Monday, November 19, 2012

Our Friend Manso: I do not exist

Our Friend Manso
Benito Pérez Galdós
Translation by Robert Russell
Columbia University Press, 1987
ISBN 0-231-0604-7
I do not exist. And just in case some untrusting, stubborn, ill-meaning person should refuse to believe what I say so plainly, or should demand some sort of sworn testimony before believing it—I swear, I solemnly swear that I do not exist; and I likewise protest against any and all inclinations or attempts to consider me as being endowed with the unequivocal attributes of real existence. I declare that I am not even a portrait of anybody, and I promise that if one of our contemporary deep-thinkers were to start looking for similarities between my fleshless, boneless being and any individual susceptible to an experiment in vivisection, I should rush to the defense of my rights as a myth, demonstrating with witnesses called forth from a place of my own choosing that I neither am, nor have been, nor ever will be, anybody.

I am—putting it obscurely in order for you to understand it better—an artistic, diabolical condensation, a fabrication born of human though (ximia Dei) which, whenever it grasps in its fingers a bit of literary style, uses it to start imitating what God has done with material substance in the physical world; I am one more example of those falsifications of a man which from the dawn of time have been sold on the block by people I call idlers—and by so doing I fail in my filial duties—though an undiscerning and overgenerous public confers on them the title of artist, poet, or something of the sort. I am a chimera, dream of a dream, shadow of a shad, suspicion of a possibility: I enjoy my nonexistence, I watch the senseless passing of infinite time, which is so boring that it holds my attention, and I begin to wonder whether being nobody isn’t the same as being everybody, whether my not possessing any personal attributes isn’t the same as possessing the very attributes of existence itself. This is a matter which I haven’t clarified as yet, and I pray God I never may, lest I be deprived of that illusion of pride which always alleviates the frigid boredom of these realms of pure thought.

Máximo Manso introduces himself this way in the opening chapter of Our Friend Manso. He also informs the reader that “in the home of all that does not exist” there are also social classes, animosities, and other things common to the world of the living. So what brings Manso to us? A friend who “has fallen under an infamous curse: he writes novels” came to Manso, telling him he wanted to write a novel “dealing with the great subject matter of Education.” The author, though, needed certain tools and methods to carry it forward. The author offers to buy Manso’s “simple and pleasant story” in order to complete the novel, willing to provide the character some tools of the trade: literary genres, outmoded ideas, sentimentality, and set phrases. Manso agrees to cooperate and after being plunged into a drop of ink and the page set on fire, the character emerges in human guise. “The pain I felt told me I was a man.”

This is the last we hear of Manso’s special status until the final chapter, the 48 chapters in between carrying out the story meant to educate. In the first and final chapter, though, a real person (the author) and the literary character interact. Galdós, a master of the so-called realist novel goes out of his way to call attention that a novel is, by definition, not the real world but only appear to be so. Galdós’ novel of education begins in the first chapter, highlighting his view on the novel. His autonomous character, fully formed at the age of thirty-five, will behave in a manner and with a logic that is fully his own. Unfortunately, he also has to “live” with those consequences, as we’ll see in further posts.


Alex in Leeds said...

What an intriguing opening. :)

Dwight said...

It is...and it will tie in nicely with the last chapter. Although that will take another post or two to get to...

scott g.f.bailey said...

Wow, this is amazing stuff. I'll have to find a copy.

The more I look around, the more I find that "postmodernism" has been with us always.

Dwight said...

I've read that Unamuno had little respect for Galdós (although I haven't run across any examples). Funny thing, given how much some of Unamuno's themes resemble what I've seen so far in Galdós.

And, of course, not all of it was original with him...there are very strong strains of Cervantes running throughout. As you say, it's been around a while.

scott g.f.bailey said...

Yeah, that's exactly why I'm reading Cervantes right now. I think a lot of what we consider "pomo" can be traced back to Spanish tall tales. Though there's a nifty chapter in the Iliad (Chapter XI, maybe?) where Homer leaps ahead chronologically long past the end of the story to talk about the Greek's encampments being worn away by time and the elements before he finds his place in the tale of Achilles. I'm sure Cervantes had read Homer, and of course we know he read Apuleius because he stole scenes from the Golden Ass.

Anyway, I just ordered a copy of "Our Friend Manso" from a shop in California. Like I don't have enough books to read already. I need to stay away from readers' blogs.

Dwight said...

Heh. I know the feeling. All too well.