Nazi Literature in the Americas, p.1Roberto Bolaño
Nazi Literature in the Americas
Translated by CHRIS ANDREWS
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK
for Carolina López
The Mendiluce Clan
Edelmira Thompson de Mendiluce
Juan Mendiluce Thompson
Luz Mendiluce Thompson
Itinerant Heroes or the Fragility of Mirrors
Forerunners and Figures of the Anti-Enlightenment
Mateo Aguirre Bengoechea
Luiz Fontaine Da Souza
Ernesto Pérez Masón
Pedro González Carrera
Andrés Cepeda Cepeda, known as The Page
Wandering Women of Letters
Daniela de Montecristo
Two Germans at the Ends of the Earth
Speculative and Science Fiction
Magicians, Mercernaries and Miserable Creatures
Segundo José Heredia
The Many Masks of Max Mirebalais
Max Mirebalais, alias Max Kasimir, Max von Hauptman, Max Le Gueule, Jacques Artibonito
North American Poets
The Aryan Brotherhood
Thomas R. Murchison, alias The Texan
John Lee Brook
The Fabulous Schiaffino Boys
Argentino Schiaffino, alias Fatso
The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman
Carlos Ramírez Hoffman
Epilogue for Monsters
1. Secondary Figures
2. Publishing Houses, Magazines, Places . . .
If the flow is slow enough and you have a good bicycle, or a horse, it is possible to bathe twice (or even three times, should your personal hygiene so require) in the same river.
THE MENDILUCE CLAN
EDELMIRA THOMPSON DE MENDILUCE
Buenos Aires, 1894–Buenos Aires, 1993
At fifteen, Edelmira Thompson published her first book, To Daddy, which earned her a modest place in the vast gallery of lady poets active in Buenos Aires high society. And from then on, she was a regular presence in the salons of Ximena San Diego and Susana Lezcano Lafinur, dictators of taste in poetry, and of taste in general, on both banks of the Río de la Plata at the dawn of the twentieth century. Her first poems, as one might reasonably have guessed, were concerned with filial piety, religious meditation and gardens. She flirted with the idea of taking the veil. She learned to ride.
In 1917 she met the rancher and entrepreneur Sebastian Mendiluce, twenty years her senior. Everyone was surprised when they announced their engagement, after only a few months. According to people who knew him at the time, Mendiluce thought little of literature in general and poetry in particular, had no artistic sensibility (although he did occasionally go to the opera), and his conversation was on a par with that of his farmhands and factory workers. He was tall and energetic, but not handsome by any means. There was, however, no disputing his inexhaustible wealth.
Edelmira Thompson’s friends considered it a marriage of convenience, but in fact she married for love. A love that neither she nor Mendiluce was ever able to explain and which endured imperturbably all the days of her life.
Marriage, which ends the careers of so many promising women writers, quickened the pen of Edelmira Thompson. She established a salon in Buenos Aires to rival those of the redoubtable Ximena San Diego and Susana Lezcano Lafinur. She took young Argentinean painters under her wing, not only buying their work (in 1950 her collection of paintings and sculptures was, if not the best in the Republic, certainly one of the largest and most extravagant), but also inviting them to paint at her ranch in Azul, far from the madding crowd, all expenses paid. She founded a publishing house, The Lamp of the South, which brought out more than fifty books of poetry, many of which were dedicated to Edelmira herself, “the fairy godmother of Argentinean letters.”
In 1921 she published her first book of prose, All My Life, an idyllic and rather flat autobiography, devoid of gossip, full of landscapes and poetic meditations. Contrary to the author’s expectations, it disappeared from the bookshop windows in Buenos Aires without leaving so much as a ripple. Disappointed, Edelmira set off for Europe with her two small sons, two servants, and more than twenty suitcases.
She visited Lourdes and the great cathedrals. She had an audience with the Pope. A yacht took her from island to island in the Aegean. She reached Crete one midday in spring. In 1922, in Paris, she published a book of children’s verse in French, and another in Spanish. Then she returned to Argentina.
But things had changed, and Edelmira did not feel at ease in her country. Her new book of poems (European Hours, 1923) was described in a local newspaper as “precious.” The nation’s most influential reviewer, Dr. Enrique Belmar, described her as “an idle, childish lady whose time and energy would be better spent on good works, such as educating all the ragged little rascals on the loose throughout this vast land of ours.” Edelmira’s elegant reply consisted of an invitation to attend her salon, addressed to Belmar and other critics, which was ignored by all but four half-starved gossip columnists and crime reporters. Humiliated, she retired to her ranch in Azul, accompanied by a faithful few. Soothed by the rural calm and the conversations of simple, hardworking country folk, she set to work on the new book of poetry that was to be her vindication. Argentinean Hours (1925) sparked scandal and controversy from the day of its publication. In her new poems, Edelmira renounced contemplative vision in favor of pugnacious action. She attacked Argentina’s critics and literary ladies, the decadence besetting the nation’s cultural life. She argued for a return to origins: agrarian labor and the still-wild southern frontier. Flirting and swooning were behind her now. Edelmira longed for the epic and its proportions, a literature unafraid to face the challenge of singing the fatherland. One way and another, the book was a great success, but, demonstrating her humility, Edelmira barely took the time to relish her triumph, and soon left for Europe once again. She was accompanied by her children, her servants, and the Buenos Aires philosopher Aldo Carozzone, who acted as her personal secretary.
