The differently combined movements or operations of an author–reading–observing–everything is related to reflecting and writing.
Novalis, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia
The first book by Sergio Chejfec that I read was Lenta biografía. As soon as I finished it, I started it again from the beginning. I suppose this second, pleasant, rewarding reading was due to how much I was impressed, intrigued, and moved by the resources that the narrator used to stage the ardent attempts to recover the minute details of the memory of the Argentine Jews, who escaped from Russia before (let’s not forget the pogroms of Tsarist Russia), during, and after the harassment and persecutions of the Second World War and Stalin’s antisemitism. Having lost both the locus of their birth and that of their blood, they lacked reference points, evocative anchors, fathers, mothers, brothers, witnesses to turn to in order to refresh (through speculation as the only solemn option) hopeless, desolate traces of memories, which are quite possibly permanently lost. After the second reading, which was more attentive and careful but no less passionate, for the simple reason that we writers learn from other writers, I had the feeling of having been reading a short story, a chronicle, or a dramatic scene derived from one of those works of Kafka authenticated by the purity, sobriety, and procedural autonomy of its beautiful, melancholy, doubtful, and, at times, cutting prose.
A few days ago, reading El evangelio histriónico (El Taller Blanco Ediciones, Bogotá, 2019, p. 70) by Luis Moreno Villamediana, I confirmed what I had perceived on that occasion and on subsequently reading all of Sergio’s books: that he traced an active path as a continuation of real and ideal pre-existing authors and literary themes. Even in critical essays, which can be considered other stories, like, for example, the surprisingly incisive and original essay—if it can even be classified as an essay—Sobre Giannuzzi, characterised by the subtlety and unemphatic knowledge with which Sergio delves into the biography of the great Argentine poet Joaquín Giannuzzi in relation to the most typical elements of his poetry.
Like his essays, his short stories and novels transgress the narrow limits of the narrative canon in the opposite direction, through their theoretical-reflexive inclination and orientation, not as an attack, but rather with affability and courtesy.
Referring to the manner in which Chejfec and Alan Pauls make use of ellipses between square brackets, in El evangelio histriónico, L. M.V. observes, “such use transforms entire sections into addenda, clearly present side comments, the reality of the text, as retrospection: someone has opened a previously-closed manuscript and has set about extending the narration” (my emphasis). L. M.V. calls this manuscript, following Goethe, the Ur-text, the primordial text, the originary text, that which precedes, heralds, and provides the exploratory prototype for all those that appear after… Take El punto vacilante, Baroni: un viaje (which as well as fiction is an aesthetic treatise), Teoría del ascensor (which alternates fiction and poetics), the extraordinary Últimas noticias de la escritura, or the varied collection of essays and writings under the title El visitante, in which Chejfec proposes to question and clarify his poetics.
So, then, reading El evangelio histriónico by Luis Moreno Villamediana corroborated that my initial approach to Sergio’s work, comprised of some twenty books, according to my calculations, was on the right path. From then on, everything that Chejfec would write, as many careful readers would soon note, would advance in the direction of a sort of superimposition and extension of an ideal text as a performative act of writing, dependent, in its turn, on an actualizing speech act. That first challenging read produced in me the feeling of reading something that came from and continued the sober, distant, digressive, slowed down prosody of Kafka in relation with his surroundings, each consubstantiated in the other, like two sides of the same coin.
Sergio Chejfec is one of the few philosopher novelists, Luis Chitarroni affirms. And it is precisely this condition of philosopher novelist that stands out, although I would prefer to call him a philosophical, meditative, inquiring, reasoning writer, rather than a novelist, because in a strict sense I do not believe he is one. Like The Trial or The Castle, for their startling singularity and consubstantiation with the real, despite undoubtedly being fictions, I struggle to call his books novels.
In Sergio’s case, the blueprint is broken by the quantity of literary genres he encompasses, combines, interlinks, and transgresses—a recognisable rupture in the calm, circumspect mood of the unhurried narrator, in his need to make himself present on the basis of what his own experience has brought to him. Precisely for this reason, his narrative paradigm comes across as partial, unresolved, unsure, fluctuating, conjectural when faced with unknown, ambiguous, confused, enigmatic, almost indiscernible situations or gestures. The attention, the state of alertness demanded by everything that he encounters in the space-time coordinates of his urban paths and itineraries—think of Mis dos mundos—is what gives his writing a character of inquiry, of putting to the test his heart-rending relationship with the strangeness and foreignness of those people who appear in his path, from whom he would like, question by question, to elucidate more of their painful lives.
In addition, in his unwavering need for precision and exactitude, whatever the certainties and demands of the genre in which methodically, substantially, deliberately, and/or randomly he needs to intervene, we commonly find doubtful and never conclusive phrases: I don’t know, maybe, perhaps, who knows?, I’m unaware, probably, could be, it seemed to me, might, I’m not sure… From book to book, they impose themselves like a languid mark of identity upon his dialogic literary project or, in a wider sense, his goal of an aesthetic lineage. These are all characteristics that, moreover, lend his prose a density and a passionately questioning, enveloping rhythm, never losing sight of the presence of the external reader as the attendant destination of his writing, nor that of the author doubled as a reader of the signs and complexities of his adventures.
The process always goes in the direction mentioned above. While each book passes from one topic to another, the affinities between them are undeniable. But, while many authors write almost the same book over and over again—which is valid—for as many lines of approach to a theme as he may take, Sergio’s innovations, variations, and thematic revisions go hand in hand with his modifications of structure—let’s call it that—established from the beginning until the culmination of his last uninterrupted works in the service of literature.