Pola Oloixarac - At the heart of Oloixarac's ambitious book lie the human relationship to violence and the significance of our prehistoric shift from prey to weapon-wielding predator. The narrator is interested in "an ontology of human acts," "an anthropology of voluptuousness and war."


Pola Oloixarac, Savage Theories, Trans. by Roy Kesey, Soho Press, 2017.








A young philosophy student who stalks her old professor through the faculty corridors; a radical left winger who writes letters to Mao; two adolescents who find in their respective physical and moral deformities good cause to join forces: this dark comedy is filled with complex, flawed characters who live in a tangled world of impossible, visionary, and ungraspable theories, theories for individuals adrift in a sea of supposed electronic and digital connectedness, but in reality ever more fragmented. The novel wryly addresses themes of fear and violence, war and sex, eroticism and philosophy as it declares war on the concept of seduction in an era of social networks and blogs. This book marks a tart and immensely enjoyable debut from one of the most promising—and controversial—voices in Latin American fiction.


Rosa Ostreech, a pseudonym for the novel’s beautiful but self-conscious narrator, carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Elsewhere on campus, Pabst and Kamtchowsky tour the underground scene of Buenos Aires, dabbling in ketamine, group sex, video games, and hacking. And in Africa in 1917, a Dutch anthropologist named Johan van Vliet begins work on a theory that explains human consciousness and civilization by reference to our early primate ancestors— animals, who, in the process of becoming human, spent thousands of years as prey.


https://sohopress.com/books/savage-theories/


“Pola Oloixarac’s prose is the great event of the new Argentinian narrative. Her novel is unforgettable, philosophical and very serene.”  —Ricardo Piglia


“Monstrously clever and terribly funny. More than a debut, this book is one many of us would spend our lives trying to write. ” —Javier Calvo


"A stunning vibrant maximalist whirlwind of a novel. Oloixarac’s wit and ambition are evident on every page. By comparison, most other contemporary fiction seems a little dull and simple-minded." —Hari Kunzru

Acclaimed in Argentina when it was first released, Oloixarac’s brilliant, dextrous debut novel is a twisty tale of academia, lust, and culture. At its core are three narratives, two of which take place in the present: the adventures of young Kamtchowsky and her boyfriend, Pabst, as they sift their way through the Buenos Aires music, drug, pornography, and video game scenes; and the pursuit of the novel’s narrator, known only as Rosa Ostreech, as she tries to draw the attention of her older professor (by seducing another man), also in Buenos Aires. The third story line begins in 1917 and focuses on a Dutch anthropologist—and later his disciples—as he explores a theory that ties human civilization and behavior to the violence seen in our primate ancestors. These ambitious narrative threads overlap, yet characters disappear for long stretches, making their stories unfold in fits and starts, which may frustrate some. However, the author’s ability to incorporate diverse elements, including 1970s Argentinian sex comedies, early 20th-century psychological theory, Elton John, and Thomas Hobbes singing in bed, makes for a singular and humorous experience. Perhaps best of all is Oloixarac’s prose: discursive, surprising, and off-kilter—like the characters themselves, it reveals a ceaseless appetite for understanding and belonging. - Publishers Weekly


