The Novel Without Qualities
An Interview with Luis Chitarroni by Andrew Gallix.
Luis Chitarroni is a prominent Argentine critic, editor, and novelist, whose staggering erudition is only matched by his warmth, humour, and kindness. Over several months—as I edited the following interview—he patiently responded to all my queries. Here is an extract from a message he sent me yesterday, which gives a good idea of the number of references he can cram, quite naturally, into a short paragraph:
The Distant Star is an allusion, almost a reference, to Roberto Bolaño’s title (Estrella distante). The man from Madrid is Javier Marías (an autor [sic] who declared ‘War’ to Jorge Herralde, his previous editor and publisher). The final sentence pretends to enhance Giordano Bruno’s observation on explosions and shakespeare title’s play [sic].
In the end, I cut some passages that remained too obscure to me. There are other instances when I chose to leave in some rather cryptic sentences, due to their hypnotic rhythm or sheer beauty. After all, as Roland Barthes declared, ‘For writing to be manifest in its truth (and not in its instrumentality) it must be illegible.’ Tidying up Chitarroni’s answers felt, at times, like translating from English into English, which is slightly disquieting, but also ironic. Indeed, Susana Medina—a London-based Spanish novelist—had kindly translated my convoluted questions into her mother tongue, as I wanted Chitarroni to be able to express himself as freely as possible. When the answers came in, however, they were in English. So the questions were in Spanish, the answers in English, and the interview is the gap between the two. Whenever Chitarroni opens his mouth or puts pen to paper, it is the entire history of Western literature that seems to speak, and yet the voice is always unmistakably his. Whatever the language.
AG: To quote your work, are you trying to create an art that ‘doesn’t leave footprints’?
LC: Or maybe the contrary, as that would be the most perfect of imperfect crimes—a gospel of footprints, an encyclopaedia of loose ends, a graveyard of heteronyms, caused by my industrious clumsiness. Every sign, every mark would lead to a different abode, or burglar lair, allowing the culprit to abscond. If memory serves, the idea of an art without footprints proceeds from Degas. Which reminds me of an observation my son Pedro made as a child on the subject of a Van Gogh watercolour: a picture made of footprints, he said. Afterwards, I read Erwin Panofsky’s verdict on the painter: not a shred of talent, only genius. A good balance between my narcissistic project and projection, and the obviously subjective appraisal of a great theorist who disliked (as I do) the rapacious spontaneity of the ginger, lobeless Dutch artist.
AG: By constantly revising his text, the narrator endows it with a provisional quality that takes several forms. There are frequent notes to self—to look up a quote at a later stage, for instance. Here, the reader may be prompted to check the information, thus placing herself in the role of the writer. In other cases, alternatives are suggested: ‘…is intended to highlight [‘underscore,’ perhaps?]…’. This, of course, is a way of not choosing, of creating a text that exists simultaneously in several versions, but it also casts the future novelist in the role of a reader. More generally, these square brackets (even square brackets within square brackets at times!) open up a space of dialogue between diarist and (future) novelist, which is, I feel, the true space of The No Variations. In this space—this gap between the book and itself, as it were—the novel is held in abeyance: it always remains a book to come. Is this what you set out to do?
LC: Well, one of my speculations [or superstitions] with and about space is to avoid the typographical boredom of some ‘conventional’ books. One of my pretensions in The No Variations is to establish a realm of indetermination (in my youth, Cage talked about indeterminacy in music, as did Godard in the realm of film). I think [translator] Darren Koolman corrects this extreme indeterminacy with his precise prologue, where he locates ‘the Voice’ as an instrument of my feeble but not timid ‘I.’ The book is more pleasant in English thanks to him, and his subtler mediations, melodious coherence, prurient intermittencies, and Anglo-Saxon approach to the ‘I.’ Ego is the native island of every Latin American syllabus, before or after Neruda, and certainly after Bolaño. Instead, the hierarchy of Republica Intelligentsia—by my all-time hero Arno Schmidt—is reversed, with me as the old translator and Darren as the young author. Darren managed to instil his energy into the style—the convalescence of my syntax, the extinction of my Latin sedition (don’t forget that your italics are called bastardillas in Spanish) from Eroici Furori (Giordano Bruno) to Guai ai gelidi mostri (Luigi Nono). When I corrected the translation, I chose to preserve my own mistakes as well as others’ with a benevolent (I hope) mixture of indifference and sloth. Verbigratia: …oh, please, excuse my vanity. ‘Que de otros imitó los modos / por conocerlos a todos’ [‘being familiar with many styles / he imitated them all’]. The above sentence loses part of its ambiguity in English, but it is the true heart of the matter. ‘That from others he apes the left / style, because he knows the friendly theft’: my stupid version, instead, corrects the limpid meaning. But, of course, the monograph on page ninety-two is really Sassoon on Meredith, not vice-versa.
The pedantic and delightful Enrique Luis Revol’s Mutaciones bruscas is mentioned in The No Variations. [The original English title for Peripecias del no that the initial translator came up with was ‘The Mutability of No,’ a meaningful reference to one of the themes, and two of the authorities my book appeals to, Spenser and John Peale Bishop]. Besides, Revol was a Cordobese Professor of English Literature, as well as a magnificent translator of English poetry into Spanish… A subtle and delicious e-mail arrived from Dalkey Archive [Press] a few days ago. A kind lady was enquiring about Revol’s novel, and it is now remotely possible that his strange, neglected book will be translated into English. One of the by-products of The No Variations is that it may lead to this act of poetic justice. But I must warn you (although I hate warnings) that Mutaciones only contains closed combinations. Besides, the Dalkey Lady is Priscilla Hunter, a name guilty of some of the adulterous mischievousness in The No Variations.
[This is a short extract, the full article is available to read in Issue Four]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANDREW GALLIX teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris and co-edits 3:AM Magazine. His work has appeared in publications ranging from The Guardian and Times Literary Supplement to Dazed & Confused. He divides his time between Scylla and Charybdis.