Yo también me acuerdo. Margo Glantz. Mexico City: Editorial Sexto Piso. 2014.
“I Remember”: The Turn of Margo Glantz
In 1970, a new invention emerged that would become crucial for numerous writers. Its creator, Joe Brainard, himself wrote on occasion. He was a visual artist, able to express himself in the most diverse registers: he drew, painted, and assembled collages. He created stage sets, built models, and designed covers for books and albums. In New York, he was known as an innovator. I’ve read that he was the first to express a poem through a comic. He was a friend of John Ashberry, Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, and Kenneth Koch, and therefore he’s associated with what is called the New York School.
In 1970, Brainard published a limited run of a small book: the miracle that is I Remember. Its succession of sentences, separated by space, is enchanting: “I remember saying ‘thank you’ when the occasion doesn’t call for it.” “I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.” “I remember empty towns. Green tinted windows. And neon signs just as they go off.” “I remember that my father scratches his balls a lot.” “I remember getting rid of everything I owned on two occasions.” And so on: one after another, unexpected sentences, normally distant from each other, but occasionally in a sequence of three or four associated by a common theme.
That first print run didn’t circulate beyond Brainard’s friends. In 1972, another edition with new sentences was released to limited circles. In 1975, the book was released to a wider audience. This edition included 500 sentences, and it included those from 1970, those from 1972, and a few more. That’s when the phenomenon of I Remember began. In his essay on the book, entitled “Joe Brainard,” Paul Auster argues that none of the writers who have made use of the formula after its inventor “have even approached the original brilliance of Brainart.” Auster, with an affection for lists, lists and comments on the book’s categories following this lax classification: Family; Food; Clothing; Films, movie stars, television, and pop music; School and Church; The body; Dreams, daydreams, and fantasies; Vacations; Objects and products; Sex; Jokes and common expressions; Friends and acquaintances; Autobiographical fragments; Intuitions and confessions; and Meditations.
Perhaps this eloquent catalogue could be applied to the successive users of I Remember. On the back cover of Margo Glantz’s book, Yo también me acuerdo [I also remember], we are reminded that the Italian writer Pier Paolo Passolini and the Lebanese writer Zeina Abirached used the same formula. In his verse collection Cuaderno de vacaciones [Vacation notebook] (2015), the Spanish poet Luis Alberto de Cuenca includes a poem entitled “Me acuerdo de…” [I remember that…], which is constructed using the same resource: “I remember how boring Proust is / every time I have madeleines for breakfast.”
As would be expected, the tool of I Remember has an ever-increasing number of users. But, before addressing Glantz’s book, I should pause over Georges Perec’s I Remember, from 1978. Although they have superficial similarities, there are distinctions in their essential purpose: Perec concentrates on his tastes and on references from his enormous range of knowledge. A few of his phrases wonder about the limits of memory: “I remember that one of the three little pigs was called Naf-Naf, but what about the others?” Brainard’s scope is wider: he paints a picture of United States culture that spans almost three decades, from the end of the forties (Brainard was born in 1942), in all its material and symbolic aspects. The “I” is predominant for Perec; the social landscape is predominant for Brainard.
The Leap of Margo Glantz
Joe Brainard and Georges Perec have something in common: they live in a state of searching (although Brainard has retired from reading in the past ten years of his life). They were both guided by a vital dissatisfaction. All of Perec’s work can be read as an aesthetic of movement. Upon reading Auster’s essay on Brainard or Yolanda Morató’s essay on Perec, we sense a certain inevitability: arriving at I Remember does not constitute a rupture in their work, but rather a step in their respective trajectories of innovation. Before publishing I Remember, Perec had published several of his most surprising and innovative works: Les choses, A Man Asleep, La Boutique Obscure, and W, among others. Although he took the idea from Brainard, the release of his 480-line book was not surprising; in fact, it delighted the few and consequential readers he had at the time.
It is worth pointing out something similar in the case of the Mexican writer Margo Glantz (1930). One of the vertices of her extensive oeuvre has been fragmentary, cadastral expression in which interruptions occur without any visible order. (“The market, with its beauty intact, still smells of urine. A moment of nausea and we carry on. The women settle down on the ground on top of white blankets, they look over the saris that the kneeling vendors show them with patience and parsimony. It’s a ritual. The shoes remain at the door”). She presents wide-ranging memories – frequently centered on other writers – that are mixed with the facts she perceives around her: such is the structure of Coronada de moscas [Crowned with flies] (2012), a travel book dedicated to India which is, in my opinion, a clear antecedent to Yo también me acuerdo (2014).
Glantz’s book not only shares the attributes of its precedents: it provokes the vertigo of not knowing where to start or if, once its final page is turned, the book is really finished. It makes memory a matter of play and experimentation. It produces this effect: it waxes as it wanes: it becomes impossible to remember the sentences you’ve read on the previous page. It doesn’t have a single course: it moves from one subject to another or allows for short digressions of five or six lines about some specific issue. The author’s immense volume of reading, knowledge, travel, and life experience is relayed in a sequence whose primary logic is somewhat random.
But in Glantz, a citizen of the world, there are clear concerns. She doesn’t present herself to us as if suspended in the air. She asks about the state of things in the world. She is a being of our time who blatantly demonstrates her vocation for causes and consequences. With rare grace, she criticizes, sketches caricatures, alludes to literature in the most unusual ways, synthesizes scenes charged with humor, turns here and there to her personal pantheon of authors, makes minimal confessions (“I remember that, besides being dyslexic, I’m also a consumerist”), fleetingly visits the subjects of her work as an essayist and critic (“I remember that Sor Juana and her contemporaries thought the stomach was like a cauldron transferring energy to the body”), reiterates the milestones of her passion for travel (“I remember that in 1960 I saw my first blue whales in the bay of Monterey, California. A few years later, in 1983, I saw them again in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, and, finally, in 2008 in New Zealand”). Unlike her predecessors, she conserves a sense of narrativity. Yo también me acuerdo does more than make a metaphor of a good deal of the work – and perhaps also the life – of Margo Glantz. Not in vain, the book’s last line reads: “I remember that this book might serve as an obituary.”