Review: Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, Translated by Jessica Sequeira
There is something of the mythic employed when describing Osvaldo Lamborghini. He is referred to as a cult writer, iconoclast, avant-garde, and transgressive. The blurb on the back cover of Two Stories describes him as unclassifiable as well as sporting a Bolaño quote which simply says: “It scares me.” Bolaño was purportedly only able to read a few pages at a time. Despite any legend surrounding the author this small book seems to double in size upon delving into it.
While César Aira is a fitting author to introduce Lamborghini, as he has been largely responsible for reviving his posthumous reputation, the introduction tends toward ambiguity. It is more a piece of narration where Aira explores Lamborghini’s mystique, writing methods, and lessons gleaned from their relationship, rather than a biographical overview that would benefit the general reader.
The two stories here are experimental and use concentrated poetic language. It may be helpful to not think of them as stories at all. The first piece “The Morning” is a sort of prose poem with symbolist and surrealist overtones. There are repeating images and motifs tied up in strong, but constantly shifting language and metaphor. The second piece, “Just Write Anything!” may best be described as an experimental dialogue. The writing is jarring in its fusion of violence and sexuality. It feels heavy, with a certain brutality in the attention paid to oppressive and terrorizing politics.
I found this publication omitted explanations of the transgressive nature of Lamborghini’s writing. While the two stories here feature sexually explicit language there is no explanation given by Aira or the translator Jessica Sequeria as to how transgressive a writer Lamborghini can be. Although the second story has his classic mix of politics and perversion, the first piece highlights a writer concerned with poetics and language. It was interesting to discover more concrete information about him in secondary sources that describe the writing in his most famous works, the two short novels, El Fjord and Sebregondi retrocede. They employ highly pornographic, violent, and at times scatological language. Which places Lamborghini in the same tradition as De Sade and Georges Bataille, or for living authors, something of Dennis Cooper and early Virginie Despentes.
It’s safe to say reading Lamborghini is a bit of a labor of love. I found that the stories weren’t clear and didn’t emerge with meaning until after two or three readings. As they are relatively short, this is no problem. Perhaps one cumbersome aspect of this book are the 60 endnotes for only the two stories. They fall into two main categories; either commentaries on translation choices, or explanatory notes on the many references to gaucho literature and Argentine politics Lamborghini employs. I found the notes extremely useful in elucidating the cultural context of the stories. As well, I simply adore footnotes. Overall my only complaint towards this book is the lack of a clear explanation of Lamborghini’s life and writing. It would be helpful if the sexual nature of his writing was discussed rather than mentioned once or twice by Aira and Sequeria.
Reading the Translator’s Note is helpful. While I don’t know Spanish I thought this was an excellent translation. Jessica Sequeria’s afterword provides a short but thorough explanation of Lamborghini’s style and her approach to translating him. It is easy to appreciate Lamborghini’s wonderfully strange punctuation and syntax (as Sequeria sought to keep it as close to the original as possible), but also the breadth of the diction. There were English words I had to look up. The translation is extremely attentive to the complexities of Lamborghini’s writing.
Despite the complexities of these stories, this little volume is well worth the attention of any dedicated readers of translated literature, especially those keen on Cesar Aira, as he is so attached to Osvaldo Lamborghini. One does not have to be a reader who enjoys experimental or ‘complex’ texts to approach his writing. While reading dense texts is always a labor of love, these pieces can also be read simply for their poetic style or one can delve deep into the footnotes. Whichever way one chooses to approach this book, it is well worth time and attention for introducing such a singular writer into English.
Review by David Giannetti