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LANGUAGE IS NEVER INNOCENT

JUAN GOYTISOLO +4.6.2017

“And it’s true that my own birth as a writer coincides in fact with the destruction of my literature, of the literary moulds which in routine fashion I took from tradition.” So reflected the author of alienation & exile, Juan Goytisolo – who this Sunday passed away – in a 1984 interview with Julio Ortega.[1] Goytisolo – whose own “moral, social, ideological & sexual exile” from Franco’s Spain (spent mostly in Tangier & Marrakech) was in large part caused by an increasingly political stance with regard to language separate from the claims of national/cultural identity – insisted that “an expatriate lives generally in a state of anguished isolation. But, this very state of marginality is favoured toward the affirmation of his own ideas, liberated in this way from the hypnosis, from the taboos & the blackmail demanded of him by the society in which he lived,” since it is in his discourse that the writer’s identity resides. “The creator of ‘discourse’ changes his voice, & in that manner changes his skin.” And by virtue of being a “mere” linguistic character, as some would say, he becomes “an authentic man without a country.” As if to say, in order to become a writer, first he must become a foreigner, to discover the foreignness that has inhabited him all along. And this perspective, however paradoxical it seems, is only possible because of his alienation & estrangement. In his two major works reflecting on this question – Masks of Identity (Señas de identidad, published in Mexico City, 1966), Juan the Landless (Juan sin tierra, 1975) & Makbara (1980; both published in Barcelona) – Goytisolo pursued a new & audacious elaboration on “novelistic” form in the radical tradition of Cervantes, Joyce & Genet – whose resonances can also be detected among contemporary works like Manuel Puig’s La traición de Rita Hayworth (1968) & Pubis Angelical (1979), Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres (1971) & La Habana para un Infante Difunto (1979), Severo Sarduy’s Cobra (1972) & Maitreya (1978), Hubert Fichte’s Detlevs Imitationen (1971), Clarence Major’s Reflex & Bone Structure (1975), Ignácio Brandão’s Zero (1979), & Reinaldo Arenas’s Pentagonia trilogy. Goytisolo, who viewed the novel as a “cannibalistic form” able, like Pound’s “ragbag of history,” to incorporate everything, considered his own writing therefore to be a concertedly treasonous act against the “conceptual tyranny of genre.” For Goytisolo, such treason wasn’t an acte gratuit, but a writerly responsibility, accorded through the heterogeneous experience of language as such, where as to acquiesce to the injunctions of an experientially-deformative realism or retreat into unworldly “fictionising” would amount to the worst kind of culpability: the negation of writing. “A writer,” he insisted, “who is unaware of the movements in poetics & linguistics seems to me an anachronism in today’s world. The writer can’t abandon himself simply to inspiration, & feign innocence vis-à-vis language, because language is never innocent.” An avid reader of Joyce & Sterne in the original, Goytisolo’s work stands today as a major rebuke to the dogmatic anti-modernism, anti-internationalism & anti-experimentalism of the Anglo-American culture industry, whose self-advertised pre-eminence it exposes as a mere confidence trick: a doctrine, as a group of ideologues in Juan the Landless characterise it, suited to the supposed mental capacities of “newly imported slaves.”

Louis Armand, Prague

 

[1] Published in the Summer 1984 edition of The Review of Contemporary Fiction.

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EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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