The OF Blog: Daniel Sueiro, Corte de Corteza

Monday, January 27, 2014

Daniel Sueiro, Corte de Corteza

Las cosas empezaron a deteriorarse poco a poco, unas veces por hablar mucho, otras por callar demasiado; ella se convirtió pronto en una mujer insatisfecha por mil razones, él en un hombre por mil causas frustrado; la falta de acuerdo intelectual acerca de cuestiones elementales y por lo tanto esenciales, como la marcha del país, el papel de sus dirigentes, sus intervenciones bélicas en todo el planeta, la misma mecánica electoral, el valor de la persona humana individualizada en medio de toda aquella maquinaria de producir, consumir y guerrear sin un verdadero y último sentido, así como fundamentalmente la posición de cada uno de ellos con respecto a todas esas cuestiones, su participación en ellas, su inhibición en unos casos o su propia responsabilidad en otros, fueron nuevos motivos de desajustes que pronto salieron a la superficie de su vida cotidiana y que ahondaron de forma definitiva su total incomunicación, una dificultad absoluta y casi insalvable para del diálogo y, tal como iban las cosas, para la convivencia.  Esto era tremendo, resultada terrible y absurdo para ambos, les llenaba de confusión, de secreta vergüenza, y, en cierto modo, de pánico.  Pero se analizaban un poco más profundamente y entonces sabían que había otras razones, y una de ellas, muy sencilla, era que valoraban de distinta manera la sexualidad y el erotismo, y en este terreno estaban igualmente en desacuerdo, tanto en el plano teórico como en el prático. (Ch. XII)

Things began to deteriorate gradually, sometimes through talking too much , others for being too silent; she soon became a woman unsatisfied for a thousand reasons, he a man frustrated by a thousand causes; the lack of intellectual agreement on basic issues and therefore essential, like the progress of the country, the role of its leaders, its military interventions around the world, the electoral mechanics themselves, the value of the human individual in the midst of all machinery of production, consumption and war without a true and ultimate sense, and essentially the position of each with respect to all these issues, their participation in them, their inhibition or in some cases their own responsibility, they were new motives of disagreements which soon came to the surface of everyday life and permanently deepened their total isolation, an absolute and almost insurmountable difficulty of dialogue and, as things were going, for coexistence. It was awful, terrible and absurd for them both, it filled them with confusion, secret shame, and, in a certain way, panic.  But they analyzed it a little more deeply and then they knew that there were other reasons, and one of them, very simply, was that they valued sexuality and eroticism differently, and in this area they were also in disagreement, both theoretical and in practice.

 In its second iteration, the Premio Alfaguara winners have included several works that could, with just a little squinting of the eyes, be considered fantasies or science fictions.  In reading the 1968 winner, Daniel Sueiro's Corte de Corteza (The Court of Courtesy), it turns out that even early on, the judges were receptive of a work that is about as science fictional as they come.  But tropes ultimately are but window dressing that merely provide a template through which the author either writes a good tale or a mediocre one.  In this particular case, the former largely is on display.

Corte de Corteza is set in an unknown, futuristic time in an unspecified country.  Adam, a political dissident who is frustrated with the state of affairs in his homeland, walks out into an area known for its violence and is gravely wounded.  The doctors try their best to save his body, but the damage to his liver and other vital organs is too great, so they perform emergency brain surgery, in which Adam's brain is removed and placed in the hollowed-out cranium of a brain-dead man named David.  The rest of the novel revolves around the changes that occur in the Adam-David hybrid as Adam's brain tries to adapt to the changes present in a new body, with ever more pessimistic results.

Like many science fiction writers of the mid-20th century, Sueiro was interested in relationships between person and state, between prior and current states of being.  The narrative switches frequently between Adam-David's interactions with others and introspective passages such as the one cited above, which occurred after Adam's girlfriend and him slowly become estranged due to the changes that have taken place and which continue to take place within the new Adam hybrid.  Sueiro does an excellent job in exploring the dynamics involved here and there certainly are no easy, pat answers for what is transpiring here.

Corte de Corteza also represents a break in style for Sueiro.  Previously known as a social realist writer who carefully crafted tales set in contemporary Spain, Corte de Corteza was the beginning of a shift toward a more universal, more experimental sort of narrative in which "big question" concepts are addressed through both character interaction and monologue.  There are a few times in this novel where the "big questions" threaten to overwhelm the character who is doing these internal inquiries, but on the whole Sueiro manages to keep Adam-David's tale grounded enough in the individual/narrator that the reader finds his personality to be as key to the story as the questions he keeps raising about himself and his altered role in society.

The prose, however, is inconsistent, as Sueiro is too inclined at times to delve too broadly into the issues raised in the narrative, leading to passages that feel almost interminable before he transitions toward a new development that occurs more naturally and with less sense of slowness.  Yet despite these occasional weaknesses, on the whole, the writing is well-constructed and by story's end, the impact is greater because of the care that Sueiro took in developing Adam-David's character.  Corte de Corteza might not be the best-written or most powerful of the Premio Alfaguara winners, but it is a good tale that illustrates the variety of narrative styles and content that these award winners have had during both iterations of the Premio Alfaguara.  Recommended especially for those curious to see possible parallels between this tale and 1950s and 1960s Anglo-American SF.

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