The OF Blog: Héctor Vásquez Azpiri, Fauna

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Héctor Vásquez Azpiri, Fauna

Bueno, pues ya me reventaba.  Ya estaba harto uno de ver a esa gente que luego va y se vuelve y espera el efecto; espantapájaros amigos de la pausa, de las voces en off, o de los que siempre gritan «muy bien, muy bien», sonríen y acotan con una espátula sus gritos en los discursos.  Alquimistas de mierda que en mierda todo lo transforman.  To get the thing potruding, ser mosca o ser sardina, o que haya algún buen Dios en la enramada que te saque del lío y te perdone.  Séneca, y siglos antes de Séneca un anciano argonauta, y detrás de él un compadre de Aristótles, un físico iracundo que examinaba los procesos de la digestión.  Los procesos en vivo, con esclavos de barriga abierta, el ir y venir del bolo alimenticio, el quilo, el exudado perpetuo y excitado de las linfas.  Siempre quedan esclavos que rajar y siempre hay sabios para el peri fiseos.  Descapullar o no descapullar, y el resto déjalo en inglés, que todo el mundo entiende, a falta de esperanto.  Es ese ciertamente un problema hebreo, muy propio de eruditos.  Hay prepucios de izquierdas, sindicados, de hiedra viva que se ciñe al tronco y le impide liberarse.  A un palmo de la filosofía está el prepucio pensante, y a un palmo del prepucio la filosofía, que va del ojo reventado de Filipo a los esquíes de Heidegger.  A la nana ea, a la nana, ea. (p. 10)

Well, I was already busting. I was already fed up seeing one of those people who then goes and turns and awaits the effect; scarecrow friends on pause, of voices on "off", or those who always shout "very good, very good," smiling and narrow with a spatula their cries in speeches. Fucking alchemists that transform everything into shit.  To get the thing potruding [sic], be it fly or sardines, or there is some good God in the arbor to take you and forgive the mess.  Seneca, and centuries before Seneca an old Argonaut, and behind him a compadre of Aristotles , an angry physicist who examined the digestive process. Live processes, with belly-opened slaves, the coming and going of the bolus, the chyle, and the perpetual exudation and excitement of the lymph nodes. Always remain slaves that crack and there are always wisemen for peri fiseos . To unwrap or not, and leave the rest in English that everyone understands, lacking Esperanto. It is certainly a Hebrew problem, very scholarly.  There are left foreskins, syndicals, of living ivy that clings to the trunk and impedes it of freeing itself. In a hand of philosophy is the thinking foreskin, and in the palm of the foreskin philosophy, which will trap the eye of Philip to Heidegger's skies. A la nana ea, a la nana, ea. 

Héctor Vásquez Azpiri's 1967 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel Fauna is the most experimental winner of the first iteration of this Spanish-language award.  It is a monologue that stretches over 240 pages and covers all sorts of topics, ranging from the sample provided above (as always, errors in translation are mine, particularly with rough drafts) to matters of faith and love.  Fauna certainly is not a story read for its plot, although its themes certainly provide lots of grist for pensive mills.  

Like many writers from the mid-20th century, Vásquez Azpiri appears to be influenced by James Joyce.  In his meandering monologue, there are echoes of both Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, particularly in how certain phrases are reused in ways to accentuate the connections between phonics and semantics.  But there are some interesting parallels with Vásquez Azpiri's contemporaries.  In reading Fauna, I found myself thinking occasionally of Alfonso Grosso's Florido Mayo (which won the 1973 Premio Alfaguara) and how each used stream of consciousness to raise questions about socio-cultural issues that troubled Spain during mid-century.  Where Grosso used the past to address these matters, Vásquez Azpiri couches these concerns in questioning passages, such as this repeating question from near the end of Ch. 6, where after exploring desires embodied in classical prose, this question, «¿Era eso libertad?» ("Was that liberty?")  closes out key sections. 

Desire is never far from the surface of the narrative, as each form of it (sexual, monetary, wisdom-seeking, power-grabbing, etc.) is explored in often playful passages.  Vásquez Azpiri is careful never to sate these desires, instead raising more and more questions that drive the reader to consider more and more what is transpiring.  The free-flowing stream of consciousness narrative serves as a vehicle for question consideration, allowing the reader to shape the import of each passage to his or her liking.  The result is a monologue that somehow acts simultaneously as a dialogue, between the always-speaking narrator and the "silent" audience (in the opening paragraph, the narrator refers to this gathered silence on a couple of occasions).

Fauna is one of the better Premio Alfaguara winners that I have read over the past several years.  Its blend of introspective questioning and wild imagery make it a memorable read that promises to retain its exuberance upon future re-reads.  While it owes something to Joyce and other mid-20th century writers of stream of consciousness narrative, Fauna does not feel too derivative, as it contains enough originality of thought and theme to make it worthwhile readers' time to read.  It is a shame that it, along with most of the older Premio Alfaguara winners, are not available in English, as there likely would be some interest for these tales from those readers who are drawn to Joyce, Pynchon, or Faulkner.  Regardless, Fauna holds up well nearly fifty years after its initial publication, possessing a "freshness" that would appeal to many readers who seek more than the mundane when they open a book.

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