“People whose consciences torment them are the exception”

[W]hy did she do that, they will say of you, why so much fuss and why the quickening pulse, why the trembling, why the somersaulting heart; and of me they will say: why did he speak or not speak, why did he wait so long and so faithfully, why that dizziness, those doubts, that torment, why did he take those particular steps and why so many? And of us both they will say: why all that conflict and struggle, why did they fight instead of just looking and staying still, why were they unable to meet or to go on seeing each other, and why so much sleep, so many dreams, and why that scratch, my fever, my word, your pain, and all those doubts, all that torment?

This passage appears at the end of the first chapter of Book II, Spear, and is repeated in full four more times by the end of Book VII, Farewell, with slight variations in the sequence at the end (extending as far as “why that scratch, my pain, my word, your fever, the dance, and all those doubts, all that torment”). Its last sentence (“why all that conflict and struggle…”) is repeated an additional time on its own.

Repetition is not exactly unusual in Your Face Tomorrow*; Deza relies on it to make himself more clear, to orient the reader (and perhaps even himself) in his own stream of consciousness, to remind the reader (and, again, maybe himself as well) of the connections between things he’s heard and seen and thought before and what he’s hearing or seeing or thinking now, and as a way to triangulate toward a more precise conveyance of meaning. And, of course, the repetition hammers home the importance of the repeated idea.

And note what is

Continue reading “People whose consciences torment them are the exception”

Fever, infatuation, and Colonel Chabert

I’ve been re-reading Your Face Tomorrow, in which Jacques Deza spends several months separated from his wife, Luisa. He is in London while she remains in Madrid, in their apartment, with their children, and he thinks about her every day. This, naturally, includes imagining what she might be doing without him—and with whom.

Toward the beginning of the first book, Fever, he considers:

And yet, illogically, I believe that Luisa will not take this new love or lover back to the apartment where she lives with our children or into our bed which is now hers alone, but that she will meet him almost secretly, as if respect for my still recent memory imposed this on her or implored it of her—a whisper, a fever, a scratch—as if she were a widow and I a dead man deserving to be mourned and who cannot be replaced to quickly, not yet, my love, wait, wait, your hour has not yet come, don’t spoil it for me, give me time and give him time too, the dead man whose time no longer advances, give him time to fade, let him change into a ghost before you take his place and dismiss his flesh, let him be changed into nothing, wait until there is no trace of his smell on the sheets or on my body, let it be as if what was had never happened.

This idea wasn’t one I’d remembered from my first reading of Your Face Tomorrow, and I believe I’ve already found one more allusion to it in the first volume. But I’ve seen Marías work it up into a whole novel: The Infatuations.

That novel also involves a woman named Luisa, and this Luisa is indeed a widow. The narrator is curious about the death of her

Continue reading Fever, infatuation, and Colonel Chabert

“Politeness is a poison, it’s our undoing.”

Amateur Reader’s first question about Your Face Tomorrow, on completing Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, is what on earth it’s supposed to be. That is, “how is the narrator, Deza, narrating, and who is his audience?” It’s a problem: Deza narrates the story with constant digressions and, more problematically, an overwhelming amount of long dialogue that he could not possibly remember or retell. Other characters’ speeches go on for pages at a time. And, it turns out, his own inner speeches do too.

Along with the digressions and the windings of narrator-Deza’s stream of consciousness, there are also the digressions and windings of whatever Deza’s stream of consciousness (allegedly) was at the time of whatever event he is now narrating. As AR said, “I would often miss [the self-quotations] until I got to the end of a long paragraph where I would discover the close-quotes.” Tell me about it. But when I noticed them I felt sure they meant something.

A few things, actually, I now think. First of all, digression and picking up the thread of an argument or conversation is a motif throughout the novel (and by “novel” I mean “trilogy,” which seems ridiculous to keep saying when I do think of this as a single novel). Deza is constantly dropping and picking back up again the thread of the main outer narrative—and really, he’s never dropping it, he’s just picking more up and tangling them and unwinding them and knitting them together. And each of the characters with a speaking part is doing the same thing, with Deza forever commenting on their ability or inability to do so. The self-quotations also give Deza an opportunity to show himself doing the same thing in situ, and reinforce the motif.

The rest of the purpose of these self-quotations

Continue reading “Politeness is a poison, it’s our undoing.”

“It’s in your interests that your neighbor should be in your debt….”

Deza interprets people for a living, at least when he’s working for the group, and today I’ll do some interpreting of Deza. I may even make some progress toward answering the question of why Deza and his wife cannot live together.

Deza lives his life in a strange position during much of the trilogy. He frequently notes that the reality of his life seems muted because he’s living in a different country than his own. In Spain, he could probably not have held a job like he has with MI6—not because it wouldn’t exist, or because he couldn’t get hired, but because he wouldn’t want to perform the duties or think so much about his patria—because, in short, of his discomfort with the state.

