Friday, April 28, 2006


The panel "Homage to Juan Rulfo" at the Instituto Cervantes was extremely well attended, despite the Rulfian fact that the Mexican Cultural Institute sent many people to the wrong address, to a phantom panel that wasn't there. How fitting.
As I arrived late, unfortunately I missed the remarks of the moderator Antonio Muñoz Molina but I was right on time to hear my compatriot Carlos Monsiváis. In his inimitable florid and baroque, almost impenetrable style, Monsiváis captured a lot of what makes the work of Juan Rulfo (all of two magnificent works of fiction) so universal, so Mexican and so entrancing. Everything he said was insightful and smart, but he was much better as he spoke off the cuff, much more endearing and approachable through his sharp wit and considerable intellect.
Then it was Alberto Vital's turn, a biographer of Rulfo. One would think that the biographer of a literary star would have some really juicy and interesting bits to share with the audience. Instead this guy, who reminded me of countless Mexican bureaucrats with cultural delusions, proceeded to put everyone to sleep with a completely incongrous recitation of a laundry list of every edition of Rulfo's work ever known to man. I could not believe my ears. Apparently, for a man who wrote two books (among the greatest works of modern literature) there are a bunch of editions of Pedro Páramo and El Llano en Llamas (The Burning Plain) that we must know about.
One of Rulfo's sons was in hand to be very charming and offer his amazement at the response his father's work still generates in readers.
Fortunately, the Argentinian writer Rodrigo Fresán spoke off the cuff and with great charm, insight and curiosity about his relationship with Rulfo's work, Mexican telenovelas, and the immense relief he gets from Rulfo's spareness of language. His dialogue with Monsiváis was fun and enlightening. Muñoz Molina encouraged the conversation with his good questions. Then there was the obligatory discussion about whether Rulfo is considered to be magical realism or not. I'm glad to report, dear readers, that the collective unconscious seems to be not so enamored of the genre anymore (thanks to all those cheap imitators of García Márquez like Isabel Allende). Yes, no, who cares. To me Rulfo is as real as they come, and so is 100 Years of Solitude. What isn't real, what is phony, is when others give you whimsy without a shred of authenticity.
All in all, it was a very entertaining and interesting panel, because the discussion after pretty much centered in Fresán asking Rulfo's son questions about his dad. Why did he stop at two? Did he feel he had shot his wad? Me, I heard that Rulfo had drinking problems, and I do not blame the son for not wanting to go to difficult personal territory, although Fresan was asking in the spirit of true admiration and curiosity.
Monsiváis, who is a major imp, insisted that Rulfo was a terrible screenwriter, he said that he could talk about Rulfo as a photographer only because he himself had been a subject, and he sported an enigmatic sliver of a smile as he heard Rulfo Jr. gingerly answer something dignified to Fresán's probing, refreshing questions. He must have known a bunch of interesting stuff that it wouldn't be polite to talk about with family present.

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