Monday, 25 November 2013

Roberto Calasso on Juan Rodolfo Wilcock

Roberto Calasso (one of Italy's most important contemporary writers and publishers), in his clear and vivid style which has always characterized him, gives a very intriguing and highly original portrait of Juan Rodolfo Wilcock. 

As an epilogue to his Obras Completas, Borges dictated the entry Borges of an Encyclopaedia Sudamericana of 2074 that begins like this: "Author and autodidact...". Juan Rodolfo Wilock, a unique guest of Italy, of its language, of its literature who has recently died, was perhaps our only writer from whom one could have imagined an entry in an immaginary encyclopaedia about himself of such delight. yet every imitation, in this case, would be in vain. We can only remember, with regret, that Wilcock appeared in this country and that it related to him rather like fascist Italy with the great engraver escher: if Escher knew how to live in Italy without being noticed by anyone, Wilcock has managed for years ever to be included in the Stock Exchange catalogues of our dull and ponderous reviewers.

He arrived in Rome in the Fifties as an Argentinian author, close to Borges and his friendly plotters, together with Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. Yet all this was then, in part, too little known and in part too imprecisely talked about. therefore the most immediate and inevitable perception that people had of Wilcock was about his style. The complete absence of intellectual priggishness "the aristocratic enjoyment in displeasing" which he often felt and in a grand manner, with his irony lurking around to ambush in each and every syllable, his sheer impatience for the set phrase and the cliche of the spirit- all this was quickly noted often with some kind of fearful perplexity.But these qualities acquired their real sense and flavour only if one went further to discover that which,I believe, only few friends understood: that eccentric and solid wisdom, that admirable self-sufficiency which were the most fundamental elements in Wilcock's character. "He loved Wittgenstein, poetry and reading the Scientific American" (that is how Marcel Schwob could have described him) and these three elements were enough to give him a base of happiness. He knew, as so few others did, how not to depend on others and on the world. From when he started to write in Italian he managed to transmit in his writing that trace which belonged to his gestures, that impression that one got from his person. Therefore his Italian is like a small tropical island laden with old and thick vegetation caught up in the torrent of a river poisoned by the stench of industrial waste and which flows through a thin and insolent countryside. Far too few, unfortunately, have yet tried to set foot on that island. And it isn't out of the question that, as in other cases, the fame of Wilcock will reverberate in Italy from outside, for example, from France where they are starting to read him far more than other illustrious writers who  occupy the book shop
windows over here in Italy. Wilcock was successful in mixing his manner of writing with his way of living. For a short while he was to substitute Chairomonte as a theatre critic for Panunzio's Il Mondo and going to the theatre annoyde him immensely. Therefore, for a number of weeks, he wrote of inexistent shows with a sober precision. This was how the figure of the Catalan theatre director, Llorenz Riber, the author of rare and striking theatre productions, with their productions in tangiers, Oxford and Latina came to be born. His most memorable venture was the production of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations which Wilcock would tirelessly recount the plot. Still at the Mondo, Wilcock would for years sign articles both under his own name as well as that of Matteo Campanari. In the articles signed under the name of Wilcock he was polemicise with the idea of Matteo Campanari who would respond polemically. But apart from this more secret inventions of his, Wilcock wrote about everything in the most varied of forms. It is easier to list what he didn't write about or list what he didn't attempt than what he did. From his magsterial translation of the start of Finnegans Wake to that of the theatre of Marlowe, from the chronicles (immaginary or not) of science and literature, to aphoristic musings to the wildest fantastic constructions (which were, in a certain way, his everyday reality), to encyclopaedic footnotes to poems.

Indeed, because after having published numerous poetry collections in Argentina (I'll recall one here called Sexto simply because it was his sixth collection of verse) Wilcock managed to change his skin and to become an Italian poet. These are verses yet to be discovered and I would place him as one of the few in these last years in Italy that we'll be happy to remember. Even because from them, from their rhyhtm, from the intensely refined choice (and therefore barely perceptible) of vocabulary, that serenity of his speaks directly to use, that freedom from that which hinders the spirit, that lifestyle which it was impossible not to love in Wilcock:

To live is to travel through the world
crossing bridges of smoke;
when one reaches the other side
who cares whether the bridges collapse
To arrive at some place
one needs to find a landscape
It's of no importance if disembarking from the carriage
one discovers that this was simply a mirage.

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