20 March 2013

A Time for Everything (Karl O. Knausgaard)

A Time for Everything by Karl O. Knausgaard, translated by James Anderson (Archipelago Books, 2009)


We were made into the likeness of God. Our ways and nature had been much investigated by thinkers and storytellers since the old days. Yet no one fully understood God, the divine. There were just too much assumptions and uncertainties involved in the contemplation. One of the ways the nature of the divine can be explored was through a study of an intermediate being, someone between man and God. The angels – less than God, more than men – could hold the key to an understanding of the nature of the divine. What angels are like was intermittently depicted in the Bible and in church murals. The fertile ground of literature was also used in dramatizing the acts of the angels.

A systematics of the angelic orders, based on the above premise, was what the Norwegian novelist Karl O. Knausgaard attempted in A Time for Everything (in UK: A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven). The literary imagination, along with its unlimited sympathy and generosity, was a robust stage in which to construct, from available materials, the conditions and assumptions on the angels as the direct link between the human and the divine. The manifold riches of a modern novel, unshackled by dogma, could approximate the variety of life experiences and their daily miracles. Its prose and form could hold up large vistas of physical and spiritual landscapes. The religious order of readers was constantly inducted into the novel's power to mesmerize, to quicken the senses and open up selves to radical ideas and identities.

Knausgaard did for the selected stories of the Bible – mainly from the Genesis – what José Saramago did to the gospels in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. The stories were familiar to us such that they had acquired the status of the "definitive, official version". Yet for Knausgaard, the Biblical stories must be calling for a creative adaptation.

The only things that have always been remembered are the story of the first people who were driven out of paradise and into the valley, the story of the two brothers Cain and Abel, and the story of the great flood. But all the details about these people and the world they lived in were gradually erased. And as each new age is convinced that it constitutes what is normal, that it represents the true condition of things, the people of a new age soon began to imagine the people of the previous one as an exact replica of themselves, in exactly the same setting. Thus Cain and Abel became nomadlike figures who lived and operated in a flat, burning hot, sand-filled world, of olive and fig trees, oases, camels, asses, robes, tents, and little whitewashed stone houses. Gone were all the pine trees, all the fjords and mountains, all the snow and rain, all the lynxes and bears, wolves and elk. In addition, all the infinitely delicate nuances in the relationship between the brothers were lost over time, such that only the bare details remained: Abel was good, Cain bad, Abel was a shepherd, Cain a tiller of the soil.

And so Knausgaard recreated some "lost" details in the Old Testament, retouching the obscured details like an art restorer working on a fresco that has faded from the accumulation of dirt and grime. He wanted to capture the "infinitely delicate nuances" (emphasized above) of the stories of the creation, of rival brothers Cain and Abel, of Noah and the great flood, of Christ on the cross, etc. This time the stories were not just centered on the fury of God but on the human and angelic struggles.

The selected characters acquired subtlety and realism beyond (or against) their traditional portrayals. The fount of these stories was God, the Author, but he probably will not appreciate the telling.

It is clear the whole time that the human condition is not something [God] has experienced. If he knows anything about it, it isn't from within. Only someone who lacks insight into the human condition could despair over its evilness, as the Lord does time and time again throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps he knew mankind, but he couldn't have understood them – or he wouldn't have been so surprised that they ate from the tree of knowledge, despite his emphatic prohibition, or that they could kill their own brothers, or that they built a tower almost up to heaven.

God, the narrator of the novel was implying, was not a good novelist. Being an inquiry into the angelic orders, the framework chosen to approach the divine must necessarily imbue the composition with an anthropocentric (novelistic) concreteness, tangibility, portents and omens, and subversion.

The story was framed by the figure of Antinous Bellori, an eccentric sixteenth century theologian who wrote On the Nature of Angels (1584). Bellori was a melancholic figure in the mold of Sir Thomas Browne – presumably there are two lines in Sir Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia epidemica of 1646 that referenced Bellori's book – and Robert Walser, with Bellori's specialized system of microscopic handwriting similar to Walser's "microscripts". The structure of Bellori's book was loosely that of the present novel.

On the Nature of Angels consists of three parts. The first contains a catalog of all 189 angelic manifestations in the Bible, and the second discusses what conclusions can be drawn about the angels from these. The third, which initially looks at angels' non-Biblical appearances, ends in a discussion about the question that is the work's main theme: Can the nature of the divine undergo change?

