Thurs­days at La Gi­ralda

New England Review - - Recolllections - Juan José Saer

An ex­cerpt from the novel La Grande efore the cen­tral mar­ket was torn down, the al­ley be­hind it was full of cheap restau­rants and board­ing houses. In one of these, La Gi­ralda, on Au­gust 6, 1945, pre­ci­sion­ism was born. There was no broad­side, no Bat­tle of Her­nani, no ex­quis­ite corpse. Mario Brando, its cre­ator, had his sights else­where: pre­ci­sion­ism should take its place not among the avant-garde, in op­po­si­tion to the times, but rather as its most faith­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Brando, news­pa­pers, ra­dio sta­tions, univer­si­ties, and large-cir­cu­la­tion mag­a­zines should be the nat­u­ral media for the ex­pres­sion and ex­pan­sion of the move­ment. Sci­en­tific mag­a­zines not only weren't ex­cluded but in fact were, in a cer­tain sense, the im­me­di­ate pre­cur­sors of the pre­ci­sion­ist aes­thetic. A proto-pre­ci­sion­ism could be found pre­cisely in the latest sci­en­tific trea­tises and the re­views of these in pop­u­lar mag­a­zines.

At the time, for the writ­ers of the city, it was a sign of good taste to be seen, ev­ery so of­ten, at one of the pre­ci­sion­ists' Thurs­day din­ners. Only the post- mod­ernista old guard re­fused to yield, but it's im­por­tant to note that, from Belis­ario Roldán on­ward, they'd la­beled ev­ery new literary move­ment as way­ward, pro­saic, and in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. Any­one still left over in 1960 was still mak­ing the same joke about mod­ern art, namely that ev­ery­thing rep­re­sented by ab­stract paint­ing was a fried egg.

The rest of the op­po­si­tion, which is to say the neo­clas­si­cists and the re­gion­al­ists, was much more elas­tic, if not op­por­tunis­tic. The re­gion­al­ists, who met on Fri­days at the San Lorenzo grill house, would in­di­vid­u­ally at­tend the din­ners ev­ery so of­ten, and would in­vite this or that pre­ci­sion­ist to their cook­outs. But they didn't suf­fer from any il­lu­sions: they knew that Nexos, the of­fi­cial or­gan of Mario Brando's move­ment, would never welcome a re­gion­al­ist text. The neo­clas­si­cists, whose mag­a­zine, Espiga, had been pub­lished tri­an­nu­ally since 1943, had some of­fi­cial ex­changes with the pre­ci­sion­ists, inas­much as Brando and his clique thought that cer­tain neo­clas­si­cal sub­jects, like Chris­tian mys­ti­cism, for in­stance, could yield to the pre­ci­sion­ist aes­thetic. And the neo­clas­si­cists, mean­while, ap­pre­ci­ated the pre­ci­sion­ist in­cli­na­tion for tra­di­tional forms. In pri­vate, the re­gion­al­ists re­ferred to the neo­clas­si­cists as sanc­ti­mo­nious Bi­ble thumpers and to the pre­ci­sion­ists as out­dated fu­tur­ists and fas­cists; the neo­clas­si­cists said that the re­gion­al­ists, with ev­ery one of their cri­ollo cook­outs, were slowly de­vour­ing the sub­jects of their literature, and that the pre­ci­sion­ists, with their ab­surd sci­en­tism, were the med­i­cal school pages; and the pre­ci­sion­ists,

BJuan José Saer

who weren't sat­is­fied with the oc­ca­sional slan­der and in fact launched fully clan­des­tine smear cam­paigns, re­ferred to sev­eral mem­bers of Espiga's ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee as Curia spies, to their writ­ing as an in­ten­tional amal­ga­ma­tion of mys­ti­cism and fag­gotry, and said that the in­ter­est of the re­gion­al­ist group's leader for the coun­try­side could be ex­plained by the fact that he was ac­tu­ally a horse.

