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
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. [...]
Vicenç Llorca, "Deu anys després, torna el Miquel de Palol poeta" [Ten Years on, the Return of Miquel de Palol, the Poet], El Temps, Nº. 621 (13 May 1996).
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.
Estanislau Vidal-Folch, "En volem encara més" [We Want Even More], El Periódico de Catalunya. Llibres (20 May 2004).
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.
Susanna Rafart, "El temps que s'exposa" [The Times Being Exposed], Caràcters, Nº. 26 (January 2004).
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.
Ponç Puigdevall, "Imatges silencioses" [Silent Images], El País. Quadern, (4 May 2004).
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.
Francesco Ardolino, "Epistemologia sexual" [Sexual Epistemology], Caràcters, Nº. 36 (June 2006).
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 (Barcelona, 1953) is one of the signal voices of contemporary Catalan letters. An architect by trade, he began to publish poetry at nineteen, and averaged a book of verse per year before bringing out El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of the Seven Twilights), the novel many consider to be his masterpiece, in 1989. The author claims he considers this first work of narrative fiction a continuation of themes pursued in his earlier poetry. Remarkably prolific, Palol has published some forty books, including works of short fiction, children’s stories, and essays, and is a frequent contributor to the Spanish and Catalan press.
Upon opening El jardí dels set crepuscles, the reader is reminded of Stanisław Lem’s Provocation and the paratextual short fictions of Borges. The preface, by “Miquel de Palol i Moholy-McCullydilly, resident librarian of the Nachmanides Institute,” entitled “To the Non-Specialist Reader,” sets the tone:
Before the Nuclear Wars of the Contemporary Era, also known as the Four Wars of Entertainment, there is ample documentation of the widespread belief that a conflict employing nuclear armaments, due to the equilibrium of forces and the nature of the defense systems in place, would lead inevitably to the complete and irreversible destruction of planetary life.
This prediction, the author states, was erroneous; security systems instead evolved to allow for what came to be known as “wars of entertainment: a game with rules that specify, in the manner of medieval jousting or casino gambling, the limits of investment, the dimensions of the field, and a maximum of permitted losses.”
From here, mention is made of The Garden of the Seven Twilights, a text composed by multiple authors concerned with the situation of war. There is debate over the dates of the respective chapters, and the foreword includes a series of footnotes to imaginary scholarly texts as well as a publication history and bibliography: the earliest source is from 2821, the most recent 2997, and the places of publication include cities both familiar and imaginary.
This conceit serves to contextualize a book that can be described, on the one hand, as a radically modernist irruption of traditional narrative, but on the other, as a return to the novel’s roots in the Boccaccian frame story (and it is worth remembering that the history of the Spanish novel begins with such followers of Boccaccio as Juan de Flores and Juan Ruiz): seven narrators flee a devastated Barcelona, taking refuge in The Palace of the Mountain, a fallout shelter located perhaps in the Pyrenees, perhaps in the Himalayas, where they meet in a garden to tell their own version of the same story over seven successive days. Their motivation is both to pass the time and to understand the origins of the war that has led them to escape there. The principle theme is the provenance of a mysterious jewel that confers great power on its possessor: its loss marked the beginning of the nuclear outbreak, and the storytellers hope that by recovering it, they can bring the pervasive violence to an end. Many critics have compared the novel to a set of Matryoshka dolls, with stories inside stories inside stories: there are lucid dreams, time-warps, a surrogate Jesus tricked into crucifixion after the son of God loses his nerve, a man condemned to live the same day over and over throughout eternity . . . It should be noted, though, that these postponements and wild-goose chases seem more a pretext for the extraordinary micro-narratives that make up the body of the novel rather than steps toward a proper dénouement.
It is not an easy book to summarize: there are some three-hundred characters embroiled in countless adventures stretching over 350,000-odd words arranged, according to a scheme outlined in the “editor’s note,” thus:
To the end of facilitating reading, cardinal numbers are used to indicate the degree of abstraction according to which the narrators are speaking. Thus 0/1 signals that the voice has moved from the main narrator to a different narrator inside the main narration, 1/2 that it has moved from a narrator inside the main narration to a narrator inside a narration inside the main narration, and so on.
Since its origins, the novel has vacillated between the poles of restraint and capaciousness, the formal discipline of Flaubert or Jane Austen and the catch-all approaches of Sterne or Pynchon. Palol is a rarity in the landscape of present-day Catalan letters for his unswerving devotion to the latter approach. His novel encompasses extended meditations on the machinations of modern finance, urban planning, the comparative advantages of democracy and dictatorship. El jardí dels set crepuscles was regaled with prizes in Catalonia upon its release, and remains Palol’s most best-selling novel. It has been translated into numerous languages, and reviewers in France and Italy have drawn parallels between Palol’s writing and the hyperfictions of Italo Calvino. The question is not whether his work should be translated, but whether there is an English-language publisher audacious enough to take the risk.
*All citations from Palol’s text have been translated by Adrian West
- Adrian Westhttp://www.wordswithoutborders.org/dispatches/article/new-in-spanish-miquel-de-palols-the-garden-of-the-seven-twilights
The Garden of Seven Twilightshttps://www.asymptotejournal.com/fiction/miquel-de-palol-the-garden-of-seven-twilights/
Animal in Outline
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.