Estado: usado (tapa dura).
Editorial: New Directions Books.
Traducción: al ingles por Suzanne Jill Levine.
Bioy Casares según la Encyclopaedia Britannica
Adolfo Bioy Casares, pseudonyms Javier Miranda and Martin Sacastru (born September 15, 1914, Buenos Aires, Argentina—died March 8, 1999, Buenos Aires), Argentine writer and editor, known both for his own work and for his collaborations with Jorge Luis Borges. His elegantly constructed works are oriented toward metaphysical possibilities and employ the fantastic to achieve their meanings.
Born into a wealthy family, Bioy Casares was encouraged in his writing, publishing (with the help of his father) his first book in 1929. In 1932 he met Borges, a meeting that resulted in lifelong friendship and literary collaboration. Together they edited the literary magazine Destiempo (1936). Bioy Casares published several books before 1940, including collections of short stories (such as Caos[1934; “Chaos”] and Luis Greve, muerto [1937; “Luis Greve, Deceased”]), but he did not win wide notice until the publication of his novel La invención de Morel (1940; The Invention of Morel). A carefully constructed and fantastic work, it concerns a fugitive (the narrator) who has fallen in love and strives to establish contact with a woman who is eventually revealed to be only an image created by a film projector. The novel formed the basis for Alain Robbe-Grillet’s film script for Last Year at Marienbad(1961). The novel Plan de evasión (1945; A Plan for Escape) and the six short stories of La trama celeste(1948; “The Celestial Plot”) further explore imaginary worlds, tightly constructed to adhere to a fantastic logic.
In the novel El sueño de los héroes (1954; The Dream of Heroes), Bioy Casares examines the meaning of love and the significance of dreams and memory to future actions. The novel Diario de la guerra del cerdo (1969; Diary of the War of the Pig) is a mixture of science fiction and political satire.
Other works by Bioy Casares include the collections of short stories El gran serafín (1967; “The Great Seraphim”), Historias de amor (1972; “Love Stories”), Historias fantásticas (1972; “Fantastic Stories”), and the novels Dormir al sol (1973; Asleep in the Sun) and La aventura de un fotógrafo en La Plata (1985; The Adventure of a Photographer in La Plata).
In their collaborative efforts, Bioy Casares and Borges often employed the pseudonyms Honorio Bustos Domecq, B. Suarez Lynch, and B. Lynch Davis. Together they published Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (1942; Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi) and Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (1967;Chronicles of Bustos Domecq), both of which satirize a variety of Argentine personalities. The two also edited Los mejores cuentos policiales (1943; “The Greatest Detective Stories”), a two-volume book ofgaucho poetry (Poesía gauchesca, 1955), and other works. Bioy Casares collaborated with his wife, the poet Silvina Ocampo, and Borges to edit Antología de la literatura fantástica (1940; “Anthology of Fantastic Literature”; Eng. trans. The Book of Fantasy) and Antología poética argentina (1941; “Anthology of Argentine Poetry”).
Silly and Miguided About Love
IN his prologue to “The Invention of Morel,” the 1940 novella by his collaborator, protege and fellow Argentine Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “We hear sad murmurs that our century lacks the ability to devise interesting plots.” He then cites the performance of Mr. Bioy Casares as irrefutable evidence that the fear is misplaced.
This appealing and provocative collection, selected and finely translated by Suzanne Jill Levine from stories published between the mid-1950’s and the late 1980’s, illustrates Borges’s point. Its author, for all his delight in abstraction, in the mysteries of the supernatural, in the confusion of his characters and their baffled misreading of illusion, maintains a sharp focus on structure and process. All the entries are solidly made and the frequently quirky people in them, despite their considerable fumbling and stumbling, manage to make it from here to there without disrupting the plot line.
“Life consists in adapting to incoherence,” asserts an epigraph to one section of the stories, which is precisely what this work tries to do. But most of the emotional clutter the characters bring upon themselves, and most of their efforts to adapt to it only make matters worse.
Close to the heart of the disruption is a thoroughgoing confusion about love, mostly on the part of silly and misguided males. The stories are riddled with a hopeful machismo, with men who think the sun rises and sets on their desires — only to be hurt and befuddled when they discover that it doesn’t. Even Casanova, “who in his own esteem shined as irresistible to women,” is bewildered that Miss Bonneval, in the story “A Secret Casanova,” can think of things she’d rather do than submit to his seductive charms. The narrator of “Trio” dreams of sweeping a woman named Johanna up in a 12-cylinder Packard and whisking her away from her tired old husband. Wrongly, he assumes that she dreams of the same thing.