Brando was born in 1920. In 1900, his fa­ther, an Ital­ian im­mi­grant, ar­rived in Buenos Aires with the cer­tainty that ev­ery one of his com­pa­tri­ots hud­dled along­side him in the boat, along with ev­ery­one who'd come over in the last thirty or forty years, crowded in other boats, and still crowd­ing in Buenos Aires slums un­til they got the chance to fi­nally own a farm or a busi­ness, that ev­ery one of those com­pa­tri­ots, who came from ev­ery­where in Italy, still shared the same weak­ness, pasta, and that he would be the one to sup­ply them with it. Af­ter three or four years of ad­ven­tures, he fi­nally landed in the city and started to man­u­fac­ture, in small, ar­ti­sanal quan­ti­ties, fresh pas­tas that he dis­trib­uted to a fixed clien­tele in wicker boxes, care­fully wrapped in im­mac­u­late nap­kins cut from bags of grain. Two years later, the cus­tomers would be com­ing to buy their pasta at the Brando fam­ily del­i­catessen, in the cen­ter of the city, and if by 1918 their dry spaghetti, wrapped in cel­lo­phane or in twenty-kilo bags, was sold in nu­mer­ous shops in the north of the province, by 1925, Pas­tas Brando was one of the top busi­nesses in the province, and Atilio Brando was the pres­i­dent of the Cír­culo Ital­iano. (In 1928, one black ball thrown in the vote would keep him out of the Club del Or­den.)

To the an­noy­ance of many lo­cal pa­tri­cians, Atilio Brando's Span­ish was flaw­less. Five or six years af­ter hav­ing come to the coun­try, all that was left of his Ital­ian ac­cent was a slight as­pi­ra­tion. His fam­ily was full of lieu­tenants to Cavour, to Pel­lico, and to Garibaldi. In the six­ties, Taine had eaten with one of his rel­a­tives in Rome. And when the man­u­fac­ture of pas­tas had achieved a reg­u­lar pace, when the com­plex, fu­tur­is­tic har­mony of the fac­tory was pro­duc­ing an un­in­ter­rupted chain of iden­ti­cal pack­ages of frag­ile, yel­low pas­tas ready to be cir­cu­lated by a per­fectly oiled and ef­fi­cient dis­tri­bu­tion net­work, the el­der Brando handed over the fac­tory to a loyal man­ager with a share in the prof­its and started spend­ing long pe­ri­ods in Italy or writ­ing nov­els and mem­oirs in his house in Guadalupe.

It was said that, with­out a doubt, the Bran­dos had come to this world to de­mol­ish stereo­types. The del­i­cate Ro­mans who con­versed with Taine in French and sup­ported uni­fi­ca­tion ended up for­got­ten and scat­tered, while the vi­sion­ary who, to re­con­struct his pat­ri­mony, had only a cou­ple of se­cret recipes for tagli­atelle and rigatoni, could boast a vir­tu­ously non­cha­lant at­ti­tude with re­gard to his chil­dren's ed­u­ca­tion and to the des­tiny of Pas­tas Brando af­ter the death of its founder. Mem­oirs and re­al­ist nov­els were the polestars of his life.

In con­trast to ev­ery gringo imag­ined by the Ar­gen­tine theater, Atilio Brando wasn't a slave trader, work wasn't his re­li­gion, and he didn't de­mand a law or a med­i­cal de­gree from his son as the first step to­ward an ad­van­ta­geous mar­riage with a pa­tri­cian young lady. In con­trast, to Mario Brando, so­cial sta­tus had true value and wasn't the ten­u­ous and some­what de­gen­er­ate sim­u­lacrum that the

