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Woes of the true policem.., p.12
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       Woes of the True Policeman, p.12

           Roberto Bolaño
 
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  IV. J.M.G. ARCIMBOLDI

  1

  Works of J.M.G. Arcimboldi (Carcasonne, 1925) NOVELS

  The Enigma of the Cyclists of the Tour de France—Gallimard, 1956.

  Vertumnus—Gallimard, 1958.

  Hartmann von Aue—Gallimard, 1959.

  Sam O’Rourke’s Search—Gallimard, 1960.

  Riquer—Gallimard, 1961.

  Railroad Perfection—Gallimard, 1964.

  The Librarian—Gallimard, 1966.

  The Endless Rose—Gallimard, 1968.

  The Natives of Fontainebleau—Gallimard, 1970.

  Racine—Gallimard, 1979.

  Doctor Dotremont—Gallimard, 1988.

  ESSAYS

  The Downtrodden: Articles and Notes on Literature—Gallimard, 1975. (Collection of critical texts written between 1950 and 1960 for newspapers and literary magazines.) PLAYS

  For Lovers Only—Gallimard, 1975. (Dated 1957 and performed for the first time by the Little Theater of Revolutionary Action, Carcassonne, 1958.) The Spirit of Science Fiction—Gallimard, 1975. (Dated 1958 and performed for the first time by the Colombian Company of Rebels and Toilers, Cali, 1977.) POETRY

  Railroad Perfection; or, The Fracturing of the Pursued—Pierre-Jean Oswald, 1959.

  Doctor Dotremont; or, The Paradoxes of Illness—Le Pont de l’Epée, 1960.

  TRANSLATIONS

  Songs of Hartmann von Aue—Millas Martin, 1956. (Selection, translation, prologue, and notes on the oeuvre of Von Aue, minnesinger.)

  2

  Two Arcimboldi Novels Read in Five Days

  Hartmann von Aue (Gallimard, 1959, 90 pages)

  At first glance, Hartmann von Aue is an examination of moments from the life of the German minnesinger, but the central character is really someone else: Jaufré Rudel.

  Rudel, according to legend, fell in love with the Countess of Tripoli after hearing her praises sung by pilgrims returning from Antioch. He wrote some poems about her that were admired by all and increased his fame. But none of this was enough for the Prince of Blaye, and one day, driven by the desire to meet his beloved, he became a crusader and embarked for the Holy Land. During the voyage he fell gravely ill. As fate had it, he was still alive when the ship docked and he was taken to a Tripoli hospital. The countess heard the news and came to see him. Surprisingly, Jaufré Rudel regained consciousness, praised God for allowing him to set eyes on his beloved, and immediately thereafter died in her arms. He was buried at the house of the Knights Templar. Soon afterward, the countess entered a convent.

  Von Aue listens over and over to this story and reflects on love and death. At moments he envies the Prince of Blaye and at moments he dimly despises him. He is a nobleman and a soldier and Rudel’s fate seems to him unworthy, almost a betrayal. But the next moment, Rudel crossing the seas and dying in the arms of his beloved appears bathed in the most seductive light. Von Aue dreams of such a fate for himself. He tries to fall in love with Spanish women who live in faraway places, but the very attempt strikes him as banal. Von Aue is incapable of action.

  In the novel there are references to other minnesingers: the best known is Heinrich von Morungen, who, along with Von Aue, takes part in the Fourth Crusade. During the voyage, the Swabian knight and the Thuringian knight compete in feats of arms, hunting, music, and poetry. Fatefully, Von Aue shares the story of Jaufré Rudel with Von Morungen. Von Morungen is seized by excitement: the passion of Jaufré Rudel that Von Aue transmits to him changes his plans and his fealties and sets him on a new path. In Von Aue’s vague memories, the figure of Morungen, ardent and unhinged, continues on to the East, to India. The fragile figure of Jaufré Rudel blazes like a torch: he is the Cross of the World.

  With the years, the soldier gives way to the poet and the poet to the scholar: Von Aue, taking refuge in castle or forest, famed as the poet and adapter of Chrétien de Troyes’s Erec and Yvain, bids farewell to the world without ever deciphering the transparent mystery of the Prince of Blaye.

