Luis Sagasti - How do we even begin to narrate the history of the world? Using his unique, poetic and keenly observant style, Sagasti turns the accidents of history into a single, lyrical constellation, and for the reader it’s an extraordinary sight
Luis Sagasti, Fireflies, Trans. by Fionn Petch, Charco Press, 2018.
How do we even begin to narrate the history of the world? Where do we start, and where do we end? Fireflies is Sagasti’s bold and original attempt to answer these questions. Taking an eclectic array of influences and personalities from modern history, he teases out events that at first glance seem random and insignificant and proceeds to weave them together masterfully, entertaining as he enlightens. Joseph Beuys, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Stanley Kubrick, Neil Armstrong, Wittgenstein, Glenn Miller and the Beatles; poets and authors, priests, astronauts and Russian sailors all make an appearance, and Sagasti finds common threads to bind their stories together.The fireflies themselves perhaps provide the key to understanding this book. They become a metaphor for the resistance of certain luminous moments, certain twinkling fragments of history, to the passing of time. They remind us that events do not always disappear neatly into the darkness, but rather remain, floating in the air, lighting up the night sky for years to come. Sagasti shows us that the present moment, like this novel, is a tapestry woven of a multiplicity of times.
Using his unique, poetic and keenly observant style, Sagasti turns the accidents of history into a single, lyrical constellation, and for the reader it’s an extraordinary sight.
This is one of those books that is called a novel but is not really a novel but, as it is written like a novel, it is here and it is sold as a novel. What it is is a way of looking at the world, through the eyes of certain real people, some famous, some far less so, as well as some fictitious people, as well as a series of wonderful stories, some real, some embellished, some fictitious, and that is, of course, the role of the novel.
We start off with the German artist Joseph Beuys. Beuys was a Luftwaffe pilot during World War II and, in 1944, he was shot down by the Russians. His plane crashed into the woods and he was badly injured. He was rescued by a group of Tartars who had seen and heard his crash. His co-pilot, Karl Vogts, was presumably killed; his body was never found. The Tartars looked after him and took care of him. Eventually, he was rescued by a German patrol. He subsequently became an artist, always wearing his trademark hat to conceal the wounds from his crash. He remained very much influenced by his experiences with the Tartars. However, there were no Tartars. The patrol claimed they found him soon after the crash, still in the cockpit of the plane. There was no sign of any Tartars.
A considerable part of this book is about what we might call imagined seeing, the things we think we have seen, artists in particular, which may not have happened in the real, physical, everyday world but certainly happened in the mind and this is, of course, the basis of artistic creation.
Sagasti gives other examples of this. He moves onto to Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five. I will admit to having read the book and quite enjoyed it. However, Sagasti argues it will always be counted among the top five candidates for the Great American Novel of the twentieth century. It does not even vaguely make it onto my list (selected by others). No matter. Sagasti is showing that the most interesting pages of the book are those dedicated to explaining the literature of Tralfamadore: Brief clumps of symbols separated by stars […] each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message, describing a situation, a scene.
This leads on to haikus and an interesting discussion of the form and of the work of Matsuo Bashō and the apparently fictitious Kioyi Hatasuko. - the modern novel, read more here