Edgar Bayley - We follow Doctor Pi through a familiar and impossible world, whose logic—equal parts comedy, poetry, and absurdity—is a puzzle only Doctor Pi can solve





Edgar Bayley, The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi: And Other Stories, Trans. by Emily Toder, Clockroot Books, 2011.
introduction excerptexcerpt in Route 9


Doctor Pi—a sleuth without a crime. A flâneur on official business. Organizer of unknowable expeditions, lover of brunettes. Doctor Pi, with his frock coat, top hat, and uncommon blend of elation and discretion, is difficult to describe and impossible not to pursue. We follow him through a familiar and impossible world, whose logic—equal parts comedy, poetry, and absurdity—is a puzzle only Doctor Pi can solve. The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi and Other Stories marks the first translation of Edgar Bayley’s work into English, an accomplishment long overdue. Bayley’s stories suspend your disbelief and offer in exchange an inimitable creation: its dimensions human, its intrigue transcendent.

There is an Argentine poetry before Bayley, and another after him. —Alberto Vanasco
There is something eternally young, spring-like about him; always attentive to the basis, to the sputterings and stammerings of language in its incipient state, to the pure accidents of the psyche in formation. —Jorge Arias

Bayley’s poetry invents, in a way, its own reality, in place of sustaining itself in other affective or intellectual spaces. It is an eminently verbal poetry, but where the verb is rich in internal combustion, and which constantly refers to the interminable richness of love, and of the world. … Bayley’s poetry diverges from the surrealist atmosphere and lands on a rigor and expressive concision rarely found in his contemporaries. —Luis Gregorich


It’s no accident, nor is it usual in our artistic life, for someone to have not only served as the leader of a school but also the theoretical springboard for a poetic movement that, in the case of invencionismo, accentuated in nearly unimaginable terms, the rigor and landslide of everything accessory, of everything that is not essential for its strict sense of lyricism. And this is very important because already it reflects the two characteristics of Edgar Bayley that seem most noteworthy to me: his very deep capacity to reason, and at the same time, his human capacity to impose a human limit on his rigorous intelligence. —Rodolfo Alonso


The late Argentinean avant-gardist Bayley brings a poetic precision to the short-shorts of his first English translation. Most stories feature the urbane title character, a professor, would-be ladies' man, and sometime foil, whose philosophy is best summed up in the 110-word story, "The Charmer," which opens with "I say nothing, I think nothing..." and closes with "There is nothing but moments, a few small moments." An intellectual everyman brimming with curiosity, the doctor is frequently given to pearls of wisdom, as in "The Return": "There is no innocence where there is not love." Stories find him under waterfalls, boarding trains with highly watchable passengers, or descending mountains on his way to a date. Observations are often delightfully oblique, and the best escapades arrive unsaddled by a tidy message or punch-line surprise. Only a few stories run longer than a page; Bayley's fictions are tantalizing vignettes, amusing and often absurd, and readers will likely feel a pleasant nostalgia for the elegant humor of a bygone age. - Publishers Weekly


The Life and Memoirs of Dr. Pi and Other Stories is a fantastic translation and a rollicking good read… Bayley is a master of word economy and concision, and it is breathtaking to watch him establish scene and advance plot in so little space. … Like the best cowboys from American westerns, Pi is taciturn but not smug, a confident and unhesitating man of action… Even Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s down-on-his-luck detective, whom Bayley pulls unceremoniously from some dusty noir pantry shelf and re-bakes into Pi in equal parts homage and spoof, seems hesitant and verbose by comparison. …
To follow the adventures of Dr. Pi is to imagine a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Jules Verne hero facing Raymond Chandler goons for quick bouts in an arena designed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Bayley’s wit is a gleaming razor; his masterful command of language betrays his career as poet and a playwright. Even as the stories parody various literary genres (noir, magical realism, classic mystery), they follow Max Beerbohm’s advice regarding caricature—that all elements “be melted down, as in a crucible, from the solution, be fashioned anew.” - Dustin Michael




Dr. Pi is quite something! Unlike any character I've ever comes across. As the back cover so beautifully sums up, he is "a sleuth without a crime... a flậneur on official business. Organizer of unknowable expeditions, lover of brunettes". Who wouldn't want to read about what he gets up to? (Isn't "flậneur" one of the most wonderful words?)
These often hysterically funny short fictions - occasionally teetering on the brink of becoming prose poetry and presented in a delightful, slightly odd-sized book -  are, shockingly, the first time this major Argentinian poet, playwright, essayist and director has been translated into English,
by Emily Toder. As with Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud's A Life On Paper, this makes me furious. Why has it taken so long? But enough of fury, let us move on to enjoyment with a tinge of philosophical enquiry, which is really what Dr. Pi himself is after.
The first 23 stories in the collection are the "life and memoirs" of our host, Dr. Pi. Many of them are less than one page long; here is the first one, The Charmer, in its entirety:
        

I say nothing, I think nothing, Dr. Pi repeated to himself, without moving his lips, as he crossed the street. A blue deer and a helicopter briefly drew his attention.             
He took out his umbrella and said finally in a very low voice:
"It was necessary."
A woman, plump and middle-aged, warned him:
"Careful, your shoelaces have come undone."
Pi thanked her for the warning and tied his shoes. Then he walked confidently towards the snake charmer.
She held her out arms to him and abandoned her stand at the fairgrounds.
"Only for a few moments," said the charmer.
"There is nothing but moments, a few small moments," said Pi.

