Thursday, April 27, 2023

Text in a Notebook

I’ve been carrying some existential niggles since my recent trip. In such circumstances, rather than diving into highbrow non-fiction tomes, I will tend to seek relevant associations and validation in fiction, specifically the minimal kind.

With Cortázar, one does not have to limit oneself to finding those jolting, epiphanous intuitions between the lines, because his stories are suffused — as Anatole Broyard noted in back in 1983 — with “imminent metaphor” (did he mean immanent?) and a “musical expectation”, though adding that for him they work better on the level of hypothesis than literary synthesis. I’d maybe agree that Cortázar isn’t one of those writers who necessarily ought to be read in the original (like Garcia Marquez), though it helps to know a bit about his locations. 

This collection lacks the two small tales I often return to: Axolotl, possibly my favourite short story not written by a Russian person, and Casa Tomada. But it does have one which has hijacked my attention this week, Texto En Una Libreta (Text in a Notebook), set in Buenos Aires at the time my father was living there at the end of the 40s. It too begins with a jolting premonition which, by the last lines, has become all-consuming…

It has come to the narrator’s attention that more people are entering the A Line on the subte than leaving it. Initial explanations include bureaucratic incompetence and ‘atomic attrition’, an esoteric scientific hypothesis involving the nullification of individuality in large crowds.

Through a process combining speculation with investigation, he realises that a disturbingly expanding pool of citizens, pale and sad, have chosen to live a limited life in constant motion, literally below the surface of the mainstream. Downward Mobility.

That’s the simple synopsis, with its uncertainty as to whether we are dealing with individuals who have lost touch with reality or whether reality itself has chosen to ghost them — and given that 75 or so years on we now inhabit a society possessing AI which capable of experiencing “hallucinations”, I’d say Julio deserves his place as one of my bathroom books.

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