She spent the year 1926 traveling in Italy with her numerous entourage. In 1927, she was joined by Mendiluce. In 1928, her first daughter, Luz, a bouncing, ten-pound baby, was born in Berlin. The German philosopher Haushofer was godfather to the child, and the baptism, attended by the cream of the German and Argentinean intelligentsia, was followed by three days of non-stop festivities, which culminated in a little wood near Rathenow, where the Mendiluces treated Haushofer to a kettledrum solo composed and performed by maestro Tito Vásquez, who went on to become a sensation.
In 1929, the stock-market crash obliged Sebastian Mendiluce to return to Argentina. Meanwhile Edelmira and her children were presented to Adolf Hitler, who held Luz and said, “She certainly is a wonderful little girl.” Photos were taken. The future Führer of the Reich made a great impression on the Argentinean poet. Before leaving, she presented him with several of her own books and a deluxe edition of Martin Fierro. Hitler thanked her warmly, beseeching her to translate one of her poems into German on the spot, a task which, with the help of Carozzone, she managed to accomplish. Hitler was clearly delighted.
1930 was a year of voyages and adventures. Accompanied by Carozzone, her young daughter (the boys were boarding at an exclusive school in Berne) and her two Indian servants, Edelmira traveled up and down the Nile, visited Jerusalem (where she had a mystical experience or a nervous breakdown, which confined her to a hotel bed for three days), then Damascus, Baghdad . . .
Her head was buzzing with projects: she planned to launch a new publishing house back in Buenos Aires, which would specialize in translations of European thinkers and novelists; she dreamed of studying architecture and designing grandiose schools to be built in parts of the country as yet untouched by civilization; she wanted to set up a foundation in memory of her mother, with the mission of helping young women from poor backgrounds to fulfill their artistic aspirations. And little by little a new book began to take shape in her mind.
In 1931 she returned to the Argentinean capital and began to carry out her projects. She launched a magazine, Modern Argentina, edited by Carozzone, whose mission was to publish the latest in poetry and fiction, but also political commentary, philosophical essays, film reviews, and articles on social issues. Half of the first number was devoted to Edelmira’s book The New Spring, which came out simultaneously. Part travel narrative, part philosophical memoir, the book reflected on the state of the world, and the destinies of Europe and America in particular, while warning of the threat that Communism posed to Christian civilization.
The following years were rich and productive: she wrote new books, made new friends, traveled to new places (touring the north of Argentina, she crossed the Bolivian border on horseback), launched new publishing ventures, and diversified her artistic activity, writing the libretto for an opera (Ana, the Peasant Redeemed, 1935, whose première at the Teatro Colón divided the public and led to verbal and physical confrontations), painting a series of landscapes in the province of Buenos Aires, and collaborating in the production of three plays by the Uruguayan author Wenceslao Hassel.
When Sebastian Mendiluce died, in 1940, Edelmira was unable to travel to Europe, as she would have wished, because of the war. Deranged by sorrow, she composed a death notice which took up a whole page in each of the nation’s major newspapers, and was signed: Edelmira, the widow Mendiluce. The text no doubt reflected her unstable mental state. It was widely mocked and derided among the Argentinean intelligentsia.
Once again, she withdrew to her ranch in Azul, accompanied only by her daughter, the faithful Carozzone, and a young painter named Atilio Franchetti. In the mornings she wrote or painted. Her afternoons were occupied by long solitary walks or hours of reading. Reading and a bent for interior design gave rise to her finest work, Poe’s Room (1944), which prefigured the nouveau roman and much subsequent avant-garde writing, and earned the widow Mendiluce an eminent place in the panorama of Argentinean and Hispanic letters.
This is how she came to write the book. Edelmira read Edgar Allan Poe’s essay “Philosophy of Furniture.” She was excited. She felt that she had found a soul mate in Poe: their ideas about decoration coincided. She discussed the subject at length with Carozzone and Atilio Franchetti. Following Poe’s instructions to the letter, Franchetti painted a picture: an oblong room thirty feet deep and twenty-five feet wide, with a door and two windows in the far wall. He reproduced Poe’s furniture, wallpaper and curtains as exactly as possible. Pictorial exactitude, however, was insufficient for Edelmira, so she decided to have a replica of the room built in the garden of her ranch, in accordance with the directions given by Poe. She sent her delegates (antique dealers, cabinet makers, carpenters) hunting for the items described in the essay. The desired but only partly attained result consisted of:
—Large windows reaching down to the floor, set in deep recesses.
—Windowpanes of crimson-tinted glass.
—More than usually massive rosewood framings.
—Inside the recesses, curtains of a thick silver tissue, adapted to the shape of the window and hanging loosely in small volumes.