The men bring all this confusion on themselves; nobody ever asks Johanna — or Laura, Emilia, Dorotea, Pearl or Margarita. The result of this serious lack of communication is the incoherence we must adapt to, as well as a sort of shallow profundity that allows men to get away with saying things like, “I adore women, but I can see through them: they are anarchists who disrupt our civilization,” and “though they’re sturdy as horses, women are depressed by everything,” and “life with women is like military service . . . that should be mandatory for all young men, since it completes our education and builds character,” and even “women are the great hindrance.” Of course, such statements reflect more on those who make them than on the objects of their supposed scorn, but the poor deluded fellows don’t know this.
The disruptive nature of relationships is not limited to those between men and women. They are just the ones that best illustrate the jarring of social and ethical norms, which is Mr. Bioy Casares’s true theme. He writes in the spaces in between: between our lives and our illusions, our dreams and our limitations, our escapes and our confrontations.
“Instead of becoming heroes,” says the narrator of “The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice,” “we went to the office, wrote books and made love to women.” This divide separating what we are from what we think we could be, if we just made a little effort, is what the stories are really about.
Adolfo Bioy Casares is mostly known in this country for his collaborations with Borges; among other things, they introduced the world to the impossibly inflated work of the imaginary critic H. Bustos Domecq. But in his own right, he is one of the signal figures of modern Latin American literature; these stories show him at his best.
by Alexander Coleman
Generalizations about contemporary writing from Spanish America are neither advisable nor recommended for general use. There is nothing coherent to be said about the literary production of twenty distinct countries, where the situation of the writer, the place accorded literature in that society, and the author’s particular response to the societal and political mix are a special case in each instance, applicable not even to a neighboring country. This is so in spite of the fact that Spanish American authors all seem to write in the same language and have a common history of conquest, colonization, and apparent liberation from the political and cultural models that were Spain’s legacy from the age of discovery. Though such things are not known or acknowledged in the U.S.A., it is good to keep in mind that an Argentine arriving in Mexico is a Martian to most Mexicans, as is a Cuban arriving in Chile—utterly different worlds on all fronts. All the more reason for insisting on specificity when talking about a particular author today.
For instance, within the Peruvian context, where literature is rarely granted any distance from society, and where fiction is more likely to be valued for its documentary value than for its imaginative qualities, it was logical that Mario Vargas Llosa would feel compelled to offer his candidacy for the presidency of Peru. Vargas Llosa is a devourer of reality, a manic Flaubertian, scrutinizing and exposing the fossilized structures of Peru’s authoritarian feudalism. But unlike Flaubert (although similar to other Peruvian writers before him), he possesses a messianic compulsion to cure the nation of its ills by his own magisterial hand—a vocation for martyrdom. Writers turning into politicians and failing miserably are an old story in parts of Spanish America, and literature is not the better for these dalliances. In any case, it was a Peruvian phenomenon, not readily replicable elsewhere. For instance, a “committed” writer such as the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, who apparently has ideas similar to those of Vargas Llosa, has always insisted that the only social responsibility of the writer is to write well, and that’s that. He has consistently refused (and there have been many) offers of ambassadorships, consulates, and possible candidacies for the presidency of Colombia. He’s been wise to do so.
If generalizations are perforce shaky, it is nonetheless true that the North American reader does have an impression of and about contemporary fiction from Spanish America, more likely than not drawn from a recent and cursory reading of a few works of, say, García Márquez or Isabel Allende. Such an impression, nebulous and vague as it is, is widespread, and it always seems to point to a kind of performance practice which distinguishes Spanish American fiction from its North American counterpart, and this in turn relates to the uses and misuses of the fantastic. It would seem that most American readers are under the impression that the only mode practiced in Spanish America is something called “magic realism,” or, to use another term, coined by the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, “the marvelous real.” The two terms mean quite different things, but no matter; for the North American reader, the terms have come to be equivalent. García Márquez’sOne Hundred Years of Solitude is the touchstone for this visionary literature. Examples abound therein. Along with the many gory and exorbitant events in that novel, Father Nicanor Reyna levitates twelve centimeters above the ground upon sipping a cup of chocolate, while Remedios the Beautiful is swept up into the heavens accompanied by a gaggle of airborne bedsheets. Many readers have taken these magical episodes as examples of a piquant fancy, suggestive of the author’s addiction to medieval chronicles and chivalric novels. This is very much to the point, since García Márquez has always expressed his contempt for slice-of-life literature and for European realism in general, and has tended to veer toward adventure stories, fairy tales, and children’s literature as nurturing elements for his own writing—the world of the romance. Most occasional readers of Spanish American fiction have taken this style as the coin of the realm, as if fantasy, hyperbole, and dream were always present.