old pasta maker de­scribed in his re­al­ist nov­els. To him, ur­ban­ity was an ex­treme form of his­tori­cism, and ma­te­ri­al­ists, if they were con­sis­tent, should ven­er­ate snobs. But Mario Brando wasn't a snob, inas­much as, ev­ery time he used the word, he knew what he was re­fer­ring to. His poetic vo­ca­tion was au­then­tic, and his his­tori­cism was in fact man­i­fested in his ro­man­tic life and in the tenets of pre­ci­sion­ism, of which he was the pri­mary au­thor. The re­la­tion­ship to his fa­ther was orig­i­nal for rea­sons di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to those that literature has ac­cus­tomed us to think of as typ­i­cal of gen­er­a­tional con­flict. Of the two Bran­dos, the fa­ther was the ro­man­tic and the son the prag­ma­tist; the fa­ther was gen­er­ous and the son miserly; the fa­ther, in­dif­fer­ent to so­cial con­ven­tions, and the son, ut­terly de­pen­dent on public opin­ion. The fa­ther walked around shab­bily dressed, lost in day­dreams, while the son never left the house with­out a vest or a gold cig­a­rette case. Like a mil­lion­aire fa­ther who tries to hide from his board mem­bers the va­grancies of his heir that might en­dan­ger the busi­ness, Mario hid his fa­ther's flir­ta­tions with re­al­ism from landown­ers and his dis­ci­ples, con­sid­er­ing them a mock­ery of pre­ci­sion­ism's sci­en­tific ex­ac­ti­tude. Luck­ily, Atilio Brando wrote in the lan­guage of Dante, as he proudly de­clared, and apart from a few ar­ti­cles in La Región from the thir­ties, his books ( Against Her­metism, for in­stance), pub­lished in Italy, did not cir­cu­late be­yond a few mem­bers of Unione e Benev­olenza. The old man was both­ered by world­li­ness be­cause it dis­tracted him from literature; for the son, literature was the pin­na­cle of world­li­ness, in the noble sense of the word, and he told him­self that it was the only noble thing he could boast of.

For sev­eral rea­sons: first, be­cause pre­ci­sion­ist me­chan­ics were es­sen­tially worldly, which is to say his­tori­cist ( his­tori­ciz­ing might be the most ap­pro­pri­ate word). The idea of trans­lat­ing a tra­di­tional poetic vo­cab­u­lary into rig­or­ously con­tem­po­rary sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal lan­guage demon­strated a blind faith in the knowl­edge of the age and in an ex­act cor­re­spon­dence be­tween its ter­mi­nol­ogy and re­al­ity. The heart in “El co­razón, viejo, tan men­tado,” in “El alma que canta”— Brando would of­ten say at the din­ners— isn’t a forced rhyme, it’s a mus­cle. And he would stare at his in­ter­locu­tor, his eyes wide, with the hint of a slightly de­fi­ant smile, tak­ing in the ef­fect that his words had pro­duced.

Sec­ond, Brando and his un­der­lings were con­vinced that the mass media, like news­pa­pers, ra­dio, and later tele­vi­sion, along with tra­di­tional cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, should play a dom­i­nant role in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of pre­ci­sion­ist tenets. It wasn't sim­ply ex­hi­bi­tion­ism: Brando was con­vinced that pre­ci­sion­ism's so­cial func­tion was to purge the lan­guage of the masses, mod­ern­iz­ing it and mak­ing it cor­re­spond with sci­en­tific ter­mi­nol­ogy. It’s very sim­ple, Brando would in­sist, it’s about speak­ing with pre­ci­sion. That sim­pli­fies things very much. Look at the et­y­mol­ogy of the word “pre­ci­sion,” from the Latin “prae­cisus,” cut off, ab­bre­vi­ated. Ev­ery word that the pre­ci­sion­ist poet uses should cor­re­spond to a ver­i­fi­able thing. In this way, all mis­un­der­stand­ings in the so­cial ex­change of con­cepts and emo­tions dis­ap­pear. The pre­ci­sion­ist move­ment hoped to oc­cupy the to­tal­ity of the so­cial field, act­ing on each of its ar­tic­u­la­tions in or­der to trans­form it com­pletely. Was

Juan José Saer

this op­ti­mism or ex­trem­ism? the neo­clas­si­cists asked them­selves, some­what lost, pre­tend­ing, with their per­plexed tone, that de­spite ev­ery good in­ten­tion and ev­ery­thing they knew about them, they couldn't find any con­cep­tual co­her­ence in the move­ment. And yet, when those echoes of be­wil­der­ment reached his ears, Brando said that the an­swer had al­ready been given in the first sen­tence of the first man­i­festo, pub­lished on the first page of the first is­sue of the first vol­ume of Nexos (De­cem­ber, 1945): To pre­serve the econ­omy of ideas, in the field of ver­bal com­merce we are pro­tec­tion­ists.

