Mil cretins
Mil cretinos
Mille crétins
  Tausend Trottel
Mil cretinos
Mille cretini
A thousand morons
Tusen dårar
Premi de Narrativa Maria Àngels Anglada 2008

 

"Quim Monzó, un dels pocs autors realment valents, va tenir la força d’entrar en una residència d’avis, va vestir el pare amb roba de dona, li va pintar els llavis i li va posar joies. És dur mirar la Desconeguda a la cara, cal molt de coratge. Proveu de llegir, si us plau, aquest relat de Mil cretins...”

Simona Škrabec,  El País, Barcelona

 

Ship of fools: a review of Monzó’s 'A thousand morons'

Are there no longer any ants in Barcelona? Have they exterminated them all? Have they gone into hiding? Have they migrated to the suburbs?

 

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote that when we lose the relationship between the real and the map, between the referential thing and the simulation of it, we enter a strange, confusing space, something he called a second order simulacrum.“Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal.”

Innovation and technology have brought abundant wealth and convenience into the world, but at what cost? We gorge on steady diets of advertising, steroid-fed athletes, and derivatives of something un-ironically called reality TV. (Even the joke is lost now, reality TV no longer being oxymoronic, perhaps only moronic). Our food is more abundant and readily available than ever, but it is also pre-processed and genetically modified. We connect instantly with friends and family across vast distances, but our online presence has robbed of us of privacy and silence.

Entire libraries of books can be carried around in our hip pockets, yet who has time to read? The ever-accelerating human narrative seems to be squeezing out nuance and complexity in favor of 140 character messages with hashtags and 3 million followers, but no actual person ever at the end of it all. Could Donald Barthelme have been right when he wrote that fragments were the only trustworthy form?

Surely we still need important voices crying out from the margins. The very best of our poets and writers always hover just inside Plato’s allegorical cave, somehow still able to witness and report that the culture of the hyperreal is an increasingly spurious one, not built from shadows of real beings dancing in front of the fire, but, more and more, from shadows of the shadows themselves.

The Catalan author Quim (pronounced “keem”) Monzó might well qualify as one of those voices. His fiction has been called surreal, hyperrealist, and highly original. He has written stories, novels, essays and translations throughout his long career, and he has worked as a journalist for various Barcelona newspapers. His brand-new-in-English story collection, A thousand morons, just published by Open Letter Books, wonderfully translated by Peter Bush, is filled with a dazzling lineup of stories, many of them awhirl in the transitional spaces between tradition and modernity.

 

Its characters and the places they inhabit are often nameless, shapeless, entities; many are merely pronouns, wandering through half-familiar territories. It might be one mark of the hyperreal world that proper names have become redundant: “The boy is walking down the street with a rucksack full of fliers hanging over his shoulder on a single strap and a roll of sticky tape in one hand.” Thus begins Monzó’s short story “The Boy and the Woman.”  Does it matter what we call the boy? Have we all been likewise reduced in our over-crowded world? Even the slightly misanthropic title of Monzó’s book serves as a gentle (if playful) accusation, though it could’ve been more damning: Monzó could’ve titled it 7 billion morons and been done.

 

Written at the intersection of old and new, A thousand morons pulses with the current of time running through its sentences. In old age homes, mothers and fathers rot away and wish only for death. In refigured fairy tales, the prince rapes the sleeping maiden. There’s a certain madness about it all, with perverse gestures of love, misguided fools and ophthalmologists who can’t see. At every turn, absurdity and contradictions abound, as do humor, wit, and an enchanting spectacle of language. The sand shifts beneath your feet, and leaves you unsteady, shaken, wondering what it all means. The world is changing, Monzó seems to be saying, stand back and watch it with me.

 

In “Things aren’t what they used to be,” Marta remembers her childhood, when, “though they had a television, her father, mother and nine siblings sat around the table at suppertime and nobody dreamed of asking for the television to be switched on.” Later, when she’s a mother herself, Marta regrets the way television has come to saturate her family life. Dinners pass in silence, her son and husband watching the news or Formula One races at the table. But before long, “Marta had begun to wax nostalgic even for those times, when she, her husband and their kid spent the night in front of the television.” The husband and father now lock themselves away with their computers, leaving Marta to miss the good old days when they at least occupied the same space, even one backlit by the television’s flickering blue lights. In two just two pages, Monzó creates an atmospheric tension about the rapidly changing world, making it humorous and heartbreaking at the same time.

