“The Morning” & “Just Write Anything!”

Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, translated by Jessica Sequeria, just out from Sublunary Editions (Seattle), measures a mere 80 pages (4 and ½” by 7” by ¼”) and contains the pieces “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!” and also an introduction (by Cesar Aira, translated by Adrian Nathan West), an acknowledgements page, a 4 page translator’s note, and 62 endnotes (in a font size so small this reader’s used eyes required over-the-counter reading glasses of +3.50 strength), almost as long as either story – indeed, a third story – as well as a Parental Advisory warning label (suitable for bookmark use), modified to read:

P A R E N T A L
A D V I S O R Y
OSVALDO LAMBORGHINI

One is tempted to form a review as response in a supposed style of the stories:

In the beginning was the word. And the ice dam(n) broke, the word escaped, and all hell broke loose, as in a Blow-up. A devil’s drool (“Las Babas del Diablo,” Cortazar). It was all done on a typewriter. That tin bell kept us awake. Its tintinnabulations. And he had to send his only son, or daughter, as the case may arise, to supply some endnotes, but he didn’t explain to what end. And the notes musical, in a sense, pleasant. One confessed to eating the plums. Bless me Father, for I have eaten the plums. They were purple. And the season Lent. We had given up meaning for the season, without reason. And the church filled with words, every pew stuffed end to end. And every word related. In each word all the genetic material of the language, of all the languages, of the uttered universe. Prokaryotic flagellum. To allow word movement. The words stood, knelt, sat, stood, and filed out, one by one, pew after pew, line after line. Some disappeared. Through the blank pages of the cosmos, along the gaucho trails along the green rivers in the gorged valleys below the ghastly ghostly mountains, seeping through the pampas and the full drainage basins, out to sea. The sea, the sea! Wordomics. This is my body, a comics: “To ourselves … new paganism … omphalos” (Joyce, Ulysses).

Of the two stories, “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!,” the latter is perhaps the more accessible, comprehendible if not understandable, than the former, but the first, “The Morning,” one might find more enjoyable. The two stories might have been written for two different audiences (although Aira’s introduction suggests Lamborghini didn’t write to any particular audience), but neither seems within the purview of the common reader. But what is within the purview of the common reader? Slogans? Well, slogans are comprehendible, but rarely understood. They become like magic words, spells. In the US today, MAGA might serve as an example; an argument of proposal in no need of backing, it is not an argument at all, but an order, a command. Authoritarian. Enter, sex, and why we need a parental advisory. Sex, like politics, manipulative, special interest, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. For the working class, sex is one thing, for the middle class, something else. The middle class wants relief from guilt, a guilt the working class does not feel. The middle class wants to enjoy, to experience pleasure, guilty it has benefits others don’t, but not enough that it can’t also enjoy envy of those who have more. Thus the middle class craves perfumes and brands, must have fantasy and escape, ritual that includes punishments and rewards. The working class has not time nor appetite for values which can’t readily be seen, measured, felt. As for Peronism and whether or not readers need a background in Argentine history to appreciate Lamborghini, Peronism might not be substantially different from any other ism around the world seeking to exploit one class by numbing another class for the enrichment of a third class, except that Peron started out wanting to make all of the people happy all of the time. But of course there are always those who don’t want to be happy, or don’t care to be made happy. Politics is sex without love.

In other words, for the working class, the word innuendo means exactly what it sounds like, while for the middle class, it can only suggest what cannot in what is sometimes called polite society (on the endangered species list) be directly talked about, and must be submersed in ambiguity, doubt, and mistrust. Enter Peron, that is to say, to wit, an imputation that what is valued most in each class can somehow be conjoined, but the ballroom can’t hold everyone.

Click here, on the belly button, where you were tied to your mother, treading water in the salt marsh. You were still nullifidian then. All gills and fins. Your mother’s voice coming muffled through the cloudy water. And then your cry, and then your sucking, and then your sleep, and then the tin bell, and the rhythm rolling. The next time you awake, you are swaddled in the bottom of a dory, your father at the oars, your mother tending a fishing line, all against a muddy current in coastal waters.

Lamborghini’s writing is probably not egalitarian, not as evidenced by these two stories or the three poems appearing in Firmament No. 1 (Sublunary Editions, Winter 2021), not that it needs to be, yet it contains all the characteristics readers generally value. Humor surrounded by horror. The sweets and sours and bitters and salts of life. It is a writing of associative addition, one image conjuring up or giving way to another, the narrative like a bus ride, the bus stopping at the end of every sentence to let someone off and to take on another rider. Though these riders are not necessarily characters – they may be ideas, or props. Repetition is therefore valued, and memory encouraged. So that at the end of “The Morning,” if asked what it is about, we can say it is about a character savaged. But the common reader wants her back scratched, not whipped.

