Tuesday, December 21, 2010

stencil #031 - antónio lobo antunes

antónio lobo antunes in lygon st, brunswick east
"For reasons I won't go into right now, the last few difficult weeks have forced me to think about the past and the present and to forget about the future...Especially the past because the future is getting narrower and narrower and I say especially the past because the present has become the past too, memories that I thought were lost and that return without my realising they were lost..." António Lobo Antunes, 'Before Darkness Falls', (2009, tr. M. J. Costa The Fat Man and Infinity)
Assailed of late by flashbacks from episodes in my past (which I won't go into right now), I’ve had to make room in my internal monologue for competing voices that I’ve found hard to turn off or down.

Unlike Proust’s magical madeleine inspired memories, my own flashbacks have been more like the fraught, telekinetic visions of Amy Irving’s character Gillian in Brian De Palma’s film The Fury.

Still from the staircase sequence in Brian De Palma's The Fury, 1978

In a brilliantly conceived and breathtaking sequence, De Palma has Gillian flash back on the staircase to Andrew Steven’s character Robin being chased up the stairs and falling out a window. De Palma’s dizzying, 360-degree camera pan of the flashback, orbiting Gillian on every side, helps convey the disorienting temporal dislocation that has Irving’s character in the middle of a past event in the present moment. It also heightens the sense of psychological torment that threatens to unhinge the troubled Gillian.

I experienced a similarly unnerving flashback recently (inconveniently, while driving – not the safest time to suffer a temporal rupture) that generated a medley of voices crowding in on my stream of consciousness. It was disquieting to be engulfed by a vision from the past and hearing all those long gone voices.
“We are never where we are, don’t believe it, not even now, as we ride in this small elevator…At this moment you, my friend, are probably nude on the beach last August…; at this moment I might be in Angola as I was eight years ago…” António Lobo Antunes, Os Cus de Judas (1979, tr. E. Lowe, South of Nowhere).
"I want my grandmother alive...I want everything that I allowed to slip away and that I need...I want to have time to get up the courage to tell my parents that I love them very much (I don't know if I can) to tell my parents that I love them very much before darkness falls, ladies and gentlemen, before the final darkness falls." António Lobo Antunes, 'Before Darkness Falls', (2009 tr. M. J. Costa, The Fat Man and Infinity)
Unsure quite what to make of my own flashbacks, I turned to the work of António Lobo Antunes whose treatment of multiple narrative and temporal strands has, in his most recent work, sought to deal with autobiographical elements. His ability to render in writing the melee inside our heads, giving it a structure and shape, is impressive.

Eu hei-de amar uma pedra (2005, I Shall Love a Stone), his seventeenth and most recent novel (said also to be his most autobiographic work) is like much of his writing, an exploration of past events and experience. The protagonist's present feelings are mixed up with recollections from his past: the neighbourhood of his childhood; the difficult relationship he had with his indifferent parents; his love for his first wife and two daughters. His memories are triggered by old photographs and fragments of remembered conversations but also by the parallel events of the lives narrated by the people around him. 

But it is the love story, based on a patient in the hospital where the author had worked as a psychiatrist, that is the central story of the novel and that adds a further narrative strand evoking memories of the protagonist's own relationships. Lobo Antunes has described the novel as a love story, explaining in an interview how the story he heard from the patient inspired his novel:
“In hospital, I examined a poor, peasant woman aged about eighty. At 16, she had fallen in love with a boy from the village. He would stand outside her window all the time. At 17 the girl fell ill and was hospitalised in Coimbra where she received letters from him. However, she did not respond for fear of infecting him. Receiving no answer, the boy abandoned her. He ended up marrying and having children. Ten years later they met again in Lisbon. They began to meet every Wednesday night in a hostel between three and six in the evening – this took place for 53 years! The man died at the hostel in the company of his lover. To avoid scandal, the family of the man arranged for the body to be removed. His lover did not attend the funeral or the memorial service. She became depressed and was hospitalised where I examined her and whose story gave me the idea for a novel.”
The multiple points of view in the novel, in which past and present merge in a constant stream of thought, makes for a complex prose style. (Doubly so in my case: the novel has yet to be translated into English and I had to read the Spanish language version). Maintaining a grasp on the frequent shifts in time, place and voices was difficult but rewarding.

Like De Palma’s dizzying but gripping 360-degree pan that surrounds Gillian in The Fury, if you persist with it, Lobo Antunes’s lyrical story eventually wraps itself around you taking possession.  The apparent chaos of the novel, with its seemingly disparate and disconnected parts and chapters, is in the end revealed to be consistently structured by the vast collection of memory fragments that are reiterated page by page, chapter by chapter.

Virgina Woolf, who also uses the stream of consciousness to great effect in her writing, especially in Mrs Dalloway, remarked that when perfected, the technique should “make us feel ourselves seated at the centre of another mind”. I think Lobo Antunes achieves this in his work and for me of late, it’s been far more satisfying seated inside the interior monologue of his world than my own.

Highly recommended work by António Lobo Antunes (available in English translation):
The Fat Man and Infinity, a collection of chronicles (personal essays and reminiscences), is a good place to start and to approach his prose style.
Os Cus de Judas (1979, tr. E. Lowe, South of Nowhere). But it’s probably worth waiting for the new translation by Margaret Jull Costa to be called The Land at the End of the World due out in May 2011.
(Read also Isabel Moutinhou’s valuable study of the novel.)
Conhecimento do Inferno (1980, tr. C. E. Landers, Knowledge of Hell)
Que Farei Quando Tudo Arde? (2001, tr. G. Rabassa, What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?)
I’m glad I persevered with the Spanish language translation of Eu hei-de amar uma pedra but I hope it gets translated into English one day. The original Portuguese version is available online.
Highly recommended sequence from The Fury (partially revealed in the film trailer):
De Palma’s 360-degree camera pan could be used to great effect to dramatise the past in the present in a would be film version of Lobo Antunes’s poetic stream of consciousness novel. 
Until such time, watch Alain Resnais’s attempts to represent stream of consciousness in two of his films: Hiroshima mon amour, which makes use of brief flashbacks intercutting the scenes to suggest a brief flash of memory and Muriel, which explores the challenge of integrating a remembered or imagined past with the life of the present.

(kindertrauma’s review of Brian De Palma’s The Fury may be of interest, too.)

1 comment:

fragmentos said...


Thank you.