Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bea (st) (uty)

Up to about a month ago, I was sure that no piece of writing could genuinely shock me. I was so sure of this I wasn't even aware that it was something I thought. I knew it in the way that I knew that night follows day, water is damp, etc. I was also wrong, and the man in this photograph proved it. That's Osvaldo Lamborghini. He was born in Argentina in 1940 and died in Barcelona in 1985. In 1966 or 1967 he wrote a story that may also be a poem called "The Proletarian Boy." About a month ago I read it and it took me two weeks to recover.

The piece begins with a rough sketch of the life of the average proletarian boy. It's funny in a grim way. The boy's father is always beating him with "a beatchain," for example, and everyone is drunk and miserable and poor. In the middle of this the narrator says, "I congratulate myself for not having been born a worker..." There's some more description of the proletarian boy's life, then the narrator says that there was one in his school, and goes on to describe the hard time said proletarian boy has there. Then there's a page break.

The second part of the piece shifts from the general to the specific. The narrator and two friends see the proletarian boy coming toward them. They stop him and start to beat him up. What follows is a long sequence in which the three "bourgeois boys" violently assault and rape the proletarian boy. They push him in a ditch, slash his face and slice his anus with a piece of glass, and it gets worse from there. While the first of the three boys is busy raping the proletarian boy, the other two stand aside and watch and eat each other's vomit and shit. Then they take their turns. That done, they strangle him. The End. Total length of about 4 pages.

The sex and the violence in "The Proletarian Boy" are so extreme that they can hardly be described. It is an orgy of the darkest, most disturbing variety, and it comes out of nowhere and takes the whole piece over. I read it and there I was: shocked, really scandalized, and then I read it again. I had to.

Cause here's the thing: as disgusting as it is, "The Proletarian Boy" is a great piece of writing. Lamborghini's talent is immediately apparent and undeniable. He is a great stylist, a skillful manipulator of both his reader and his material, he is funny as hell and it is obvious that he is doing something more than simply trying to shock the reader with violence or homosexuality. Here's his response to an interviewer from the journal Lecturas críticas, who asked what he was trying to say with "The Proletarian Boy":
I was trying to say things like: why should I come out like an idiot and say that I'm against the bourgeoisie? Why shouldn't I manifest what bourgeois discourse would be and carry it to its limits? What would be compromised?

And a little further on in the interview he elaborates on the, literary, reasons for the murder:
Western culture consists of killing a child; everyone's thinking all the time about how to kill a child.

Since I read that first piece of Lamborghini's, I've read another story ("The Fjord"), a handful of poems, and an unfinished novel (Tadeys). The quality of the writing is always very, very high. The other work, especially Tadeys, is extremely funny, though I doubt that I can convey exactly why or how. Here's a list of things that happen in Tadeys, all of which are, I swear, hilarious in the context of the book.

1. A man anally rapes his wife to death after she confesses that she has, for years, been laboring in secret to turn their son into a woman, doing such things as repeatedly referring to his anus as his vagina while he was bathing.

2. Two local officials, a psychiatrist and a prison warden, team up to solve the growing problem of violent young men committing crimes. Their solution is to take a spare oceanliner that's sitting in the harbor and transform it into a "womanizing ship." The young thugs are brought on board, raped for a week straight, then otherwise manipulated psychologically so as to literally turn them into women. This endeavor is phenomenally successful. The local men fall instantly in love with "the little ladies," so much so that no one minds that they all still have very small penises.

3. Jesus Christ is sodomized at his own request and loves it.

4. A rich old man has a fetish: he likes to ejaculate in young women's hair immediately after they have washed it. This gets him in trouble, so a relative steps in and buys the old man a private brothel where every type of hair in the world is represented. Problem solved.

5. A man walks into a room to talk to a friend. The friend is busy fellating a homeless person. The man sits down and watches. When the friend gets done, the three of them sit around and talk. The homeless man is named Bummy.

All of this takes place in a country which is bigger than China called La Comarca. The country's biggest industry is the raising of an animal called a tadey. They look a lot like humans. They are eaten. They are also widely used by men as sex partners, because they are "the most sodomite of animals," and also have a second tongue in their anus that they use to great effect at the decisive moment.

The presence of such an animal has influenced everything in La Comarca, the economy depends on them completely, possession of the wealth derived from the tadey trade separates the classes, the fact that everyone has sex with them has loosened taboos on homosexuality, almost all the men in the book have homosexual sex at some point, though most of them also denigrate their partners with an astonishing variety of slurs.

In other words: the book is set in a country founded and functioning on the basis of the hypocritical exploitation and murder of dehumanized homosexuals. Put that way, the subtext in Lamborghini's work (which is everywhere buried under piles of irony, never spelled out or simply stated) becomes a little clearer, and with it what he's doing, intellectually.

It seems to me that Osvaldo was, by the end of his life, out to synthesize Marx and Lacan. His definition of the word "proletariat," a word which comes up again and again, is a very broad one. Not just workers in the old school sense, but all exploited people generally, especially homosexuals. His obsession with Lacan has been well noted, and informs his use of sex throughout his writing. He is constantly radically scrambling all categories of identity, especially gender, through the use of extreme forms of sex. Osvaldo is most reminiscent of De Sade and Bataille, especially the former. Osvaldo is the only writer I know of who can match, and sometimes surpass, the old Marquis in the sheer joy he takes in transgression. Which is what makes Osvaldo so much fun to read.

Unfortunately, if you don't read Spanish you're out of luck for the time being. We had a few of his poems in the latest issue of Calque, though nothing very racy, and there were a few poems in another small journal last year. That's it, as far as I know. At least for now.

The question is: will any American or British or Canadian publisher be willing to publish this stuff? I would tend to think probably not. This kind of writing will put a picket line of Christian nutjobs outside your door, but even beyond that I have a hard time imagining some publisher reading a fifteen page sample of this stuff and being anything other than horrified. I guess we'll see.

Lamborghini's last work was an immense cross-genre project called Proletarian Chamber Theater composed of writing, collage, painting, just everything. It was, like all of Osvaldo's work, put in shape by Cesár Aira and published a few years ago, in an edition of 300 copies selling for 130 Euros a piece. What is that, $250? Yeesh. If you click here and scroll down you'll get the best look at it any of us are ever likely to get.

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