But Quim Monzó is no Luddite; he’s not so much lamenting the passing of tradition as he is dissecting it and leaving its corpse on the table for us to examine. In some cases, he seems to willfully bid a fond farewell to the old ways. In “The cut,” a boy enters a classroom with a gaping, bleeding wound in his neck. While he pleads with his teacher for help, the teacher upbraids the injured boy:

“Generally speaking, habits have been degenerating, and you are not to blame, I know. We are also to blame, in institutions that are unable to offer an education that shapes character with a proper sense of discipline and duty. But society is also to blame, and all the many parents who demand that school provides the authority they are incapable of wielding. You, Toni, are but a sample, a grain of sand from the interminable beach of universal disorder. Where is the discipline of yesteryear? Where are the sacrifice and effort? Where are the basics of education and civility we have inculcated into you day after day, from the moment you entered this institution?”

All these words while the blood pools around the boy’s feet. Absurdity abounds, past, present and future.

Monzó’s ability to reconfigure and challenge allows him to pack a literary punch with brutal efficiency. In the 150-word story “Next month’s blood,” the angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary and proclaims God’s intention to impregnate the young woman. But Mary refuses the holy annunciation: “’What do you mean no?’ asked the archangel at a loss. Mary didn’t backtrack: ‘No way. I don’t agree. I won’t have this son.’” Putting aside the humorous, contemporary dialogue between the two, the story reflects not only the changing role of women in the world, but the rejection of the hegemony of the Church, as well as some sort of weird empowerment and demystification of the Madonna, one of the most iconic figures in all of Spain.

A thousand morons is divided into two sections. The first section contains seven traditional length stories, and the second is made up of twelve shorter stories, what might be called ‘flash fiction’ pieces, some less than a page in length. Throughout both sections, Monzó interrogates the changing landscape of storytelling itself.

 

In “Thirty lines,” an unnamed narrator explores how to tell a story using only thirty lines of prose. “It’s like asking a marathon runner to run a hundred meters with dignity,” the narrator says, even as he writes. But by the end, he accomplishes this ungainly task of compression, and the narrator (and presumably Monzó behind him) defeats the assignment by turning the task against itself:

He has only seven to go to reach thirty. But, after he has registered that insight—plus this one—even less remain: six. Good God! He is incapable of having a thought and not typing it, so each new one eats up a new line and that means by line twenty-six he realizes he is only four lines from the end and hasn’t succeeded in focusing the story, perhaps because—and he has suspected this for a long time—he has nothing to say, and although he manages to hide this fact by dint of writing pages and yet more pages, this damned short story makes it quite clear, and explains why he sighs when he reaches line twenty-nine and, with a not entirely justified feeling of failure, puts the final stop on the thirtieth.

Monzó’s spare prose leaves little room for context. Explanations and motivations remain elusive. Yet there are echoes of wisdom, and the absurd becomes more than just whimsical commentary on the world. In the opening story, “Mr. Beneset,” Mr. Beneset’s son arrives at an old age home to visit his ailing father. He walks into the room only to discover his father putting on “black and cream lingerie, the sort the French call culottes and the English French knickers.” What’s most startling about this set up is that Monzó provides no details, no clues to the reasons for what’s happening.  We don’t know if the father has simply lost his mind or if he’s been cross-dressing his whole life. The son makes no comment about the odd behavior. Mr. Beneset puts on tights, a skirt, applies his makeup and then heads out to the backyard where the other residents of the old age house “gawp vacantly” at the two men.

 

But perhaps the quiet wisdom of the story rests on the way love is offered without stipulation, even while the other residents gape at the strange old man. At the end of the visit, as Mr. Beneset and his son say their goodbyes, ”they kiss each other, the son turns around, walks away, stops by the door, turns around, waves goodbye to his father, closes the door and uses the handkerchief to remove the lipstick the kiss left on his cheek.”  Is this not a nearly perfect example of love?

By toying with expectations, by working against logic, Monzó creates sharp instabilities in his stories. We are enchanted, confused, even a bit angry at ourselves for not understanding. At times, we can’t help but wonder if we have suddenly become one of the thousand morons.

If there is a shortcoming to this book, it’s that Monzó’s characters often feel overly disembodied. There’s a frigidness about them, a parchment paper quality that makes them dry and brittle. It’s hard to feel compassion or empathy, but then again, that might be exactly the point. Monzó’s characters reflect the contemporary zeitgeist, an age when men and women will drive by and honk if your car breaks down on the side of the road. But their derision is not borne out of cruelty so much as it is out of conviction of certainty about their world. They wish you no harm as you stand there on the side of the road waiting for help; they simply expect you’ll have a cell phone and already have called for a tow truck.