  Vertumnus (Gallimard, 1958, 180 pages)

  The novel is set in an unspecified country in the Americas that sometimes resembles Argentina, sometimes Mexico, sometimes the American South. It is also set in France: Paris and Carcassonne. Time period: the end of the nineteenth century. Alexandre Maurin, landowner and man of strong character, orders his son to return to France. André, his son, objects, arguing that he was born in these lands and that his duty is to remain by his father’s side in times of trouble. Over the course of an endless afternoon with great black clouds hanging overhead, Alexandre Maurin warns André of the danger he faces if he stays. For some time now the local strongmen have been scheming to kill them all. André inquires about the fate of the seven boys who live with them, in the same house, sharing the same table, orphans or vagabonds whom Maurin has gathered up and raised in his own way. In a sense André considers them his brothers. Maurin smiles: they aren’t your brothers, he says, you have no brothers or sisters, at least as far as I know. The orphans will suffer the same fate as their father, that’s what Maurin has decided, but André, his only son, must be saved. Finally André’s departure is settled. Maurin and the seven orphans, by now armed to the teeth, accompany the youth to the railroad station: their parting is cheerful, the orphans brim with confidence and boast of their weapons, they assure him that he can go with his mind at ease, no one will touch a hair on his father’s head. The train trip is long and lonely. André doesn’t speak to anyone. He thinks about his father and the boys and believes that he has made an unforgivable mistake leaving them there. He has a dream: as death rains down all around them, his father and the orphans ride and shoot their rifles at a mass of enemies who stand motionless, gripped by fear. Then André reaches a port city, has an encounter with a woman in a hotel on a hill, boards a ship, is bored during the long crossing, arrives in France. In Paris he meets his mother, in whose house he lives for the first few days. His relationship with his mother is distant and formal. Later, with the money he’s brought from America, he rents a little house and begins his university studies.

  For months he has no news of his father. One day a lawyer appears and informs him of the existence of a bank account opened in his name, an account with enough money in it for him to live on, finish his degree, and tour Europe. The account is replenished each year with a remittance from America. Your father, says the lawyer, is a man of means. An example for young people. Before he leaves he hands him a letter. In it, Alexandre Maurin provides more or less the same explanation and urges him to finish his degree quickly and to lead a healthy, virtuous life. The boys and I, he says, are holding down the fort. After two years, André meets a traveler at a party who has been to the part of America where his father lives. The traveler has heard talk of him: a Frenchman surrounded by American boys, some of them wild and dangerous, who has the local authorities in a chokehold; the owner of vast grazing and croplands, orchards, and a couple of gold mines. He lived, it was said, in the exact center of his possessions, in a big single-story house of adobe and wood, its courtyards and passageways labyrinthine. About the wards of the Frenchman, who ranged in age from eight to twenty-five, it was said that they were many, though probably not more than twenty in number, and that some of them had already claimed various lives. These words cheer and trouble André. That night he can learn nothing else, but in the following days he obtains the traveler’s address and pays him a visit. For weeks, on every sort of pretext, André smothers the traveler with attentions, his seemingly limitless generosity touching his new friend. At last he invites him to spend a few days at the family seat in Carcassonne, which he has yet to visit. The traveler accepts the invitation. The train trip from Paris to Carcassonne is pleasant: they talk of philosophy and opera. The ride from Carcassonne to the family seat is by stagecoach and along the way André is silent. He’s never been there before and he’s assaulted by a kind of irrational and nameless fear. The house is empty but a neighbor and some servants inform them that old M. Maurin has been there. An
dré realizes that they mean his grandfather, who he’d thought was dead. Leaving the traveler settled at the house, he sets out in search of his grandfather. When he finds him, in a village near Carcassonne, the old man is very ill. According to the family that has taken him in, death won’t be long in coming. André, who is about to complete his medical degree, treats and cures him. For a week, forgetting all else, he remains by the old man’s bedside: in his grandfather’s face, ravaged by illness and hard living, he seems to glimpse his father’s features, his father’s fierce joy. When the old man recovers he brings him back to the house, over his protests. The traveler, meanwhile, has struck up friendships with a few of the neighbors, and when André arrives he reveals that he knows why he was invited. André admits that at first his motives were selfish, but now he feels true friendship. With the arrival of fall, the traveler leaves for Spain and the north of Africa and André remains in Carcassonne, caring for his grandfather. One night he dreams of his father: surrounded by more than thirty boys, adolescents and children, Maurin crosses a field of flowers on horseback. The horizon is vast and of a dazzling blue. When he wakes, André decides to return to Paris. The years go by. André receives his degree and starts a practice in an elegant quarter of Paris. He marries a pretty young woman from a good family. He has a daughter. He is a professor at the Sorbonne. He stands for Parliament. He buys property and speculates on the stock exchange. He has another daughter. Upon the death of his grandfather—at the age of ninety-three—he has the family seat restored and spends his summers in Carcassonne. He takes a lover. He travels around the Mediterranean and the Near East. One night, at the Monte Carlo Casino, he sees the traveler again. He avoids him. The next morning the traveler shows up at his hotel. He has lost everything, and he asks for a loan in the name of their old friendship. Silently, André Maurin hands him a more-than-generous check. The traveler, moved and grateful, tells him that he’s spent five years in America and that he’s seen his father. André says that he doesn’t want to know anything about him. He no longer even touches the account that his father adds to each year without fail. But this time, says the traveler, I saw him in person, I spoke to him about you, I spent seven days at his house, I can give you all sorts of detail about his life. André says that none of that interests him anymore. Their parting is cold. That night, on his way back to Paris, André Maurin dreams of his father: all he sees are children and weapons and terrified faces. By the time he reaches Paris, he’s forgotten everything.