Dr. Pi seems to have his fair share of rather large moments, often being requried to tackle very important missions of the world-saving kind that only he can solve, taking him down secret tunnels and up and down more than your average share of mountains. He is a sort of erudite and quirky James Bond, with a penchant for sleeping with many women, especially brunettes, which often temporarily sidetrack him from his assigned task, as in The Bundle:
"Faster. We must hurry. If not, the espletia resin will be the end of us," warned Pi.
One of the men stumbled and the suitcase fell on top of him. In this way they arrived at the first floor. A door opened and there stood a very pale woman with blackish hair wearing a sheer robe. She asked Dr. Pi to come in. He seemed to reflect for a few moments.
"Yes, that will be most appropriate. I will sleep with this woman. You bring the package down and give it to Enrique Molina, who needs it urgently."

In Dr. Pi's world, stopping to sleep with a dark-haired woman - even though the bundle is "getting larger and heavier..." and "from inside emerged a grayish-brown gelatinous substance" -  is entirely appropriate, although it does merit a brief reflection. This story ends on a more existential note (the package, you will be glad to hear, is safely delivered ) as Dr. Pi runs into a professor of sociology:         
"Excuse me, Professor, but daily life does not exist," answered Pi. "I've arrived at that conclusion by virtue of my own empirical research".
Whether it does or not, Dr. Pi is a most amusing guide to various esoteric aspects of his, at least. In one of my favourite stories, The Waterfall and the Linguist, Dr. Pi is waiting for Marta under a waterfall. However, instead, a linguist turns up, "specializing in stylistics". They have a conversation about discourse. Of course. The linguist, it turns out, is female, but, sadly for her, she is blonde. Marta arrives and the linguist leaves. This is the ending of the story:
Pi hugged and kissed her and greeted her with these words:
"The defamiliarization of the signifier is not resolved by the degradation of its semantic weight."

 These fictions will have you laughing out loud heartily and frequently. The 12 "other stories" at the end are also filled with sharp writing, odd imagery and wonderful names, but I missed Dr. Pi to whom I'd become very fond.
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, which entertains but does more than that. These stories are both ordered and chaotic, dream-like and yet truthful. Through humour, sheer oddness and philosophical musings, Bayley conveys back to us something of our world, in which nothing ends neatly, no-one can really save the day, and when it comes down to it, everything should be put on hold in order to spend time with a "young brunette with bare, powerful legs, shorts, and a striped T-shirt" on a tandem bike. - Tania Hershman




The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi, a short volume of twenty-three Dr.Pi-stories, a dozen 'Other Stories', and a verse-epilogue (all in 85 pages), is Edgar Bayley's "sole publication in prose" (so translator Emily Toder, in her brief Afterword). Bayley was primarily a poet, and it shows in these stories, focused more on neat expression and less on (conventional) story-telling. There's an effort at narrative here, but in the most playful manner; as such, these laconic stories do bear some resemblance to Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner, but Bayley keeps his Dr.Pi an even more elusive figure.
       Bayley readily plunges his Dr.Pi into adventures of various sorts, opening stories with passages such as:
     Dr.Pi was going to be late to his date. He had had various difficulties descending the mountain. Avalanches, insistent salespeople, a snake, and a broken leg. But in the end he arrived at the agreed-upon shack. 
       It's in such casual presentation of what happens to Dr.Pi, with no elaboration or commentary, that Bayley is at his most successful; indeed, there are a number of places one wishes he had just left it at that. The stories themselves then build a bit more expectation -- yet mostly also offer less satisfaction, as Bayley shows little interest in traditional story-telling and often offers what amounts to a willful non-dénouement. But not always: the story 'An Old Lady Travels by Bus' comes with a brown package whose contents reveal themselves in the end and certainly are unexpected -- but, typically, they are unexpected precisely because they are also a physical impossibility .
       Bayley conceives some rather elaborate mysteries that Dr.Pi gets embroiled in -- "Now he saw it plainly: the poet Madariaga was planning to bring Chiron the centaur back to life" -- and he does manage to create a sort of character-portrait: if elusive, Dr.Pi also takes on some shape here, his idiosyncrasies and ways (and taste for brunettes) well conveyed. Still, there's a shapelessness to many of these pieces -- or rather, though carefully shaped (in their words and presentation), they too rarely offer the traditional satisfactions of any resolution (while yet also not reveling solely in complete indeterminacy ).
       The opening lines of the first story warn:
     I say nothing, I think nothing, Dr.Pi repeated to himself
       It's not quite that bad -- Dr.Pi is far from a blank -- but Bayley's 'stories' tend to narrative abnegation. There's some very fine stuff here, but on the whole the stories in the collection seem too pleased with their own vagueness. - M.A.Orthofer





here are some amazing Bayley poems, just translated by Emily Toder, in Gulf Coast.

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