Almost fifty years ago, John Barth wrote about the literature of exhaustion. Today, we flirt not just with exhausted literature, but with the literature of the comatose, the persistent vegetative state that is becoming our civilization, dominated by media moguls peddling pop culture, best sellers and Pepsi Cola across vast, global landscapes with little regard for anything besides profitability. A thousand morons was originally published in 1997, just as the twenty-first century was about to dawn, as the new millenium’s Everyman was about to rise from his bed, stretch his arms and head off for work. Except he wasn’t a man anymore, he was an IP address, and he wasn’t heading for the office, but for the local Starbucks, and whether he was in Mumbai or Manhattan, Cairo or Kuala Lumpur, the menu remained the same (and in English). He ordered his venti  frappuccino — words  themselves now part of the hyperreal lexicon — sat down at his wireless hot spot and connected to the world. Except he couldn’t connect to anyone real, only to a host of other disembodied, genderless abstractions, avatars lost in cyberspace, that ever- accelerating multiverse of 4G networks, pre-packaged apps and unlimited texting.

 

Monzó indicts us all, participants in our own demise, as we drift further and further away from the things which anchor us to the ground. We are being crowded out, Monzó says, most poignantly in “Shiatsu” the final story in the collection “It’s a great bar,” the story opens, “a favorite in the neighborhood, with maybe the finest ham in Barcelona, and hocks—done in the oven with onion, tomato, pepper, white wine, and cognac—of the highest quality.” Three men are enjoying breakfast at the bar, until they forced to leave by a crowd of newcomers. These loud, jovial people appear to be outsiders. Under their arms, they carry (ironically) folders from the “Institute for traditional Chinese medicine.” One by one, the original three men in the café give up their seats and are squeezed out by these newcomers, until only one of the original three remains. The newcomers (for some reason, I picture them as hipsters, in skinny jeans and carrying the latest version of the latest smartphone) are eyeing this last man’s table, hoping he’ll leave too. He endures for a while, but they are bumping past him at the bar:

But soon the accidental knocks become deliberate and increasingly outrageous, and so they pile on the pressure—now he hears them pushing to shouts of ‘Come on, altogether,: wow, wow, wow!’—he gets up and pays. As he is going into the street to the gleeful victory cries of the throng inside, he has to move aside yet again because three more individuals sweep in with their folders from the institute for traditional Chinese medicine, masters now of the whole of that bar they have finally succeeded in making their very own.

How odd that the men in the bar yield to the crowd so passively. How quickly they are replaced and vanquished, though perhaps this has always been the way. Out with the old, so the saying goes.

In Barcelona, where ham cures on the hook above the bar, ordering a plate of jamon y queso means that the diner sits just inches from the kneecap of the sacrificed animal. Try putting a meat grinder in the deli aisle of your local Trader Joe’s and see how quickly the store empties out. It’s not that Monzó possesses some exotic birthright which helps him stay in better touch with the world. He simply understands the clash between the real and the simulacrum, and is thus able to dramatize it in his stories. Monzó reminds us that there is a cost to all this change, and if  contemporary culture represents a buffet table for the hyperrealist, then A Thousand Morons is like a literary tapas bar, offering up its small plates with distinctive flavors, but hardly enough to fill the belly.

Perhaps it helps that Monzó is homeported in a place where cultures and languages collide. Barcelona: The city where the writer can probe the battle between tradition and change right there in the streets. Barcelona: Where Gaudi’s surreal cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, rises out of a modern skyline like some twisted anachronism, half-old, half-new, the church still under construction some hundred and forty years after it began. Barcelona: The dreamscape city, an amalgam of the real and the hyperreal, of fiction and truth.

 

Monzó’s strange delicacies reflect the geography and history of the city itself as much as they do the plight of contemporary humanity, full of absurdity and humor, heartbreak and despair, and, in the end, full, too, of beauty.

Richard Farrell, NUMÉRO CINQ, Canada numerocinqmagazine.com/2012/12/10/ship-of-fools-a-review-of-quim-Monzos-a-thousand-morons-richard-farrell/

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Monzó's 'morons' absurd and riveting

It seems a little backwards that the printer word should take a cue from the silver screen, but if literature has an answer to the dark-comedy, it is certainly “A Thousand Morons,” a collection of short stories written by Quim Monzó and translated from Catalan by Peter Bush. It’s a delightful and sobering read that successfully portrays scenes of entertainment and melancholy. It is a somewhat jarring experience, but through brilliantly eclectic prose, absorbing characters, and unique yet complementary storylines, Monzó manages to invite applause more than head scratching.

One quality that unites the discrete stories is Monzó’s frequent use of something you might call literary pivots. In the majority of his stories, there is a pin-pointable moment where things veer toward the bizarre. In “Mr. Beneset,” a run-of-the-mill account of visiting an elderly parent is turned on its ear in an instant. Upon entering his father’s nursing home quarters, the narrator says: “He is straightening some lingerie, black and cream lingerie, the sort the French call culottes and the English French knickers.” In “I’m Looking out of the Window,” an account of clipping one’s nose hairs takes a turn for the macabre: “I would carefully place the scissors on the lobe of this same left ear and all at once close them quickly in order to get a clean cut. Half the ear would sail through the air and land on the kitchen counter.” These abrupt switches lend Monzó’s tales an air of constantly refreshing themselves. Even as we come to anticipate his pivots, the thought that one is coming keeps us on our toes.