  3

  An Arcimboldi Novel Read in Four Days The Natives of Fontainebleau (Gallimard, 1970, 140 pages) A painter by the name of Fontaine returns to the city of his birth in the south of France after thirty years of absence. The first part of the book, briefly: the return trip by train, the view from the windows, the silence or loquacity of the other passengers, their conversations, the train corridor, the restaurant car, the step of the ticket inspector, assorted opinions on politics, love, wine, the nation, then night on the train, the countryside in the dark, and the moon. In the second part we see Fontaine two months later, settled on the edge of town in a little three-room house by a stream, where he lives in dignity and poverty. He has only one friend left: Dr. D’Arsonval, whom he has known since he was a child. D’Arsonval, who is well-off and fond of Fontaine, tries to help him financially but Fontaine refuses his help. Here we are given our first description of Fontaine: he’s short and lamb-like, with dark eyes and brown hair, his expression occasionally intense and his movements clumsy. During his absence he’s been all over the world but he prefers not to talk about it. His memories of Paris are happy and bright. In his youth Fontaine was a painter of whom great things were expected. Once (D’Arsonval remembers as he sets off on horseback for Fontaine’s little house), he was accused of imitating Fernand Khnopff. It was a trap set with malice and craft. Fontaine didn’t defend himself. He knew Khnopff’s work, but he preferred that of another Belgian: Mellery, the delightful Xavier Mellery, like himself the son of a gardener. That was the beginning of the end of his career. D’Arsonval visited him three years later: Fontaine’s time was devoted to the reading of Rosicrucian literature, to drugs, and to friendships that contributed little to his physical or mental well-being. He made a living by working some mysterious job at a big warehouse. He hardly painted at all, though once D’Arsonval was back working as a doctor in the Roussillon, he received invitations for various shows, presumably sent by Fontaine himself, from a group of painters who called themselves “The Occults”—shows that, as might be supposed, D’Arsonval did not attend. Soon afterward Fontaine disappeared. The third and last part of the novel is set in D’Arsonval’s library, after a long and lavish dinner. The mistress of the house has gone to sleep, and D’Arsonval’s four guests are single men: in addition to Fontaine, there is Clouzet, widower and fabulously wealthy merchant, an aficionado—like the host—of poetry, music, and the fine arts; the young painter Eustache Pérol, on the eve of his second and definitive trip to Paris, where he plans to stay and forge a career with the initial support of D’Arsonval and Clouzet; and finally the parish priest, Father Chaumont, who confesses himself ignorant of the delights of art. The postprandial conversation goes on until dawn. Everyone talks. Sometimes the discussion is calm, other times it is impassioned. Chaumont pokes fun at D’Arsonval and Clouzet. Eustache Pérol treats the priest like a spiritual outlaw. They bring up Michelangelo. D’Arsonval and Clouzet have been to the Sistine Chapel. Chaumont speaks of Aristotle and then of Saint Francis of Assisi. Clouzet recalls Michelangelo’s Moses and sinks into something that might be nostalgia or silent desperation. Eustache Pérol speaks of Rodin, but no one pays any attention to him: he’s reminded of The Burghers of Calais, which he’s never seen, and grits his teeth. D’Arsonval puts his hand on Clouzet’s shoulder and asks if he remembers Naples. Clouzet quotes Bergson, whom they met in Paris, and he and D’Arsonval laugh. Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe, whispers the priest. Soon the subject changes to Perol’s impending trip. Chaumont asks after his lady mother. Eustache Pérol confesses that she is beside herself. Clouzet says a few words about a mother’s love. D’Arsonval laughs in a corner of the library. They open another bottle of cognac. The only one who has done nothing but drink thus far is Fontaine. At four in the morning, when everyone is drunk (Father Chaumont dozes in an armchair and the others stroll around the library in shirtsleeves), he is moved to speak. He remembers his mother. He recalls his departure and his mother’s tears the night before as she packed his bag. He speaks of the joy of work. Of sublime visions. Of the monotony of life. Of his inability to decipher its mystery. Days in Paris, he says without rising from his seat and staring at the floor, are swift. But swift like what? like the wind? like amnesia? He speaks of women and sunsets, of terrible daybreaks and of blank, demonic faces. A heedless gesture, a word, and you’re sunk, the consequences will be unforeseeable, he says in a