Monday, December 17, 2012

Dec 17, Sean Lovelace on Augusto Monterroso's "Fecundity"

Augusto Monterroso is renowned throughout Latin America (and indeed the entire learned planet) for one of the shortest stories ever written, “The Dinosaur.”


“The Dinosaur,” in its sweet entirety: 

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.


Or you might eye it somewhere as:

When she awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

This work is powerful to many readers (much like agrapha or Guatemalan coffee beans or the writings of Charles Baxter). People anthologize, mythologize, memorize the words, repeating them as a mantra and prayer, fondling them with the pebbled tongue, snuggling them into hotels under night like little Johnny Depps, cooing to them, placing them on broadsides and billboards and bracelets, tablets and tombstones, wearing them as talisman or tattoo.


Some read these words and sibilate dismissive. They do. The snakes.


But why dismiss the flesh? Why dismiss sprachgefühl in a hot bra?


Or as Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño—who writes about the inseparable dangers of life and literature and the relationship of life to literature and books and bars and whores and murderesses and Nazis and fresh fruit and dancers and poetry and bananas and big ol’ penises and books and gay teenagers and writing poems with an airplane in the sky (with smoke) and poetry and smelly vaginas and lavender tea and whiskey—says, “One must read Juan Rulfo and Augusto Monterroso.”

And why dismiss Italo Calvino, one of the world’s greatest writers? Calvino toiled for years on a literary project that involved a book of only one-sentence stories. He solicited many authors, but then buried the idea once he read, “The Dinosaur.” He claimed no one’s short work could equal Monterroso, so what was the point?


What does Monterroso say about “The Dinosaur”?


“Critics hated it. Since that point on I began hearing complaints to the effect that it isn’t a short-story. My answer is: true, it isn’t a short story, it’s actually a novel.”


But forget “The Dinosaur” (though the text is basically inextirpable). I’d like to discuss Monterroso’s nonfiction. No, not his famous (and famously brief [mostly fragments, newspaper clippings, testimonials, diary entries, poems, other appropriated forms]) autobiography, but rather his essay, “Fecundity.” The essay is included in The Oxford Book of Latin American Essays. It reads in full:


Today I feel well, like a Balzac; I am finishing this line.


In both works, minimalism allows for maximum glow. Or as a friend of mine (a known hypocoric [he refers to his wife as “bunny”]) said to me recently over beers, “The work of reconstitution requires in this case a high number of inferences.”

My first response to “Fecundity” is one of sheer pleasure. I want to walk around the rest of my days and when anyone asks how are you? I want to scratch my ass and reply loudly, “Like a Balzac!”


The simile is an engine, a machine.


Ok, break it down:

1. Today.

Today is not today. Today is today, tomorrow, any day. One day something happened. Conflict. Today. I envision a writing desk, light through a window, dust motes, a writer…beginning, parturient. Today. Ending. Neither. Caught in one space, not Time. The arrow of Time is removed. One might say, “There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.” But here we just have the egg. Imagine an egg on a table, a still life, the modernist idea of “looking.” The art of looking. The science. Let’s move from thing to self.

2. I

Unique experiences, unique consciousness—no. Nietzsche told us so. And he also said, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book–what everyone else does not say in a whole book.”

3. Feel

Solipsism and Magical Realism seem like bedfellows, but I’m not going to discuss Magical Realism here. It seems to me especially lame to make Magical Realism as a default when discussing Latin American authors. It seems hazy.

4. Well,

OK, let’s do return to “The Dinosaur.” What if we removed the comma? What if we removed the comma here? How do you feel? I feel well. Sprawled out and free, like nekton. Immersed, into a well, in flow, the emotions not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. I am writing. I am alive and kicking. Robust. Sane.

5. Like

The simile is an engine, a machine. Similes are like Egyptian chocolate. Like smuggler’s sacks or white girls or the extravagant behavior of naked women or Pancho Villa or a book without covers or Junot Diaz’s breath or theologians or clown-pants or insomnia or people-dogs or water or red serpents or shouts or flies or eclipses or new flowers blooming or counterfeits or Halloween or “The Book of Sand” or customer service. Like an old turkey, mucous and predatory and unwinking. As Faulkner said to me once, over heroin.

