Saturday, 28 January 2012

Why some people don't get the joke

'Saint Augusto'

When you publicly declare that you think that an entire indigenous race must be exterminated, that a war criminal and despot should be adulated and that a centre-left government was run by extremist communists, you wouldn't take this seriously nor even agree with it - would you?

Some people do. I have a comedy blog called Iván Izqueirdo and have received comments that surely would raise your eyebrows.

The premise of this blog is that an extremist right-wing person from the Chilean aristocracy spouts out his diatribes. The thing is that there are so many of these people, who say exactly the same things, that for many Chilean people this blog would seem perfectly authentic.

Having grown up amongst upper-middle class communities in Chile, I find the worldview perspective of these people very narrow and repugnant. Many of these people have shrines to Pinochet in their homes and are never able to wake up to the reality of situations.

I find that the progressive conservatives in Chile are fairly respectable people. The majority of people from the right, however, speak what Iván Izquierdo speaks word for word. (On second thought, because Spanish is their first language, they don't have to think too hard on their phraseolgogy so much...)

So, when you speak to these people on their level, they'll agree with you... Yet they don't realise that you are actually mocking them and everything they stand for...

One person who attended my old school said "I love the blog, [Pablo] Neruda is a fucking communist."

This brings back memories of a conversation I had with this kid back in the equivalent of year six. My father was voting for a leftist candidate at a local election and he replied "God grief, your dad is a leftist!" His political reasoning doesn't appear to have altered since he was eleven...

What inspired the blog was The Daily Show, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Colbert is a comedian who impersonates a ultra-right political commentator - the kind you see on Fox... Yet, in a world, when this is the norm, hoards of Americans watch this spoof show and don't notice the difference...

I'd like to add that the concept of irony doesn't really exist in Chile. I mean, this blog is pretty crude and unsubtle yet people still don't get it... I remember that whilst I was in Chile I would get a lot of laughs by being ironic, the likes of which I seldom get here in the UK...

It all may seem ludicrous and over-the-top, but the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of Iván Izquierdos around...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The fox and the hedgehog

Mario Vargas Llosa

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One of my gateways into literature was the new wave of fiction from Latin-America which gained prominence in the 1960s. However, I have only read one book each (or as I am about to describe, one and a half) of its two main figureheads and nobel laureates: Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Back when Llosa was awarded that accolade I remember reading an article by William Boyd that was inculcated into my system: he described Vargas Llosa as a 'fox' and Marquez as a 'Hedgehog.'

From the two books I've read by each writer - The Feast of the Goat, a comparatively lesser work under Vargas Llosa's belt and One Hundred Years of Solitude, a unanimously acclaimed novel by Marquez - I find this to be an absolutely accurate statement.

What's striking about the two books is the style. Vargas Llosa is very varied - he switches tenses, locations and places in time within the space of a few pages. I have tried read Hundred Years of Solitude twice and I literally lose the will to live by page 150. I start of thinking "Yeah, that's cute," but as I progress through the narrative I am become exausted by the same stlye and tone being reiterated time and time again...

But it was revolutionary, you may say? I don't think so. Marquez was only popularising the concepts and ideas of writers who were far more complex and ingenious - Juan Rulfo, Juan Carlos Onetti and the stories of Borges... He simplified the more complex conceptions of these writers and spread a plague in which writers from across the world derived their ideas from Marquez and produced a magic realism that was even more kitsch than his own...

Reading about the bibilography of these writers to me is also indicative of the range of each. Vargas Llosa covers continents around the world, a wide variety of themes, a plethora of genres... Whilst Marquez, from what I can gather, simply writes the same book time and time again. If you look at it from this perspective, you can see that Llosa's prize was far more deserved. Marquez flippantly claimed that by awading him they were awarding the whole of South America - which was actually true... Vargas Llosa's award is a recognition of a lifetime of literary endeavour.

The Nobel commitee was criticised by some naive people for awarding the prize for Llosa's politics. I actually find it refreshing that the Nobel Prize was given out to someone from the political right; the politics of the Nobel comitee have always been incredibly biased and unfair. Borges, though it was a terrible move, gave support to Pinochet's government and was thus barred from ever winning the prize. Why should politics be brought to the equation when this is supposed to be a literary award?

Besides, the politics of Vargas Llosa are far more respectable than Marquez's. He is a centrist who leans to the right and an advocate for freedom and democracy against authoritarian dictatorships. Marquez, on the other hand, has been a vocal supporter of Fidel Castro since the inception of the Cuban regime... His politics are very rarely questioned, but they are as ineptly conceived and monotonous as his own writings...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Thoughts on my course

What I like about my course

I get to study many texts I would read in my spare time anyway and it looks beyond national borders by studying texts in translation.
What I also like about studying literature at uni is that pretty much everything I detested about GCSE and A-level is left aside. I hate studying characterisation and narrative structure. Maybe we'll look at that in closer detail in the second and third years - if that's the case, I don't look forward to it...
My course is also interdisciplinary, drawing from other subjects. I'm doing two film modules this year and they're part of the literature programme...
English is a very varied subject anyway. Something I was told by a lecturer at Hull University struck me: that he often saw lectures on sociology, History, philosophy etc. which he found perfectly suitable to be taught in English. I'd rather have that and draw from a wide range of disciplines instead of the fucking dull and narrow prescriptive analysis of texts...

