Miquel de Palol - 'The Troiacord' is perhaps the first great novel of the twenty-first century. If, despite its versatility, we decide to call it science fiction, it is the most complex and disorienting sci-fi novel since Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren

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Miquel de Palol: Under the Sign of Anaximander

Miquel de Palol (Barcelona, 1953). Poet and fiction writer. He studied architecture and made his literary debut with a book of poems. His first novel, El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights, 1989) won five Catalan and Spanish literary prizes and its German translation is in its second edition. Palol has been a freelance writer since 1991 and has published a number of books of poems and novels.

"This counts among the most important experiments in Spanish fiction in recent years. Palol’s novel follows in the footsteps of works by Borges, Calvino and Perec. What it brings to this end-of-century literature is an emphasis on pure pleasure derived from the dexterous use of language in the telling of the story." (El Mundo)

"This novel is the result of a titanic effort to bring the old and new together in a single whole that aspires to offer a complete picture of today’s world." (ABC)

"A passionate story that will grip the reader for the entire duration of its nearly 1,000 pages." (El País)

"More contemporary than Boccaccio it reflects, on one hand, a touch of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, without the Italian writer’s lightness and, on the other hand, a shade of Borges that calls to mind Pierre Ménard, Author of the Quixote." (Alias, Il Manifiesto)

"Palol, brilliantly following Bocaccio’s model(…) constructs a giant puzzle, alternating symbolic interpretations with astrological and cabalistic elements, excerpts of chronicles, mathematical calculations, unrequited love, mysterious legends, an autopsy, poetry, cryptic cinematic images, and mythological digressions all mixed together in a potentially infinite story." (Il Giornale)

Might we distinguish between prose and poetry in Palol? The answer is yes, in a descriptive sense, but not so much if we take into account two basic aspects of his literary world. First, El sol i la mort [The Sun and Death] formally raises the quest for a kind of poetry that I would venture to call syntagma. By this I mean to say that the construction of the verse is not centred so much on its syllabic distribution as on the disposition of the syntagmas of his sentences. Hence he pulls together long periods that frequently end up pushing sentences to the limits of their sense as structure or, on other occasions, evaporate before an infiniteness of meaning, as if they had been poured into some deep and mysterious abyss.

The operation is intelligent because it seeks new ways of expression on the basis of poetic tradition, which is to say of a syllabic harmony that must be established. Palol shifts the classic definition of standard syllabic space to that of "syllabic time" and, as a result, syntagma plays an essential role in his work. [...] The product is verse that tends to lengthiness and enjambement, the long syntactic span that he has been manifesting in his big narrative projects in recent years. We might thus conclude that his passage through prose has been fundamental in his acquiring practice in the direction we have established above. The distinction between pose and poetry fades away, then, and the concepts of rhythm in prose and rhythm in verse have a common denominator: syntagmatic play.

Second, and from the thematic standpoint, we also find points of engagement between the narrative experience of this period and the new collections of poems. In El sol i la mort, the vision of the world that is presented is complemented in many ways with the novels El jardí dels set crepuscles [The Garden of the Seven Twilights] and Igur Neblí. To some extent, one of Palol's merits is his having vitally, intellectually and creatively comprehended postmodernity. [...]

The book (Les concessions [The Concessions]), the blackest of Palol's work, is comparable in his literary career with Baltasar Porcel's novel Lola i els peixos morts [Lola and the Dead Fishes] in the sense that, with the latter work, a dejected, claustrophobic view of the individual also represented a new direction in Porcel's literary career. If we were once faced with a complex poet working on different stages with playfulness, philosophy, erudition, politics and sex, now we have a narrative of everyday matters, set in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Gràcia. And may the ingenuous reader not be taken in by the back cover: there is nothing kindly or complacent in the portrait Palol offers of humankind. As for the format, if an essentially a protean writer prevailed before, now he is inclining towards synthesis. [...]