Set in Buenos Aires, Oloixarac's debut novel ranges widely, from initiation rites to computer hacking, from human prehistory to ketamine-fueled parties.
The mysterious narrator stalks a middle-aged professor, desperate to reveal that she alone understands his brilliant Theory of Egoic Transmissions ("soon I will illuminate the dark side of your philosophy"). Parallel to this narrative runs a sexual picaresque, beginning "amid the violence of the Years of Lead, in the late 1970s." The heroine of this thread, Kamtchowsky, and her boyfriend, Pabst, become involved with another couple. Dark and humorous in turns, the tone is wry, erudite, raunchy, and the text is sprinkled with references to politics, philosophy, anthropology, and pop culture and the occasional illustration. Academic posturing is mocked. A character finds himself "caught in a burst of metatheory as regarded the meaning of jerking himself off." At the heart of Oloixarac's ambitious book lie the human relationship to violence and the significance of our prehistoric shift from prey to weapon-wielding predator. The narrator is interested in "an ontology of human acts," "an anthropology of voluptuousness and war." She sees the individual existing within "a space dense with ghosts and purposeful geometries" where "the totality of past and present points of view...pierce through space, and one another." This could also describe the structure of the novel, making for a sometimes-dizzying ride. The narrator embarks on a calculated seduction of a former leftist guerilla and toys with him, the prey becoming predator. Meanwhile, Kamtchowsky, "little diva of amateur porn," invents a computer game based on Argentina's Dirty War. A hack embedded within it makes possible a project that maps Buenos Aires in a wholly new way ("The city was an utter mess. And yet it was beautiful"), illuminating "the cyclical history of a country where events occurred and then revolved around one another, merely existing, unable to account for themselves."
While there are echoes of Borges and Bolaño here, the synthesis of ideas and the manic intelligence are wholly new. Brilliant, original, and very fun to read. - Kirkus Reviews


Of the many savage theories thrown around by the characters who enliven Pola Oloixarac’s transgressive novel of revolution, desire, and academia, one of the most devastating is delivered by the narrator:
The Spanish word for mirror, espejo, shares a root with the word species; the mirror shows each species for what it is, and lays bare the shoddy reasoning that has led each to think itself unique.
The perversions of language is one of Oloixarac’s central themes, and this, along with the nuanced references to Argentina’s Dirty War and the country’s political history following Peronism, plus the characters’ tenuous interpretations of various philosophers expressed in murky academic syntax, must have made the book particularly challenging to translate. Roy Kesey succeeded in creating a text that is immersive, multilayered, sensual, and cerebral, and it captures Oloixarac’s wicked brand of humor, which often triggers bark-like laughs followed by pangs of guilt.
Throughout the book, Oloixarac presents scathing criticisms of the belief in one’s individuality, as performed or clung to in three main activities: online interaction, hooking up at parties, and psychoanalysis. As young academics and artists, her central characters vacillate between attempting to disprove the fiction of individuality and falling victim to it, due to an oversupply of both self-awareness and narcissism. These opposing drives toward self-erasure and the desire for recognition often trigger the action of the novel, and they yield a series of sexual adventures rendered with frank details that are variously thrilling and disturbing.
There is a nightclub bathroom scene with Kamtchowsky, involving a ketamine-induced paralysis and two men she names Beanie and Curls, of whom Kamtchowsky thinks, "They are like bears, and I am the honey.” There is an impromptu roadside tryst between a man named Andy and a transexual woman, during which Andy’s companion, Kamtchowsky’s boyfriend Pabst, unhappily masturbates while the other two have sex. Kamtchowsky and Pabst also share many orgies with Andy and his girlfriend Mara, a photographer whose work transforms the landscape of Buenos Aires, where they live, into a vision of post-apocalyptic destruction. Mara’s themes later come into play in a collaborative project conceived by Kamtchowsky, a filmmaker who explores the intersections between autobiography and her country’s revolutions while living a somewhat wilder life than the narrator, Rosa—an academic who spends much of her time at home with her pet fish Yorick and her cat Montaigne.
Savage Theories compels with its energetic, spleen-filled characters, and the seamless blend of desire and theorizing is contagious on both fronts, but the book is a difficult read. There are many digressions and red herrings. It takes time to get one’s bearings and identify the themes and action that are at work under the surface and eventually tie everything together. The effect is destabilizing, and prevents the reader from sharing a knowing smirk with Rosa when she lands a sharp linguistic barb. We are implicated along with everyone else, which I believe is Oloixarac’s intention, and the effect deepens the experience of her novel.
The book opens with a synopsis of an Orokavian rite of passage called the Cult of the Wolf, in which children are traumatized in order to confront their deepest fears. This is juxtaposed with a brief introduction of Kamtchowsky, followed by the life stories of her parents. The narrator emphasizes the role of psychology in Kamtchowsky's upbringing. When her parents met, her mother was studying the subject and psychoanalysis had entered the culture as "a sort of linguistic vanguard [that] had managed to insert [itself] into the moist cavities of the middle class." The reasons for presenting aboriginal initiation rituals and the history of modern psychoanalysis in Argentina are unclear until we understand the book's premise. At this point, we have no choice but to surrender to the next character introduction, a man of Kamtchowsky's parents' age named Augusto García Roxler, whose interest in pursuing a Theory of Egoic Transmissions is cause for another jump.
Roxler's theory originates with a Bolaño-esque anthropologist named Johan van Vliet, who performed a series of experiments on people in remote West Africa. Van Vliet’s disciples are reminiscent of the cult of Archimboldi from the first part of 2666, in terms of their devotion to an author who has disappeared from the world, although in this case we find them attempting to publish his work rather than uncover his hiding place. As the quest of the disciples mirrors the narrator’s own efforts to improve on García Roxler’s theory for her own glory and recognition, we begin to understand the significance of the backstory, as well as the anthropological passages.
Rosa is obsessed with García Roxler, and has become one of those people who take a professor’s class over and over and over again, though her crush is based on more than infatuation. She needs one of her university’s old, washed-up “pictures of Dorian Gray” to acknowledge her existence, and she believes she has something to contribute. We are fifty pages into the book before we first see her, arriving at an embassy reception to confront the professor. She is pulsing with purpose and “emotion has given a rosy tint to her cheeks.” The scene is rendered in a tone of satire, which Rosa overplays in order to contain her spiking self-consciousness, going so far as to liken herself to “a débutante from imperial Russia, [blinking] delicately at the…world her glaucous feet do not yet dare to enter.”
The secret action of Savage Theories, hidden behind the antics of Rosa’s alter-ego Kamtchowsky, is her re-writing of García Roxler’s work, but the book is most engaging when Oloixarac crosses the line from Rosa's formal language of critical theory to the third-person dramatization of theorizing. Amidst the rich emotional interplay and battle scars racked up between lovers Kamtchowsky, Pabst, Mara, and Andy, theorizing is practiced to explore desire as well as to construct lines of defense. Near the end of the book, their collaboration culminates in a subversive plot that involves a video game modeled after the Dirty War and a cyber attack on Google Earth that appears in the form of political theatre and functions as art. Kamtchowsky’s story ends triumphantly, and her fearless rebellion seems to strengthen Rosa’s conviction in the importance of her own work. Kamtchowsky’s example is equally empowering to the reader, in a time when rebellion and personal freedom have become coopted to promote hate and apathy. - David Varno


