Juan Carlos Onetti Sobre la Fe

80ACF78D-C31E-4CF9-915C-F2CE081BBF1AUn gran don que tenía Juan Carlos Onetti era el de enfurecer a la gente que se jactaba de su superioridad moral. Sin lugar a dudas la siguiente cita tomada de su novela Dejemos hablar al viento es inflamatoria, especialmente para la gente que cree que ya conoce la única real y completa verdad que conlleva el poder de salvar o condenar.

En lugar de profundizar este candente tema aún más, prefiero que el mismo Onetti exprese su, al parecer, radical opinión de la ‘fe’.

Desde muchos años atrás yo había sabido que era necesario meter en la misma bolsa a los católicos, los freudianos, los marxistas y los patriotas. quiero decir: a cualquiera que tuviese fe, no importa en qué cosa; a cualquiera que opine, sepa o actúe repitiendo pensamientos aprendidos o heredados. Un hombre con fe es más peligroso que una bestia con hambre. La fe los obliga a la acción, a la injusticia, al mal; es bueno escucharlos asintiendo, medir en silencio cauteloso y cortés la intensidad de sus lepras y darles siempre la razón. Y la fe puede ser puesta y atizada en lo más desdeñable y subjetivo. En la turnante mujer amada, en un perro, en un equipo de fútbol, en un número de ruleta, en la vocación de toda la vida.

(Onetti, J.C., 2016, Dejemos hablar al viento; Barcelona; Penguin Random House, p.p. 17-18)

Creencias como ésta de Onetti son capaces de airar a quienes basan su fe en una realidad absoluta, algo que Onetti quiso desmentir filosófica y teológicamente.

La mejor expresión de la realidad en términos humanos se encuentra en este ensayo El Humanismo Radical de Juan Carlos Onetti, escrito por Victor Hugo Martínez González:

Ese misterio [de la vida] consiste, para Onetti, en la capacidad humana de reponer un Sentido que la realidad deshace. Donde el individuo concibe lo absoluto, la realidad responde con la finitud y precariedad de toda experiencia; lo que debería ser trascendente se concreta así en un accidentado orden de desengaños. Por esa consciencia de la humana desgracia, Onetti subsana con la ficción el carácter incompleto de la vida, disloca y reinventa lo que sin la imaginación más libre y subversiva sería insoportable.

Para mejor entendimiento de las obras de Onetti, es esencial reconocer este recurrente tema de que el ser humano no tiene capacidad de captar el sentido de cualquier realidad absoluta, y en su defecto sigue una y otra vez aferrándose  a los imperfectos e incompletos sentidos que resultan de este ‘accidentado orden de desengaños.

 

Bolaño: Encuentro de historias culturales

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En mi última entrada puse la cita siguiente tomada de la novela 2666 de Roberto Bolaño, escrita durante los últimos años de su vida. No me acaba de sorprender su intensidad, sus maneras de ser interpretada. Debajo de la misma cita  se encuentran mis interpretaciones sobre lo que Bolaño quiso decirnos en este párrafo.

“Ivánov, un escritor de verdad, un artista y un creador de verdad era básicamente una persona responsable y con cierto grado de madurez. Un escritor de verdad tenía que saber escuchar y saber actuar en el momento justo. Tenía que ser razonablemente oportunista y razonablemente culto. La cultura excesiva despierta recelos y rencores. El oportunismo excesivo despierta sospechas. Un escritor de verdad tenía que ser alguien razonablemente tranquilo, un hombre con sentido común. Ni hablar demasiado alto ni provocar polémicas. Tenía que ser razonablemente simpático y tenía que saber no granjearse enemigos gratuitos. Sobre todo, no alzar la voz, a menos que todos los demás la alzaran. Un escritor de verdad tenía que saber que detrás de él está la Asociación de Escritores, el Sindicato de Artistas, la Confederación de Trabajadores de la Literatura, la Casa del Poeta. ¿Qué es lo primero que hace uno cuando entra en una iglesia?, se pregunta Efraím Ivánov. Se quita el sombrero. Admitamos que no se santigüe. De acuerdo, que no se santigüe. Somos modernos. ¡Pero lo menos que puede hacer es descubrirse la cabeza! Los escritores adolescentes, por el contrario, entraban en una iglesia y no se quitaban el sombrero ni aunque los molieran a palos, que era, lamentablemente, lo que al final pasaba. Y no sólo no se quitaban el sombrero: se reían, bostezaban, hacían mariconadas, se tiraban flatulencias. Algunos, incluso, aplaudían.”