The novel, eminently set in dialogue and very well set in dialogue at that does not fit in any "clear line" of Catalan literature. [...] Palol is still intoxicated with the procedures of his extraordinarily powerful narrative vigour.

From the stance of a certain essential scepticism, the author sometimes expresses himself (in Els proverbis [The Proverbs]) at the fringes of paradox, taking to an extreme a cultivated cynicism that strives to remove the reader from any kind of conformity with regard to generally-accepted clichés and truths. These are proverbs that fluctuate between aphorism and thought, in the Leopardian sense and that of the French tradition too, in order to bring together ideas on morality, politics and art in a marriage of preferably romantic lineage.

[...] Palol takes off from the idea that all writing is a deed. The commitment, then, does not arise from any one ideology or another, but from the awareness that the text itself already imposes a particular kind of affiliation, intellectual writing or the writing of ideas.

In both art and moral principles, Palol opts to combat the reductive viewpoint of those spirits that swallow truisms without questioning the ideas or making the effort needed for adopting them. He frontally attacks civilising forms without content, and this is sufficient justification for his incorruptible stance.

In a lecture titled El punt de vista com a traça del territori [Point of View As Layout of Territory] Palol turns to an article by Susan Sontag in which she distinguished between writers who base their literature on psychological introspection in order to divine the characters' motives and conflicts, and those who operate with an anti-psychological system, from a position of contempt for the personalities of their characters, enigmatically hiding their nature and their meaning. The former use eloquent analysis as a narrative tool, while the latter are more inclined to the silent image that requires the reader's active participation.

Miquel de Palol, evidently joins the ranks of the latter category after El jardí dels set crepuscles and, with this second series of novels, Exercicis sobre el punt de vista [Exercises on Viewpoint] where the verbal tangle, the stylistic exploration and complexity of form seem to be less evident in which Gallifa is the third instalment, he persists in this way of understanding literary practice. [...] Miquel de Palol opts for transparent, mute images, for a succession of clear episodes in which, one after another, a sensation of irresolvable mystery is created because, at the end of the day, what he does is to silence the elements of meaning, to pass over the core of the story and show just the tip of the iceberg in order to set off the flow of necessary attention. [...] Gallifa is an intriguing text that, from its apparent simplicity and with prose that is fast-moving and slapdash as if the fact of writing somehow bothers Palol, who is more prone to shaping unassailable labyrinths than pursuing balanced rhythm, manages to arouse one's curiosity while mistreating the reader with its first-sight opacity.

According to Raymond Queneau, all Western narrative can be taken back to the two models of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Such a division seems useful when looking through Palol's literary opus which, since his first novels, El jardí dels set crepuscles and Ígur Neblí, has conformed to this line of demarcation, attributing the weight of history, on the one hand, to the strategies of a group and, on the other, to the deeds of the individual playing the role of hero or antihero.

In the monumental work, El Troiacord [The Troiacord] Palol brings these two streams together, conjugating them according to the rules of the "Joc de la Fragmentació" [Fragmentation Game]. For all the bonus element of specification, the game played by the characters consists in reordering a disintegrated and chaotic universe by means of constructing an elastic and variable system that adapts to changes in the rules. At the basis of this structure there is cohesion arbitrary and mobile, and also with removable roots that is generated by personal relationships, following the foundational model of sexual chains. Here I would venture two considerations. The first is that Palol seems to be embracing as his own the reflections on linguistic games that are to be found in the Philosophical Investigations when Wittgenstein wonders where the notion of game goes and where it ends, and what its limits are. [...]

It is not in vain that Palol tends to vindicate in literature, but even more in painting or music, baroque art, the ubi consistam from which he extracts the idea of a ceaseless mathematical quest for the order of things. From here proceeds the tendency of this Catalan novelist to fill each text with characters, scenes and action until turning it into a theatrum mundi, a vivid and eternally codified representation of existence.

