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“For a while all I heard was the noise Arturo made as he drank his tea, muffled sounds from the street, the elevator going up and down a few times. And suddenly, when I wasn’t thinking or hearing anything anymore, I heard him repeat that a critic was going to trounce him. It doesn’t really matter, I said. It’s a hazard of the trade. It does matter, he said. It’s never mattered to you before, I said. Now it does mater to me, he said, I must be getting bourgeois. Then he explained that there were similarities between his last book and his new book that fell into the realm of games that were impossible to decipher. I had read his last book and liked it, and I didn’t have any idea what his new book was about. So I didn’t have anything to say. All I could ask was: what kind of similarities. Games, Guillem, he said. Games. The fucking Nude Descending a Staircase, your fucking fake Picabias, games. So what’s the problem? I said. The problem, he said, is that the critic, a guy named Iñaki Echevarne, is a shark. Is he a bad critic? I said. No, he’s a good critic, he said, or at least he isn’t a bad critic, but he’s a fucking shark. And how do you know that he’s going to review your new book when it isn’t even in bookstores yet? Because the other day, he said, while I was at the publishing house, he called the head of publicity and asked for my last novel. So? I said. So I was sitting there, across from the head of publicity, and he said hello, Iñaki, what a coincidence, Arturo Belano is right here across from me, and that bastard Echevarne didn’t say anything. What was he supposed to say? Hello, at least, said Arturo. And since he didn’t say anything, you’ve decided that he’s going to tear you apart? I said. Besides, what if he does tear you apart? It doesn’t matter! Look, said Arturo, Echevarne fought recently with Aurelio Baca, the Cato of Spanish letters, do you know him? I haven’t read him but I know who he is, I said. It was all because of a review Echevarne had written of a book by one of Baca’s friends. I don’t know whether the criticism was justified or not. I haven’t read the book. All I know for sure is that the novelist had Baca to defend him. And Baca’s attack on the critic was the kind of thing that brings a person to tears. But I don’t have any self-righteous strongman to defend me, absolutely no one, so Echevarne can do whatever he wants to me. Not even Aurelio Baca could defend me, because I make fun of him in my book, not the one that’s about to come out but the last one, although I doubt he’s ever read me. You make fun of Baca? I made fun of him a little, said Arturo, although I doubt he or anyone else would ever notice. That rules out Baca as a champion, I admitted, thinking that I too had overlooked the passage that was worrying my friend. That’s right, said Arturo. Well, let Echevarne lay into you, I said. Who cares? None of this matters. Of all people you should know that. We’re all going to die, think about the hereafter. But Echevarne must feel like taking it out on someone, said Arturo. Is he really that bad? I said. No, no, he’s very good, said Arturo. Well then? It has nothing to do with that, it’s about exercising the muscles, said Arturo. The muscles of the brain?I said. Some kind of muscles, and I’m going to be the punching bag Echevarne trains on for his second or eighth round with Baca, said Arturo. I see, this is an old fight, I said. So what do you have to do with all of it? Nothing, I’m just going to be the punching bag, said Arturo. For a while we sat there without saying anything, thinking, as the elevator went up and down and the noise it made was like the sound of all the years we hadn’t sen each other. I’m going to challenge him to a duel, said Arturo at last. Do you want to be my second? That’s what he said.”

If this does not have an effect on you you are useless.

I have been starving myself intentionally, again. Not to save money, this time. Out of depression, probably. Possibly also to play the poet. There is no such thing as a well-fed writer. That’s bourgeois. Francesca called me pretentious, “but in a good way,” a few weeks ago, but I’m still offended by it, and confused. Sometimes I think Christine was right, that most people who use that word don’t know what it actually means. Going to museums, plays, drinking coffee and red wine: these are not pretensions.

Sitting at the café, reading the above passage, I felt like crying at my solitude. To take myself out of the story I’m engrossed in I place myself into the world I readily abandon. I try to make stories about the people around me, the balding Buddy Holly, the Japanese school girls. I think about carving into the table, “Garen J Torikian, a writer, was here.” I have done this before, in Oxford, at the Inkling’s pub, “The Eagle and Child,” after two Guinnesses on an empty stomach, waiting for the rain to calm down. It might still be there.

It is also written: “And then I started to think again about Stridentopolis, about its museums and bars, its open-air theaters and newspapers, its schools and its dormatories for traveling poets, dormitories where Borges and Triztan Tzara, Huidobro and André Breton would sleep.” To most this would be a throwaway line. But since I was raised on Joyce I was displeased that I did not know who this Huidobro was. I bought his manifestos–they arrived in the mail today–another Mexican Surrealist. This book I am reading, The Savage Detectives, it needs an essay, I’m writing it in my head, a comparison between Arturo Belano with Tristan Tzara and Ulises Lima with André Breton (do you remember, Mitchell, that I told you this before?). Bukowski compared himself to Arturo Bandini; I see me as Arturo Belano, impotent romantic and all.

In twenty years the displaced Chilean has gone from a boy who wept when unable to defend Neruda to a man who is willing to kill to defend his own honor. But it hasn’t been twenty years, it hasn’t even been two-hundred pages–Christ, it hasn’t even been two days for me. All the rage and excitement I feel for this book are hidden from a world too self-involved to care. I understand Belano, a man whose friends offer mild praise, but who knows in his heart that there is no strongman, no Baca, to defend him.

We must always dress ourselves for battle and death.

And when I finished the coffee and stepped outside it was still early evening, the sun had not yet set, but the moon was out, full, defiant. And I got down and knelt to pray, every part of my body kneeling, my knuckles bending, even my eyelids cast down. And a dog came from behind me and nipped my heels playfully. And as I prayed I wept because I knew, or think I did, what it meant to be alive.