Well, that’s the Obooki Prize wrapped up for another year – which is just as well, because, without any candidates so far, I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to have to not award it at all.
So, what to write about The Virtues of the Solitary Bird? – Since I’m not sure, let’s here what Goytisolo has to say himself (perhaps in his case about St John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticle, but we can easily enough I think apply it to his own work):
was it possible to decipher the obscurities of the text, find a univocal explanatory key, get to the bottom of its occult sense through recourse to allegory, circumscribe its linguistic ambiguities, establish a rigorous philological critique, search out a strictly literal meaning, resort to moral and anagogical interpretations, straighten out its malleable syntax, elucidate its supposed absurdities, extenuate its abrupt and unparalleled radicality, structure, order, prune, reduce, strive to trap its immensity and fluidity, capture the subtleties of wind in a net, immobilize its ungraspable fluctuations and oneiric shifts, reproduce the pure splendor of the mystic fire through the accumulaton of glosses, commentaries, index cards, academic notes and comments, leaden observations, stodgy syntactical arrangements, filtered exegeses, pages and pages of dull and redundant prose?
wouldn’t it be better to plunge once and for all into the infinitude of the poem, accept the impenetrability of its mysteries and opacities, free your own language from the shackles of rationality, abandon it to the magnetic field of its secret attractions, encourage the wave of its expansion, admit plurality and simultaneity of meaning, purify the verbal incandecence, the flame and gentle cautery of its living love?
For Goytisolo’s work is indeed a strange series of images, dreams within dreams, mostly about some kind of moment of Armageddon – a plague which has struck the world, occasionally personified as a frightening giant of an old woman, and the members of a weird heretical sect – often to be found sitting and chatting on a hotel balcony, which is really a stage-set – who are being destroyed, melted, imprisoned, tortured and then finally taken to a sports stadium in the costume of birds to be publicly executed, all told by a narrator who occasionally is – or believes himself to be – the Spanish poet, St John of the Cross, who was similarly imprisoned and tortured.
Yes, but what’s it actually about? – It’s about the heterodox, those who have the temerity not to think what everyone around them’s thinking, and who are persecuted because of it.
And it’s told in a straight-forward manner, is it? – No, as I said, it’s told in a series of strange dream-like images, connected to one another by motifs, by the same individuals existing in different settings; that sort of thing. – Oh, and there’s no capital letters or full stops; but there are, thankfully, paragraph breaks and section breaks. (It reminded me a lot of Claude Simon: the constant shifting of scene – though clearer than Simon; in fact, to concentrate a little, it was easy enough not to get lost – and the long rolling sentences). – Yes, those long rolling sentences, we rather liked them.
I am looking forward to some more Goytisolo now.