The deftness with which Monzó varies his style further precludes monotony. He is like that friend who somehow manages to look good in anything he tries on. Simply beautiful sentences abound in “A Thousand Morons,” but where gorgeous lines by the same author will usually have the same flavor, Monzo’s are enchantingly distinct. In “Love is Eternal,” Monzó pulls off romantic writing with apparent ease, creating prose that is rife with imagery and arresting in its lyricism. The frank, wistful style Monzó adopts for “The Coming of Spring” lends the tale an emotional heft that astounds despite its potentially draining effect. The contrast between these styles is exemplified in descriptions as different as “a rain that threatened to last till dusk was falling” and “sides of bedsheets that belong to the ghosts of all who have died in the same room and who never cease to walk from one corner to another, grumbling.” Each boasts a beauty in both imagery and word choice that is wholly its own. Appreciation of the lines is augmented by the knowledge that ones precisely like them are unlikely to surface again.

Monzó is equally adept at writing stories meant to shock the reader. In angling for this reaction, he assumes an eerie objectivity. In “Saturday,” he writes, “She takes [the scissors] out and jabs the sharpest point at the skin on the thumb of her left hand, near the nail, and once she has finally made an incision, she puts the scissors down and with her right hand gradually starts to pull the skin away.” Monzó describes this woman’s appalling act with the same straightforward detachment as if she were baking a cake. Such spine-tingling passages make Monzó’s antiseptic delivery of caustic material excruciatingly effective.

It may surprise anyone who catches a glimpse of the cover of “A Thousand Morons” (it features a disembodied bra and moustache) to learn that it is a collection characterized by morbidity. In fact, close to half of the stories included in “A Thousand Morons” are at least peripherally concerned with death. A man considering cataract surgery asks his son, “Why invest all that time and have all those headaches if he knows he’s not got much time left and what little he has is far too much anyway?” A husband and wife describe their super-efficient suicide pact: “Well, as I’ve got two buckets and each holds ten pints, when we cut our veins we will fill the two buckets and then no one will see any blood coming up in any shower tray.” This sort of matter-of-fact moroseness surfaces repeatedly in Monzó’s collection. The response provoked by lines in this vein is powerful—we are at once dismayed by the prospect presented, and disturbed by the nonchalance in which it is couched. Monzó’s ability to evoke such strong emotions simultaneously further displays his adroitness as a writer.

“A Thousand Morons” would be too dark were it not for its highly strategic arrangement: the longest and most depressing story in the bunch is succeeded by three exceptionally short and humorous ones. These briefer efforts are entertaining in the extreme. Monzó’s characters hurl delicious insults like “You, Toni, are but a sample, a grain of sand from the interminable beach of universal discord.” This kind of gorgeous haranguing will make a masochist out of the most self-loving reader. Oh, to be insulted thus!

Short stories are often hampered when authors attempt to cram one hundred pages worth of character development into ten. “A Thousand Morons” is refreshingly devoid of such excess. Take this passage from “I’m Looking out of the Window”: “A kiss from my son, for example. I don’t enjoy the softness of his cheeks or the happiness in his eyes, because I have to be careful nothing happens to him and warn him of all the dangers in life; not to climb over the balcony rail, not to get into a stranger’s car and to chew each mouthful of sandwich twenty times.” The amount of characterization Monzo manages to pack into a single sentence is extraordinary. Very little concrete information is revealed about the man who narrates the story “I’m Looking out of the Window,” yet in the space of 63 words Monzó makes us feel that we know him intimately.

This is not a book made to be read in fits and starts as you wait for a train or cappuccino. “A Thousand Morons” is short enough that it can be read it one sitting, and is probably best experienced in this way. This may be an assemblage of disparate tales, but the cohesiveness of the collection as a whole is such that each story is best appreciated if the ones that precede it remain fresh in mind. If you find yourself glued to the couch in a post-Thanksgiving tryptophan malaise, this may be the perfect book to recharge your mind.

Emma R. Adler, THE HARVARD CRIMSON,  Cambridge, Massachusetts,  thecrimson.com/article/2012/12/2/thousand_morons_review/

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A thousand morons

The latest from Catalan author Quim Monzó (Guadalajara) is a slender yet brilliant collection of stories that subvert the expected, embrace absurdity, and add profundity to the mundane. While the lives of writers fill many of these pages—dreaming of lost friends (“Two Dreams”), shirking the advances of fellow writers (“Praise”), adding whimsy to the banal task of completing a short newspaper assignment (“Thirty Lines”)—not all of Monzó’s protagonists toil in the literary world. Adult children preside over elderly parents in “Mr. Beneset” and “The Coming of Spring.” “One Night” finds a desperate prince striving to rouse a sleeping princess through a series of increasingly bawdy acts. And in “Saturday”, a woman follows a meticulous routine as she slowly cleans her home of every memory it ever held, including those of herself. Split into two parts—one containing longer prose, the other, flash fiction—and beautifully translated, Monzó’s 19 tales succeed so completely thanks to their curious view of the everyday. His is a world in which men become lost in existential thought while glancing out a window, where the Virgin Mary chooses to not bear a child, and where moments of hearty belly laughter are often trailed by gasps of horror.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, New York, publishersweekly.com/978-1-934824-41-2