The form (forms) of these two short stories appears very different in each, the one on the open sea, the other back and forth where the rivers spread in the tidal marsh. Jessica Sequeira’s “endnotes” are indispensable, and actually a pleasure. For one thing, it’s comforting as a reader to know you’re in the same boat as other readers, translators, critics. That is to say, the difficulty is not yours alone, not yours at all. You are now able to read. And while the endnotes clarify, elucidate, inform, they also project, surmise, guess.

Sublunary Editions is an independent press out of Seattle. You can find a copy of Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini here.

A New Modernist Journal

One of the characteristics of the small press literary journal is its short shelf life, if it makes it to a shelf at all. But its practitioners blast away nevertheless, their voices barely audible rising from the bottom rungs of the literary ladder. Another of its characteristics is the constancy of its myriad rebirths, even if in limited print runs, the first 30 signed and numbered by – someone. Another of its characteristics is its often assumed lack of what in academic argument is called ethos, by which is meant credentials, credibility, reliability, experience, imprimatur. A lack of ethos may fail to persuade even a cursory glance or worse garner a quick list of lit-snub snarks. The local librarian will probably file the journal with a few other self-published efforts on the free books and discards shelf. But the serious critic is always looking for the exception to assumptions and presuppositions, even if his leaning is hierarchical. Peter Molin’s blog, Time Now: The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Art, Film, and Literature, provides a recent example of the critic wrestling with the ladders and scaffolding: “Small and indie presses help bridge the divide between professional publishing realm and amateur online authorial ranks (does an analogy to distinctions separating Special Operations, Regular Army, and National Guard troops work here?).” But Molin has already somewhat equitably posited, “The divide between professional and amateur vet-writing is a thing, but cross-boundary pleasure and pollination are everywhere possible.” More of course could be said about that divide, a literary no man’s land. The small press literary journal can only exist on one side of the divide. When it crosses over, it becomes something else; when it dies, it awaits discovery, or recovery, or rebirth.

Consider what is now called the Modernist Journal, indie starts from around 1890 through the first quarter of the 20th Century, most of which survived but briefly, but contained writing by contributors now considered influential if often still controversial, journals full of now canonical writers who at the time were experimenting with new ideas and forms, and many other writers who were mostly unknown and remain so. Readers can research, browse, discover these journals in the Modernist Journal Project, now housed at Brown and the University of Tulsa. Examples include Blast, Des Imagistes, The Egoist, The Little Review, The Masses.

All by way of introducing another new indie journal on the literary block, its first issue, Winter 2021, now in circulation – Firmament: A magazine of considered miscellany from Sublunary Editions. I received a print copy because last year I subscribed to the full suite of Sublunary publications via the annual subscription. Monthly and 6-month subscriptions are also available – all include the quarterly magazine, Firmament. The Sublunary productions, called “objects,” are thin (Firmament No. 1 is 63 pages), with extreme care taken with design – typeset, layout, arrangement, presentation. Monthly, I get something from Sublunary in the snail mail.

Firmament is edited by Jessica Sequeira, a translator of Spanish texts who has also written a few original books, one of which, “A Luminous History of the Palm,” was published in April, 2020 by Sublunary. I put up a short review of that book here at the Toads back in July. In her “Editor’s Note” to Firmament No. 1, Jessica mentions several journals as examples of like, and liked, precursors, including Sur, 291, Der Sturm, and Claridad. The first issue of Firmament contains poetry, short fiction and excerpts, interviews, and nonfiction and columns – from an international cast of writers and translators. I count 23 contributors, 14 sections, in the 63 pages. I find that remarkable (and so I remarked on it). There is also a page devoted to drawings of a cat creature (tyger?), but it’s uncredited (but it appears to be from the cover of the forthcoming Chevillard book). Another page is devoted to a preview of the upcoming April, Spring 2021 issue of Firmament, and another page listing more Sublunary objects forthcoming for 2021. And a page of “Endnotes.” The issue contains a striking color scheme of red, white, and black. Clearly the editors are serious and professional, busy, planning ahead, with dedicated resources and action plans.

Eric Chevillard, French experimental author, is featured in Firmament No. 1, translated by Chris Clarke – both come with awards and previous publishing successes. “Chronology” (pgs 4-10) is a biographical summary of the life of one Thomas Jean-Julien Pilaster, compiled by one Marc-Antoine Marson, both fictional characters created by Chevillard. All three are writers, real and imagined, at least they live the lives one imagines a writer might live, born, perhaps, to lose (that is to say, live on the wrong side of the divide), as they are artists by temperament.

A poem by J. A. Pak follows, “Love Tattoo,” and, yes, isn’t a tattoo often a poem, often one of love penned on skin, though love can be removed.