By 1945, Brando was al­ready fin­ish­ing law school. He'd done it rig­or­ously and swiftly, on his own ini­tia­tive, inas­much as the el­der Brando was not sub­ject, as men­tioned above, to the fetish of the diploma. Fur­ther­more: by 1940, he'd al­ready turned the fac­tory over to his man­ager, an hon­est, hard­work­ing cri­ollo with more luck and more ethics than those de­scribed by Gu­tiér­rez (Ed­uardo), among oth­ers; he'd trans­formed his cap­i­tal into real es­tate and prop­erty (land, houses, farms) and lived peace­fully from the rent, con­tem­plat­ing the im­plicit world­view in I Malavoglia. Pasta, he sup­pos­edly con­fessed once to Washington Nor­iega dur­ing ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion on a cor­ner down­town, some­time around 1937, a dal­liance of youth. He'd al­ready mar­ried off his three daugh­ters and had de­ter­mined that his youngest son was not one to be dis­armed by life. At twen­ty­one, he was al­ready dat­ing the daugh­ter of a gen­eral. At twenty-six, four months af­ter the ap­pear­ance of the first is­sue of Nexos, and with the sec­ond soon to be pub­lished, a story in the so­ci­ety sec­tion of La Región an­nounced the wed­ding of Señorita Ly­dia Ponce Navarro to Dr. Mario Brando. The el­der Brando shook his head deep down (to put it one way), mys­ti­fied. Mario's so­cial suc­cess im­pressed him less than the painstak­ing and ef­fi­ca­cious way in which he passed from one stage to the next, and the al­most math­e­mat­i­cal ex­ac­ti­tude that ruled over the re­al­iza­tion of his projects. In short, at twenty-six, Mario Brando was one of the most cul­tured and el­e­gant men in the city, he worked at an im­por­tant law firm, he re­ceived a por­tion of his fa­ther's es­tate, he'd mar­ried the daugh­ter of a gen­eral, had turned down an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor­ship in Civil Law, and he was the undis­puted head of the pre­ci­sion­ist move­ment, whose mag­a­zine, Nexos, had been warmly re­ceived in the Sun­day sup­ple­ment of La Nación.

An ar­ti­cle with a photo in the next day's edi­tion of La Región had de­scribed the first pre­ci­sion­ist din­ner. Be­hind the ap­par­ent ob­jec­tiv­ity, the post- mod­ernista re­sent­ment was clearly vis­i­ble. Brando learned his les­son. Af­ter that day, he wrote the news­pa­per and ra­dio sto­ries for them him­self. What would strictly speak­ing be called the group's cre­ative la­bor was soon sup­ple­mented with con­fer­ences, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, and ra­dio in­ter­views. The ap­pear­ance of the mag­a­zine was of fun­da­men­tal strate­gic im­por­tance: in the ar­ti­cles, the sem­i­nars, the in­ter­views, and the con­fer­ences, they had to make ter­mi­no­log­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal con­ces­sions, which gen­er­ated nu­mer­ous mis­un­der­stand­ings; but the pages of Nexos, mean­while, main­tained, from start to fin­ish, a con­sis­tent ex­ac­ti­tude. Its pre­ci­sion­ist man­i­festos, texts, and en­grav­ings formed a co­her­ent and per­sua­sive com­pen­dium. The first is­sue, for the city and for the time, was lux­u­ri­ous, so

much so that the neo­clas­si­cists, who'd been pro­duc­ing the mod­est Espiga at great per­sonal cost for al­most three years, started to spread ven­omous ru­mors about the source of their fund­ing. Brando's leg­endary cheap­ness im­me­di­ately ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity that the is­sue was paid for out of his own pocket. There was, in fact, no mys­tery: the new owner of Pas­tas Brando, who'd known Mar­ito all his life, the lawyers at his firm, who through Brando had con­tacts in the in­dus­trial and mil­i­tary sec­tors, and the book­store-press that Brando con­vinced of the pos­si­bil­ity of an ex­clu­sive se­ries of sin­gle-au­thor edi­tions from pre­ci­sion­ist po­ets as soon as the move­ment was funded, were more than enough to fi­nance the first four is­sues of Nexos, which com­prised the first vol­ume.

