Carlos Funtes Remembers Carlos Monsiváis

El Pais has an interesting reflection from Carlos Fuentes about his friend, the late writer Carlos Monsiváis. He sounded like quite the iconoclast, at least, as Fuentes saw him. A man of diverse passions and a seeming voracious appetite for knowledge. Worth the read or Google translate.

Me inquietaba siempre la escasa atención que Carlos prestaba a sus dietas. La Coca-Cola era su combustible líquido. No probaba el alcohol. Era vegetariano. Su vestimenta era espontáneamente libre, una declaración más de la antisolemnidad que trajo a la cultura mexicana, pues México es, después de Colombia, el país latinoamericano más adicto a la formalidad en el vestir. Creo que jamás conocí una corbata de Monsiváis, salvo en los albores de nuestra amistad.

Compartimos una pasión por el cine, como si la juventud de este arte mereciera memoria, referencias y cuidados tan grandes como los clásicos más clásicos, y era cierto. La frágil película de nuestras vidas, expuesta a morir en llamaradas o presa del polvo y el olvido, era para Monsiváis un arte importantísimo, único, pues, ¿de qué otra manera, si no en el cine, iban a darnos obras de arte Chaplin y Keaton, Lang y Lubitsch, Hitchcock y Welles? Y no se crea que el “cine de arte” era el único que le interesaba a Carlos. Competía con José Luis Cuevas en su conocimiento del cine mexicano y con el historiador argentino Natalio Botana en películas de los admirables años treinta de Hollywood.

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Mexican Author Carlos Monsivais has Passed Away

I haven’t read anything from Monsivais but he was an important writer, one whose work has been little appreciated in the English speaking world. His book on Mexico City sounds fascinating. La Plaza has an excellent appreciation on his like and work in English and El Pais has a lengthy piece in Spanish.

The writer was not well-known outside Mexico. Translation of his work is very limited. Unlike contemporaries such as Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, Monsivais did not strive to address great universal themes but instead concerned himself with the politics and peculiarities of life in Mexico. And specifically, in the urban carnival that is modern Mexico City.

His first book “Dias de guardar” (“Days to Remember,” 1970) chronicles the tumult and tragedy of the 1968 student movement, which culminated with the massacre at Tlatelolco. In “Amor perdido” (“Love Lost,” 1977) Monsivais writes eloquently on the politicians, artists and movie stars of the moment. In “Los rituales de caos” (“Rituals of Chaos,” 1995) Monsivais weaves a kaleidoscopic look at a Mexico City brimming with life under the duress of pollution, crime and overcrowding.

“In the visual terrain,” the book’s opening line says, “Mexico City is, above all, the too-many-people.”

He also wrote numerous biographies, including volumes on artist Frida Kahlo, singer Pedro Infante and  Salvador Novo, an eccentric early 20th century bohemian who is considered Monsivais’ primary predecessor. He published prolifically even late into his life, producing a new set of essays on Mexico City in 2009, “Apocalipstick.”

A dedicated lover of Mexican cinema and popular culture, Monsivais offered to the general public his collection of thousands of photographs, prints and other items with the formation of the Museo del Estanquillo in downtown Mexico City.

José Emilio Pacheco and Elena Poniatowska in La Jornada

There is an excellent, if writterly, appreciation of José Emilio Pacheco in this Sunday’s cultural supplement in La Jornada. It is certainly worth a read if you have an interest and know Spanish. Pacheco is the author of Las batellas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) which I reviewed sometime ago and remains one of my most popular posts. Poniatowska focuses on three things: his relation to the past; why young people are so dedicated to him; and what has made him the writer he is. On the first count he is an other of memory but not nostalgia: “José Emilio cree en la memoria, a la nostalgia la repudia.”  Which Poniatowska points out in quoting from the end of Batallas en el desierto

They demolished the school, they demolished Mariana’s building, they demolished my house, they demolished the Roma neighborhood. That city is gone. That country is gone. There isn’t any memory of Mexico form those years. And it doesn’t bother anyone: who wants to remember that horror? Everything goes like the records on a record player. I will never know if Mariana is still living. If she was a live she’d be 70.