He’s not alone in this discomfort. Sir Peter Wheeler seems to share it to a large extent. In “Fever,” while he’s discussing the Spanish Civil War with Deza, Sir Peter tells him that:

‘They’re all oppressors, its amazing that people don’t realize this ab ovo, it makes little difference what cause they’re fighting for, what public cause, of what their propaganda motives are. Frauds and transcendental innocents alike all describe these motives as historical or ideological, I would never call them that, it’s too ridiculous. It’s amazing that some people still believe there are exceptions, because there aren’t any, not in the long run, and there never have been. Well, can you think of any? The Left as the exception, how absurd. What a waste.’

Later in “Fever,” Sir Peter makes two key points against the state: that those in power wield an authority frightening beyond imagination, and that the general public—those who allegedly legitimate the power of the first group—is too hopelessly stupid to protect you from them.

‘[Y]ou have no idea how frightening

Continue reading “It’s in your interests that your neighbor should be in your debt….”

“That is what poison does, it infiltrates and contaminates everything.”

In the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow, Deza witnesses a horrifying event. After Rafita de la Garza, a bumbling, offensive acquaintance of both Tupra and, much to his dismay, Deza, behaves in appropriately toward the wife of Tupra’s Italian “business associate,” or whatever you want to call it, Tupra must deal with him. He does this by brutally beating him in the handicapped bathroom of a London disco, and pulling out a sword with which he threatens to decapitate him.

As nonchalant as Tupra may behave afterward, and as much as Deza masks his own discomfort in front of their companions the Manoias, Deza is completely put off by this and demands an explanation of Tupra when Tupra insists on driving him home. In the end, Tupra insists Deza go back to his house instead, where Tupra has something to show him. That something consists, we find out in volume three, of a DVD of snuff-like movies—home movies or secret spy-like movies of important people or famous people or future important or famous people doing drugs or having sex or committing violent acts. Deza doesn’t want to watch, especially some of the worst scenes, but Tupra insists.

As I looked and half-looked and saw, a poison was entering me, and when I use that word ‘poison,’ I’m not doing so lightly or purely metaphorically, but because something entered my consciousness that had not been there before and provoked in me an immediate feeling of creeping sickness, of something alien to my body and to my sight and to my mind, like an inoculation, and that last term is spot on eymologically, for it contains at its root the Latin ‘oculus,’ from which it comes, and it was through my eyes that this new and unexpected illness entered, through my

Continue reading “That is what poison does, it infiltrates and contaminates everything.”

The Structure of Your Face Tomorrow

When I finished the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow, I contemplated the many episodes that make up Deza’s narrative as he follows the stream of his consciousness, and now that I’ve completed the series I decided to do some real work and go through and analyze the structure of the whole thing. It’s a bit involved, and highly subjective, but I think reveals some interesting things about the trilogy.

First, I went through and “coded” passages in the book according to what overall “theme” or motif I thought they most belonged to. The selection and classification into themes is where most of the subjectivity comes in but I don’t think available “scientific” alternatives are really an improvement. So I used what I’ll call my best judgment to come up with eleven main “themes” of the novel plus a “wrap-up” section at the end of the last section, where I felt too many things were covered too quickly to really subdivide further. Typically, a section of narrative had to be at least three or four pages long for me to count it as its own section, so simple allusions or brief, sentence- or paragraph-long interludes aren’t counted here. Based on the classification of each episode I made this way, I calculated how much of each book, each volume, and the total trilogy was taken up with each theme. You can see all the original data the calculations are based on in this Google Docs spreadsheet.

Continue reading The Structure of Your Face Tomorrow

“I think I know her face and I stake everything on that”

Amateur Reader says he’s not sure what Henry James meant by his famous “loose baggy monsters” quote, but I’m sorely tempted to apply the term to the whole of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy. Does not its length alone qualify it for such status? I may have been running a bit late at the end, but I did read 1,273 pages of Marías this summer, which I think could fairly be called a monstrous amount. Not to say it wasn’t good! I’d be much more inclined to say it was one of Bolaño’s “great, imperfect, torrential works,” the way it seems to suck in everything.

It doesn’t actually suck in everything; on Monday I’m going to look at the episodic nature of the trilogy. But what it does suck in continues to circulate. Not only does Deza obsessively re-describe the same things, he also returns over and over again to the same motifs and images, sometimes using them for the same purpose and sometimes for a new purpose. They float through the trilogy, new ones appearing every so often, right up until the final volume, and old ones never seeming to leave.

