Tag Archives: Rear View Mirror


When they hand the house over to the wreckers they will open the doors and the windows. The light will come in as it did before. And they will find the house despoiled of doors and panels and door jambs and baseboards and parquets, a husk which will fall at the first blows of the pick into ruins in the garden overrun with weeds. But I would prefer it to end in a fire set by those children, a gigantic animita lit to her memory. . . . Joso Donoso’s college thesis concerned “the elegance of mind” of Jane Austen — seemingly strange for a man who constructed novels as houses of horrors, peopled with grotesque witches, prostitutes, and magicians.  But there may be no better analogue for this master of the darkly surreal.  His novels turn on perspective and desire, just as much as Austen.  Donoso was certainly a modernist architect of the macabre, but this obscures his facility with the brighter side of the sublime: in a Donoso book, emotion, time, and identity shift in ways that narratives struggles to contain, but are fundamental to the possibilities of being human.  There is a certain humor, too, in Donoso that is hard to resist. Today, just as back then, Donoso’s work is eclipsed by the equally expansive, but gentler, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the more overtly political Carlos Fuentes.  Indeed, if he is lumped anwhere, it is with the edgier and, even less read, Spanish language writers Adolfo Bioy Casares, Alejo Carpentier, and Julio Cortazar. Perhaps now is the time for his dark star to rise. HOW’s is pleased to present the writer David Auerbach, the fiercely intelligent mind behind Waggish — as this installment of Rear View Mirror takes a closer look at two of Donoso’s more important novels.  .  .  . —Andrew Zornoza Peta Ponce’s incessant tempest: Jose Donoso. By David Auerbach           A symbol means nothing to me. What I want is that these symbols be dynamic, vague, ambiguous, opaque. –Jose Donoso The works of the Chilean writer Jose Donoso (1924-96) evoke an excruciating balance between the realm of nightmares, the harsh social landscape of Latin America, and most of all, the experience of raw suffering. Though considered part of the Latin American “Boom” of the 1960s, Donoso remained on the periphery of the movement, little known until he produced his masterpiece The Obscene Bird of Night in 1970. Donoso’s work does share some superficial surrealist, political, and indigenous touches with the famous writers of that era (Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortazar being the big four), but his achievement is considerably different from theirs, and, arguably, greater.  It is rare for prose so surreal, so confusing, so experimental, to seem so wholly lived, utterly thought through in all its multiplicative chaos. Donoso, who struggled with chronic illness and pained familial and sexual relations, must have experienced so much of the emotions and experience that come through in Obscene Bird. That much is easy to say, but the question of his narrative methods is a much more difficult one. How were they so effective? Samuel Beckett and Robert Musil managed such things, by very different means, and I think that for any work of sufficient greatness,  a writer must inevitably invent his or her personal means of negotiating between emotion and language, never to be reused. For Donoso, this negotiation begins in his dark, visceral prose, but it ends, perhaps, in his unique use of structure.  Throughout his body of work, Donoso cannily creates two or…

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