Lo que primero me sorprende de estos pensamientos de Efraím Ivanov es que se encuente cinco veces en este párrafo la frase «un escritor de verdad». Esta repetición está en pleno contraste con la única mención de otros autores –aquella de «los escritores adolescentes». Ahora bien, ¿Qué se puede decir de la diferencia entre ‘un escritor de verdad’ y ‘un escritor adolecente’? Yo veo una clara distinción, una jerarquía inegable en la mente de Ivánov.

B72E2945-7A0C-4D5E-8957-57DA9E206263De acuerdo con este texto el escritor de verdad tenía que ser casi igual que todos los otros escritores de verdad. Los parámetros eran muy restringidos. No había mucha libertad de expresarse porque aquellas normas implicaban una estricta uniformidad.

En los años 40 del siglo XX, Ivánov se nos expone pensando lo que le faltaba a él para que tuviera más éxito en su trabajo de escritor. Creía que necesitaba, «El paso decisivo, el golpe de audacia.» En seguida ocupan sus pensamientos el «. . .joven judío Ansky y sus ideas disparatadas, sus visiones siberianas, sus incursiones en tierras malditas, el caudal de experiencia salvaje que solo puede tener un joven de dieciocho años.» De allí Ivánov sigue para despreciar de una manera u otra a unos diez escritores más, que fueran escritores de ficciones, de poesía, o dramaturgos.

Si buscamos el periodo de los autores rusos de verdad, una opción que me llama mucho la atención, es aquello que comienza con Puskin en los años 30 del siglo 19, junto con Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov.

A partir de 1890, la novela y poesía rusas empezaron a mostrar una predilección por el fermento intelectual que incluye el misticismo, ascetismo, neo-Kantianismo, erotismo, marxismo, apocaliptcismo, nietzscheanismo y otras movimientos combinados entre si en maneras improbables.

Me parece que Ivánov se coloca en la época justo después de los autores rusos clásicos arriba mencionados. Aprovechando su analogía del comportamiento en la iglesia, él mismo admite que no se santigua al entrar —‘Somos modernos”.

Para la gran mayoría de los autores de la época, la novela todavía mantenía convenciones de lenguaje y de la representación de ciertas acciones de los personajes. No se escribieron palabrotas o escenas de expresiones sexuales. Esta convención continuó por décadas después de la época de Ivánov, con excepción de los libros pornográficos disponibles en los mercados clandestinos. En aquella época, los escritores de verdad podían contar con el visto bueno de la iglesia cuando éstos no eran prohibidos y se escapaban del Index Librorum Prohibitorum –Libros prohibidos por la Iglesia Católica.

Ivánov decía ‘Somos modernos’, y nos explica este término diciendo que ya no se santigua al entrar en una iglesia. Nos dice que ya no es, según su propia definición, un autor de verdad. Pero no se ha alejada mucho de ellos; son los jóvenes autores que se han roto con todas las normas y reglas de la escritura de verdad. Son ellos quienes no se quitan el sombrero, y después hacen despreciables disrupciones hasta aplaudir y tirar flatulencias.

Este párrafo de 2666 trata el tema de la evolución literaria, hay muchos componentes de las culturas que ha seguido la misma trayectoría: las religiones, al principio del dogma, los ritos  y las creencias propios y a veces exclusivos, una exclusividad que ha sido motivos de guerras y ejecuciones. Casi todas ya han evolucionado hasta que el dogma, las creencias y los ritos carecen de normas. Se podría decir que cada grupo de fieles (¿Files a qué y a quién?) tiene su religión particular. Al pensarlo bien, lo mismo ha pasado en los campos de la música, los componentes de una ‘buena educación’, la ética, la moral, etcétera.

 

La aguja hallada entre un montón de agujas

Hace casi tres años, mi hijo me regaló un ejemplar de la novela más larga que nunca había leído antes. Soy lector voraz, pero solía escoger novelas de 800 páginas para abajo.