Historically, just the reverse is the case. Since the first recognizable novel in all of the colonies was not published until 1816 in Mexico, the founding novels of the nineteenth century in each of the newly independent nations were born under the successive novelistic aesthetics of what then reigned in France and Spain—romanticism, realism, and, markedly, naturalism. In these novels, Nature itself—or rather the unequal contention between man and nature—was the protagonist. Zola was a hidden master behind these novels, which came in many guises and have had many labels in the histories of the Spanish American novel—the “novel of the earth,” “the protest novel,” “the indianista novel,” “the novel of the Mexican Revolution”—and they carried on a hardy existence in across the continent until well into the 1940s. García Márquez, whose grand novel was published as recently as 1967, was one of the first of today’s writers to lament the persistence of parochial realism in Spanish America. Things could have been quite different in terms of literary evolution had Spanish American writers reached back to pre-nineteenth-century, even medieval, models:
The authors of chivalric novels succeeded in inventing a world in which the imagination was possible. The only important thing for them was the validity of the account, and if they deemed it necessary for the knight to have his head cut off four times, it would be cut off four times. This amazing capacity for inventing fables penetrated the reader of that period in such a way that it became the emblem of the conquest of America. The sad part is that Latin American literature should have forgotten so soon about its marvelous origins.
If García Márquez and his contemporaries (Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa, to name a few) represent the new canon that has spead urbi et orbi throughout college curricula as “representative” of the Spanish American novel, the old canon survives only as subject for revisionist readings and an exemplar of historical interest.
One of the main agents in displacing the old with the new was the Argentine novelist and essayist Adolfo Bioy Casares. Born in 1914 in Buenos Aires, he found himself in such fortunate financial circumstances that he was able to dedicate himself to a writing career, with the passionate encouragement of his littérateur father. His older friend and compatriot Jorge Luis Borges (b. 1899) had similar luck—a well-off family and a father who, frustrated by his own lack of literary talent, poured his unrealized ambitions into his son. The two met for the first time in 1932, and although they were always to be quite different as writers, a unique friendship developed over the years which resulted not only in their reviewing and commenting upon each other’s literary production, but also in their jointly creating a “third party,” an author dubbed “Biorges” by one of Borges’s biographers.
The two collaborated in five works of fiction, most of them parodies of detective stories modeled on their avid readings in Chesterton and Conan Doyle. They also produced (with Silvina Ocampo) an anthology which was to make its mark on the future of much of Spanish American writing, theAnthology of Fantastic Literature (1940), where Lewis Carroll abuts Cocteau, Alexandra David-Neel, and Kafka, and Lord Dunsany finds himself in the company of Chuang-Tzu, Saki, and Swedenborg. The editors included one of Borges’s finest early short stories, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (where Bioy Casares appears as a literary character on the first page of the story—the purported reader of the false, pirated encyclopedia which in due course gives birth to the invading planet Tlön). Bioy Casares also put his name on the truculent prologue to the anthology, which is as much a manifesto as anything else. He there notes that in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” Borges “created a new literary genre, part essay, part fiction. This new genre of Borges is an exercise in a rigorously applied intelligence and felicitous imagining, a story without padding, without the ‘human element,’ neither emotional nor heart-rending, all aimed at intellectual readers, students of philosophy, some specialists in literature.”
