Monday, January 16, 2012
Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Viscount Lascano Tegui
Viscount Lascano Tegui
On Elegance While Sleeping
Idra Novey, translator
Dalkey Archive Press, 2010
(Originally published in Spanish as De la elegancia mientras se duerme, Paris, 1925)
First of all, how brilliant to declare oneself a viscount. It never occurred to me that I could simply give myself a title. Then again, Lascano Tegui also declared himself to be a dentist – quite a scary idea!
In a similar way, this book is called a novel. It is true that, after several rereadings, I began to appreciate the peculiar and unnerving way that images and obsessions appear and return, throwing out shoots and warped fruits. Still, the hints of plot, the murder at the end – these are not among the principal pleasures or satisfactions of the book.
This book will appeal to fans of Lautreamont and Poe, and above all to anyone who has read Baudelaire’s prose poems in Paris Spleen a dozen times and wished that there were more. Here are dozens of prose poems, anecdotes, contemplations and oddities, like the fragments of a surreal memoir.
There’s no shortage of gruesome details -- or marvelous black humor. Best of all, there is a tendency to now and then toss out casual insights that seem absolutely essential. This narrator may be mad but his treasure is real.
“A broken watch ticks more often than one in perfect condition. It lives more.” (72) Or: “Novelists overplay their hands when they put an end to their characters with some catastrophe – a terrible fire, a murder, what have you. They don’t trust in the asphyxiating monotony of everyday life.” (71)
I am glad to be reminded of the dangers of generalizing in brothels, as well as the fact that a book, that infamous fetish object, is simply “the vegetal pulp left behind by man”.
Dalkey Archive Press is a heroic outfit to which I am deeply grateful. (Without Dalkey: no Flann O’Brien, no Juan Goytisolo, no Harry Matthews, no Diane Williams, no Coleman Dowell!) I hope their heroics will soon include more translations of Viscount Lascano Tegui who, despite being entirely fascinating, and a friend of Picasso and Apollinaire, was out of print even in his native Argentina until the 1990s.