La novela regalada abarca 1104 páginas (edición de Vintage Español) y, desde luego, se llama 2666, escrita por Roberto Bolaño. Ya era aficionado a otras obras de Bolaño, cinco o seis novelas de altísima calidad y de las cuales la más larga (Los Detectives Salvajes) mide un poquito menos de 600 páginas.

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Baste decir que al principio este tomo de 2666 me parecía un desafío insuperable. Pero después de haber leído varios relatos e historias sobre esta novela, en junio de este año decidí leerla sin importarme cúanto tiempo me fuera a exigir.   ¡Gracias, mi hijo; gracias, mi esposa; gracias, Roberto Bolaño por haberse unido para que yo pudiera disfrutar este libro tan importante en la literatura mundial!

Tengo mucho que comentar sobre esta novela, así que ésta es la primera entrada qué escribiré al respecto. En total, creo que publicaré unas cinco entradas más, cada una con una perspectiva distinta.

Entre tanto, los dejo con esta cita, que comienza en la página 892 y termina en la 893. En esta época de la novella, Ivánov es un escritor, y nos ofrece este comentario de lo que es un escritor de verdad. Yo encuentro mucho más entre ringlones. Y ustedes, ¿Qué opinan?

Para Ivánov, un escritor de verdad, un artista y un creador de verdad era básicamente una persona responsable y con cierto grado de madurez. Un escritor de verdad tenía que saber escuchar y saber actuar en el momento justo. Tenía que ser razonablemente oportunista y razonablemente culto. La cultura excesiva despierta recelos y rencores. El oportunismo excesivo despierta sospechas. Un escritor de verdad tenía que ser alguien razonablemente simpático y tenía que saber que no granjearse enemigos gratuitos. Sobre todo, no alzar la voz, a menos que todos los demás  la alzaran. Un escritor de verdad tenía que ser alguien razonable tranquillo, un hombre con sentido común. Ni hablar demasiado alto ni provocar polémicas. Tenía que ser razonable simpático y tenía que saber no granjearse enemigos gratuitos. Sobre todo no alzar la voz, a menos que todos los demás la alzaran. Un escritor de verdad tenía que saber que detrás de él está la Asociación de Escritores, el Sindicato de Artistas, la Confederación de Trabajadores de la Literatura, la Casa del Poeta. ¿Qué es lo primero que hace uno cuando entra en una iglesia?, se pregunta Efraím Ivánov. Se quita el sombrero. Admitamos que no se santigüe. De acuerdo, que no se santigüe. Somos modernos. ¡Pero lo menos que puede hacer es descubrirse la cabeza! Los escritores adolescentes, por el contrario, entraban en una iglesia y no se quitaban el sombrero ni aunque los molieran a palos que era, lamentablemente, lo que al final pasaba. Y no sólo no se quitaban el sombrero: se reían, bostezaban, hacían mariconadas, se tiraban flatulencias. Algunos, incluso, aplaudían.

LA ÚLTIMA NOVELA DE ROBERTO BOLAÑO

 

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Roberto Bolaño (1953 – 2003) vía jotdown.es

«Desde hace años trabajo en una (novela) que se titula Los Sinsabores del Verdadero Policía y que es MI NOVELA. El protagonista es un viudo, 50 años, profesor universitario, (con una) hija de 17, que se va a vivir a Santa Teresa, ciudad cercana a la frontera con los USA. Ochocientas mil páginas, un enredo demencial que no hay quien lo entienda».                                      —Roberto Bolaño  1995

¡FELIZ DÍA DEL LIBRO A TODOS!

En honor a este día tan especial para nosotros, les presento algunos comentarios sobre la novela que acabo de leer. La recomiendo sin reservas a todos que no sean disuadidos por los siguientes hechos y observaciones.

Winston Churchill, el Primer Ministro del Reino Unido durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, dijo alguna vez, «Rusia es un acertijo envuelto en un misterio dentro de un enigma». En el inglés contemporaneo solemos usar esta descripción independientemente de la política para calificar un asunto como más  que meramente perplejo: por ejemplo, «el universo es un acertijo. . .»