Tony Messenger’s “Fragments 1, 2 and 5,” reflections on the divisions language may create (there’s that theme of divide again), read like journal entries, notes, ponderings. I liked them enough to find Tony’s blog, Messenger’s Booker – the beauty of quick links. The name Tony Messenger was familiar, but the Firmament Tony Messenger is not the Tony Messenger who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, not unless we’re back in Chevillard territory.

If Firmament No. 1 were a syllabus, it would have to be for a year long course. “Lamborghiniana,” an interview/conversation between Agustina Perez and Jessica Sequeira, about Osvaldo Lamborghini, makes this clear. But that is yet another characteristic of the small press literary journal – to suggest new directions of writing and reading, thought, expression, translation, literary virtual travel. Three Lamborghini poems are included, translated by Louis Chitarroni.

So, Firmament appears to be concerned with experimental and international writing. Yet, in Joshua Rothes’s (founder and publisher of Sublunary Editions) column, “Pith & Self-Defeating,” he says: “What I aim to propose in this inaugural column is that 1) most writing done with a specific set of aims is, after Parfit, ultimately self-defeating, 2) this process of undermining our stated aims is the most important part of the creative process” (38). Paradox, paradox, paradox, Thoreau might have epizeuxisly said. And Vic Shirley, another of the Sublunary editors, follows with this, in “Commitment to Chush”: “Chush is Russian for nonsense,” beginning a bit of a rant that seems both nonsensical and right on simultaneously (40).

I was glad to see comics represented, even if sans cartoons or drawings, with Maurizio Salabelle, translated by Jamie Richards, who has apparently translated some cartoonists. This I’ve yet to follow up on, but it’s on my list of things to do.

And more, including two poems by Rilke, translated by Kristofor Minta, and fiction by Anna de Nosailles, translated by Christina Tudor-Sideri, and Carol Rodrigues, translated by Adrian Minckley, and poetry by Tim MacGabhann.

On the back cover, we find this brief description: “Sublunary Editions is an independent press dedicated to publishing brief volumes of innovative texts from authors past and present.” True that, if Firmanent No. 1 is any example.

Jessica Sequeira’s “A Luminous History of the Palm”

“As I sit under the lamplights, I feel happy, I laugh, I talk to myself, I talk to the books. I talk to the trees, and in my mind the palms form a swaying jungle of stories” (57).

So ends Jessica Sequeira’s beautiful book, “A Luminous History of the Palm” (Sublunary Editions, 2020), twenty-four short stories in which the author “imagine[s herself] in other lives” (1). The stories range from around 500 to 2,000 words, and are organized in triplets, set off by short notes that illuminate the form of the work; for example,

“To be luminous is not the same as to be enlightened. Enlightenment comes from the outside and implies progress. To be luminous is to generate affections and affiliations from the heart, belly and bowels of a situation in time, and form part of an organic system that is possibly infinite. It is to avoid abstraction, at least at the start, to prefer the concrete and sensual, the soft light forged by the bodies of stories as they crush together in violence or embrace” (29).

The concept, of occupying different characters over time, works using the human tool of empathy. What is known? What can be known, and how? How does one get to know? Where and how does the engine of cognition get started? This is not appropriation. It is a sharing of thought and experience. As argument, it is pathos, grounded in the emotional with passion. The reader becomes detached from any kind of narcissistic rendering, from identifying with, relating to, finding relevance to one’s own life. One disappears into another. One’s own interests are subsumed by history, and what emerges are anthropological vignettes, finds.

The vocabulary is exquisite: “Chinoisierie”; “crassulas, euphorbias, stapelias and aloes.” The words used in each piece form a brilliant cover, the style fitted to the personality of the character: a “Healer, [from] Yemen”; a “Housewife, [from] New Zealand”; a “Surfer, [from] California” – and that surfer dispels and defies stereotype to get to the heart of the new and original. The vocabulary is natural to the character. “I’ve got my shortboard, bright orange, and a new haircut.” That new hairdo – foreshadows a surprising identity, personality, transfixed and transposed by expectations and breaking away from the confines of one’s predicament.

“We get through the book in about an hour, silently noting its patterns” (53). But why hurry? The Sublunary Editions copy is professionally bound, recognizable as a series, and “A Sublunary Object,” a form that enshrines the short work in a book the reader will want to keep and save and, most importantly, reread and share.

I love the kind of writing found in “A Luminous History of the Palm.” The design, the ideas, the language, the brevity, the characters, the places and descriptions, how easily they seem to change, the reader entering a new land, country, weather. And the book is encyclopedic, the way Borges can be, and full of mystery, the way Lispector wrote – brief, compressed. As each story opens, the reader feels a kind of petrichor of a particular place and time and the close smell of a person suddenly near and unexpected. The palm trees spread and growing throughout the book are also very cool.

A Luminous History of the Palm, by Jessica Sequeira, 2020, Sublunary Editions, Seattle, WA, sublunaryeditions.com

Photo: Lisa at Refugio, 1976, Joe Linker.