Perhaps what best define the texts gathered in this dossier are appreciation and awe. Also enthusiasm. A desire to express appreciation for the many references (songs, films, books) that the writer Rodrigo Fresán (Buenos Aires, 1963) has put in our path (preaching from his columns in Radar Página/12, or Letras Libres, or ABC…) and for his extraordinary novels and story collections (twelve books to date); and awe with respect to his always challenging, mutating, and expanding body of work. A body of work that keeps reading as it is written and that, when you read it, makes you want to write.
Nicolás Campisi—who in his article examines three Fresán novels through three fundamental characters (the writer as a child, the writer as DJ, and the writer as vampire)—confesses that, for him, the Argentine author set the standard for what it was to be an intellectual or a good reader: that omnivorous zeal, that reading it all. For Ramiro Sanchiz, La velocidad de las cosas articulates a new narrative form, while for Rodrigo Bastidas, Historia argentina definitively makes history by refracting the possibilities of the world and of literature. For all three (and for me), Rodrigo Fresán’s writing isn’t just impressive, it’s indispensable. His books are among the ones that you remember the exact moment when you read them for the first time (as Sanchiz says) and that soar over your life like a melody (a sad song, yes, but so joyful, so necessary) that never entirely leaves you. Or, as Fresán himself says in Historia argentina, “One of those pages that—once read—we return to over and over again, to reassure ourselves that it’s still there, that it still says the same thing it said when we read it for the first time, when it read us.”
And given that Fresán is the king of acknowledgments, which he includes in extensive pages at the conclusion of all his books, here I want to begin by giving thanks, by thanking him for having invited us to the infinite party of his work, that house with ever more impressive rooms and pyrotechnics. Because, as in The Great Gatsby (one of this author’s habitual references), Fresán’s writing seems to open its doors to everyone and everything: songs, films, personal anecdotes, stories of writers’ lives, the rereading and rewriting of his own books and the books of others, and the creation of literary artifacts. Or, again tuning in to the frequency of one of his books, this time Vidas de santos: “Literature like that vampire to whom—dazzled by the possibilities of his power—we open the door and invite in, suspecting that from here onward it will be impossible to contain him.”
It’s like this: all the plotlines, all the times, all the possibilities, all at the same time. A party (of vampires?) that we emerge from electrified and with a desire to read everything and even (and maybe better) to reread what we’ve already read, but now, after passing through that ACME/FRESÁN-brand centrifuge, we want to take another look at.
Reading Fresán is always an invitation to reread, or, in his words, to return to what made us happy (as he says so well in The Dreamed Part: “When we reread, we return only to what made us happy and to what makes us feel eternal and, yes, in all parts and ages at the same time and place. Rereading is like seeing real ghosts. Generous ghosts who believe in us”). References that call to other references, like in his columns or reviews in which one book leads you to every book by that author and to others that approach or resemble it. In each sentence, a galaxy, a voyage in time. A constellation.
And the marvelous world of Fresanian sentences is where we go in the dossier’s final piece, a kind of triptych in which three of Fresán’s translators (into English, French, and Italian) reflect on one sentence. If Fresán’s work can seem intimidating to those coming to it for the first time, let’s begin with a sentence, one of many marvels. Our guides will be Isabelle Gugnon, Will Vanderhyden, and Giulia Zavagna, who will tell us about the universes contained inside the author’s parentheses, about the ever-changing world of his inserts, and about that house that we may never want to leave. And the thing is that, when you read one of Fresán’s sentences, you know you’re in one of his books. One of his reviews, his columns, his responses in interviews. His style is irrepressible, ingenious, and unmistakable. His erudition is generous and electric. A Gatsby party that’s also an invocation, a call. A siren song to attract Daisy. Or, in another modernist book published around the same time, Mrs. Dalloway, a party that always opens its doors to memories, to ghosts, to death. A party like a Ouija board communicating with the other side (maybe the most outside of outsides), and the board like the dummy a ventriloquist activates from the beyond to deliver his messages. That’s what happens in Fresán’s latest novel, Melvill, in which the son (the writer Herman Melville) ventriloquizes his father (Allan Melvill), writing and rewriting him and in so doing transforming North American literature and the same suspect reference points as always. We read there: “Telling (because really it is always the children who end up writing their haunted parents while those parents read them fairy tales) how the voice of an immense delirious father tells: with no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects.” A party where the same characters reappear in much-anticipated cameos, from the already-standard Ella or the Mantra or Karma clan to the secondary characters or the always mutating Sad Songs. A party of reappearances that’s also a party of repetitions: quotes, expressions, and phrases (“Details coming up”) that are always coming back, giving the reader a sense of familiarity and turning the act of reading into an act of memory.
With Fresán, when we read, we remember.
And remembering always brings you back to the imagination.
(Or, as we read in The Bottom of the Sky: “Memory is a reverse time machine that’s as powerful as—always moving forward or in multiple alternate directions—that other time machine: imagination.”)
The novels and stories of Rodrigo Fresán stroll through genres (short stories that are almost novels, novels with short-story hearts), mutate into science fiction, into pop hagiography, into Bildungsroman, into songbook, into monumental triptych (The Invented Part, The Dreamed Part, and The Remembered Part), like a kaleidoscope that also toys with language, pulling in neologisms, symbols, typographies, and an abundance of parentheses and footnotes. Novels with their roots in the library, as he’s said himself, and with constellations of epigraphs that anticipate the voyage and accompany it like another memory. Epigraphs like windows into other books and writers and like that great marvel that it is to construct books that read, that keep reading, that conjure that joy and wonder like an infinite conversation.