The main one, arguably at least, is the one that involves so many of the volumes’ subtitles. From the beginning of the first book they appear: “enough, no more: no more fever or pain; no word or spear, not even sleep and dreams.” Later, in volume two, “And thus you are your own pain and fever or can be, and then…and then, who knows…” “(there is always more to come, there is always a little more, one minute, the spear, one second, fever, another second, sleep and dreams, and a little more for the dance—spear, fever, my pain, words, sleep and dream, and still a little

Continue reading “I think I know her face and I stake everything on that”

Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías

I ended my post on the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow with a question: is Deza in control of his narrative, consciously choosing to let the thread go and pick it up again as he so often comments on others doing, “or is it a true natural stream of consciousness coming through—and is there a difference?”

The third volume, Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, doesn’t come close to answering this question outright, but Deza does provide some useful information when he begins to turn his interpretive faculties on himself. He is spurred in this direction by “young Pérez Nuix,” a colleague in the interpretive work he does for Tupra, who bursts out laughing at a hypothetical Deza gives about himself and Tupra.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘it just amuses me that even an intelligent man like you should suffer from the same inability. It’s astonishing how wrong our perception of ourselves always is, how hopeless we are at gauging and weighing up our strengths and weaknesses. Even people like us—gifted and highly trained in examining and deciphering our fellow man—become one-eyed idiots when we make ourselves the object of our studies. It’s probably the lack of perspective and the impossibility of observing yoruself without knowing that you’re doing so.’

Much later, in another conversation with his young colleague, Deza disagrees with her on the care novelists put into their work. He thinks they must take great pains what to include, while she doubts that: “‘If that were the case, no one would ever write anything. It’s just not possible to live that cautiously, it’s too paralyzing.’”

It’s this paralysis, I suspect, that leads Deza in quite another direction: he puts everything in, or at least, he puts in all sides of what he does put in, with his

Continue reading Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías

The Dialogue of the Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes

One of my great humiliations is that I have not yet read Don Quixote, or, until now, any Cervantes at all. A tragedy! Especially because his Dialogue of the Dogs, first published in 1613, is perfectly delicious.

The dialogue is preceded by “The Deceitful Marriage,” the story of a poor soldier who has been taken in by an equally poor Doña and married her under the pretence that she was well-off. Well, and she was also taken in by him, and married him under the pretence that he was well-off. Of course! This poor soldier, recovering from the wrongs done him, overheard two guard-dogs talking to each other one night outside his window. When he meets a friend, he relates to him the dialogue of the dogs.

The dogs, Berganza and Scipio, find themselves unexpectedly able to talk, and since they’ve spent their whole lives up to then mute, they have a lot to say. They agree that that night, Berganza will tell Scipio his life story, and if they still have the gift of the gab the next night, Scipio will do the same. Thence ensues a comic dialogue roundly satirizing human life. The dogs are Cervantes’s perfect mouthpiece.

Berganza on pastoral romances: “all those books are dreamy things, well enough written for the diversion of layabouts, but without a whit of truth.”

On gossip and sniping: “wrongdoing and calumny are human nature. We drink them in with our mothers’ milk. A child barely out of his swaddling clouts will raise a vengeful hand against anyone who denies him, and almost the first word out of his mouth is to call his nanny or mother a whore.”

On so-called scholars who pepper their speech with Latin: “In Roman times everybody spoke Latin as their mother tongue, yet there

Continue reading The Dialogue of the Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes

Your Face Tomorrow: Dance and Dream by Javier Marías

By the end of the first volume of Your Face Tomorrow, Amateur Reader led me to wonder how sustainable the voice of Jacques Deza would be through the remaining two volumes. Could this stream of consciousness, of endless hesitation and qualification, continue for hundreds more pages? Was it not too exhausting?

The stream does continue, at least through volume two, Dance and Dream, or rather, Dance and Dream. Deza’s particular brand of stream-of-consciousness narration leads him to tell his story in alternating partial episodes. One major episode, and perhaps the main one, in Dance and Dream, is the episode of the Manoias and the night club. Deza’s boss, Tupra, has a meeting with Mr. Manoia and his wife in a disco, and brings Deza along to translate and to keep the wife occupied. They are rudely interrupted by de la Garza, a fool we met in the previous volume, who acts unforgivably until Tupra’s revenge is even less forgivable still (or is it?). This episode continues through the ride home, with Tupra and Deza dropping off the Manoias at the Ritz and then Tupra driving Deza home afterward.

This one episode is broken up many times into many pieces of different length. And perhaps this episode itself is an interruption of some other episode—perhaps of the episode of Pérez Nuix coming to Deza’s apartment, the cliffhanger of the first volume that still remains largely unexplained throughout the second. Deza’s digressions rarely feel like digressions, but like episodes of their own. And, as I just noted, the night club episode may itself be one such “digression.” For example, the episode of Deza on the phone with Luisa, asking her about Botox, is doubtless an integral part of the story of his relationship with his estranged wife, and just as

Continue reading Your Face Tomorrow: Dance and Dream by Javier Marías