The Thurs­day menu was in­vari­able: al­pha­bet soup (that was Brando's idea), Span­ish-style stew, cheese and dessert, and red or white house wine. Cuello, the most fa­mous re­gion­al­ist, af­ter at­tend­ing one of these din­ners, said to a friend, In­stead of try­ing to re­form literature, they should start by re­form­ing their wine list. Brando had made a deal with Obregón, the owner: af­ter four­teen guests, the price of the menu was re­duced. The first group of pre­ci­sion­ists con­sisted of seven peo­ple, to which four or five girl­friends were added, and be­cause there were al­ways a few other guests that var­ied from week to week, the num­ber that Brando and the owner had agreed upon was al­ways easily met. It was said that, with four­teen peo­ple, Brando not only got a price re­duc­tion, but he him­self ate for free. In any case, when­ever the din­ner fin­ished, he al­ways took charge of gath­er­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of each guest, and was al­ways the one to set­tle at the counter with the owner. One night, the num­ber of guests reached twenty-one, not count­ing a ta­ble of re­gion­al­ist and neo­clas­si­cists who, ap­par­ently by chance, as though they didn't know that the pre­ci­sion­ists got to­gether at that res­tau­rant ev­ery Thurs­day, had de­cided to eat there that night. When he walked in and saw them sit­ting at a ta­ble near the one that the owner usu­ally pre­pared for them, Brando told one of his lieu­tenants, with great dis­cre­tion, to avoid pro­vok­ing them at all cost. But the oth­ers were cel­e­brat­ing a mu­nic­i­pal prize, and when they started drink­ing cham­pagne with dessert, two or three of the pre­ci­sion­ists started to frat­er­nize with them at the next ta­ble.

Some­one who never missed a din­ner was First Lieu­tenant Ponce, which is to say, Brando's brother-in-law and Ly­dia's younger brother. Though he'd stud­ied at the mil­i­tary col­lege in Buenos Aires, his fa­ther had ob­tained a post for him in one of the reg­i­ments in the city. He was shy and tanned and all of those in­tel­lec­tu­als made him some­what un­com­fort­able. He ad­mired his brother-in­law very much, and wouldn't say a word dur­ing the whole meal. But be­cause he would ar­rive be­fore any­one, and would drink three or four Hes­perid­i­nas at the bar be­fore the meal, some­times, af­ter­ward, he would start to re­cite Joaquín Castel­lanos's “El temu­lento,” which, along with “Si hay un hueco en tu vida, llé­nalo de amor” was the only po­etry he knew. Brando's un­der­lings, sens­ing that the founder of pre­ci­sion­ism grew im­pa­tient with the first lieu­tenant's poetic in­cli­na­tions, started to say, be­hind Brando's back, when de­scrib­ing the episodes, that the post- mod­ernista fifth col­umn was try­ing to un­der­mine the move­ment from within.