Para mí, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía, una de las novela escritas durante los últimos quince años de la vida de Roberto Bolaño, se alínea sin duda a esta descripción. De hecho, casi todas sus novelas son así y especialmente sus más apremiadas. De ésta última, algunos críticos dicen que carece de cierta credibilidad debido a que el mismo Bolaños no la acabó, tal cual su novela 2666. Dicen que las dos fueron editados postúmamente y de allí no demuestran todos los toques maestros que pudieron haber tenido.

El renombrado editor Jorge Herralde de Anagrama dijo esto sobre Los sinsabores del verdadero policïa:

« [La] lectura de la novela nos convence de que estamos ante una obra de una calidad literaria extraordinaria, en el territorio de ‘2666’ y ‘Los detectives salvajes’, es decir, del Bolaño en su mejor forma».

Bueno, ya he leído ocho novelas de Bolaño (trece, si los cinco partes de 2666 son de verdad cinco novelas, como el mismo Bolaño las denominó) y hay tres cosas que me quedan claras que quiero compartir aquí:

  • Las novelas de Bolaño casi nunca tienen climax. La historia misma es lo que más le importa al lector. Leer sus novelas es como pasear en montaña rusa: la emoción más intensa se siente durante la trayectoria y no cuando el tren para al final.
  • Leer a Bolaño implica pausar, reflexionar, volver a leer y esculcar el texto buscando en vano lo que no se encuentra en ninguna parte.
  • Leer a Bolaño es reirse de cosas insólitas, identificar dentro de ti mismo cierta semejanza con algunos de los personajes, desde los más ejemplares hasta los más abyectos. Siento que comprendo más de la naturaleza humana y que, gracias a estas lecturas, estoy dispuesto a aceptar más de ella tal como es.

Si quieren conocer las obras de Bolaño que siguen una cronología, tienen una historia que mantiene su unidad de principio a fin, y hasta llevan un aire de misterio que se aclara dentro de la misma novela, les recomiendo La pista de hielo (1993) y Nocturno de Chile  (2000).

 

Of Moneymakers and Artists

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What cannot be measured in dollars and cents? This is a question that used to have many more answers that it has today.

Take movies, for example. How are script writers, directors and actors valued by those who fund their production? The measure is usually one-dimensional: box office success. As a result, movies are made almost exclusively according to their appeal to general audiences. If you watch clips of actors being interviewed nowadays it is not unusual to hear them yearn for the availability of independent productions, movies which would allow them to test their ability to interpret meaningful scripts and bring fleshed-out characters to life. Here, the word independent is synonymous with low budget and targeted appeal —conditions which rarely, if ever, will attract investors. Top-earning actors and directors have themselves become investors in their own independent films as a last resort to get them produced.

Now, in reference to the quote illustrated above, let’s take a similar look at fiction writing. Juan Carlos Onetti, a marvelous Uruguayan writer whose books, if measured by sales volume, were largely unsuccessful during his lifetime, has subsequently emerged as a literary artist of the highest magnitude. Many of his contemporary peers have been the ones to affirm this.

The quote above, translated to English, says the following:

The author who writes what everyone likes may be a good writer but will never be an artist.

So, in line with movie production, most new novels are green-lighted based on their projected sales appeal to specific audiences. In this case, however, the novels published are marketed according to the specific tastes (genres) of the reading public: romance fiction; science fiction; and other categories such as historical, mystery, crime, and so on. Sadly, the category of literary fiction is often the last to be funded, unless the author in question has already acquired a demonstrable following that makes a new novel less risky to the publisher.

Students of film and writing are made aware of these conditions and then encouraged to follow the path of least resistance. As a result, we have gradually discouraged the artists among us while encouraging those who generate good books and movies —»good» as measured along that one-dimensional axis of dollars and cents.

Critically Thinking Our Place in the World

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One of the criteria I often use to decide whether I want to read more of a novelist’s works is whether he or she has made me stop reading in a heartbeat to re-read and digest a powerful phrase, sentence or brief paragraph before reading further.

I recently wrote about the late British novelist Graham Greene in my post Where’s the Danger and cited a sentence from his Novel The Power and the Glory.