Demolieron la escuela, demolieron el edificio de Mariana, demolieron mi casa, demolieron la colonia Roma. Se acabó esa ciudad. Terminó aquel país. No hay memoria del México de aquellos años. Y a nadie le importa: de ese horror, quién puede tener nostalgia. Todo pasó como pasan los discos en la sinfonola. Nunca sabré si aún vive Mariana. Si viviera tendría sesenta años.”

Second, the youth like Pacheco because he is like them and respects them. Part of this is his focus on youth and part of it his willingness to meet with them. When his conferences have filled up he has given two conferences, one in the conference hall and the other outside where the students are waiting for him.

The young who still live their memories of childhood find themselves in El viento distate, El pricipio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto (The Battles in the Desert) and through Condesa neighboorhod of Moriras lefjos and they celebrate the novelist and short story writer with never ending gratitude. It is rare to feel gratitude for a living writer but Jose Emilio gathers all their devotions. When the boy Carlos in Los batallas en el desierto confesses, “I never thought that Jim’s mother was that young, that elegant, least of all that beautiful. I didn’t know how to tell him. I can’t describe what I felt when she shook my hand,” readers relive the torment of their first love. The same occurs with the stories in La sangre de Medusa written between 1956 and 1984. Jose Emilio touches fibers in which they recognize themselves, in which you and him and I and we identify with. On reading it, everyone rewrites “Tarde o remparano”. His is ours. We make the book with him, we are his part, he changes us into authors, he reflects us, he keeps us in mind, he completes us, and the reading takes away our problems. We owe him being readers, as much as we owe him for life.

According to him, those truly unhappy loves, those terrible loves are amongst the young because they have no hope. “In any part of your life you have some little possibility of reuniting with the person you love, but when you are young your history of love has no future.”

Los jóvenes que todavía viven sus recuerdos de infancia se encuentran a sí mismos en El viento distante, El principio del placer, Las batallas en el desierto y hasta en la colonia Condesa de Morirás lejos y le brindan al novelista y al cuentista un testimonio de gratitud interminable. Es raro sentir gratitud por un escritor vivo pero José Emilio reúne todas las devociones. Cuando el niño Carlos de Las batallas en el desierto confiesa: “Nunca pensé que la madre de Jim fuera tan joven, tan elegante y sobre todo tan hermosa. No supe qué decirle. No puedo describir lo que sentí cuando ella me dio la mano”, los lectores reviven el tormento de su primer amor. Lo mismo sucede con los cuentos de La sangre de Medusa escritos de 1956 a 1984. José Emilio toca fibras en las que se reconocen, en las que tú y él y yo, ustedes y nosotros nos identificamos. Al leerlo, cada quién escribe de nuevo “Tarde o temprano”. Lo suyo es nuestro. Hacemos el libro con él, somos su parte, nos convierte en autores, nos refleja, nos toma en cuenta, nos completa, nos quita lo manco, lo cojo, lo tuerto, lo bisoño. Le debemos a él ser lectores, por lo tanto le debemos a él la vida.

Según él, los amores verdaderamente desdichados, los amores terribles son los de los niños porque no tienen ninguna esperanza. “En cualquier otra época de tu vida puedes tener alguna mínima posibilidad de reunirte con la persona que amas, pero cuando eres niño tu historia de amor no tiene porvenir.”

Finally, he is a writer whose history has been influenced by some of the greats of 20th century Mexican Writing. Moreover, his family had been part of the great events of the 20th century, his father escaping execution only through the intervention of President Obregon.

Some of these family friendships were liberal like Juan de la Cabada and Hector Perez Martinez and most of all Jose Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsivais remembers that Jose Emilio used to invite him to eat at his house and they would both listen seriously and quietly to Vasconcelos, an absolutely fascinating personality. Together they would also go to visit Martin Luis Guzman who both of them admired, and don Julio Torri who would tell them in a low voice the secret history of Mexican pornography.

Algunas de esas amistades familiares eran libertarias, como Juan de la Cabada y Héctor Pérez Martínez, y sobre todo José Vasconcelos. Carlos Monsiváis recordó que José Emilio lo invitaba a comer a su casa y ambos escuchaban muy serios y callados a Vasconcelos, personalidad absolutamente fascinante. Juntos iban a visitar también a Martín Luis Guzmán, que es una de las admiraciones de los dos, y don Julio Torri les hablaba en voz baja de la historia secreta de la pornografía mexicana.