Enrique Lihn: El arte de la palabra [The Way of Speaking]


The latest addition to my website is Enrique Lihn‘s El arte de la palabra [The Way of Speaking]. Lihn was primarily a poet but he wrote five novels of which this is the best known. It concerns a literary conference on the fictional island of Miranda, which has been described as a cross between Chile and Cuba. It is separated by a river from the mainland though it is called an island. It is not entirely clear where it is, even to those who visit it. It has an exotic flora and fauna and seems to rain heavily most of the time. Lihn mocks both the political nature of the island (and hence the politics of Chile and Cuba) but also mocks literary conferences and the second-rate writers he sees who attend these conferences. Gerardo de Pompier is the main writer we meet and we see him through his letters and diaries. He has not actually written a book at all and, when he writes a poem on the theft of his shoes from the hotel, it is firmly rejected by a local literary magazine. According to him, his basis for fame is his silence. Many of the participants behave fairly badly, two spending their time getting drunk and visiting prostitutes and the Paraguayan poet, Urbana Concha de de Andrade (yes, the de de is correct) chasing de Pompier and being chased by his friend, the writer and geologist Roberto Albornoz. There is a former prisoner of first the Nazis and then the Soviets, called Otto Federico Hitler, as well as the writer who has been a promising young Argentinian writer for the past thirty years. The paper they produce, El arte de la palabra [The Way of Speaking], is a mishmash of Saussurean linguistics and says nothing new and all the participants are roundly condemned by the Protector, the local dictator. It is great fun, as Lihn mocks everyone and everything. Sadly, it has not been translated into any other language.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Richard

    Congrats on writing the first Enrique Lihn review that I’ve ever seen on an English-language website! The novel sounds like a lot of fun, and of course “Urbana Concha” is a great name for a prostitute even without the “de de” that follows. I enjoy your blog, by the way, but I believe this might the first time I’ve left a comment–my bad. ¡Saludos!

    1. tmn

      Thanks for your comments. Sadly, Lihn is not the only Latin-American writer whose only review on an English-language blog is on mine. Ask Alberto Chimal, who told me as much himself. I also very much enjoy your blog. I have a copy of La novela luminosa and am looking forward to reading it.

Leave a Reply