It was a plausible structure to ascertain the (changing) nature of the divine. The third part ultimately led to the exposition of Bellori's thesis on the mutability, and hence fallibility, of the divine, and it was closely tied to how the novelist fulfilled the requirements of the structure. How exactly the evidences to support Bellori's thesis was teased out by the narrator/commentator (a writer figure that conveniently distanced the novelist from the story) was a pleasure to behold. The conclusion was already provocative but the "proof" was a daring combination of logic, scientific deduction, art criticism, and literary speculation. It necessitated the evaluation of the concept of the divine through variegated narrative registers. Absolute categories were interrogated; official versions were glossed over; and the religious abstractions, viewed from a new prism of understanding.

Knausgaard's brand of prose, similar to that of his protagonist Antinous Bellori, was closely related to "his religious speculations": "While writing On the Nature of Angels, [Bellori] studied every conceivable and inconceivable text in which angels figured, and thus formalized his intuitive insight into angelic mutability". The product of this rigorous research was reflected in the book's hyperrealist prose: the descriptions were individually particularized in space and time, making every detail not only "a detail" but this detail:

Bellori contemplated everything he saw. Whether it was fish, waterfalls, trees, mountains, birds, insects, or flowers, he saw only the unique. If one reads his notes consecutively, from beginning to end, a feeling is gradually fostered of the infinity of the world. Not "trees" nor even "a tree" but this particular tree right here, now, as it is. Not "fish" nor even "a fish" but this unique fish right here, now, as it darts suddenly across the sandy bottom through the clear, sun-spangled water. Its tail's rapid movement from side to side, the stream of water through its gills, the flat shadow gliding over the bottom beneath it ...

The particularities of details were evident in the sumptuous landscapes and character sketches. Against the fleeting moment of time and the constrictions of space, those details seemed to float in the reimagined pastoral landscape of the Bible. The novel was a sobering call for curiosity and open-mindedness in an age of uprightness and morality. Skepticism could be a form of enlightenment if it did not compromise unconditional beliefs for something hardly understood. Lamech, Noah's father, contemplated a single piece of advice to give to another son of his. What he came up with was simple enough: Always ask yourself: what if it's the complete opposite?

A Time for Everything is an intelligent novel that dared to think the opposite of things and to rethink the dogmatic abstractions of the divine. With the passage of time, God had become an abstract God and the idea had become unassailable. The reverse, in fact, was always an option [emphasis added]:

It is hard to imagine, as Bellori said, that God and his divine creatures would exist without any sort of link with the human, raised completely over matter, as Thomas Aquinas and like minds maintained. As far as they were concerned, God in all his forms was absolute – absolute purity, absolute enlightenment, absolute perfection – but just what that absolute really was, or how it really developed, apart from being like light, is unknown. But because God in this way is defined as everything man is not, and never can be, it's easy to accept it and believe that things really are that way, and that this abstract God is the true God, when really it's the opposite: the abstract God is the more human, precisely because it equates with mankind's concept of what the most beautiful, the most elevated, and the most perfect is.

Despite such grand pronouncements, the book's intellectual rigor was not solemnized but rather metafictionally weighed. The fascinating story and religious speculations of Bellori, the adapted Bible stories, and the narrator's psychology at the end were all welded together by traditional suspense and vaulting improvisation. Each narrative block was a stunning set piece and, collectively, they carried Bellori's theory on the fall of the angels. What was brilliant about the whole thing was how within the novel's broad structure (borrowed from Bellori's fictional book) which the narrator was loosely mapping, the biblical stories were intricately tracing out the basic thesis through their own internal structures. The story of Noah, for instance, demonstrated a suspension of the linear narrative through successive digressions. As each digression closed its loop, the characters were revealed as chastised by the momentous events in their lives or shaken to the core by their encounters with angels – divine proxy – in any of their mystical forms. Readers might yet surface into the world with a more nuanced perception of God. And Bellori's mantra of negation might as well see us through: We know nothing. Nor is there anything to know.

15 March 2013

Botchan (Natsume Sōseki)

Botchan by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Glenn Anderson (One Peace Books, 2013)

Botchan (1906) is a comic novel whose enduring appeal continues to entertain generations of Japanese readers. It's main character is a newly graduated Tokyo-bred young man sent to teach mathematics at middle school in an out of the way locality. As a young boy, Botchan, as he was fondly called by the household help Kiyo, is destined to be the black sheep of the family. His relationship with his father and brother is civil at best. Kiyo is the only one who was patient with him and who believed he will amount to something great. But he can be a bit foolish as he runs to all kinds of trouble.

