Técnicas de iluminación
Páginas de Espuma, 2013, pg 163
Spanish author Eloy Tizón’s Técnicas de iluminación (Illumination Techniques) is the most aptly name collection of short stories I have read for some time, one that not only describes what he is trying to do as a writer, but also what the stories themselves are trying to do. In each case he is, quite simply, attempting to illuminate modern existence, sometimes with his narratives, but always with his language. I have not read anyone for some time who is as adept at aphorisms and the ability to capture in quick images, often in just a short sentence, not only what it means to live, but what it looks like. While Parpadeos had this element, Técnicas seems to have moved him even farther towards a poetics of experience. The stories, as I think all good writers should strive to do, are varied in style, ranging from the the dense atmospheric first story, Fotosíntesis with its nod to Robert Walser, to the desperate monolog of a lost assistant in El cielo en casa.
Fotosíntesis (Photosynthesis) shows Tizón as his most perceptive in a story that is part dialog part exploration of existence. An overwrought description? Not when describing this story, which from the opening dazzles with its fresh ways of describing what is common place. It leaves one with the first glimpse into what Tizón has suggested he is doing in the title. At the same time, the story does not fall into easy philosophizing, instead challenges the reader as the narrator takes his figurative journey into the questions of life, but always keeping too much seriousness at bay:
La ley de la gravedad no tiene por qué llevar siempre razón.
The law of gravity does not always have to make sense.
In this story, the first of the collection you can see a line from Parpadeos, but one that is even more curt, eschewing all but the barest descriptions. Yet that serves the story well as its brevity conceals an enormity of ideas, or worlds that extend out from it. It is the mark of Tizón’s immense skill that his writing keeps you excited to see how he can reveal what could so easily become pedantic in lesser hands:
Todos somos viudos de nuestra propia sombra. Sin embargo, en el instante de morir, con nuestro último aliento, todos comprenderemos que sin sospecharlo nuestros pies han bordado un tapiz.
We are all widowers of our own shadow. Nevertheless, at the moment of death, with our last breath, we all understand that without suspecting it our feet have embroidered a tapestry.
From the meditative journey into existence of Fotosíntesis Tizón moves, as if in progression, towards the more common place, both in theme and structure, but always keeping to the exploration of techniques that illuminate our lives. In Merecía ser domingo (It Deserved to be Sunday), we have one of his narrators who is lost and finds in every day incidents something behind them that suggests a larger world.
En el silencio de la casa, en el silencio del mundo. Me han dejado a propósito aquí solo, se han ido todos. De excursión, creo. A a montaña, tal vez. O no, a la playa. Es domingo o merece ser domingo. La luz es de domingo y el azul del cielo es de domingo y el periódico está abierto en la página dominical, así que tanta insistencia empieza a ser sospechosa.
In the silence of home, in the silence of the world. They have left me here by myself on purpose, they’ve all left. On an excursion, I think. To the mountains, perhaps. Or no, to the beach. Its Sunday or deserves to be Sunday. The light is a Sunday one and the blue sky is a Sunday one and the newspaper is open on the Sunday section, so there is so much insistence that you become suspicious.
The disappearance, like everything in this story, is about absences, not the explanation of them. There are hints of why things are absent, but what really is at stake is what the narrator observes while everyone is absent. Later in the third section of this triptych as the narration moves from apartment, to street, to the forest searching for something that goes beyond Sunday in the city, but is more removed, more primal, where a concert is nothing more than the sound of a heart beat, we have this observation of futility:
Atrás quedó la ciudad con su nebulosa de oficinas en las que un funcionario se entrena durante viente años para encestar una bola de papel o una telefonista se acaricia la entrepierna.
Behind remained the city with its nebula of offices in which the employees train for twenty years to throw into a basket a ball of paper or a receptionist cresses the inner thigh.
This kind of futility is written in precise detail and finds the narrators always trying to escape them, but rarely do they have much luck. Not that these stories are particularly plot driven. What is more important is to see the layers of habit and custom that overlay all encounters.
The book, too, is playful. There is a reimagining of the story of the Wizard of Oz and moving it away from a dream to a reality contained within the farm. In El cielo en casa we have a desperate narrator who is the assistant for a star of the fashion world. Like so many of these stories the powerful and the weak employees it ends baddy, and though it is probably the weakest story in the collection (but only in comparison), it also seems Tizón’s greatest stretch in this collection, one where he moves more towards the relationships between people to illuminate what life is. The power in this story comes in the last sentence as the narrator describes in the second person, addressing to her employee, the wonder and the slow decline into hell of their relationship. Yet at the end of the story she switches to the less formal form of address. Is this a take down? A realization that the narrator isn’t someone to be mistreated and thrown away?
Llevar un lago en tu propio apellido, en tu propio pelo, qué envidia, si es que hay gente que nace ya presdentinada para ser algo grande en la vida, en esta vida, es ley de vida, por eso te lo cuento.
To carry a lake in your own last name, en your own hair, what envy, if it is that there are people who are born and are already predestined to be something great in life, in this life, it is the law of life, and because of this I’m telling you this.
Finally, there is perhaps my favorite of this collection, or at least the one that sticks with me, which is perhaps the same thing, Cuidad Dormitorio. Again, we have a story that describes a mechanical world where one places them self at its service, ridding buses and subways long distances just to come to meaningless work. Tizón along with his excellent portrayal of a hardworking woman’s daily routine, injects a boss who asks her to get rid of a mysterious box which he says has caused him many problems. She is not to look in it and if she does she’ll have a great future with the company. The box moves from time to time, but other than that she has no idea what is in it. Does she take care of the box and enter a world of success? The dilemma is not as clear and this small touch of the fantastic amongst a world he has already described as mildly dystopian, creates yet another way of illuminating the world.
Eloy Tizón is certainly a master of the short story and Técnicas de iluminación certainly shows him at the top of his skill.