Juan José Saer

For sev­eral years, pre­ci­sion­ism dom­i­nated the literary world in the city, with a strong ad­van­tage over the other schools. It was the only orig­i­nal literary move­ment to have ap­peared there, inas­much as the neo­clas­si­cists weren't in fact any­thing more than a branch of a move­ment that had cir­cu­lated through­out the coun­try, and the re­gion­al­ists weren't a group strictly speak­ing be­cause the only thing they had in com­mon was their taste for cook­outs and their sys­tem­atic em­ploy­ment of bar­barisms. Among the re­gion­al­ists, only Cuello was known out­side the province. His books were regularly re­viewed in La Prensa and La Nación, and yet the in­vari­able praise they re­ceived re­peat­edly af­firmed that the books con­sti­tuted an in­valu­able tes­ti­mony of his na­tive re­gion and that their au­thor was a pro­found stu­dent of the ways of the coun­try­side. Pre­ci­sion­ism, mean­while, had been rec­og­nized from the be­gin­ning as some­thing more than a sim­ple literary move­ment, as a true Weltan­schau­ung. More than as a poet, de­spite the many mer­its in that re­gard that even his de­trac­tors rec­og­nized, Brando was seen as a philoso­pher, as a man of science, and even as a re­former. De­spite the jeal­ousy that his in­creas­ing fame pro­voked, more than a few re­gion­al­ists, and more than a few neo­clas­si­cists in par­tic­u­lar, ad­mit­ted pri­vately that, had he aban­doned his avant-garde pre­ten­sions, he might have trans­formed him­self into a more than re­spectable rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their re­spec­tive schools. Hig­inio Gómez and Jorge Washington Nor­iega, who kept them­selves on the mar­gin on the literary world, re­ferred to him, sar­cas­ti­cally, as “Il Duce stil novo of sci­en­tis­tic de­bris,” and re­fused to be im­pressed by the fact that Buenos Aires was look­ing fa­vor­ably on the work of a lo­cal ag­i­ta­tor. Brando, mean­while, took that ac­cep­tance as ob­jec­tive proof, and the ri­val groups val­i­dated his po­si­tion. A son­net of Brando's, “Chem­istry of the pas­sions,” ap­peared in mid-1946 in the sup­ple­ment to La Nación, and it should be said that, if the ex­is­tence of God had been an­nounced in that Sun­day ro­togravure, the re­gion­al­ists and the neo­clas­si­cists, as of that mo­ment, would have done with­out the mir­a­cles or the on­to­log­i­cal proof.

As of­ten hap­pens with avant-garde move­ments, the lead­ers sac­ri­fice them­selves to the ar­du­ous cre­ative la­bor, leav­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive work to their sec­onds in or­der not to over­whelm them with re­spon­si­bil­ity. Tardi, Brando's lieu­tenant, was charged, dur­ing the first vol­ume, with the trips to the press, with typ­ing up the mae­stro's po­ems, along with the cor­re­spon­dence with their ad­vis­ers and with the ra­dio sta­tions and the pa­pers. He was slightly older than Brando, and be­cause he'd started out pub­lish­ing in Espiga, the neo­clas­si­cists called him a traitor, and be­cause he was Brando's first dis­ci­ple and his name was Pe­dro, they of­ten said, in ref­er­ence to his some­what fee­ble in­tel­li­gence, Upon that Rock he will ed­ify his church. It's well-known that a con­flict be­tween Brando and Tardi caused the first rup­ture.

The groundswell that opened be­tween the mem­bers of the group came to light with the fourth pre­ci­sion­ist man­i­festo, which ap­peared in the fourth and last is­sue of the first vol­ume of Nexos. Its ti­tle— A pre­ci­sion­ist son­net is like no other son­net— gave le­gal force to an aes­thetic po­si­tion that Brando adopted in

or­der to cri­tique a trip­tych by Tardi, whose pub­li­ca­tion had been post­poned since the sec­ond is­sue. Need­less to say, ev­ery­thing pub­lished in the mag­a­zine was dis­cussed at the ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee's pe­ri­odic meet­ings, and Brando's de­ci­sions were al­ways fi­nal. The pub­li­ca­tion of the trip­tych had been de­layed a third time, and for the same rea­son: residue of pre- pre­ci­sion­ist lex­i­con. The un­spo­ken dis­tress among the ranks of the move­ment was re­vealed less in the pas­sion of their dis­cus­sions than in their dis­il­lu­sioned con­ver­sa­tions as they were leav­ing, when Brando wasn't around. If he can’t win, he calls it a draw, Tardi mut­tered in the ear of the per­son who fol­lowed him out. Even with­out Brando's psy­cho­log­i­cal re­fine­ment, the dis­con­tent would have been ob­vi­ous. For the pur­pose of a rad­i­cal break, the fourth man­i­festo spelled out their doc­trine and out­lined, one by one, the de­vi­a­tions. Po­etry, it con­cluded, will be pre­ci­sion­ist or not. Pre­ci­sion­ism is con­scious of the un­ease that its cru­sade gen­er­ates. But its most lu­cid rep­re­sen­ta­tives know how to rec­og­nize its en­e­mies, whether in­side or out­side the move­ment.

