examination of the works of herbert quain

herbert quain has died in roscommon; i have noticed without astonishment that the times literary supplement hardly [depara] him half a column of necrological piety, in which their is no laudatory epithet that is not corrected (or seriously admonished) by an adverb. The spectator, in the pertinent edition, is doubtless less laconic and perhaps more cordial, but which compares quain's first book - the god of the labryinth - to one by agatha christie and to others of gertrude stein: evocations that no-one judged inevitably, and they would not be pleased with the deceased. he, in addition, never felt brilliant; not even on those peripatetic nights of literary conversation, in which the man who has tired the presses invariably plays at being monsieur teste or doctor samuel johnson... he saw, with complete lucidity, the experimental condition of his novels: admirable perhaps for the novelty and for a certain laconic probity, but not for the virtues of passion. "i am like cowley's odes", he wrote to me from longford on the 6th of march 1939."i do not belong to art, but to the mere history of art". for him there ws no discipline inferior to history.

i have repeated a modesty of herbert quain: naturally, this modesty does not exhaust his thought. flaubert and henry james have accustomed us to consider works of art infrequent and of laborious construction; the sixteenth century, (remember the voyage of parnassus, remember the fate of shakespeare) did not [compartia] this disconsolate opinion. herbert quain, neither. it seemed to him that good literature is a satiated commonplace and that there is hardly any street dialogue which doesnt obtain it. it also seemed to him that the aesthetic work cannot do without any element of astonishment and that to be astonished by memory is difficult. he deplored with a smiling sincerity "the servile and obstinate conservation" of [preteritos] books... i don't know if his vague theory is justifiable; i know that books yearn for astonishment too much.

i regret to have rendered a woman, irreversibly, the first time i published. i declared that were were dealing with a political novel: the god of the labyrinth, i can add that the editor proposed it for sale in the last days of november 1933. in the first days of ecember, the agreeable and arduous adventures of the siamese twins mystery attacked london and new york; i prefer to attribute to this ruinous coincidence the failure of our friend's novel. also (i want to be entirely sincere), deficient in its execution and in the vain and frigid pomp of certain descriptions of the sea. at the end of seven years, it is impossible for me to recover the details of the action; here is my plan; as much because now it [emprobrece] as much as it purifies my memory. there is an indecipherable murder in the initial pages, a slow discussion in the middle, a solution at the end. the enigma thus being clear, there was a large and retrospective paragraph which contained this phrase: "everyone believed that the meeting of the two chess players had been entirely random." this phrase lets it be understood that the solution is erroneous. the reader, worried, revises the relevant pages and discovers another solution, which is the truth. the reader of this singular book has more perspicatity than the detective.

even more heterodox is the "regressive, ramificated novel" april march, whose third and only part dates from 1936. no-one, judging this novel, refuses to discover that it is a game: it is reasonable to record that the author never considered anything else. "i reinvidicate by this work," i heard him say, " the characteristics essential to all games: symmetry, arbitrary laws, boredom." until the name is a [debil] [calembour]: it doesnt not mean 'march of april' but literally 'april march'. someone has perceived in its pages an echo of the doctrines of dunne; quain's prologue preferred to evoke that inverse worl od bradley's, in which death precedes birth and the scar the hurt, and the hurt the blow (appearance and reality, 1897, page 215) 1. the worlds that april march proposes are not regressive, that is the manner of historifying them. regressive and ramificated, as i said. three chapters integrate the work. the first refers to an ambiguous dialogue between some strangers and a walk. the second refers to the events of the first vispero. the third, also retrograde, refers to the [events] of another first vispero; the fourth, those of others. each one of these three visperas, of very diverse kind. the complete work consists, therefore, of nine novels, each of three large chapters. (the first is common to all of them, naturally). of these novels, one is of a symbolic character; another, supernatural; another, political; another physiological, another, communist; another; anticommunist, etc. maybe a diagram will aid in comprehension of its structure.