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Mille cretins

Tous cretins. Eux. Vous. Nous. Et lui, surtout : Quim Monzó, écrivain effronté, irréductible pourfendeur des insondables misères de l'homme moderne, qui joue au gros méchant loup avec tendresse, prend en pâture la vie comme elle va, dans sa plus banale grandeur – ou atrocité, c'est pareil. Chez l'enfant terrible des lettres catalanes, virevoltant raconteur d'affabulations pas si loufoques que cela, le quotidien ou l'horreur, c'est à peu près la même histoire. Pour mesurer son ingénieuse perfidie, prenons par exemple le titre de quelques-uns de ses précédents ouvrages, qui, mis bout à bout, font une leçon de philosophie en raccourci : L'Ampleur de la tragédie, Le Pourquoi des choses, Le Meilleur des mondes... Et ce Mille Crétins, recueil de nouvelles, aussi brèves que baraquées, aussi désinvoltes que cruelles, qui semblent être expédiées en vitesse - mais c'est une tromperie - et qui nous tombent dessus, nous rappellent à l'ordre, nous obligent à rire de nous-mêmes. Quim Monzó, les sens aux aguets et l'humour en prime, nous convie à un festin désopilant : regarder en face notre bien commun, autrement dit notre quotidien - rien qu'un formidable désastre.

Quim Monzó est sans haine et sans reproche, n'accuse jamais ses personnages, veules ou mignons, en pleine force de leur jeunesse ou en duo avec un déambulateur. Il se mijote - lui l'écrivain, le crétin à succès - à la même sauce qu'eux. Soit, par exemple, un auteur qui sèche sur trente lignes, pas une de plus, à rendre au plus vite : « Dernièrement, tout le monde parle des vertus des récits brefs, mais lui, s'il pouvait être sincère, il avouerait qu'il déteste les récits en général et les récits brefs en particulier. Cependant, pour rester dans le coup, il s'est vu obligé de rejoindre le flot des simulateurs qui feignent d'être des passionnés de la brièveté. » Vlan ! Quim Monzó se moque de tout, de tous, de lui en particulier. Maître de la forme brève, il est maître en équarrissage, il nous plaît. C'est son destin, tant pis pour lui. Serions-nous masos, pauvres lecteurs, à nous faire docilement torturer par ses attaques extralucides ? Que nenni ! Monzó a du style : il peut tout se permettre. Nous raconter des scènes (odieuses) de couples au bord du gouffre, de femme abandonnée au bord de la folie, de vieux lubrique dans un hospice, de parents indignes au bord du suicide...

Quim Monzó se targue de fondre ses personnages (et lui-même, donc) dans le même cyclone d'inconvenances. Il leur fait dire ce que l'on ose à peine penser. Soit un homme à l'agonie depuis des lustres. Sa fille lui prend la main, l'air chagrin. Elle se répète intérieurement : « Meurs, meurs, meurs, meurs... » Soit un autre homme, décati lui aussi, qui joue les tendres avec son fils pour mieux lui balancer une baffe : « Tu as mauvaise mine, mon petit. Il faut faire attention à toi, mon fils. Fais attention à toi, surtout, fais attention à toi. S'il t'arrivait quelque chose, qu'est-ce qu'on deviendrait, nous autres ? »

Cruel, Monzó ? Non, salvateur. Il pointe le malaise, l'hypocrisie, la veulerie - en un mot, l'ordinaire. Il épingle les vilenies minuscules, en fait des tragédies toujours comiques. Plus fort encore : jamais il ne nomme ses personnages, il écrit « un homme », « une femme », et force chacun de ses lecteurs à s'identifier aux lâchetés des uns, aux égoïsmes des autres. Soit mille, un million, un milliard de crétins. Nous. Et lui, surtout : Quim Monzó. Crétin magnifique, superbe bonimenteur de nós breves histoires si humaines.