To make it any clearer it would have had to be writ­ten in wa­ter. Now he’ll know what it’s like to spend en­tire days at the printer, Tardi said malev­o­lently as he left the last meet­ing, which re­solved upon the dis­so­lu­tion of the move­ment. In or­der to fin­ish the prepa­ra­tions for the fourth is­sue of Nexos, Brando had to ac­cept the col­lab­o­ra­tion of two kids who were still im­i­tat­ing Espron­ceda and the Río Seco ro­mances and who hadn't even fin­ished high school. Tardi's trip­tych ap­peared in the fall is­sue of Espiga, af­ter a cleans­ing, de­manded by the neo­clas­si­cists, of all traces of pre­ci­sion­ist vo­cab­u­lary.

One less piece of bull­shit, said Gen­eral Ponce Navarro, who didn't ap­prove of the din­ners that his eldest daugh­ter had been at­tend­ing even be­fore she was mar­ried, or of the literary scan­dals that his son-in-law was caught up in. My dear Gen­eral, Brando would re­tort, cheer­ful and pa­tient, although some­what scalded, if the troops un­der­stand their or­ders it’s thanks to the work of po­ets, who pu­rify the lan­guage. And be­cause he had nerves of steel and a tem­per­a­ment that re­fracted all bit­ter­ness, he didn't al­low him­self to be dis­tracted by the de­fec­tion of his col­lab­o­ra­tors, and had al­ready be­gun to pre­pare a lim­ited hard­cover edi­tion of his po­ems. Doubt had no place in the reper­toire of his states of be­ing. Like any good re­al­ist, the el­der Brando at­trib­uted that char­ac­ter trait to his wife's fam­ily, and it pro­duced a sort of iron­i­cal aver­sion in him. On the other hand, his literary sen­si­bil­ity was closer to the re­gion­al­ists than to the pre­ci­sion­ists. Not only was he friends with Cuello, but he also went na­tive, as they say. Cuello, who was a metic­u­lous stu­dent of the flora and fauna in the province, aroused his ad­mi­ra­tion. He'd saved enough to buy a mo­tor­boat, and on the week­ends he'd of­ten ex­plore the is­lands in it. Some­times, the el­der Brando would ac­com­pany him. They slept along the coast, in a small tent, and ate what­ever they caught. On Sun­day nights they'd come home dirty, tired, and un­shaven, and be­fore they said good­bye they would drink one last beer at the counter of some bar. Out of mu­tual dis­cre­tion, the topic of pre­ci­sion­ism was never brought up.

One Sun­day in April, 1947, Brando was shak­ing his head in dis­be­lief over

Juan José Saer

the in­ep­ti­tude of the most re­cent is­sue of Espiga when he re­ceived a visit from the gen­eral and his bother-in-law, the first lieu­tenant. Ly­dia and her mother were at Mass, and the gen­eral wanted to take the op­por­tu­nity to speak to Brando. In short, it con­cerned the fol­low­ing: there was a pos­si­bil­ity of ob­tain­ing a post for Brando as cul­tural at­taché in Rome, but be­cause Ly­dia had al­ways been very close to her mother he hadn't wanted to speak of the mat­ter in front of the women, given that Brando wouldn't have been the one mak­ing the de­ci­sion. The gen­eral, for his part, rec­om­mended that he ac­cept. A new era had be­gun in the coun­try, and new blood was needed in ev­ery field. The gen­eral added that, when he brought up Brando's name at the min­istry, the ac­cep­tance was im­me­di­ate and prac­ti­cally en­thu­si­as­tic. And that, no doubt, ow­ing to what you call bull­shit, Brando re­sponded thought­fully, smil­ing con­de­scend­ingly. Although he'd de­cided on the spot to ac­cept, he asked for forty-eight hours to think it over, ar­gu­ing that this sort of de­ci­sion shouldn't be taken lightly, some­thing which in­creased the gen­eral's re­spect, but also his anx­i­ety, given that he'd al­ready given his word at the min­istry that his son-in-law would ac­cept.