   _     _
  |     |
  |     | x 1
  | y 1 | x 2
  |     | x 3 
  |     |_
  |     |
  |     | x 4
  | y 2 | x 5
z |     | x 6 
  |     |_
  |     |
  |     | x 7
  | y 3 | x 8
  |     | x 9 
  |_    |_
seeing this structure it is fits to repeat what schopenhauer said about he twelve kantian categories: it sacrifices all to a symmetrical fury. forseeably, one of the nine stories is infuriated by quain; the biggest is not the original idea, x 4; it is that of natural history, x 9. others are affected by languid jokes or useless pseudopropositions. those who read in chronological order (for example: x 3, y 1, z) lose the peculiar flavour of this strange book. two stories - x 7, and x 8 - lack of individual value; the juxtaposition efficiently renders it to them... i don't know if i should remember that after april march was published, quain [arrepintio] of the ternary and predicted that the people who would imitate it would opt for the binary:
   _      _
  |      | x 1
  | y 1  |
  |      | x 2
  |      |_
z |       _
  |      | x 3
  | y 2  |
  |      | x 4
  |_     |_
and the demiurges and gods for the infinite: infinite stories, indefinitely ramificated.

Very diverse, but also ramificated, is the heroic comedy in two acts the secret mirror. In the works already [resenadas], formal complexity had obstructed the imagination of the author: here, his evolution is freer. the first act (the most extensive) occurs at the country house of general thrale, C.I.E, near melton mowbray. the invisible centre of the drama is miss ulrika thrale, the eldest daughter of the general. my means of a dialogue we glimpse her, amazonic and arrogant; we suspect that she does not tend to visit literature; the papers announce her engagement to the duke of rutland; the papers deny the engagement. a dramatic author, wilfred quarles, loves her; she has [deparado] him once a [distraido] kiss. the characters are of vast fortune and old blood; the affection, noble though vehement; the dialogue seems to vacillate between the mere vaniloquence of bulwer-lytton and the epigrams of wilde or of mr philip guedalla. there is a [ruisenor] and a night; there is a secret duel on a balcony. (and almost imperceptible, there is a curious contradiction, there are sordid details. the characters from the first act reappear in the second - with other names. the "dramatic author" wilfred quarles is a commission agent in liverpool; his real name, john william quigley. miss thrale exists; quigley has never seen her, but [morbosamente] collects her pictures from tatler or sketch. quigley is the author of the first act. the unreal or unlikely "country house" is the jewish-irish hostel in which he lives, transfigured and magnified by him... the plots of the acts is parallel, but in the second everything is slightly horrible, it all is delayed or one is frustrated. when the secret mirror was opening, the critics spoke the names of freud and julian green. the mention of the first seems most unjustified to me.

the fame gave out that the secret mirror was a freudian comedy; this cause (and false) interpretation determined its outcome. unfortunately, already quain was forty years old; he was accustomed to failure and didnt resign himself with [dulzura] to a change of habit. he resolved to get even. at the end of 1939 he published statements: perhaps the most original of his books, without doubt the least praised and the most secret. quain used to argue that readers were already an extinct species. "there is no one in europe," he reckoned, " that is not a writer, in potential or in act," he also affirmed that the various goodnesses that literature can ministrate, the highest was the imagination. while not everyone is capable of this happiness, many will have to content themselves with simulacra. for these "imperfect writers", whose name is legion, quain told the eight stories in the book statements. each one of those prefigures or promises a good argument, voluntarily frustrated by the author. someone - not the best - will insinuate two arguements. the reader, distracted by vanity, will believe himself to have invented them. of the third, the rose of yesterday, i committed the ingenuity of extracting the circular ruins, which is one of the narratives in the book, "the garden of footpaths that are branching off". 1941 2002

1 already the erudition of herbert quain, already on page 215 of a book from 1897. an interlocutor of the politics, of plato, had already described a similar regression: that of the Sons of the Earh and Autochtons who, sometimes on the influx of an inverse rotation in the cosmos, pass at once from age to maturity, ffrom maturity to childhood, from childhood to disappearance and nothing. also teopompo, in his phillipica, that there are certain exotic fruits which grow in those who have eaten them. the same retrograde process... it is more interesting to imagine an inversion of Time; a state where we will remember the future and we will ignore, or hardly [presinitieramos], the past. cf. the tenth canto of the inferno, versos 97-102, where the prophetic vision, and the [presbicia] are compared.

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