BOOKS / The Independent Foreign Fiction Award: Insolent, brutish defiance
Saturday 26 June 1993
'He do the police in different voices', was one of Eliot's favourite lines in Dickens. Juan Goytisolo does the thought police, the sexual and other politics, the cityscapes of Paris and North Africa, the self-parodying proclamations of a consumer world in which even suicide, for instance, might be
'delightful'. In the extract below, a respectable crowd recedes, scandalised, before a disreputable-looking Arab presence evoked only through the effect he creates. This is above all a book of voices, words: it has long, excited lists of sights, sounds, speeches, conversations, almost without connecting syntax, perceptions that build into stories and then disperse again into images. There is lots of energy in the language; more energy than wit, perhaps,
although the satirical tone is important. There is a flavour of yesterday's avant-garde about it; but in the absence of any avant-garde at all for today. . .
in the beginning was the cry: alarm, anguish, terror, chemically pure pain?: prolonged, sustained, piercing, to the limits of the tolerable: phantom, specter, monster from the nether world: a disturbing intrusion at any event: disruption of the urban rhythm, of the harmonious chorus of sounds and voices of supernumeraries and beautifully dressed actors and actresses: an oneiric apparition: an insolent, brutish defiance: a strange, transgressive presence: a radical negation of the existing order: index finger pointed accusingly at the happy, self-confident Eurocraticonsuming city: with no need to raise his eyes, strain his voice, extend his beggar's hand with a black gesture of Luciferian pride: absorbed in the obverse side of the spectacle he is creating: indifferent to the horror he inspires as he passes by: a virus contaminating the collective body of the city in the wake of his delirious journey through it: dusky, bare feet, insensitive to the rigors of the season: ragged, threadbare pants with improvised skylights at the knees: a scarecrow's overcoat with the collar raised to conceal a double absence: walking, lost in self- contemplation, down the sidewalk of the boulevard teeming with humanity: past the tobacco store, the haberdasher's shop, the rue du Sentier intersection, the terrace of the cafe-restaurant, the slot-machine parlor: the usual line outside the Cine Rex, the entrance to the Bonne-Nouvelle metro station, the newspaper stand, the street stall of the candy and ice cream vendor: past the eternally flag-bedecked building of the very official spokesman of the working class: unhurriedly making his way through the crowd with no need to elbow anyone aside: by virtue of the sheer and simple power of his corrosive presence: did you see that, mama?: for heaven's sake, don't stare like that]: I can't believe it]: can't you see you're embarrassing that man, darling?: don't stand there gaping like an idiot, I tell you: what's he got on his face? shut up, not another word out of you]: it's incredible how they let them run around loose]: he's stumbling along like he was dead drunk]: he looks like some kind of a nut]: don't talk so loud, he might hear you]: watch out, don't brush up against him]: all of them ought to be sent back to where they came from]: that's for sure, but it'd be us taxpayers who paid for their tickets]: the Nazis had the right idea]: I'm sure he's got syphilis]: suddenly confronted with the Christmas bear that is an advertising gimmick for the enormously popular Walt Disney films being shown: the object of the affectionate attention of the flock of kids that all the ballyhoo has drawn to the place: going down the zigzagging line of papas and mamas with their smiling offsrping in their arms: an enlarged replica of those jolly plush teddy bears that sit on children's beds in cozy bourgeois dwellings: a flat-footed, carnivorous mammal, with a massive, clumsy body, a thick pelt, huge strong paws, stout curving claws
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