground of the world, speaks different, near-incomprehensible languages. (29)
Second & just as important, these readers should be sitters, who in arresting their forward motion detain, that is, somehow confine, the expansiveness of the moment — who, in those moments of cornering knowledge find themselves seized by unknowing.
But what amazed me was that even though I could see them all on the far side of the fountain, beyond my companion and myself, I heard them as if their voices came from behind us, from where we were actually seated. Perhaps this was another effect of the place or, more precisely, of the mist created by the jets of water, which dissolved present time and distorted space; or it could have been a consequence of the symmetry. The present: until that afternoon I had rarely noticed the confused , and at times inconsistent, meaning of this word, to which we should add the sense of ambiguity it often possess. . . . (59-60)
These walkers who are sitters, they will be the ones who on some level already know that walking in rhetorical circles is not always idle sophistry, and that some novels that seem to get nowhere are in fact not aimless — they (these readers & these novels) will be the ones to identify the dotted lines of a world in the process of being made, lines otherwise invisible, lost between the gaps of a differentiated creation, all those innumerable blanks, the whispering trauma of a void, that compose the manifold density of all our visible world’s “this”s and “that”s.
As might be readily expected, after having this thought I began to imagine a world made up of dotted lines, the indecisive sketch of its contours , the design of its relationships. Just as with the water, one could trace sounds, physical trajectories, material changes and the passage of time. The line denoted the relationship between objects, which could be of the same nature or not. But naturally, since this was a physical representation, each connection lingered on, permanently drawn on the paper, superimposed on earlier or later ones, creating the ‘fountain’ effect I mentioned before: a weft of dotted lines that crisscrossed, and whose arcs ended up a bit tangled, delineating a complex skein; not illegible, with some effort, just slightly chaotic. And in that denseness I found a kind of dramatic consistency, as much in the most immediate , theatrical sense, as in the tragic sense: the fatuous display of the real as the triumph of density. (64)
The readers who will appreciate Chejfec’s novel will perhaps find themselves thinking of W. G. Sebald, for whom connections were never simple. For both, an allusion made is one that has been borne like a burden, a memory misplaced in the past that outgrew the present, and has betrayed the simplicity of One. Allusion and memory speak not simply of temporal complexity — the latticework of all time’s modes & tenses — but also of multiplicity — the possibilities unsought, paths unacknowledged, and persons unseen. Reading a writer like Chejfec, we become aware that we are also being read — not by some mysterious aesthetic or real Other, some primordial Author — by the invisible world(s) (who dares speak of their memories & allusions?) that we bear in our reading.
In general, I know that when speaking of private and opposing worlds, one tends to refer to divided, sometimes even irreconcilable facets of personality or of the spirit, each with its corresponding secret value and its psychological, metaphysical, political or simply practical—or even pathological—content. But in my case there was neither a moral nor existential disjunctive, what was more, I saw that my two worlds weren’t separated in an equal or reciprocal way; neither did one world linger in the shadows or in private as the flip side of the other, the visible one, who knows which; nor would they seek to impose themselves over the other or to merge as one, by force or not, as tends to occur in these cases. Nothing of the sort; they seemed a nearly abnormal example of coexistence, of adaptive tendency and of absolute absence of contrasts. I took all this into consideration, and it seemed worrisome and insoluble . . . But an instant later I resigned myself, thinking that when all was said and done I ought to bow to these conditions, because just as we cannot choose our moment to be born, we also know nothing of the variable worlds we’ll inhabit. (102-03)
Chejfec, as it were, leaves room for the contrasts that inhabit the monotony of being and, in effect, invites his readers to walk and sit . . . simultaneously, but without a hint of paradox.
Which is to say in an abstract way what I’ve been getting at all along: if you’ve read this far in the post, you should read his book.
April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
From early on I’ve felt unequal to any kind of enthusiasm: incapable of believing in almost anything, or frankly, in anything at all; disappointed beforehand by politics; skeptical of youth culture despite being, at the time, young; an idle spectator at the collective race for money and so-called material success; suspicious of the benevolence of charity and of self-improvement; oblivious of the benefits of procreation and the possibilities of biological continuity; oblivious as well of the idea of following sports or any variety of spectacle; unable to work up enthusiasm for any impracticable profession or scientific vocation; inept at arts or at crafts, at physical or manual labor, also intellectual; to sum up, useless for work in general; unfit for dreaming; with no belief in any religious alternative while longing to be initiated into that realm; too shy or incompetent for an enthusiastic sex life; in short, given such failings, I had no other choice but to walk, which most resembled the vacant and available mind.
[. . .] That’s why I’ve kept on walking, out of insecurity and lack of convictions, as if walking were the ultimate experience I could offer to the ruined landscape I move through, with strength neither to overcome it nor destroy it.
— Sergio Chejfec, My Two Worlds