Kamtchowsky — one of the main characters in Oloixarac’s exuberant blend of political satire and sexual picaresque — is a young, unsightly woman who meets a young, unsightly man. After their bizarro meet-cute, they embark on a relationship built around a shared repulsiveness they believe must confer on them a certain evolutionary advantage: “Ugly people are inevitably more intelligent than beautiful people, because they’ve had to develop more sophisticated means of obtaining things.” But then they meet another couple whose good looks and penchant for phrases like “the phenomena of synchrony and contagion” upend such assumptions. Besides, Argentina’s recent murderous history has a way of making pet theories of natural selection sound quaint. What starts out for the foursome as regular evenings of philosophical musings and group sex evolves into a joint online gaming venture called “Dirty War 1975.”
Oloixarac, like her characters, was born in the 1970s, during Argentina’s “Years of Lead,” and “Savage Theories” keeps returning to that national trauma even as its various plots spin off in different directions before coalescing at the end. The narrator, self-conscious and somewhat self-delusional, hounds her aging professor by pointing out errors in his Theory of Egoic Transmissions, which in turn is based on the work of a Dutch anthropologist from the early 20th century who posited that human consciousness was organized around our common ancestral experience as prey. Hence the vicarious thrill we feel for the victim who attacks her attacker, the nerd who triumphs over his jock-tormentors; Oloixarac offers these examples and more in her whirlwind of a book.


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