Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by CAMILO JOSE CELA: the perfect book for this moment or any moment

For the last year or so, midst other readings and writings, I have been reading CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela (Dalkey Archive). It is the perfect book for this exhilarating or gloomy moment, as the case might be. Or it is for any other time.

In my mind it shoves over a little Celine's JOURNEY TO THE END OF NIGHT.

CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA is both very hard and incredibly easy to describe. On one level it is 261 pages being told by, "My name is Wendell Espana, Wendell Liverpool Espana, or maybe it isn't Espana but Span or Aspen, I've never found out for sure, I've never seen it written down..."

The book goes on for those 261 pages without a period. It is vaguely centered on Tombstone or Tomiston the most notorious town in Arizona and upon the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. But as there are at least a hundred different versions of that gunfight in reality--- I might be under counting--- these are just two of hundreds of places and events mentioned in the book...

Cela through Wendell Liverpool Espana has created the great necessary epic of Arizona and by implication the West. He never falls into a dreary realism which attempts to describe the psychologies of any of the people he mentions or takes the time to tease out a dreary plot of conflict and either resolved or un-resolved resolution... he counter-points a vast array of "characters" with the constant refrain from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary... and while it is easy to lose track of these characters they gradually inhabit your imagination and while some appear and re-appear you are gradually brought into this familiar yet mysterious world that seems as timeless as that created by Rabelais or Dante, forsaking always the temptation to fantasy or invention. My own GOING TO PATCHOGUE is a genuine companion to CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA

In homage to the last few days (early November 2008) I thought to share some selected lines from Cela's book and telling you these should give you a very good idea as to why I put this book on the top of what everyone should be reading. I have not cited any of the famous Earps who are mentioned of course in passing ...

It is all an eerie counterpoint to the shrieking political celebrations going on beyond my windows here on East First Street in Manhattan still at 2PM on the day after...

1.

...there's a lot of loneliness around here, and rosemary grass is used to fix up vaginas, to fake virginities, and my friend and I still have two steps to go, drinking beer and pissing on the Chinaman's door...

2.

...she gets her mouth of your asshole puts in her tongue a little and sucks hard, like a vacuum, it's called the "black kiss" and it was invented by Bonne Mere Mauricette, a madam from Napoleonville, near New Orleans, my mother does it to anyone who pays for it, I'm exempt, she doesn't charge me for it...

3

...do you know if it's true that they instituted proceedings against Christ in Arizona?, no, no I don't know, nobody can take Christ to court because he's God and God always wins, God can work miracles and change a woman into a lizard with three eyes and horns, it depends what he wants, Christ-- rather, God--- is tougher than Arizona...

4.

..where the Papago Indians stand and brood about poverty, loneliness and the wind, and the Papago Indians don't like that name, they are the Tohono-O'Odham, the cactuses resemble bell-towers, surrounded by disaster...

5.

...what's bad is when a man wants to put his thoughts into another person's head, that's a sign that death is lurking nearby and feeling brave...

6.

a man has to come from somewhere. what's bad is being a stranger, all strangers go around dragging a dirty bloody history that they don't want to tell anyone, silence ends up making the bones ache, but anything is better than the gallows, strangers don't have any traditions and that's why they rob banks and trains, they cheat at cards, they steal cows and horses and they shoot you in the back, tradition doesn't forbid robbing banks and trains or cheating at cards or stealing horses but it does forbid killing a man from behind

7.

Negroes want to turn their children white and the only thing that matters for whites is making money, if this isn't the end of the earth it's something very close to it...

8.

...when halfwits finish coming they also fall asleep if the woman sucks their cock very carefully, first their thoughts fade away and then they doze off,

9.

Ronnie killed him with a bullet between the eyes, the price of life is life and no one escapes this law, nobody can know what will happen after they go

10.

nobody knows it God is male or female but if she is female instead of male the Grand Canyon would be the cunt of God, the horrendous Grand Cunt of God

11.

...you have to organize what you're saying so people don't get confused, the best way is to keep telling the story in terms of the dead, I said to him, it's very easy to talk but bringing order to what you're saying isn't so easy...

12.

...reason is worthless if a man can't get a hard-on, words are always traitorous and end up betraying whoever speaks them, if a men were mute the jails would be empty and the gallows wouldn't have been invented, man is an animal that doesn't know enough to die on time and keeps praying to go on living...

13.

the opposite of mercy is indifference--- people think it's cruelty--- but what's really bad about cutting off a dead man's privates is doing it without even looking, when giving someone food or drink you must look into his eyes, the same applies to forgiving insults or cheering up sad people...

14.

the Chinaman Wong wasn't a murderer because he didn't kill living men but instead disinterred dead children, afterwards he would slice them up or shred them, all very carefully, the soybean shoots with minced pork were also delicious...

15.

there's always one woman that would like to blow the hanged man, custom doesn't allow it and the law even less, it's a pleasure that hardly any woman gets to enjoy...

16.

my little brother Pato Macario's flatulence doesn't make any noise because by now all his farting has smoothed out the wrinkles in his asshole, we usually say "ripe avocado, fart for sure," real men's farts sound like whiplashes, they crack the wind

17.

...dogs don't piss on the houses of the dying, they are very respecful and go straight past, this detail doesn't belong here but I wanted to note it down before I forgot

18.

it's the custom to smile at the hangman and spit in the face of the man sentenced to death, men are born wearing their masks and every line already carved in its place, on the forehead, the corners of the eyes, at the corners of the mouth, in the cheeks the same things have always been done, spitting on the one who loses and smiling at the one who wins

19.

the women wait at the Nabor Guevara tavern, groping and feeling each other up, their hearts pounding they while away the time telling each other dirty stories and killing doves by squashing their heads, they also strangle roosters by pinning them their between their thighs, there's plenty of pleasure in it

20

...nearly every day remembers Maggie Cedarvael the little neighbor girl who as a child used to play with his little cock, she would fondle it delicately and also suck it, later she died of tuberculous, this game of life and death is upsetting

2 comments:

Peter Mclachlin said...

Good God -- time seemed to stop while I was reading your review! Your comments plus the bits of prose you provided convince me that this everyone who can read must buy and read this quite possibly essential book immediately. Thanks for the heads-up on this, Tom.

Cioran said...

Thank you so much for this postscownli