Another time a distant relative sent me a western pocketknife. I was holding the blade up to the sun to show my friend how nicely it caught the light and he said, "Sure it looks nice, but I bet it can't cut."

"Yeah right," I said. "This knife'll cut through anything, I'll show you."

"Bet it won't cut through your finger."

Well I couldn't let him get away with that so I shouted You bet I will! and sliced through the back of my thumb. Fortunately for me the knife was small, and the bone was hard, so my thumb is still stuck to the side of my hand like it should be. But the scar will be there till I die.

The novel's comedy partly derives its laughs from the utter silliness of situations. Botchan himself is a strong character, surprisingly winsome despite (or may be due to) his sarcastic view of things and constant complaints about every little thing. He finds his match, however, with his co-teachers in the school. He finds himself in the middle of petty politics and bureaucratic maneuverings of his colleagues. Even his students are party to making his life in the country a living hell. His students start to stalk him and to make fun of him by daily writing up, on the blackboard, what he ate the previous night. And when he erupts into anger, it only seems to embolden his students.

When you take a joke too far it's not funny anymore. If you burn your bread it's not good anymore, it's just charred—but that was probably too much thinking for these little rednecks. They thought they could keep pushing it. What did they know about the world, living in a Podunk town like this? Growing up on a patch of grass with no charm, no visitors, and no brains, they'd see a guy eat tempura and confuse it for a world war. Pathetic twerps. With an education like this, I could imagine the sort of warped people they'd grow into. If it was all innocent fun I'd laugh along with them. but it wasn't. They may have been kids but their pranks were pregnant with hatred.

Botchan becomes the sore subject of endless jokes in school. This inflames him more and more even as he becomes the target of intrigues among his teaching colleagues. A couple of teachers are painted as duplicitous and scheming individuals. "Not a shred of human decency to be found in the whole place!" he cries at one point. To his credit, Botchan (the name can also have derogatory meaning) holds fast to his principles of honesty and simplicity.

It's like they believe you can't succeed in society without letting yourself rot to the core. Then they see someone who's honest and pure, and they have to sneer at them and call them Botchan and naive and whatever else they can think of that helps them get to sleep at night. If that's how people are going to be about it then we should stop telling children not to lie. If that's how they're going to be we should give children classes on how to lie and get away with it and how to doubt people and how to take advantage of others and so on.... Red Shirt was laughing because he thought I was simple. Well if we live in a world that laughs at the simple and honest, then I guess I should learn to expect it—but what a world that would be!

Natsume Sōseki effectively uses comedy in this otherwise serious critique of the education system run by corrupt leadership. In effect, he seems to be also mocking the shallowness and backwardness of a society that produced, and was perpetuated by, such kind of education. There are also hints of the clash between the rural/traditional mindset of the educators in the community and Botchan's liberal views coming from the open city of Tokyo. The entertainment value of the sometimes slapstick comedy is foil to the societal conflicts in the novel.

Another significant aspect in the novel is in providing a glimpse not only to this dire "isolationist" mindset of a provincial school but also the display of nationalism of the local people. Near the end of the book, Botchan witnesses a street parade celebrating Japan's victory over Russia during the war of the previous year.

The song went on, the lazy beat drooping like spilled syrup from a tabletop. [The drummer] made abrupt pauses in the beats to help the spectators find the beat, and soon enough though I don't know how they did it, everyone was clapping along. The thirty men started to whip their glinting swords to the beat, faster and faster. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch. They were all crammed so close on the stage that if one of them missed a beat, he'd be sliced to pieces. If they'd just swung the swords up and down there'd be no real danger, but there were times [when] they turned left and right, spun in circles, dropped to their knees. I half expected noses and ears to go flying. They all had control over their swords, but were swiping and flipping them in a space of two feet—all while crouching, ducking, spinning, and twirling.

The fascinating parade scene may be offering a glimpse into Japanese militarism in the early years of the twentieth century. Indeed there's a large gap between the discipline exhibited by the students in this street dance and the pettiness they are prone to in school.

In the afterword, translator Glenn Anderson admits that certain passages in the novel are omitted or altered in the interest of "readability and accessibility". The translation decisions to domesticate the novel are explained in the afterword itself. The resulting text appears to be an idiomatic novel that retains the comedy while making it sound contemporary. This is evident in the nicknames Botchan gave to his co-teachers. The novel itself has been translated five times already. (Here's a review comparing the translations of the first passage quoted above.) The present translation is highly readable, spunky, and fun, though I'm a little bit bothered by some typographical errors.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

12 March 2013

Grande Sertão: Veredas Group Read, May 2013

The devil is coming.

