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South American Fiction

When it comes to phantasmagoria, South American writers have been at it for decades. They haven't labored under quite the same tradition of empiricism that we have; they go off into derangement of the senses quite easily. If you really want your head immersed into a dream world whose prose is so thick and baroquely oxygen-deprived that you feel as if you're deep-sea diving, try some of the following: Clarise Lispector's _The Apple in the Dark_ (she was a Brazilian writer, originally from Russia, I believe). The book used to be available and probably still is from the University of Chicago Press in what my Portugese-reading friends tell me is a good translation. Then try José Donoso's _The Obscene Bird of Night_. Then anything by Alejo Carpentier, who was Cuban. My favorite of his is _Reasons of State_, a bit hard to get your hands on, but beautiful and funny. Garcia Marquez's _The Autumn of the Patriarch_ is brilliant, of course. Faulkner was a big influence on some of these people, Garcia Marquez in particular. There are many, many others.
Probably one of the best American practitioners of this sort of writing, whom I haven't assigned, is John Hawkes, who was Marilynne Robinson's teacher. Try to find a copy of his book _The Beetle Leg_; see if you're big enough to stand up to it. This stuff makes David Lynch look like a walk in the park.


I don't have the savvy to post a topic yet, so I'm going to tag it here. I saw a Dali exhibit over winter break, and one of his essays on paranoia in art made me think of this class. I don't have the essay, but the following is a description of it. Surrealism is a sort of gateway to the dream world.

“The Paranoiac-critical method was the invention of Salvador Dali and is an extension of the method of Simulation into the field of visual play, based on the idea of the 'double- image'.

According to Dali by simulating paranoia one can systematically undermine one's rational view of the world, which becomes continually subjected to associative transformations, "For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent or mean anything at all" (Marcel Jean). The point is to persuade oneself or others of the authenticity of these transformations in such a way that the 'real' world from which they arise loses its validity. The mad logic of Dali's method leads to a world seen in continuous flux, as in his paintings of the 1930s, in which objects dissolve from one state into another, solid things become transparent, and things of no substance assume form.

The Paranoiac-critical method is thus the reverse of the children's 'picture-puzzles' in which people are hidden in drawings of trees etc, and resembles more the 'double-images' employed by psychologists. The two faces that become a vase, and other similar illusions such as faces seen in rocks, landscapes in marble and the anthropomorphic forms of plants such as the mandrake root.”


The discussion of paranoia and surrealism leads me straight to Thomas Pynchon. It seems that he uses this technique of "simulating paranoia" to "systematically undermine one's rational view of the world" repeatedly in his fiction. He also blends science and factual history with clever anachronisms, dreamlike imagery, and pure fantasy.

In Pynchon's fiction, all events point toward a conspiratorial, mysterious structure, which seems to stem from the relentless fear that someone is watching, and that the characters no longer have any agency, any free will to make choices for themselves. Everything seems determined by these larger social and political structures. I'm also inclined to think that the effect is to produce narratives that, while gorgeously written, are more "mystifying" than "mysterious," as Charlie put it, though I would be curious to know what others think.