Martine Laval, TÉLÉRAMA, Paris

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Dos hombres y un armario

El primero de los Vuitanta-sis contes de Quim Monzó, "Historia d'un amor", relata el caso de una pareja que se dispone a copular. Tan pronto el tipo empieza a acariciar los muslos de la chica y a musitarle palabras melifluas, empieza a aparecer gente inoportuna que interrumpe el coito. Uno de los cuentos de Mil cretins, "Dissabte", me ha recordado esta historia. La protagonista es una mujer de edad que acaba de perder a su marido y que se dispone a vaciar la casa de recuerdos. Igual que en "Història d'un amor", el cuento se estructura en función de una compleja coreografía: la señora recorta fotos y las tira a la basura, vacía un armario, arranca los azulejos del cuarto de baño; lo baja todo a un contenedor y cada vez, antes de volver a casa, se obsequia con un refrigerio en el bar de la esquina.

Cuando se publicó "Història d'un amor" en Uf, va dir ell (1978), muchos vieron en Monzó a un autor divertido y moderno. Error: Monzó es trágico y contemporáneo. Detrás del juego dinámico y ocurrente, del deseo que no llega a consumarse y de los personajes vestidos de época, se puede adivinar la influencia de Beckett (la interpretación mecanicista de las relaciones humanas de sus películas Quad I & II), de Brossa y Carles Santos (el gusto por el transformismo, el disfraz que trastoca las categorías sociales), del grupo pánico de Topor y Arrabal (el gesto absurdo y cruel).

La primera parte de Mil cretins se abre con una frase de uno de los primeros cortometrajes de Polanski, Interrumpiendo la fiesta (1957), en la segunda la cita es de Topor. "Mis películas son la expresión de deseos momentáneos —dice Polanski en la carátula del DVD Cortometrajes 1957-1963—. Sigo mis instintos pero de una manera disciplinada". ¡Exacto!

Desde 1978 hasta hoy, a Monzó se le han colgado varios sambenitos. Unos le acusan de frívolo y chistoso, otros esperaban que escribiera lo que nunca prometió. Si se toma la obra en su conjunto resulta de una extraordinaria coherencia. Este fin de etapa que representa Mil cretins vuelve a echar por tierra las proyecciones de admiradores y detractores, y presenta a Monzó como un puro espíritu de contradicción. De un lado, conecta con los orígenes. Rescata la mirada sobre el absurdo contemporáneo, el juego que lleva a desarrollar la historia siguiendo el instinto, de manera disciplinada, como en los cortos de Polanski que admiraba en su juventud (dos tipos salen del mar acarreando un armario y lo pasean por la ciudad, hasta que de improviso vuelven a meterse en el agua).

Al mismo tiempo hurga con todos los dedos en la llaga. Dos de los cuentos más fuertes ("El senyor Beneset" y "L'arribada de la primavera") tratan del envejecimiento y de la relación de dependencia de los padres enfermos y enloquecidos. "Dissabte" es una glosa terrorífica de lo que significa vaciar un piso. Como en La magnitud de la tragedia, Monzó saca a la luz de manera terrible su angustia vital. Estos tres cuentos contienen una novela que no escribirá pero que quedará para siempre flotando en la atmósfera de sus cuentos: la historia de un chico de les Corts, con una familia encerrada en vida de caracol, que se entrevé en relatos como "El meu germà" o "El nen que s"havia de morir" de El millor dels mons, y que aquí termina en el geriátrico.

En tercer lugar: los cuentos breves de la segunda parte no son la estilización del chiste de sobremesa como dijo el otro día Ponç Puigdevall, sino observaciones contundentes, fragmentos de realidad viva, que conectan con las historias cortas de cama de El perquè de tot plegat, que son de lo mejor que ha escrito. Finalmente, "Dos somnis" representa la apertura de un nuevo espacio literario. Aunque ha utilizado a menudo elementos autobiográficos, nunca había sido tan directo como ahora. Beristain y Brugat a penas consiguen ocultar a Barnils y Vendrell, los dos amigos muertos que encarnan en el otro mundo dos ideas contrapuestas de la vida que emanan del propio Monzó: el placer, la libertad, el gozo, frente a la felicidad simple y ordenada de la paternidad. En los cuentos geriátricos se nota el esfuerzo por enmascarar el shock emocional, mezclando observaciones precisas y dolorosas, como los comentarios del padre sobre las enfermeras que le manipulan el sexo en la ducha, con soluciones extremadas, como el travestismo del señor Beneset. En "Dos somnis", Monzó se muestra en su desnuda humanidad, algo azorado, pero dispuesto a dar la cara.

"Història d'un amor" era un cuento que enamoraba. Era tan sencillo, tan luminoso, uno se imaginaba tan guapa a la chica, tan gentil al caballero, daba tanta risa pensar que mientras la ensartaba, llamaba a la puerta una representante de los productos Avon... el chico le sacaba la minga y se oía "blop". Me imagino que la señora a la que se le ha muerto el marido y que protagoniza "Dissabte" es aquella chica. Y veo la dimensión que en todo este tiempo ha tomado la obra de Monzó, que no se repite, ni se acomoda, que cada vez va más a fondo en su análisis de la naturaleza humana. También a la señora la interrumpen continuamente: un vecino que encuentra en el ascensor, la guardia urbana. En "Història d'un amor", que era un cuento muy 68, los condicionamientos sociales impedían la realización de los amantes. "Dissabte" es la historia de una progresiva renuncia, de la destrucción de lo que un día fue un mundo, que al final lleva a la mujer a arrancarse la piel. El ritual de su inmolación disgusta al vecindario. En los parámetros del mundo actual, la viuda de "Dissabte" es un lastre, un estorbo. El punto de vista se ha invertido: del vitalismo a la agonía.

