About Abel Posse: Born in Córdoba, Argentina in 1934, Abel Posse is the author of over 10 novels. His body of work also includes essay collections, short stories, poems, journalism, and more. From 1966 to 2004, he served in the Argentine Foreign Service as a diplomat, stationed in numerous cities abroad, including Moscow, Paris, Tel-Aviv, Venice, and others. Since his retirement, Posse has been a vocal political critic, particularly of the Kirchner administration. Near the end of 2009, he was appointed Minister of Education of the City of Buenos Aires but resigned after 11 days due to widespread backlash in response to an essay published in La Nación, which criticized Kirchner policies in particular. Despite this, he has received many awards for his work and continues to live and write in Buenos Aires.
I interviewed Abel Posse here.
“As a descendant of Isaiah, the admiral [Christopher Columbus] knew that he was the bearer of an awesome responsibility: to return to the place where that trap of consciousness, that net woven with two threads of Space and Time, no longer ruled.”
Dogs in estrus, dogs of dogma, dogs of barbarian mange, schools of dogfish, dogs on the dinner table of the Aztecs, the mute dogs of paradise itself.
À la Rikki Ducornet’s Tetralogy of Elements (and his linguistic style, translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden, is reminiscent of hers too), Argentinian writer Abel Posse separates his novel into four parts: first the European air pregnant with destabilization, then the inquisitorial fire of a rising king and queen, then the water, water everywhere of Columbus’ voyages, and finally the earth that Columbus mistakes in his prophet-delusional mind as the one true Eden. The historical meeting of these two worlds is a convergence of misplaced faith and bias confirmation. Columbus and some of his cronies are convinced that the Aztecs are angels: “…the only place one finds naked angels is in the deepest heart of the heavens. […] The admiral was jubilant. The nakedness was irrefutable proof.” While the Aztecs are convinced that Columbus and his people are “gods from the sea.”
Earlier, the Aztecs predict those gods will arrive soon, and they’re certain the gods “are driven by infinite kindness; they will take the bread from their own mouths to satisfy our children’s hunger. […] They are incapable of bringing death: they detest war. […] They worship a book written by sages and poets. The god they adore is a small man who was beaten and tortured before he was put to death by soldiers. They identify with the weak. They love the weak!” Meanwhile, the gods are packing their tools, including the inquisitorial “pulleys, Neapolitan boots with compartment for boiling oil, two cheap sets of ritual cap and robe for victims of the stake, Solingen nail pullers, molar crackers, testicle roasters, several pairs of Chinese rats for breeding stock. Also pickaxes for the ecclesiastical patrols that will have to demolish intihuatanas and other heathen idols.”
After being certain of this Eden, Columbus later finds the Tree of Life, staying among its branches in a hammock, nude as creation and with the commandment that everyone else, including the men of the cloth, must go nude too, because clothes are an indication of the fall. Not everyone is comfortable with this, of course, and further agitation brews when Columbus instructs everyone to do nothing, that this place is devoid of death and now is the timeless time for eternal being rather than doing. It’s in this way that Columbus is portrayed as guilty of omission (rather than the sin-commissioner of genocide), literally sitting back in his careless indolence as the others disobey his order of no order and create their own order, which involves rape, theft, enslavement, and all the other constituents of merciless pillaging. (Whether Columbus was a genocidal maniac or not, it’s clear that, as he’s told, “Your accomplishment will not be originality, but publicity. More than that…they have sailed near here several times in their strange boats.”)
Instead of the sinuous sentences of maximalism, Posse opts for prose that’s sometimes composed of sentence fragments, including the occasional one- and two-word sentences, almost in a cut-up-like fashion, such as this description of a ship’s sails: “Enormous, benevolent udders swelled against the dawn. Feminine power, the ying, of sail. Inhaled breath, pregnancy, invisible wind transformed into power and direction. Angel trapped in a white pillowcase. Benign god indulging the naïve cleverness of humankind.” As you can see, the style is lush and evocative, and not without well-placed anachronisms. After about a quarter of the way in, the prose descends a notch or two, yet the work remains astute and accomplished.
To give a taste of the anachronisms, when the culinary curiosities of the Aztec are being described, there’s eventually this: “In a row, pierced from butt to snout, chasing each other down the shaft of the white-hot spit, a dozen hairless dogs, done to a crisp; they look like boys from the provinces who had risked an evening with the Marquis de Sade.” Or when Columbus meets for the first time with the queen and lies on the ground, unable to ejaculate in the regular way but rather his sperm courses through his body, then Posse the narrator comments: “Today, in the light of psychoanalytical knowledge, it would not be difficult to explain the incident: the plebeian Colón suffered a genital block in the presence of royalty. His was an inhibition based in class inferiority.” On the same page, even Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier’s fiction is briefly scrutinized as a juxtaposition. But these postmodern enhancements, if you will, are not overly frequent, and become rarer after the stage has been set, as it were, and Columbus sets sail.
While there’s magic in the realism, it’s not in heavy supply, at least in this reader’s eyes, yet there are indeed intriguing moments that add static to the quotidian, such as Columbus’ webbed feet, suggesting that he was an amphibio-human meant for the seas; the ships from other times that he witnesses in the distance, such as the Mayflower; a “menstral wind” that flows over his ships and afflicts everyone with an orgy-inducing lust, etc.
Out of Posse’s entire oeuvre, which consists of 15 novels, only two have been translated into English. Furthermore, Los perros del paraíso (originally written in 1983, translated in 1989) is part of a thematic trilogy exploring the history of early America. The first installment is Daimón (originally written in 1978, translated in 1992), and it tells the tale of the infamous conquistador Lope de Aguirre who went down the Amazon in search of El Dorado. Yet the third part of the trilogy, El largo atardecer del caminante (1992), about the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, remains untranslated, the title roughly translating to The Long Sunset of the Wayfarer, and according to at least one blurb translated through Google, it seems to be a work that shirks anachronisms and leans more toward verisimilitude.
Overall, with The Dogs of Paradise’s time-hopping and knack for anachronisms, its rotten history wrought in mellifluous and sensuous prose, the novel is a delight to hold and behold, so I’m looking forward to reading Daimon and hope that one day the literary community wakes up to itself and starts translating more of Posse’s fiction.
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George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram (@george.salis), and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.