When Novels get High on Fire. Photograph by Brett Stout
By JesÃºsÂ Urzagasti
Translated from Spanish by Jessica Sequeira
Late at night, silent, the consciousness of his work surprised him.
A book. He can’t remember the first time he felt the need to write a book. What heâ€™s never forgotten is that in his case, the possibility of a book came not fromÂ the curvesÂ of mental calculation, but the difficult course of a life and what’s lived. At some other time he was able to appreciateÂ deeply and without envy those able to logically produce a text. But he also knew that for him, the only possible literary dialogue came from previous self examination followed by comparison with natureÂ â€”Â or the opposite,Â or maybe both at the same time. The song of a bird for example, which in its eternal present condensed the memories of voiceless trees. This formed part of a much larger map where it seemed difficult to orient himself, since he was also included as an observer and detached partisan of objectivity. Later came the dreams, a complicated lightÂ that left no vanity safe but the delusion man is completely responsible for his actions. Then his vast gaps inÂ knowledge, a fact that inclined him to clear thinking, the kind that didn’t escape over slippery unknown terrains but moved over fields where his presence was no obstacle. The first time he managed to writeÂ a book, he had to convince himself the ease of writing had its equivalent and counterweight in the hardness of past learning. “I know it’s different for others”Â â€”Â he said with respectÂ â€”Â “but what importance do others have in my night and day? So far as I know, none.” He chose what he was allowed to choose and experienced the happiness of writing a brief period, which in the real course of Time lasted from FebruaryÂ 23Â to June 13, 1967. More than a decade later at midnight, between December 31, 1980 and January 1, 1981, after a breakÂ from words and a serious challenge to his body, he started another book. This volume has now been concludedÂ â€”Â though he still hasn’t managed to read the date at its endÂ â€”Â just as Life is concluded in Death. Late at night, silent, the consciousness of his work surprised him. Terrified, he toldÂ himself that “to finish whatâ€™s been concluded since the beginning of time requires courage and lucidity, and daringÂ and prudence, since the mere proposal of such a task is an invitation down the path of madness. Nothing convinces me I have theÂ virtues necessaryÂ to resistÂ the danger of such a precipice.” He knows something has already been concludedÂ â€”Â in this case, a book still only half-writtenÂ â€”Â yet isnâ€™t able to decipher its ample and total meaning. It becomes a difficult exercise for the memory. Now he lowers his gaze, withdrawn from the world and absorbed in his writing. He wants to avoid the first and never renounce the secondÂ again. The problem can’t be solvedÂ since it has multiple solutions, which he’s made hang together in this way: by inscribing writing in writing, and life in life. In other words: what’s living in whatâ€™s already happened, and life in death. Any word just pronounced, he thinks, adds itself as a tiny but essential part to the largest, most detailed, most general textÂ called the Finished Work. Paradoxically that finished work always demands the absent term, word, concept and accent. In the same way death demands of each organism the trivial gesture, surly walk, violent decision, and survival of life in each tiny act, to complete its final objective: the cease fire, the truce of disappearance, the radiant silence amidst so much darkness.
JesÃºs Urzagasti was born in Campo Pajoso and wroteÂ â€˜tirineaâ€™Â andÂ â€˜de la ventana al parqueâ€™.
Jessica SequeiraÂ is a writer and translator living in BuenosÂ Aires.Â