6. A

Alpha dog, motherfuckers. Thought you were playing with a coxcomb? Well, you’re not. Clearly.

7. Balzac;

Sane? Honore de Balzac wrote from midnight to dawn almost day by day of his life, hence creating a million words a year. A million? We just went meta, didn’t we? Now we are writing about writing, the Latin American obsession with the book (possibly due to Borges, who looms over everything like a mechanical shadow). Many of Monterroso's stories deal with literature, reading, and the act of writing, which leads the reader to perceive a convergence of the author and his characters. Now we are using a Microficcione to discuss Macro-fiction. The reader who is not a text theorist (like me) will undoubtedly not think if the flowers, shall we say, bloom, the micro-essay observes the minimal conditions of the text as the transformation of a state of being, like nekton (as I said earlier). Or: Remember the egg. Or, say it aloud: ball sack!

8. I

Yesterday I drank a six pack of Icehouse (a truly awful beer) and read (for the ninth time) in one sitting Augusto Monterroso’s story called “The Dinosaur.” I re-read it many times, fourteen times maybe, how could I remember? Honestly, I lost count and my eyes bled. I tried to explicate the story (really more a Stabat Mater, IMO, but who am I?) in terms of prehistoric literary theories: mushroom evolution, Charles Baxter realism, rim-renting stores in Memphis, Tennessee, posthumous savagery, Santa Claus theories, etc. It was a bionic experience. Anyway, after I wrote a nineteenth draft of my review (a true gem—you are reading it now), I checked my email and surfed some porn, and then I slept afterward. It was not a peaceful sleep. I was trashing left and right and back to left on my bed. I dreamt of a Uranusaurus rex just like the one in Stephen Szpilman Bergman’s movie Triassic Park, based on a TV show created by Michael Flintstonnes (pronounced flight-stuns), translated in the German then run through an Internet translator back to English and I carried the one (in the figurative sense, obviously). Ah, I’m confusing myself again. Anyway, as I said, when I woke up, I read again my review. I worked on it some more, polishing the paleontological arguments. After some not-so-extensive revisions, I lost the file, found the file, drank additional beer, saved the file. I glanced behind me and jumped. The U. rex was still there!!

9. Am

The morning. I tell you I keep seeing the morning, an oviform.

10. Finishing

One night recently I woke my partner (He is one of the cleanest, most intelligent, transparent and smiling authors in the Spanish language) with a nudge. ''Now what is it?'' he asked. The question I had for him, urgent though it seemed to me, was a little anticlimactic under the circumstances. But I forged ahead. ''Darling,'' I said. ''Do you consider me…prolific?'' His response will not bear repetition in this essay about an essay (about an essay…).

Writing makes you eternal.

You don’t have to see the whole kitchen table, just break the first egg.

Words—they imbricate.

Do you have a whole bunch of half-finished projects gathering dust?

If your writing life looks anything like mine, you might well need to grab a sheet of paper and make a list—you may even want to hunt through your desk drawers or your computer’s folders.

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.

Viva voce!

In the end, Balzac resorted to eating dry coffee grounds to achieve the desired effect. He died at age 49.

11. This

As Charles Baxter has pointed out, we eventually have to relinquish the hot ball sacks provoked by art, or else be paralyzed by ball sack sensitivities revealing the strangeness of sweaty ball sacks at every corner. Fuck. I’m drunk.

(I would like to insert a little poem here, but I hate essays that include poems and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.)

12. Line



Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana, where he eats nachos and plays disc golf and teaches creative writing at Ball State University. He recently dropped Fog Gorgeous Stag (Publishing Genius Press) and a flash fiction collection with other authors, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves (Rose Metal Press), on the world. Currently, he writes exclusively about Velveeta and a processed cheese collection will appear from Bateau Press in 2013. He blogs at He likes to run, far. 

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