soft voice. He speaks of the death of his mother, of painters and of bars. He speaks of the Rosicrucians and the cosmos. One day, pressed by debt, he took a job in the colonies. He didn’t paint anymore—he had given it up, you might say—and in this new enterprise his rise was meteoric. No one could have been more surprised than he. In just a few years, he found himself in a position of responsibility that required constant travel. Yes, he had been all over Africa and even to India. Surprising countries, he says in response to the expectant looks of D’Arsonval and Clouzet and the dolorously skeptical gaze of Eustache Pérol. At a certain point, he says, a series of stupid mistakes obliged me to spend a month at a trading post in Madagascar. This was early in the year 1900. Life on the plantation and in the village was deadly boring. In three days his work was done and time passed with exasperating slowness. At first he occupied himself devising projects that might improve the living conditions of the natives, but he soon gave up the effort, thwarted by their passivity. Their lack of interest was universal. After their labors on the plantation, none of them wanted to do extra work. The apathy of the natives piqued Fontai
ne’s interest, and he decided to paint them. At first everything was exciting: with materials taken from nature, he made the colors and brushes. An employee of the company supplied him with the canvases: an old sheet and pieces of sacking and burlap. He began to paint; far now, he says, from the symbolist school, from the visionaries and the wretched Occults. Now it was his eye, his naked eye, that guided his hand. The divine innocence of the company man, he says. From the start, the painting escaped his control. He began with the sacking and burlap and saved the sheet for the grand finale. One night, as he gazed at the sacking by the light of an oil lamp, he realized that he had turned that poor Madagascar village into a vast, sumptuous palace crowded with passageways, stairs, and hidden corners. Like Fontainebleau, he says, though he had never been there. The next day he tackled the sheet. It took him eight days to finish it, painting around the clock: by day in the open air and by night in the dilapidated company offices. He went without food and sleep. On the ninth day he packed up his things and didn’t set foot outside his room. On the tenth day he departed in the ship that had come for him. A year later, settled in a small, friendly African city, he decided at last to take another look at his paintings. There were twenty small canvases and one big one, and together he called them The Natives of Fontainebleau. In the paintings, the village had, in fact, become a palace. The occupations of the natives had become the occupations of courtiers. The grand salons, their patterns of light and shadow, the statues, the mirrors, the murals, the heavy draperies: all seemed equally sunk in an unspecified illness. The floor oozed fever, the rugs seemed about to founder. In this setting, in an atmosphere at once oppressive and gay, his black subjects moved about, casting sidelong glances at the painter, at the future spectators of the painting, as if they were out in the open air. Fontaine seemed to hear again—to hear for the first time—the sounds of that village to which he would never return, sounds that he had mistakenly confused with those of any other African village. Now, thousands of miles away, he heard and saw it for the first time, and was horrified and amazed. The paintings, of course, were lost, adds Fontaine, except for the old sheet, which had accompanied him like an act of penitence each time he moved. After a long silence the voice of Chaumont, whom everyone had thought was asleep, is heard: you speak of sin, he says. D’Arsonval and Clouzet, suddenly full of unease, send for the carriage in order to set out immediately for Fontaine’s house to see this extraordinary painting. Pérol has fallen asleep, his face now peaceful and innocent. D’Arsonval and Clouzet each take Fontaine by an arm and go out into the courtyard, where the servant has already hitched up the horses. There, as day begins to dawn, they are served steamed milk, bread, cheese, cold meats. Fontaine stands and gazes up at the sky as he drinks a glass of wine. Father Chaumont joins them. The carriage traverses the sleeping town, crosses a bridge, enters a forest. At last they come to Fontaine’s little house: he takes the canvas from a chest, spreads it on the bed, and, without looking at it, steps away toward the window. From there he hears the exclamations of D’Arsonval and Clouzet, the murmurs of Chaumont. Soon afterward, as summer nears its end, he dies. When D’Arsonval clears out his few belongings, he searches for the painting but can’t find it.

 
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