O diabo na rua no meio do redemoinho.*

The demon in the street, in the middle of the devil wind.

The devil in the street, in the midst of the dust devil.

Coming in May is a group reading of a Latin American masterpiece from Brazil: Grande Sertao: Veredas by João Guimarães Rosa (translated into English as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands).

The event is hosted by Richard of Caravana de recuerdos, Scott of seraillon, Miguel of St. Orberose, and me. Miguel will read the original Portuguese, Richard the Spanish translation, Scott the French translation, and I the English translation. The group read badge is designed by Scott based on a Portuguese edition of the book.

The novel recounts the violent wars raging in the hinterlands of Brazil. It is narrated by Riobaldo, a jagunço or bandit, to an unnamed interlocutor. Riobaldo candidly shares his thoughts and in the process betrays his philosophical meditations on various existential questions.

Grande Sertão: Veredas is considered by many to be the Great Brazilian Novel of the 20th century, "the Brazilian Ulysses" in Joshua Cohen's list of cultural Ulyssi. Its translation, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, is said to be a flawed and abridged translation but nonetheless is still cinematic and powerful. (Comparing a fragment from the English version with a retranslation of the same fragment, one can see that the two versions are at least "comparable".)

Everyone is invited to read along with us in any language the book is available in. Readers can post their thoughts on the book on their blog/site on the last week of May. And then we'll discuss!

Regarding the availability of the English translation, used copies command very steep prices from online sellers, so only the libraries can be the viable sources of a copy. If it's not in your nearest library, you can try interlibrary loan, if that's possible.

* The epigraph of the novel already hints at the playful quality of the language. The translation will have to consider the word play: whatever linguistic solution will reflect the way the Portuguese word for devil (diabo or demo) is sandwiched inside – right in the middle of – the word for wind (redemoinho).

The devil in the street, in the whirl of the whirlwind.

The demon in the street, in the furnace of firestorm.


04 March 2013

The Woman Who Had Two Navels (Nick Joaquín)

The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquín (1961; Bookmark, 1991)

Over damp Hong Kong the day dawned drizzling, astonishing with sunshine the first passengers huddled inside the ferries, luring them out on deck to spread cold fingers in the blond air and to smile excitedly (that night was full moon of the Chinese New Year) at the great rock city coming up across the black water, rising so fat and spongy in the splashing light the waterfront's belt of buildings looked like a cake, with alleys cutting deep into the icing and hordes of rickshaws vanishing like ants between the slices.

The postwar Hong Kong setting of Nick Joaquín's first novel was significant in at least one respect. It highlighted the exiled condition of its Filipino characters, exile of the physical and spiritual kind. The Monson family—the elder Doctor Monson and his sons Doctor Pepe Monson and Father Tony Monson—had been living in Hong Kong for the better part or the whole of their lives. The elder Monson was veteran of the turn of the century wars against Spanish and American colonial armies. It was also to Hong Kong where General Emilio Aguinaldo (first president of the Philippine Republic), whose image adorned the younger doctor's clinic, went into a short-lived voluntary exile after a political settlement with the Spanish government. It had been Monson's dream to come back to the country only when "it was a free country again", which he finally did after the second world war. What he had seen when he came back to Manila, however, had so disappointed him it dashed the idyllic images of the country he harbored in his mind.

Also fleeing to Hong Kong was Connie Escobar, the woman who thought she has two navels. Whereas the elder Monson was haunted by the specter of the past and the shame of discovering its impermanence, a different kind of shame, anatomical in nature, was haunting Connie Escobar. She ran away from Manila, presumably to flee her husband and to seek out Doctor Pepe Monson. She wanted to undergo an operation, "something surgical", that would remove one of the two orifices that supposedly peered from her belly like eyes. Her complaint may be psychological yet it clearly had something metaphorical about it. It seemed like a product of her sensitivity and a trauma from childhood, a projection of her repressed anxieties. The same physical deformity marked a "defaced" statue of the Biliken, a "toy" grudgingly given to her by her parents when she was a child. Although meant as a good luck charm, owing to its perpetually smiling face, there was something sinister associated with the Biliken in the novel—"an old fat god, with sagging udders, bald and huge-eared and squatting like a buddha; and the sly look in its eyes was repeated by the two navels that winked from its gross belly".


