Saturday, December 10, 2016

Juan Goytisolo's Juan the Landless

The final entry of Juan Goytisolo’s loose trilogy, 1975’s Juan The Landless is more of the same, with, if possible, even more vitriol, sarcastic irony, rage, mockery, denunciation, and repetitive accusation. This anti-novel, bilious prose-poem fusillade, or diary-in-exile, starts with a model – in both the moral and aesthetic meaning of that word – Catholic couple’s excremental necessities (with ham-fisted symbolism) and ends with a mock trial against the in-story author at a reading of his work. You have to admire an author who not only cares not for his bookish image, but who trashes its conception: “his gaze travels from one review to another with a serious, pained expression as his lips utter the magisterial reproaches as though he were telling the beads of a prickly rosary (a) excessive use of foreign phrases (b) lack of linguistic rigour (c) suspect representation of reality (d) inability to communicate the facts coldly and objectively (e) meaningless accumulation of sick, morbid personal obsessions (f) deliberate employment of substitutive myths (g) abandonment of all claim to truth ...”. The ‘faults’ are admitted, and the accuser seems not only petty, but obtuse, with the embedded, ironic critique: “coldly and objectively ... reality ...truth”. Further scatalogical irony builds in a long, hilarious exchange between a cultural defender trying, in apotropaic futility, to counter our good narrator, the tail-end of it noted here with: “leave me alone!, he will say: you can go jump in the lake! I’d be happy to, but I don’t happen to have my swim trunks with me. I can’t stand this!, he will howl: I’m about to explode! and that is literally what happens, without your being able to do anything to prevent it: a bland, gelatinous substance spurts out of his head, as though it were a bursting shell, and splatters all over the walls and ceiling of the ultramodern office painted in restful pastel colors”.

Reviews, synopses, and blurbs are frequent in their claims that this book somehow relaxes into a counter-proposal, a positive emotional balance, the vibrant Moors appearing as the longed-for corrective. I don’t see much of it, except in a narrowly-based nomenclature.

Helen Lane stays aboard for this translation, fortunately, managing Goytisolo’s relentless outrageousness to great effect. More reminiscent in structure to the first novel of the trilogy, Marks Of Identity, with its frequently long block paragraphs, hallucinatory discombobulation, and brutal historically-flavoured anecdotes, Juan The Landless is best taken as a bitter on an empty stomach, though it’s not distilled for most tastes, for which Goytisolo, no doubt, would react in loud, nasty laughter.

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