Si tuviera que escoger un cuento de Mil cretins me quedaría con "L'amor és etern" que, desde que lo leí por vez primera hace unos meses, me hace pensar en L'animal moribund de Philip Roth. Es la segunda oportunidad de un hombre que no quiere comprometerse y que deja pasar el amor de su vida por miedo a la convivencia. El cuento crea un clima fantástico de pasión y enfermedad, de indecisión y remordimiento. La mayor de las ternuras disimulada tras una inmisericorde crueldad. Qué grande es Monzó.

Julià Guillamon, LA VANGUARDIA, Barcelona

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  Foto: Pedro Madueño

Poema sobre la nada

El discurso inaugural de Quim Monzó en la feria de Frankfurt sirvió para presentar la cultura catalana con su mejor rostro, el de la modernidad más pura. Hubo quien no lo entendió y quien no lo quiso entender; quien desconfía del poder civilizador del humor y de la creatividad, quien no ve ahí más que extravagancias y ocurrencias vanas, quien prefirió otros tantos posibles discursos, ajados ya irremediablemente por el tiempo, colapsados por el exceso de palabrería y de murga ideológica —le llaman mensaje— sin comprender que todo eso ya no sirve, no nos sirve como nación.

¿Se imaginan que Monzó hubiera dicho directamente, seriamente ante los periodistas internacionales, que "Catalunya ha estat la nació més gran del món" sin recurrir prudentemente a la cita de Pau Casals? ¿O que abordara en Mil cretins la espantosa experiencia de la enfermedad y la muerte, de la inconsistencia física y moral sin el contrapunto de la ironía, sin el distanciamiento de la risa, sin el ingenio de la mirada autocrítica? La ley de la modernidad es inexorable y exigente porque sospecha de todo, como nos enseñó Nathalie Sarraute: necesita de la humildad que supone ponerse a uno mismo siempre en la duda, en la paradoja, en la contradicción y el contraste. Porque desconfía de los sermones y del sentimentalismo, de los trucos manidos. De la lágrima caída en la arena y del índice enhiesto y pretencioso de Bin Landen. Su fuerza y su verdad están ahí, en su aparente fragilidad, en su falsa banalidad.

La literatura de Monzó no es tan comprensible como parece a simple vista. Todo el mundo la puede leer, cierto, pero ocurre lo mismo que con el Quijote o con Madame Bovary, hay quién la ve sólo como la historia de un loco gracioso o como la narración de las calenturas de una señora de provincias. Mil cretins se construye del mismo modo discreto y hondo. Su fuerza está precisamente en su despoblamiento retórico, en su falta de pomposidad, en su actitud serena, sin efectismos. La importancia del texto no está en el propio texto sino en la complicidad con el lector, en que el valor del libro se revela entre los escombros, la basura y la ganga, en que su enorme verdad humana se camufla significativamente entre el cretinismo más salvaje y más ambiental. Monzó no divide el mundo entre sabios —el escritor— e imbéciles —los demás— como suelen hacer los pretenciosos habituales o los críticos literarios tristes y manicomiales. Los cretinos son siempre mil —que es como decir "ponerse a mil" o decir diez mil o un millón, o infinitos—, empezando por el narrador mismo: "No he pensat per exemple, en la vida que duc habitualment, ni en com, per comptes d"assaborir les coses tal com vénen, em passo el dia rumiant com haurien de ser. Faig tot el que puc per corregir el curs de la realitat, i preveure-ho tot perquè, si evito que hi hagi cap ensurt, l"endemà resulti més suportable. (…) No frueixo del petó sinó quan ja és passat; aleshores el recordo de grat. No en frueixo en el moment perquè més enllà de la tendresa, veig les ombres, les possibilitats terribles que s"amaguen rere cada cosa agradable."