Connie's "imagined" condition could also be caused by emotional rebellion. She felt betrayed by her husband (Macho Escobar) and mother (Concha Vidal) when she learned that they were former lovers. She was so affected by this that it may have triggered a kind of internal division in her, a branching of consciousness that manifested itself on her body. Those around her, those she told of it, denied the possible existence of an extra navel, almost taking her for a madwoman. The symbol of the two navels, the aberration it signifies, was so rich with implications that unraveling it almost made for a mystery story, although to call the novel a horror story was not farfetched either.

Another character seemingly in search of direction was Paco Texeira, a married band vocalist living in Hong Kong. Paco, a Filipino-Portuguese, went to work for a while in Manila's entertainment clubs and became entangled with Concha Vidal (La Vidal), Connie's mother. He became her constant escort, accompanying her in various parties and functions. Paco also got involved with Connie but he had to flee the two women as he detected a kind of evil force around them.

"They're both agents of the devil—she and her mother. They work as a team: the mother catches you and plays with you until you're a bloody rag; then she feeds you over to her daughter.... They work for each other. Whenever I was with one of them I could feel the other watching greedily. They share each other's pleasure, watching you twitch. And when they've screwed you up to the breaking point the daughter springs her abominable revelation [of having two navels]—and you go mad and run amuck. And there's one more soul that's damned."

Connie's mother was also in Hong Kong, presumably on business. The two women were actually pursuing Paco. To add to the complication, Macho Escobar arrived looking for his wife. These characters were all exiles of a spiritual kind, imprisoned by their desires and baffled by their pride.

Connie's characterization, with her unstable mental condition, was already a far cry from that of Maria Clara in José Rizal's nationalist novel Noli Me Tangere (1887). The latter had always been seen as the representation of the ideal Filipina and symbol of the 'motherland'. Maria Clara turned out to be an illegitimate child of a villainous Spanish priest (Padre Damaso), a secret which when she discovered brought her unimaginable shame. The source of Connie's shame, for her part, was seeing her own self as a freak of nature.

An obvious meaning of the two navels was Connie's inheritance of a dual identity, her being a child of two worlds, of Spanish and American cultures. Her cultural environment, wracked by a recent war, created in her soul a kind of hybrid self. It may be too transparent a metaphor: the Filipino identity being frayed twice by conquistadors during bloody conflicts and colonial administrations, native culture hostage to two cultural axes. Punctuating these cultural crises were the major wars (the Philippine Revolution against Spain, the Philippine-American War, and World War II against the Japanese) which left destruction in their wakes: the savaging of lives, landscapes, and, again, identities.

This transparent reading of the Joaquín's inquiry into Filipino identity was complicated by the clash of the male and female. The dramatic battle of the sexes that figured in the novelist's other works of fiction was here played out in its full barbaric sensuality. And Joaquín being Joaquín, the writing was a celebration of existence. His sentences were acute expressions of beauty, horror, and vitality.

From the ramparts where the Spaniards had watched for Chinese pirate and English buccaneer, the younger taller city beyond the walls seemed rimmed with flame, belted with fire, cupped in a conflagration, for a wind was sweeping the avenue of flametrees below, and the massed treetops, crimson in the hot light, moved in the wind like a track of fire, the red flowers falling so thickly like coals the street itself seemed to be burning.

The prose was rich with color and details; reading it sometimes felt like watching a fashion show. The Vidal mother and daughter strutted their clothes, hats, pearls, and furs like ramp models. Even the description of postwar destruction had a surreal energy about it.

Macho had suddenly packed up one day and flown off to Manila; not really caring to see the city again or anyone there; not really moved when he saw it, flat and spiky, its bared ribs and twisted limbs a graph of pain in the air; not really astonished even by its vivacity—traffic brimming between the banks of rubble; daylong blocklong queues at the movie houses; the ruins noisy with night clubs; and, on his third night there, like a nightmare's climax, a glittering fashion show in the bullet-pocked ballroom of a gutted hotel, where Macho, turning away from the sequins and diamonds, the shattered ceiling and the bloodstained floor, had so abruptly come face to face with Concha Vidal ...[H]e had suddenly and sharply and exultantly known, with the old ache in the marrow and a blaze of flametrees in the mind, that he had never stopped wanting, he had never stopped desiring this woman.