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(Above): Graham Greene,as he looked at the approximate age this book was published. He was born in October of 1904 and died at the age of 86 in April of 1991. During his adult life he wrote at least 25 novels, which he divided,by his own subjective criteria into «novels» and «entertainments», the latter being more for enjoyment and temporary escape from daily anxieties.

 

Novelist Scott Turow told his NPR hosts in 2006 that he had bought The Power and the Glory some 40 years earlier, which would have mad him about 17 at the time of this purchase. He went on to say that he still had this very same book in his library, which should indicate his passion for it. The following quote is from this same interview with him:

The novel captivated me completely. It was a thriller — but also a novel of ideas.514joptq0ol Greene’s elegant use of detail, the author’s profound knowledge of his characters, and his novel’s unrelenting suspense marked the book to me as a work of the highest literary art. [. . .] But I had no question when I read, and then repeatedly re-read, The Power and the Glory, that it was a book I would have simply died to write. —Scott Turow on NPR

 

The following is  the meat of this blog post—the second quote from the same book that made me stop and reflect on what I felt was a revelation —a poignant insight into our flawed (fallen, for some) human nature.

In our hearts there is a ruthless dictator, ready to contemplate the misery of a thousand strangers if it will ensure the happiness of the few we love.

I leave it without comment. That’s the way I came across it, and I feel any attempt to illustrate or explain it on my part would only detract from it. It was written to stand alone as a strong call for introspection.

 

 

Where’s the Danger?

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In 1940, British novelist Graham Greene published The Power and the Glory, set in Mexico about the clandestine sacramental activities of the «whisky priest» at a time when Catholicism was prohibited in the State of Tabasco. We come to realize that he is the only cleric who has dared to stay and serve those he feels are in need of him. As daring as this is, he only ever seems to focus on his shortcomings: the fact that he once fathered a child there; his drinking; and the fact that he has to hide all that he does.

He is a man who will never know safety unless and until he leaves the state. Whether out of duty or compulsion he chooses to live in danger.

But Greene didn’t see it that way and I have come to agree with him. In one of the two quotes I cherish from this novel he says:

The argument of danger only applies to those who live in relative safety.

I can think of dozens of times where these worlds would have expressed my feelings so much better than my own. For instance, I used to live in Brooklyn and work a block from Grand Central Station in Manhattan. The majority of my coworkers lived outside the city—mainly upstate, Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

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Sometimes I was asked how I got to work and my answer was that I always took the subway. «The subway?» came the answer, «but it’s so dangerous down there.»

I generally replied with this question, «When was the last time you took a subway?» The answer, almost always, in so many words: «I never do. It’s not safe down there.»

So those who live in relative safety usually do so in a restricted, and often privileged, environment. Anywhere else is met with the «argument of danger.»

As a final example, while living and working here in Chicago, I customarily vacationed in Colombia. The president of the company took me aside, on one of the few occasions we ever exchanged words, and told me I was «reckless and foolhardy» to go to such a dangerous place. I didn’t follow with my usual question because I didn’t feel well-off enough to retire on the spot.

Down in Colombia, and later in other countries, I met some truly marginalized people who seemed to have no options in life. They had to deal with each day as it came, and then went and did what they had to and never spoke of danger.

This was the lot of the whisky priest. In the novel he only feels true danger at one particular point in the story. To say more would spoil it for any would-be reader.

 

As Life Passes Us By

The Latin American «Boom» in literature seemed to spring forth almost simultaneously in various countries of North, Central, and South America, beginning in the 1950s. The authors most commonly included as «founding members» of the group are: Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia; Julio Cortázar, Ernesto Sábato and Jorge Luis Borges, all from Argentina; Alejo Carpentier, Cuba; José Donoso, Chile; Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemala; Juan Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes, México; Augusto Roa Bastos, Paraguay; César Vallejo and Mario Vargas Llosa from Perú; Juan Carlos Onetti, Uruguay.

All these authors have had novels translated into English and other languages, and some are readily recognizable to avid readers of fiction. García Márquez, Asturias, and Vargas Llosa have all subsequently been named Nobel Laureates.