In a similar vein, Borges and Bioy Casares, during a long conversation one afternoon in 1939, compiled a list “of what was to be avoided in literature.” The anathemata included “works in which the real protagonist was the pampa, the virgin jungle, the sea, a deluge, or monetary profit,” or “works which have situations with which the reader identifies,” or “works which pretend to be menus, albums, itineraries, musical concerts”; also, works “which ask for illustration, which suggest films.” It should be added that Borges and his friend had the good sense to pull their own legs and include, in their list of prohibitions, works which “include in their plot development vain plays with time and space as found in Faulkner, Borges, and Bioy.” During this same conversation, Borges described to Bioy Casares the outline of one of his finest literary spoofs, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”
Throughout the groves of academe, more than a few doctoral dissertations are surely in preparation concerning the multiple significance of this friendship, which ended only with the death of Borges in 1986. In his “Autobiographical Essay,” Borges recognized the complexity of their relationship and made a telling remark about the debt he felt he owed to the younger writer:
It has always been taken for granted in these cases that the elder man is the master and the younger his disciple. This may have been true at the outset but several years later, when we began to work together, Bioy was really and secretly the master… . Opposing my taste for the emotional, the sententious and the baroque, Bioy made me feel that quietness and restraint are more desirable. If I may be allowed a sweeping statement, Bioy led me gradually to classicism.
As Borges’s biographer Emir Rodríguez Monegal noted in his lengthy discussion of the relationship, Bioy Casares published his most famous work,The Invention of Morel, with a prologue by Borges, just a few weeks before the publication of the “fantastic” anthology in November 1940. Like Bioy’s manifesto for the anthology, Borges’s prologue to his friend’s work rails against the psychological novel in general and its most particular manifestation—the Russian novel, with Dostoevsky probably the principal target. Borges finds such novels to be loose, baggy monsters, as did Henry James, but in terms unique to his own perception of the nature of literature: “The Russians and their disciples have demonstrated, tediously, that nobody is impossible. A person may kill himself because he is so happy, for example, or commit murder as an act of benevolence. And one man can inform on another out of fervor or humility. In the end, such complete freedom is tantamount to chaos.” Turning to Bioy Casares’s rigorously plotted novel, he places it on a level of achievement equal to any other work of the time or of the previous few decades:
I believe I am free from every superstition of modernity, or any illusion that yesterday differs intimately from today or will differ from tomorrow; but I maintain that during no other era have there been novels with such admirable plots as The Turn of the Screw, Der Prozess, Le voyageur sur la terre (of Julien Green), and the one you are about to read, which was written by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
A selection from the fiction of Bioy Casares has just been published by New Directions. The deft translator of these stories, Suzanne Jill Levine, points out in her introduction that while H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) provided the point of departure for Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel should not be taken as mere science fiction. Alfred Mac Adam described Morel as “a text about a man who becomes first an artist and then a work of art.” The plot is simple: a fugitive, shipwrecked on an island, spies on an alluring group of elegant vacationers who fill their days with drink, fine talk, a good selection of records of the Twenties, and innumerable games of tennis. He soon becomes enamored of the belle dâmeof the group, Faustine. As he observes all of them over a period of weeks without his presence being noted, he realizes that they repeat every conversation, every move and gesture, cyclically over a fixed stretch of time. They have died, or have been killed, after having been filmed in three dimensions by the sinister group leader, Morel. Finally concluding that what he sees is a kind of continuous holographic film loop whose projected images have bulk and move about the island as if alive, the fugitive determines to master Morel’s invention (powered by the fluctuation of the tides) so that he will be able to intercalate himself into this revolving time machine of images. He wants to stand (or lie) next to the already pre-programmed Faustine, who will of course never know of his presence. Intimacy will be denied him, but the anguishing approximation of it is better than nothing. The young lover forever on the brink of possession, encased in a work of art, has some consolations— Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” being the classic formulation.
Bioy Casares’s brief novel represents the proto-artist who is at once writing in a diary (inscribing on the urn, if you will) and making himself into a component part of (and a collaborator on) an art object, a permanence of images. The Invention of Morel is one of the first instances of a movement away from representation in literature in Spanish America. By the way, the work attracted the attention of Alain Robbe-Grillet, who reviewed it inCritique in 1953; in can be seen as a subtext to his screenplay for the filmLast Year at Marienbad (1961). Robbe-Grillet admitted to as much in an interview. He tells how, after the première of the film, a friend (Claude Ollier) called to congratulate him on his achievement, but began with a memorable exclamation: “Mais, c’est L’Invention de Morel!” At any rate, Bioy Casares has hardly been idle since then. Aside from the collaborations with Borges, he has published some fifteen books—novels, novellas, and short stories—along with a number of critical articles in Argentine journals; he has also continued on as a sometime anthologist. One of his more mordant works of recent years is his Dictionary of the Exquisite Argentine (second edition, 1990), a compilation of barbarisms and pompous anglicisms that have crept into daily use in Buenos Aires. The growing corruption of meaning in daily language usage has always been a major concern.