The imagery that lighted the novel's hallways was determined by poetry. But it was a fixed form poetry, as the repetitions of details were deliberate, creating the patterning effect of an elaborate tapestry. The symmetric structure of repetition was like that of a villanelle's, with the images repeated like a refrain after several lines.

Consider a flashback scene near the novel's end, in the final chapter titled "DOCTOR MONSON". (The penultimate chapter was called "THE CHINESE MOON", the double letter O's in these titles almost concretized the presence of the two navels).

Behind him now, like smoky flames in the noon sun, the whole beautiful beloved city, the city that he guarded even now, here on this mountain pass, and for which he had come so far away to die—to the edge of the land, into the wilderness, up the cold soggy mountains of the north—and he told himself that, finally, one discovered that one had been fighting, not for a flag or a people, but for just one town, one street, one house; for the sound of a canal in the morning, the look of some roofs in the noon sun, and the fragrance of a certain evening flower.

He told himself that, finally, one found oneself willing to die, not for a great public future, but a small private past; and he picked up his pistol, having finished eating, and crawled back to the cliff's edge.

The elder Monson was here on his deathbed dreaming retrospectively of his participation as a young fighter in the decisive battle in the mountain of Tirad Pass, the last stand of Filipino fighters against Americans. It was an inspired juxtaposition of his imagined death years ago in the battlefield with that of his actual dying in old age. The same images were repeated later in the novel, a kind of closure for the old man as he finally defined his once conflicted nationalism.

Opening his eyes he saw, not the stars or pine branches, but the canopy of a bed and the faces of his two sons hovering over him; seeing suddenly in their faces all the years of foreign wandering, the years of exile, but knowing suddenly now that the exile had, after all, been more than a vain gesture, that his task had not ended with that other death in the pinewoods, that he had stood on guard, all these years, as on the mountain pass, while something precious was carried to safety. For there it was now in the faces of his sons—the mountain pass, and the pinewoods, and the shapes of the men who had died there. There it was now in their faces—the Revolution and the Republic, and that small private past for which he had come so far away to die. It had not been lost ... [T]here was no need to cross the sea to find it. Here it was before him (and he strove to rise to salute it) in the faces of his sons. He had saved it and it was now in the present, and the hovering faces brightened and blurred about him, became the sound of a canal in the morning, the look of some roofs in the noon sun, and the fragrance of a certain evening flower. Here he was, home at last ... and before him, like smoky flames in the sunset, the whole beautiful beloved city.

Nationalism was here depicted as a homage to one's "small private past" and testified by Monson's two sons who will carry on after his death, even if they remain as exiles in Hong Kong. (Contrast the same battle of Tirad Pass in the closing scene of F. Sionil José's nationalist novel Dusk wherein nationalism was proffered as an inborn "duty".) This scene was a form of making peace with the past, the kind of closure that eluded Connie Escobar. In one of her imagined death scenes, she was arguing with her father, Manolo Vidal, about acceptance and letting go of the past. Her father's advice hinted at looking back at their lives with a critical eye, repairing the generational break, the severed connections:

"If you must go down, go down raging. Do not lose that ability, like I did. Take things hard, make a fuss, and refuse to accept what we are—no not even now. Rage, rage against us—even now!"

The reference here was to the poem by Dylan Thomas, with "Do not lose that ability" paralleling "Do not go gentle into that good night". The poem was in fact a villanelle constantly echoing the famous passage about raging against darkness and stagnant death.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.


And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The poem's subject was the poet's dying father. Joaquín's paraphrase was relevant as the poem's theme contextualized his discourse on memory and nationalism. In addition to the borrowing of novelistic structure of repetition, it anticipated the death scene of old doctor Monson and illuminated the meaning of Connie's (four) death scenes. Four times, the poet urged his father about why he must rage against the dying light, must not go gently with the good night. In the particular hallucinatory scene in the novel, the roles were reversed. Connie was with her father on an airplane ("there on the sad height", as in the poem; atop Mount Tirad as in the case of old Monson). Manolo was appealing to her to finally face the specter haunting her and embrace her destiny, her identity, whatever she may have thought of it. Present reality check as key to affirming life, to attaining rebirth and regeneration.

In The Woman Who Had Two Navels, as with his only other novel (Cave and Shadows) which appeared more than 20 years later, Joaquín abstracted his ideas on memory and identity and played the devil's advocate on the subject of nationalism. He was ever the sly novelist and consummate prose writer.