In 2011, Vargas Llosa published a book of essays, El viaje a la ficción (English: A Flight into Fiction), dealing exclusively with Uruguayan author Juan Carlos Onetti and his novels. Vargas Llosa considers them much more deserving of availability and serious attention than they have gotten. He has personally lauded Onetti as “el primer narrador moderno de nuestra lengua” (English: the premier modern narrator of our language). Carlos Fuentes has said, «Las novelas y cuentos de Onetti son las piedras de fundación de nuestra modernidad» (English: His novels and short stories are the cornerstones of our modernity). Finally, Julio Cortázar simply called Onetti «el más grande novelista latinoamericano (English: the greatest Latin American novelist).

Onetti’s seminal novel, La vida breve (English: A Brief Life) published in 1950 is widely considered a foundational work of the Latin American Boom

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Juan Carlos Onetti

In essence, this «Boom» heralded a change in Latin American fiction from a focus on colonialism, dictatorships and other regional themes to the universal works of human nature and its conditions, often within an aura of magical realism which also emerged during the Boom. In this work, Onetti highlights what he considered the universal human trait of fleeing from reality to imagination and fiction as the way to deal with the lives we are born to lead.

Now to the heart of the matter. With this novel now well underway, we suddenly read the following:

«Lo malo no está en que la vida promete cosas que nunca nos da; lo malo es que siempre las da y deja de darlas.»

(English: «What is bad is not that life promises us things it never gives us; what’s bad is that it always gives them and then stops giving them.»)

I would say there is nothing more typical of human nature than to desire things we do not have while underappreciating all the things  life has given us. Then, especially as we age, we begin to lose the things we have taken for granted, things like jobs, relationships, physical strength and agility, the ease with which we can hope and plan for the future, independence, our worth to the larger society, and many other tangibles and intangibles depending on our individual circumstances. In this country we even take for granted «life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness» because we are taught that we’re entitled to them. And yet, when studied seriously, it is possibly the most egregious example of human overreach ever uttered.

It can be sad to lose what we haven’t appreciated enough. We all know related aphorisms and quotes like «You don’t know what you have until you lose it» and «The Lord (life) gives, and the Lord takes away», but we tend to remain blissfully unaffected by them, largely due, I would say, to the effort we expend in denying our own mortality

The flight from life into a fictional refuge remained the central theme of Onetti’s most important novels. We can count and name his characters who undertook it. We can also find them in the mirror if we look objectively enough. The flight from life into fiction is the flight from mortality to immortality, and one way or another we all undertake it.

The Pleasure of Reading

What’s the point of reading? Is there one? Is it the same for everyone? What follows below is my answer to the first question but, to tone down the suspense, my answers to numbers two and three are simply «yes» and «no», respectively.

To me the most important thing I get from reading is a gradually better understanding of both individual and collective human nature. I get this from reading novels. A good novelist has, above all, a finely tuned sense of what makes the world go round, and what makes the world go round are people in all their individual and affiliated roles. After that what distinguishes a novelist are matters of technique, style and voice. e64600abfac38254652016b1aa6603b4

A good novelist, in my opinion, begins by drawing the reader into a dream of the author’s creation. Once in that dream, the reader should never be shaken into wakefulness by the author’s own affectations or clumsy writing. The writing must never get in the way of the story. A great novelist does all this and adds to it relevant, intense phrases and observations that call the reader to a newer and clearer understanding of something, usually causing him or her to think: Why couldn’t I have said that?

As an example, I offer a small and powerful quote from Don Delillo’s novel Running Dog, which I finished last week. It is one of his lesser known and studied stories, which, to me, makes this find even more pleasurable.

All conspiracies begin with individual self-repression.

Why couldn’t I have said that?

The more I think about it the more I find it to be true. When you decide to conspire with anyone for any reason, you are forced to repress (give up, at least temporarily) a part of yourself. The conspiracy has to be nurtured and eventually become bigger than all the conspirators put together or they would eventually find it tedious.The original cause(s) may be noble, but the conspiracy de-nobilizes the conspirators. It brings me to a question I haven’t yet found the answer to: Can we ever give up a part of ourselves and still be true to anything?

I have the sense that Delillo’s quote could be rephrased to include conspiracy theorists as well as conspiracies themselves. Running Dog was first printed in 1978, well before the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing of  1995 and then 9/11 itself. Conspiracy theories have been raised concerning all three of these events and seem to have grown in number as time passed from one to the next. No doubt the proliferation of Web connections has made it much easier to embellish and foment these theories and the stories behind them; and, let’s not kid ourselves, some relatively small number of them may be true at their core.

