Going through all my BEA catalogs, Rosa Chacel’s Dream of Reason (University of Nebraska Press, translated from the Spanish by Carol Maier) was one of the books that really caught my eye. And not just because it’s long (like 776-pages long), or because the author is compared to Joyce, Proust, and Woolf (isn’t every modernist writer compared to one of those three or Beckett and Kafka?). The Javier Marias quote on the back is definitely attention grabbing: “Rosa Chacel’s La sinrazon is one of the best, most original, and most daring novels of twentieth-century Spanish literature. . . . It is time that her importance in the history of world literature be recognized.” And based on the bits I’ve read from the galley that arrived this morning, this seems to be the case.
I’m not familiar with Rosa Chacel’s works, although Nebraska has published a couple of her other books—The Maravillas District and Memoirs of Leticia Valle—in the past. Her life sounds pretty interesting as well, but it’s her description of this book—and it’s “embryo” Estacion. Ida y vuelta—that really peaked my interest. (That and the fact that it’s pretty rare to come across a massive modernist text by a Spanish woman writer.)
From the intro she wrote for the third Spanish edition:
I did not, all those years ago, try to create a character who lacked direction or moral consistency—and who might seem quite modern today—I only tried to achieve the mental discourse of a man who sees himself, analyzes himself, and follows himself in his wandering—the subject’s sole characteristic, the urge to wander—through three phases, Estacion. Ida y vuelta.
An ambition or longing for form, then, became my supreme aesthetic motive, also, not separate from form, but also in the enumeration of appurtenances or conditions—also craft, the goal of doing something and doing it well, without taking into account what, at that time, was considered well done: to do this, confident that the work’s veracity, which has nothing to do with its verisimilitude, was solid, a condition that is usually—or was usually—demanded of the novel. Because it was a question of creating a novel, of following a man—not following him as an observer capable of undertaking a story; it had to be the man’s mind itself that followed after him, keeping at just the right distance for being able to judge him, not annexing him but joining him, that is, becoming imbued with the nuances of each phase.
And here are a couple intriguing quotes from the book itself. First, the opening from chapter 1:
A few words, seemingly quite trivial when spoken, over time have become identified with one of the climactic moments in my life. What I’m thinking about occurred during a period so frivolous I’m embarrassed to describe it; nevertheless, I must describe it.
That whole period is very distant now, but I remember it well, well enough to tell about it reliably, which is not at all unusual. People often remember past events in detail; the hard thing is to recall what you were like then while you’re recalling now, to summon, from experience, knowledge, and disillusion, an exact remembrance of not knowing, of innocence. That’s very difficult and that’s what I want to achieve, especially the recollection of innocence, because ignorance actually increases with knowledge—experience and disillusion make it much easier for us to ponder the extent of our ignorance. Innocence is not extensive, though: innocence either is or is not.
And now, skipping to the opening of Part Two:
Cross out, cross out, that was the first thing I thought of when I unearthed these notebooks after six years. Quite cunning, those two words: to cross out you have to pick up your pen again.
I’m rereading everything I wrote, and it seems awkward, inefficient, and positively useless for what I wanted: it clarifies nothing. So if it’s useless, why not toss it into the fireplace? I don’t know why, and I can’t find any reason not to do that; but the thing is, neither do I find enough momentum in myself to do it. I can think I should burn it, but I know my hand won’t move in the right direction; on the contrary, no sooner did the words “cross out” come craftily into my head than my fountain pen began to secrete its spidery web onto the page.
Dream of Reason won’t be available until October, but you can pre-order copies from The Booksmith by clicking here.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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