End of Semester Reading

Teaching’s over until the fall. Thus able again to turn to reading I didn’t have the time or focus to do these last few months. And because he popped up both in the course on Maghrebian literature I taught this spring, and independently in relation to my own writing around/through matters connected to Arabic (the language and the culture), the first I will concentrate on seriously will be Juan Goytisolo. Here is an extract from >The Garden of Secrets (Serpent’s Tail, 2000), — you can read more here — in which twenty-eight storytellers – one for each letter in the Arabic alphabet – gather in a garden over a three-week period to tell the story of a poet, Eusebio, arrested in the early days of the Spanish Civil War.


‘You are, my friend, Eugenio Asensio, you’re born again, you’ve changed names and, for the good of Spain, your previous and devious personality.’ Comrade Basilio smiled at him with the aplomb and rigour bestowed by rank. He wore the uniform of the Falange: red beret, boots, blue shirt, yoke and arrows. He had summoned him to his office and, for the first time since the events, somebody was addressing him, if not affectionately, at least warmly.
‘By a whisker your brother-in-law’s intervention saved you from meeting your Maker; you were on the list of Reds to be executed. Your poor sister wept her heart out, begged and begged till her husband gave in. That was when they took you from the garage where you were shoved cheek by jowl with those destined for the paseo, handcuffed and blindfolded, to get round the duty officer who wasn’t in on the act. You can’t imagine the stratagems your family’s friends had recourse to, what obstacles they confronted to sneak you out of Melilla and bring you here in one piece. They saved you from the fate of Federico, a good lad when all’s said and done, like you tricked by envy-ridden intellectuals and politicos in the pay of the Anti-Spain. Now you’re in a safe haven and we’ll do what was agreed. Put behind you who you were, your shameful penchant for Mohammeds and labourers, bad friends and twisted ideas. From now on my comrades and I will see to it you become a wholesome man, wear the uniform expressing our all-embracing, combative spirit, strengthen yourself body and soul, espouse the values consubstantial with the fatherland forged by its martyrs’ bloody sacrifice. Look at your new documentation: the dates haven’t changed, your place of origin has. You were born in the Canary Islands, like our Army of Salvation. Your name is Eugenio Asensio Garcia. Eugenio, because, as one of the luminaries of our thought writes, with characteristic rigour and lucidity the eugenic cleansing and regeneration of a people has to impact on the totality of its constituent individuals, to create an ethnically improved, morally robust and spiritually vigorous caste. A eugenics to liberate individuals from damaging cancers and return them, via a programme of proper mental and physical hygiene, to the incubator, to germinate and blossom as in a greenhouse, forged against the corrupting environment, by the sacred store of principles firing our Crusade.
‘I know what it means for you to cut all ties with a person of your sister’s stature and capacity for love. She’s in tears as well but feels happy and grateful to her husband. She has sworn to him she’ll not try to contact you and I’ll be responsible for informing her of your progression to a total cure. From now you’ll be among men, the leaders and fighters of the Falange, determined to shape their lives after the example of their Founder. There’s no room here for the moral scruples of English laydeez or any soft-soaping:
this is no convent. The mannered ways of hypocrites and do-gooders are not our scene. Our life is one of obedience, discipline, militia: the militarisation of school, university, factory, workshop, of every pore of society. We don’t want rewards, Laureates or Medals of Suffering for the Fatherland. Hierarchy is based on merit, selflessness and vigour in the service of Spain. By my side, by the side of Veremundo and his doughty fighters, you’ll learn the virtues of manliness, the longing after perfection of Greek philosophers and German artists. When it’s time to work and do your duty, work and do your duty like the next man; when it’s time to have a good time, on the razzle and the beer, enjoy yourself, satisfy the body. We won’t force you to go to brothels if you’re still in two minds and their ways put you off. But gradually we’ll inculcate in you noble tastes and desires. Proper male camaraderie excludes all forms of hypocrisy and cant.
‘Stop reading palsied prose, absorb the tough truths of José Antonio, the essays of Ramiro de Maeztú, Onésimo Redondo and Ledesma Ramos. Choose between the peaks and the abyss, between anarchy and the Renaissance ideal of the poet-soldier. Your bohemian, egg-head mentors generate castrated, masturbatory art: abstract drawings, dramas of adultery, trite, effeminate poetry, novels inciting class struggle. Tasteless, stinking fruit falling apart in the hands like rotten apples. Whoever sidesteps truth and denies the sap of our spirit misses out on beauty, inverts the proper scale of values, undermines his labour, dilutes his genius, embitters life.
‘Here’s a letter from your sister, and inspired by the admirable generosity and grandeur of her soul, against what’s been agreed, I’ll read you a paragraph: “Tell him to try and be happy and adapt to his new state. I’ll keep him present in my memories but I understand how he needs to remake his life far from me. The gratitude I owe God and my husband compensates my grief at his absence. Dear Lord, I hope to see him one day when peace rules and embrace him in my arms as if he were still a child!”‘
Basilio filed the letter in its folder and, after a pensive silence, invited him to get up and look through the window with him: a phalanx of energetic, able-bodied youths, supple and healthy-looking, marched by in warrior step to Veremundo’s whistles and orders, one two, one two, right, left, half-turn, halt, attention and intone the ‘Cara al sol’ before they break ranks and cheerfully, noisily disperse in the barrack yard, in a spontaneous show of camaraderie to warm the cockles of his heart.

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