By now it is probably impossible to extricate the name of Bioy Casares from its association with Borges and his work. They are, howevever, quite distinct writers, though they both share a penchant for the metaphysical and the sense of life-out-of-mind-and-body. But Borges always had a leaning toward the epic sense of life, what with his celebration of Walt Whitman, his addiction to the major films of the “Western” genre, his espousal of Ulysses, his avoidance of the intimate tone, his real aversion to the confessional aspects of literary expression. On the contrary, Bioy Casares “tends toward the lyrical,” in the words of Ms. Levine, with a special attention to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and especially Verlaine, authors who find little favor indeed in Borges’s eccentric pantheon. Furthermore, Bioy Casares’s stories flow in realms that Borges would never acknowledge as proper for his own writing.
All of the pieces in the present collection are taken from four books dating from the mid-1950s through the late 1980s; they revolve around the subject of love, which manifests itself in a hallucinatory and obsessive way within each story. Most of the pieces are variations on the theme of l’amour fou, described in an offhand and oblique way that makes each character something of a phantom, a mental event rather than an evolving person on the page.
The most intriguing thread running through these stories is the repetition of a kind of child’s adventure tale, only eroticized: each story rehearses a search for the beloved across space and time which more often than not ends in grinding frustration and a hallucinatory dénouement. Bioy Casares’s art draws upon the world of the child as a diagram for the deceptions and disillusions of adulthood. Still, the child remaining within always has the option of returning home to the cozy world of uncomplicated parental affection. In a brief chronology of his life written in 1975, Bioy Casares recalls that in early childhood, at around age five, “my mother [told] me stories about animals who stray from the nest, are exposed to danger, and in the end, after many adventures, return to the security of the nest. The theme of the safe, or apparently safe, haven, out of the dangers that lurk outside still (in 1975) appeals to me.” The way this plays out is elusive; the stories tell of events in a monochromatic stream of time without much tonal variation or carefully prefigured surprises within the ongoing flow of things. The machismo of the errant male, a favorite target, is subverted, put at a loss, while women’s sensibilities and questing are no luckier but are seen in an immensely more generous light. Like the protagonist of The Invention of Morel, Bioy Casares’s people are losers, they are always out of joint. Often physically together, “adjoining” each other as it were, they are at an unbreachable psychic distance.
For instance, in “Women Are All The Same,” a young wife, over the objections of her much younger suitor, allows her elderly husband to intern her in an insane asylum, thereby “achieving security,” suggests Ms. Levine, “by making fidelity into a form of suicide.” In “Men Are All The Same,” an adoring friend of a young widow loses out to a much younger man, whom in turn she finally discovers to have an interest in her only because of the splendid automobile she lets him drive. In “Pearls Before Swine,” a passionate attachment of one woman only casually answered by an inattentive friend is discovered by that same suitor to have been the romantic “love of his life,” far too many years late. In “Dorotea,” a father’s search for his estranged wife in the south of France ends in his finding his daughter, but not his wife. She has died, and the daughter is now unreachable and distant. What might have been ends in frustration and isolation. Bioy Casares’s fluent manipulation of time and space is evident in “About the Shape of the World” and “The Hero of Women,” but these are not “escapist” pieces; the political realities of Argentina intrude throughout. “The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice” is based on the torching of Buenos Aires’s elegant Jockey Club by enraged Peronistas. Inside the political anecdote, the story tells of a dramatic and failed search for love as the hordes plunder this bastion of the old aristocracy. As in Borges, dream is the bedrock of Bioy Casares’s reality. Ms. Levine quotes Borges to good effect on this matter: “Nobody knows whether the world is a natural process or whether it is a kind of dream which we may or may not share with others.”
Robbe-Grillet said of The Invention of Morel that it was “un livre étonnant,” which might be variously translated as an “astonishing” or “amazing book.” It is most certainly that—a revelation—and should be read anew by every generation. The stories in this collection, however, are not at that level of intensity; they artfully echo Bioy Casares’s major achievement of 1940, exploring the obsessions implicit in the earlier masterpiece. Still, that should be more than enough to explain why Bioy Casares is now Argentina’s most distinguished living man of letters and is considered a founding father of the new novel in all of Spanish America. When Carlos Fuentes noted that “without Borges, there would be no new Spanish American novel,” he misspoke—he should have said “Biorges.”
1- Selected Stories, by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Translated from the Spanish, and with an introduction, by Suzanne Jill Levine. New Directions, 176 pages
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