—Outside the recesses, curtains of an exceedingly rich crimson silk, fringed with a deep network of gold, and lined with the same silver tissue used for the exterior blind.
—The folds of the curtain fabric issuing from beneath a broad entablature of rich giltwork, encircling the room at the junction of the ceiling and walls.
—The drapery thrown open, or closed, by means of a thick rope of gold loosely enveloping it, and resolving itself readily into a knot, no pins or other such devices being apparent.
—The colors of the curtain and their fringe—the tints of crimson and gold—appearing everywhere in profusion, and determining the character of the room.
—The carpet—of Saxony material—half an inch think, of the same crimson ground, relieved simply by the appearance of a gold cord (like that festooning the curtains) raised slightly above the surface of the ground, and thrown upon it in such a manner as to form a succession of short irregular curves—one occasionally overlaying the other.
—The walls prepared with a glossy paper of a silver gray tint, spotted with small arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalent crimson.
—Many paintings. Chiefly landscapes of an imaginative cast—such as the fairy grottoes of Stanfield, or Chapman’s Lake of the Dismal Swamp—but also three or four female heads, of an ethereal beauty—portraits in the manner of Sully, each picture having a warm but dark tone.
—Not one of the paintings being of small size, since diminutive paintings give that spotty look to a room, which is the blemish of so many a fine work of Art overtouched.
—The frames broad but not deep, and richly carved, without being dulled or filigreed.
—The paintings lying flat on the walls, not hanging off with cords.
—One mirror, not very large and nearly circular in shape, hung so that a reflection of a person in any of the ordinary sitting places of the room could not be obtained from it.
—The only seats being two large, low sofas of rosewood and crimson, gold-flowered silk, and two light conversation chairs, also of rosewood.
—A pianoforte made of the same wood, with no cover, and thrown open.
—An octagonal table—also without cover—formed altogether of the richest gold-threaded marble, placed near one of the sofas.
—A profusion of sweet and vivid flowers blooming in four large and gorgeous Sèvres vases, set in each of the slightly rounded angles of the room.
—A tall candelabrum, bearing a small antique lamp with highly perfumed oil, standing beside one of the sofas (upon which slept Poe’s friend, the possessor of this ideal room).
—Some light and graceful hanging shelves, with golden edges and crimson silk cords with gold tassels, sustaining two or three hundred magnificently bound books.
—Beyond these things, no furniture, except for an Argand lamp, with a plain, crimson-tinted ground-glass shade, depending from the lofty vaulted ceiling by a single slender gold chain and throwing a tranquil but magical radiance over all.
The Argand lamp was not particularly difficult to procure. Nor were the curtains, the carpet or the sofas. The wallpaper proved more problematic, but the widow Mendiluce dealt directly with a manufacturer, providing a pattern specially designed by Franchetti. Paintings by Stanfield or Chapman were not to be had, but the painter and his friend Arturo Velasco, himself a promising young artist, produced a number of works, which finally satisfied Edelmira’s desires. The rosewood piano also posed a number of problems, all of which were eventually solved.
When the reconstruction of the room was complete, Edelmira judged that the time to write had come. The first part of “Poe’s Room” is a detailed description of the same. The second part
The book made little impact at the time of its publication. On this occasion, however, Edelmira was so sure of what she had written that the general incomprehension hardly affected her.
According to her enemies, during 1945 and 1946 she made frequent visits to deserted beaches and little-known coves, where she welcomed the clandestine travelers arriving in what was left of Admiral Doenitz’s submarine fleet. It has also been claimed that she financed the magazine The Fourth Reich in Argentina and, subsequently, the publishing house of the same name.
A revised and enlarged edition of Poe’s Room appeared in 1947. It included a reproduction of Franchetti’s painting, showing a view of the room from the doorway. The sleeping man is dimly visible in profile. It could, in fact, be Sebastian Mendiluce. It could also be any heavily built man.
In 1948, while continuing to publish Modern Argentina, Edelmira launched a new magazine, American Letters, giving her children, Juan and Luz, editorial control. Shortly afterward, she left for Europe, where she would remain until 1955. It has been suggested that an irreconcilable enmity between Edelmira and Eva Peron was the cause of this long exile. Nevertheless, many photographs from the period show the two women together at cocktail and birthday parties, receptions, opening nights, and sporting events. Evita, in all likelihood, could not get beyond page ten of Poe’s Room, and Edelmira would certainly not have approved of the first lady’s social background, but documents and letters written by third parties indicate that they had embarked upon shared projects, such as the creation of a major museum of contemporary Argentinean art (to be designed by Edelmira and the young architect Hugo Bossi), including artist residences, with a full catering service, a feature quite unique among the great museums of the world, the aim being to facilitate the creative work—and daily life—of young and not-so-young exponents of modern painting, and consequently to prevent their emigration to Paris or New York. Some people claim to have seen a film script drafted by the two ladies, about the life and misfortunes of an innocent young Don Juan (to be played by Hugo del Carril), but like so many other things, the draft has been lost.
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