The second consideration lies with sexuality as a gnoseological principle. Palol is a pornographer and there's no point clinging to adjectives that might modify this definition, although, taking everything into account, one should also make the point that, in his work, sex is always a formula for knowledge that explains and modifies power relations.

El jardí dels set crepuscles I [The Garden of the Seven Twilights. Part I]

Nuclear war strikes. The young descendant of a member of the elite class escapes from the anarchy reigning in Barcelona and the rest of the world to take refuge in an incomprehensibly luxurious castle tucked away in the high mountains in the company of the fortunate few. This small aristocratic circle takes part in the delightful and perverse pleasure of storytelling, giving seven renditions of the same story over a period of seven days. The story is about the banker Mir and his unlikely heiress, Lluïsa Cross, a sort of modern-day King Lear set in the financial world. Each narrator tries to outdo the previous one by stretching imagination to its very limits. The intrigue underlying the story leads the reader to a surprising outcome.

Miquel de Palol, El Troiacord, 2001.

This review is the culmination of a decade-long obsession. I first encountered the name of Miquel de Palol in a book on contemporary Spanish literature in which there wasn’t a word on The Troiacord, his major work. This reticence, as I later found out searching for any shreds of useful information on the Internet, was explained by the simple fact that it hadn’t been translated into Spanish. I found a spate of articles on Palol as well as some interviews with him: most were in Catalan, which I could hardly understand, but some of them were in Spanish, which I could read passably well at the time.  The novel in question was mentioned in many of those texts and almost always with a string of superlative epithets. My curiosity was peaked, and I realised that I wanted to read that book really bad — except I knew I couldn’t. The most realistic solution would have been just to wait for the inevitable translation into Spanish. Several of his novels had already been translated, most notably El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights) and Ígur Neblí,  having  enjoyed success among the Spanish-language reading public. It seemed obvious that the apex of his writing career would not tarry to follow. However, as years went by and nothing happened, I realised that waiting any longer made no sense and that the only realistic solution was learning Catalan well enough to read the novel, and that is what I did. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. Here we’re talking about yet another milestone of  world literature woefully unknown outside its original language. Published in 2001, The Troiacord is perhaps the first great novel of the twenty-first century. If, despite its versatility, we decide to call it science fiction, it is the most complex and disorienting sci-fi novel since Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. If it had been written in any of the major languages, I guarantee you, at least the rumours of its brilliance would have reached you. However, things being the way they are, most probably you will first learn about the existence of this novel from me, so fasten your seat belts and get ready for the journey into the geometric heart of Miquel de Palol’s The Troiacord.
read more: - theuntranslated.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/the-troiacord-el-troiacord-by-miquel-de-palol/

Miquel de Palol lived in Valladolid until the age of 17. He then returned to his native city, where he started up his literary activity as a poet. In 1973 he published Delta, which was followed by Llet i vi (1974), L'aneguet lleig (1977) Salamó (1981) and Rapsòdies de Montcada (1982), amongst others. In 1982 he won the Carles Riba Prize for poetry for El porxo de les mirades (1983) and in 1984, the Serra d'Or Critics' Prize. Other titles that form part of his poetic output are: El molino (1984), La nit italiana (1986), El sol i la mort (1996) and Nocturns (2002).
El jardí dels Set Crepuscles (1989), his first novel, won nearly all the Catalan language literary prizes: Joan Creixells, Serra D'Or Critics' Prize, Catalan and National Critic's Prize for Catalan Literature from the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Ojo Crítico Prize. He is also author of the novels Igur Neblí (1994), Ciudad de Barcelona Prize, L'àngel d'hora en hora (1995), El legislador (1997), Josep Pla Prize for Catalan Narrative, La fortuna del senyor Filemó (1997), La Venus del Kilimanjaro (1997), written in collaboration with Xavier Moret, El Quincorn: Una història romàntica (1999), Sant Jordi Novel Prize, and El Troiacord (2001). He has also published short stories and essays.


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