His voice—intense, measured, meticulous in its details, analytical and strongly contemporary—takes the reader back some sixty years earlier, when, as a thirteen-year-old orphan, the narrator set sail as a cabin boy on one of the first-ever expeditions in search of a passage to India through the New World. Upon its arrival in the Americas and caressing its coastline, the expedition insinuates itself inland by slowly sailing up one of its muddy rivers. During a survey on the seemingly uninhabited mainland, the crew is suddenly attacked by a group of natives who, in a matter of seconds, kill everyone except the protagonist. Taken to their village, he witnesses a cannibalistic banquet in which the locals feed on his crewmates.
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The author of 12 novels and four books of short stories, he also published two volumes of essays and two books of poetry. He was the son of Syrian immigrants to Argentina, born in a small village in the northern province of Santa Fe in , but lived in Paris from Although he spent the major part of his adult life outside Argentina, the fictional world he invented, populated by characters who reappear from book to book, draws closely on the area of northern Argentina known as El Litoral.
As a young man growing up in the provinces, he was a voracious reader of everything he could lay his hands on: he was translating Keats at the age of Local writers such as the poets Juan L.
Saer was absolutely clear and uncompromising in his rejection of the cult of magical realism, exoticism and so on, which had become a type of brand identity for novels purporting to be Latin American.
He called it "the ghetto of Latin-American-ness", and saw in it the continuation of a colonial mentality, coming not just from European readers but from Latin American nationalism. He also warned of the danger of trying to turn literature into an immediate instrument of social change. That did not mean that his books avoided politics. On the contrary, Nobody, Nothing, Never is, among other things, an uncompromising literary response to the state terrorism that ravaged Argentina in the s.
As early as the s, Borges had pointed up the logic of nationalism in literature: why should Argentinean writers have to write about gauchos and not about the universe? Borges's answer was to become an inheritor of the whole of Western literature. Saer's approach was different. There was nothing, already written, that fiction could take as its starting point:. At the beginning, the writer of fiction can only have a negative theory.
What has already been formulated is of no use at. The need to begin again repeatedly becomes a circular motion that characterises much of his prose.
Nothing is taken for granted. The stuff of experience is in the end the strangest of all things in the universe - is, in fact, the universe, insofar as its materiality is what becomes consciousness. A swimmer floating in a river in northern Argentina - the scene is from Nobody, Nothing, Never - finds what he thought was the world decomposing into a dense, seething mass of minute movements.
This, which is prior to politics or history, to myths or grand theories, is a challenge to rethink what, precisely, we inhabit: a call to think of ourselves as inside something other than history.
In fact, an insistent call not to let history have the last word. The Witness draws on historical documents in order to tell the story of a cabin boy who came on a Spanish ship to what was not yet Argentina and saw an Indian tribe that was to be destroyed by the Conquest.
That genocide becomes a reading of others of our own epoch. Yet this novel goes further, to probe "those other memories which only the body remembers" and that take the form "not of images but of knots scattered through the body".
These deposits of lived time in the body lead not to a Proustian recuperation of the past but to a type of "ecstatic materialism", to use Saer's own phrase, which makes literature the vehicle of an inner human time, as against time of states, bureaucracies and news media. Saer once took part in a French television debate along with the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
Bourdieu said that literature needed to adjust to the world of modern media. Saer completely rejected that view: the role of literature was to offer an alternative way of experiencing the world. What was different about Saer as a novelist was that poetry was at the core of his work.
He rejected the idea that the novel, simply because it is written in prose, is "condemned to the cross of realism". This had made the novel "the most backward of all the arts nowadays". His own extraordinary prose was nourished by a commitment to breaking down the barriers between prose and poetry. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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Thanks to a scholarship, he moved to Paris in where he taught at the University of Rennes. He had recently retired from his position as a lecturer at the University of Rennes, and had almost finished his final novel, La Grande , which has since been published posthumously, along with a series of critical articles on Latin American and European writers, Trabajos In the year , a first installment of his previously unpublished working notebooks were edited and published as "Papeles de trabajo" by Seix Barral in Argentina. A second volume soon followed, which was the result of five years of editing work by a team coordinated by Julio Premat, who wrote the introduction of the first volume. These notebooks allow readers a privileged insight into the creative processes of Saer. Saer's novels frequently thematize the situation of the self-exiled writer through the figures of two twin brothers, one of whom remained in Argentina during the dictatorship, while the other, like Saer himself, moved to Paris; several of his novels trace their separate and intertwining fates, along with those of a host of other characters who alternate between foreground and background from work to work. Proust , in La mayor and Joyce , in "Sombras sobre vidrio esmerilado".
The author of 12 novels and four books of short stories, he also published two volumes of essays and two books of poetry. He was the son of Syrian immigrants to Argentina, born in a small village in the northern province of Santa Fe in , but lived in Paris from Although he spent the major part of his adult life outside Argentina, the fictional world he invented, populated by characters who reappear from book to book, draws closely on the area of northern Argentina known as El Litoral. As a young man growing up in the provinces, he was a voracious reader of everything he could lay his hands on: he was translating Keats at the age of Local writers such as the poets Juan L. Saer was absolutely clear and uncompromising in his rejection of the cult of magical realism, exoticism and so on, which had become a type of brand identity for novels purporting to be Latin American. He called it "the ghetto of Latin-American-ness", and saw in it the continuation of a colonial mentality, coming not just from European readers but from Latin American nationalism.
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Juan José Saer