So what does a person have to repress in order to promulgate a conspiracy theory? It may be different when different kinds conspiracies are suggested, but in general I would say integrity and a sense of justice are high on the list. We find it easier to blame «outsiders» for just about anything. Just look at all the attempts to connect some level of «foreign power» to the Oklahoma City bombing. Then we had the misguided «Stranger Danger» campaign that effectively took the spotlight of the likely offenders (relatives, neighbors and friends) and turned it full force on «outsiders». Subscribing to unfounded theories can also be an outlet for hatred, prejudice, and fear, mostly of things and people unknown. Whatever value some few of these theories may have, their total can poison a culture, dividing compatriots into factions, and in essence doing the work of an enemy, real or imagined, against ourselves.

«All conspiracies begin with individual self-repression.»

As for reading as pleasure, I’m honored to say that Margaret Atwood has spoken equally for me in her quote found just above the Title. When the reading is pleasurable we learn the most. Strangely enough this quote can be applied across a wide array of readers and readings. I am fully in sync with what Ms. Atwood said, but I can all but guarantee our reading lists are vastly different.

Raymond Carver Revisited

escritores-55gg-tess-gallagher-y-raymond-carver-en-1984-foto-marion-ettlinger-corbis-outlin-guardian-co-uk2
Raymond Carver with the love of his last 11 years, Tess Gallagher

Shortly after these two met, Carver’s doctor told him that his drinking was certainly going to kill him, and he emphasized sooner rather than later. Raymond’s spirits were notably renewed in Tess’ company and shortly after the doctor’s pronouncement he quit drinking and joined AA. Then, after surviving another eight years of life, a different doctor diagnosed him with terminal lung cancer. Almost two years later, on August 3, 1988, Raymond Carver died at the age of 50.

During those last two years this man, much too young to die, came to grips with the death rising up inside him. He and Tess dedicated themselves to compiling a book of his poetry mixed here and there with other poems, mostly by Anton Chekov. Tess and Raymond managed to finish the content of A New Path to the Waterfall before his death, but the task of compiling it all into book form fell to Tess.

In her Introduction to this small book, Tess Gallagher said:

It seems important finally to say that Ray did not regard his poetry as simply a hobby or a pastime he turned to when he wanted a rest from fiction. Poetry was a spiritual necessity.

His poetry written during these last two years was replete with shadows of his impending death. But at first he wrote with touches of humor as he did in «What the Doctor Said»:

What the Doctor Said

He said it doesn’t look good

he said it looks bad in fact real bad

he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before

I quit counting them

I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know

about any more being there than that

he said are you a religious man do you kneel down

in forest groves and let yourself ask for help

when you come to a waterfall

mist blowing against your face and arms

do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments

I said not yet but I intend to start today

he said I’m real sorry he said

I wish I had some other kind of news to give you

I said Amen and he said something else

I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do

and not wanting him to have to repeat it

and me to have to fully digest it

I just looked at him

for a minute and he looked back it was then

I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me

something no one else on earth had ever given me

I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

What a wry response to being told that he had at least thirty-two tumors on one lung:

«I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that»

Then, later, through his poems he confronted reality head on. I can imagine «Through the Boughs» as having been  written on the day that he came to feel more dead than alive, that inevitable time when fight becomes surrender and the present takes on more worth more than the future.

Through the Boughs

Down below the window, on the deck, some ragged-looking

birds gather at the feeder. The same birds, I think,

that come every day to eat and quarrel. Time was, time was,

they cry and strike at each other. It’s nearly time, yes.

The sky stays dark all day, the wind is from the west and

won’t stop blowing.… Give me your hand for a time. Hold on

to mine. That’s right, yes. Squeeze hard. Time was we

thought we had time on our side. Time was, time was,

those ragged birds cry.

Time is at the heart of what Carver expresses here. But time as what? It is time that was before all things changed; time as any day now, any minute, time of the present which seems to stand still while hands are held; and time viewed naïvely as an ally. 

To me it was time cut short. The final silencing of a uniquely talented voice that love had recently strengthened.