And the thing is that, in the face of writing that is sometimes very anchored in the local, or that is nostalgic for magical realism, Fresán’s work arrives like a tornado that takes you right to Oz, challenging its readers with new forms of remixing (and, in this dossier, Campisi’s article raises the figure of the DJ) everything that’s been written before. To open his pages is to realize and be dazzled by the possibility that someone can write like this and that the books that mark us are as important as what happens to us in life. Or maybe, to put it another way, what we read also happens and happens to us, it forms and deforms us. And so we go, carrying our backpacks of books, and maybe reading is nothing more (or less) than the meeting of two libraries (in the best of cases): the library of the reader and the library of the writer. The lusher both are the better. The libraries that, maybe, if we’re lucky, we begin building in childhood. Or, as we read in Mantra: “…you might have had a terrible childhood, but if you read its darkness by the light of great books, when it comes to making memory, you can choose the comfort of remembering the joys of the fictions and not the sorrows of a badly written reality.” Or, in Kensington Gardens: “Fortunate are those who read as children, because theirs may never be the kingdom of heaven but they’ll be granted access to other people’s heavens, and there they’ll learn the many ways of escaping their own hells…”
I have written multiple times about the work of Rodrigo Fresán (once in this very magazine) and I always came up short. It’s difficult to explain a favorite writer. There’s so much to say, so many treasures. I keep trying because I owe so much to him. As a reader and as a writer. Because I believe that wonder should always be shared. Because even though he is an essential author (and he has won important awards like the Roger Caillois and is deserving of many, so many, more) sometimes it’s hard to find his books in the bookstores of Latin America (and, nevertheless, this dossier brings together people from Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile who have seen how huge his impact on the literature and the readers of our countries has been). And the thing is that there are writers without whom one wouldn’t write the way one writes (writers who have left their marks on one’s own style or the echo of their themes) and others without whom one simply wouldn’t write. This is the case for me with Rodrigo Fresán.
If you’ve never read him, maybe it’s good to start at the beginning, with that first book of stories that Rodrigo Bastidas writes about in his review: Historia argentina. Or with another of his books of stories, or collection of short novels, La velocidad de las cosas, which the Uruguayan writer Ramiro Sanchiz describes as configuring its own galaxy. Or, if you prefer to start with a novel, the point of entry might be beside that statue dedicated to Peter Pan that welcomes us at the gates to Kensington Gardens (discussed by Campisi); that strikingly beautiful and moving story about J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, children’s literature, and everything great that we always find in Fresán’s universe. For instance: memory and childhood, the whales and Mickey Mouse of Fantasia, “A Day in the Life” and The Beatles, Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Marcel Proust and Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut and his Tralfamadorian books, the living and the dead, the rereading of Wuthering Heights, Bob Dylan, but, above all, reading and writing. That is what his universe runs on. Or, as we read in The Remembered Part (in words that explain it and him and his work better than any critic or reader [me included] might conjure with their meager powers, turning all of us somewhat into ventriloquist dummies): “…after all, that is what his books were all about: about the inexact, non-fiction—but nevertheless increasingly alien discipline—science of reading and writing; about another form of interplanetary voyage and cosmic mutation and interdimensional wormhole, but with far subtler and harder-to-describe technology.” Writers who can’t stop writing or who stop writing forever, novels that are thought and not put down on the page, characters who are above all readers and what they read forms, deforms, and infects them. Or who love their books more than their families. Child writers waiting for the vampire, but child readers, happy children (and, another captured signal, now from Esperanto: “Esperanto remembered that one night La Montaña García had told him that maybe the best revenge was just to be happy”).
There are also parents and children and children and parents, siblings with better or worse fortunes, families like a new Twilight Zone. Or that song with a mutating name that envelops all plotlines (and we read in The Invented Part: “Parents like the melody that children can’t stop hearing until they become parents themselves and learn to play the instrument that’s been played to them”). In Fresán, literature remains even though everything else changes or, even, endangers. Or, as we read in Trabajos manuals (the only Fresán book that, to date, hasn’t been reissued or mutated in expanded and corrected editions): “If you think about it a little, the wheel and the book—one moves the world, the other moves the possibility of other worlds—remain more or less the same, beyond aesthetics and credos. In the end, the book remains.”
From the threshold of the door that opens onto this celebratory party, I say goodbye but not without first recalling another master of ceremonies who forms part of the Fresanian universe: Rod Serling, who, with his unmistakable voice, welcomes us to each episode of The Twilight Zone to leave us trembling at the end with the comfort of a few closing words. Rodrigo Fresán, with his equally unmistakable authorial voice, gives literature back to us as a gift, as the best of all gifts, with great ambition and enthusiasm, with vertiginous style and an intelligence of another world, of another time, of all times at the same time.
And this party is just starting, this party doesn’t end because, returning to Fresán to give him the last word, now from La velocidad de las cosas: “There’s no thought more absurd and hubristic than convincing yourself that a story ends when you’ve finished telling it.”
(Yes: come in and more details coming up).