The news caused con­sid­er­able com­mo­tion in the literary media. Ga­marra, the head editor of Espiga, re­peated the same joke ev­ery­where he went, namely that Brando, who took him­self for avant-garde, was ar­riv­ing twenty years late to the march on Rome. But La Región pub­lished a very long piece that Brando prac­ti­cally dic­tated to the jour­nal­ist, in which it said that the nom­i­na­tion rec­og­nized less the value of a man than of an aes­thetic and philo­soph­i­cal doc­trine. In the three or four weeks lead­ing up to his de­par­ture, Brando made him­self vis­i­ble of­ten, on San Martín and at par­ties, as though he wanted the den­sity of his per­son, highly pol­ished and neatly combed, to be en­graved on ev­ery­one's mem­ory dur­ing his ab­sence. His el­e­gance was sober, not that of a dandy, as may have been ex­pected from his avant-garde ten­dency, but rather that of a taste­ful bour­geoisie, who isn't try­ing to call at­ten­tion to him­self with ex­trav­a­gances, but who al­ways dresses in the man­ner that his sta­tion both obliges and per­mits him to be seen in the street, adding two or three per­sonal touches to show that a bour­geois fits nat­u­rally into his so­cial class while at the same time be­ing a welld­if­fer­en­ti­ated in­di­vid­ual. Some golden ac­ces­sory, whether it was cuff­links or a tie clip or a ring that stood out when jux­ta­posed with his wed­ding band, al­ways gave him an ad­di­tional glow. Cuello said sar­cas­ti­cally that he al­ways looked like he was on his way to or from a wed­ding.

With Brando's de­par­ture, the rest of the pre­ci­sion­ists scat­tered: Tardi and two oth­ers, Car­reras and Ben­venuto, fell in with the neo­clas­si­cists. Ben­venuto started to spe­cial­ize in Ger­man Ro­man­ti­cism and Eastern phi­los­o­phy. Tardi and Car­reras ended up on the ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee for Espiga, which was last pub­lished in 1950. Among the other four, two aban­doned literature com­pletely, and of the two that were left, one moved to Buenos Aires and the other one com­mit­ted sui­cide some­time later (it was ru­mored that he was a pe­dophile). There was less ac­tiv­ity in the literary world, and pol­i­tics seemed to be the main topic of con­ver­sa­tion. Mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion spoke in low voices, like

con­spir­a­tors, and those that had joined the gov­ern­ment or the of­fi­cial party pon­tif­i­cated openly, de­mon­strat­ing their en­thu­si­asm. Ga­marra, who re­fused to join the party, ar­gu­ing that he was apo­lit­i­cal, lost his post at the univer­sity, and thanks to his re­la­tion­ships at the Alianza Francesa, went to live in France. The re­gion­al­ists were also di­vided. One, who had been an anar­chist, ended up join­ing the com­mu­nist party af­ter Cuello joined the of­fi­cial party. Among the neo­clas­si­cists, two or three rad­i­cal Catholics joined the gov­ern­ment, but the rest, who'd joined the op­po­si­tion, claimed that El Gran Con­duc­tor had a brain tu­mor—in the sella tur­cica of the sphe­noid bone, to be pre­cise—and didn't have long to live. Some­how, ev­ery­one kept pub­lish­ing chap­books and hard­cover edi­tions and in­di­vid­ual po­ems in literary sup­ple­ments. But the era of the pre­ci­sion­ist din­ners and the Fri­day cook­outs at the San Lorenzo grill house had come to an end.

—trans­lated from the Span­ish by Steve Dolph

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