Como Sócrates, Monzó sabe que no sabe. Y su manera de escribir es la del gran narrador que construye sus historias desde la duda y la insatisfacción más hirientes. Es el gesto y la manera de un gran narrador porque el discurso de Frankfurt y Mil cretins nos retrotraen a la raíz misma de la modernidad literaria, al nervio de la mismísima reticencia con la que un Cicerón construyó sus famosos discursos Contra Verres, modelo retórico y literario donde los haya mientras nuestro mundo sea este mundo. Monzó cree en la suspicacia y en la desconfianza, en el sentido crítico, en la libertad de consciencia y de pensamiento como centro de la creatividad y del arte, como en el famoso discurso de Antonio del Julio César de Shakespeare. Monzó cree en lo mismo que creía Beckett, Kafka, o por citar la tradición catalana, Guillermo IX de Aquitania, el primer trovador conocido, que se atrevió a escribir el primer poema sobre la nada: "Farai un vers de dreit nien" —"Haré un poema sobre nada". Un poema que se ha hecho a partir de la nada y que no dice nada. Hablando en serio ¿qué podríamos decir? ¿Qué sabemos en realidad, qué conocemos más allá de nuestra propia incapacidad, nuestro cretinismo, nuestra imposibilidad de ser felices?

Jordi Galves, LA VANGUARDIA, Barcelona

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Mille cretini

Il mondo è davvero dominato dai cretini? In un'intervista rilasciata a Stefania Vitulli per «Il Giornale», l'autore di “Mille cretini”, Quim Monzó, ha definito la stupidità come «la qualità che gli stronzi hanno di infastidire e irritare quelli che non sono stupidi come loro». Ciò implica la consapevolezza delle proprie azioni, il sapere di fare una cosa sbagliata e, appunto, stupida, ma farla lo stesso, magari incrociando le dita, nella speranza che nessuno s'accorga dell'idiozia di tali comportamenti.

Chi è Quim Monzó? Per chi ancora non ne avesse sentito parlare, è uno scrittore catalano di romanzi e racconti, oltre che giornalista per il quotidiano «La Vanguardia». È suo il discorso d'apertura della Fiera internazionale del libro di Francoforte nel 2007, l'anno in cui il paese ospite era la sua Catalogna: allora, presentò uno scritto in forma di racconto breve, una novità rispetto agli interventi degli anni precedenti. In Italia i suoi libri sono pubblicati principalmente dalla casa editrice Marcos y Marcos, ma ricordiamo anche “Il migliore dei mondi”, edito da Einaudi. Alla sua attività di scrittore, ha affiancato la collaborazione con il cinema (ha scritto i dialoghi del film “Prosciutto, prosciutto” di Bigas Luna).

Riguardo a Mille cretini, non è la prima volta che mi ritrovo a parlare di questa bella raccolta di racconti. La struttura dello scritto di  Monzó mi ha fin da subito colpita per la sua freschezza, agilità, ironia e franchezza nel ritrarre dei casi umani, che incarnano vari aspetti della stupidità: dalla scelta di un uomo di sposare l'ex fidanzata malata – spinto da una strana forma di altruismo –, alla donna frustrata perché il marito e il figlio, dopo cena, si chiudono nelle loro stanze coi rispettivi computer e la lasciano da sola per tutta la serata. Peccato che, nel primo caso, la ragazza, per miracolo, guarisca, e il novello sposino non sappia più che pesci pigliare (se non fosse stata malata, mica se la sarebbe sposata!); Marta, invece, è sempre stata molto critica nei confronti dei programmi televisivi – poiché non permettevano a lei e alla sua famiglia di comunicare – mentre, ora che il marito e il figlio hanno optato per il pc, comincia a pensare che forse la tv significava almeno qualche ora insieme in salotto.

Insomma, i cretini hanno sempre da lamentarsi e quando le cose cambiano si lamentano ancor di più. E gli intelligenti? Riusciranno a salvare il mondo? Programmi spazzatura, riviste di gossip, la diffamazione che prevale sul diritto di cronaca: in realtà, la lista dei canali che contribuiscono a diffondere uno stile di vita e messaggi stupidi è lunga e articolata. Ma sarebbe sbagliato credere che Monzó sia pessimista a riguardo, quasi ci stesse dicendo che la stupidità ha ormai preso il sopravvento sul proverbiale buon senso e sull'intelligenza. Egli si limita a tracciare dei ritratti ben precisi, con la stupidità che trae la sua linfa vitale dall'omologazione di pensiero, dai falsi miti della società moderna, dalle paure e frustrazioni umane. I lettori si trovano al cospetto della stupidità nelle sue mille sfaccettature, e forse l'obiettivo dello scrittore è far loro provare quel senso di fastidio, disgusto e avversione che li spinga a rifiutare le scelte dettate dall'egoismo, il tornaconto, per agire un po' come la Madonna del racconto Il sangue del mese venturo, che si rifiuta in modo categorico di mettere al mondo Gesù, poiché la cosa le è stata imposta dall'alto. Se è vero che, alle volte, siamo sfortunatamente in tanti un po' cretini, sarebbe bene fare di tutto per ridurre la percentuale di stupidità quotidiana a livelli minimi.

SUL ROMANZO, sulromanzo.it/blog/mille-cretini-di-quim-monzo

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