What I don't like about my course

Contrary to what my 'About Me' says, I am actually quite enjoying my course, but here's a few things I dislike about it.
Like any other academic course, you've got to tick all the right boxes. My essays have ranged from receiving Firsts to Thirds. It always does my head in to give thought to the structure of the essay and ensure that I'm answering the question. I'd like to have more latitude to do whatever the fuck I want. I guess there would have been more of that if I'd studied Philosophy...
The workload can be a bit too much. I'm a slow reader, so I'm often behind with all the ludicrous amount of reading set... I'm so fed up with it at times that I know for certain that I'm not pursuing anything academic after getting a BA. There are some people who are willing to tear their brains to shreds studying for a doctorate, but I'm never going to go through all that trouble just to add three letters to my name...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Thoughts on my English school

These are the words I had for the school I attended in Chile: "A school ran by disgusting bureaucrats, taught by disgusting teachers, attended by disgusting students, brought up by disgusting parents - in short, a school of disgusting cunts."

Gee, that's harsh... I have actually fairly fond recollections of my Chilean school. Even though the above is true, I don't think the rancour was necessary... My Chilean school may have been 'disgusting', but my school in England was much worse.

Whilst my school there was run by a disgusting head teacher who rightfully got fired, and for the most part consisted of absolutely vile students, I have fond memories of my circle of friends. Some of the teachers were also ok....

In England it was only in Year 11, after spending a prior five years there, that I had a circle of friends I appreciated. Perhaps it's because I started getting more rebellious in England, but most of the students in (fuck legal reasons, I'm going to write the name of my English school here) 'The Dronfield School' I found to be conformist unquestioning little nit-wits.

What was more atrocious was the way the syllabuses were taught... All 'overachieving' students were given special attention whilst the underachievers were left alone in the wilderness.

Dronfield is a bourgeois middle-class town, which means that its local school will inevitably receive more educated and academic students. That's the sole reason why it is one of the schools with best results at GCSE.

But were these 'overachievers' intelligent? I wouldn't say so. Most of the time (not always) they were taught arithmetic and science by their parents at the age of five in the hope that their boring bland child would eventually go onto become a precocious prodigy.... School work was second-nature to them, but school work aside, did they have any academic curiosity for anything? No.

So, when I was there, I found the work painfully tedious... I decided that I simply wouldn't do it - I would either truant or attend classes and doze in the corner.

So I was classed as an 'underachiever,' but believe me, I didn't receive any sympathy. Most of the teachers got infuriated by my reluctance to work. Often, I felt like telling to their faces: why should I work on some dull formulaic meaningless piffle when I could do some real learning by looking at beautiful meadows in the countryside or staying at home listening to some chamber music by Maurice Ravel?

And I've been told several thing from other people who, unlike me, came from working-class backgrounds. One of my sister's friends is dyslexic and she never received any assistance for English and, to this day, still does not have a GCSE degree in the subject. The seating arrangements also worked against her advantage: the overachieving students would sit in the front of the room whilst students with less 'potential' would be sit at the back of the room without any assistance. She wasn't even diagnosed as dyslexic at the time.

I seriously could sue the school. After school I had a psychotic breakdown which was largely induced by memories of many of the school teachers and students...

After I got over my illness I got into a FE education college. My results from my school left me with a 'D' target grade. In the first year I ended up with AAB.

I was awarded a prize for 'Outstanding progress.' I looked at the other awards for other more 'practical/manual' courses and recognised the names of two underachievers who attended my school awarded as 'High Achievers'...

In the last few days I spent in that disgusting fortress they organised a school yearbook collating comments from all the students. I filched a quote from Frank Zappa: "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." In a book laden with stupid inane quotes, my (stolen) contribution was perhaps the only one which was actually saying something. After my head of year read it, every time she saw me she'd sheepishly say "Oh... hello Simon."

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Review #27

Esperanto - Rodrigo Fresán

On a trip to Bilbao, Spain (a trip in which the priority was to see Marcelo Bielsa's current football team Athletic Bilbao in action) I saw this book and bought it. Since it was the christmas break I thought, fuck it, I'm going to read this as a little divagation from the books set for uni. I was also very keen to read another book in Spanish again, such a rich language I love to peruse.

Having devoured many of the Latin-American classics in the past, I have been very interested in knowing how contemporary fiction from these parts fares... Sure, the critics have practically built a shrine in Roberto Bolano's honour, but - as elsewhere - there are swathes of other writers who do not receive as much attention.

How does this fare, then? Compared with most of the classics, not very well. On its own terms, this is entertaining, original and loopy...

'Esperanto' is an actual language a philologist called Lazarus Ludwig Zamenhof devised, who attempted to produce a composite of all existing languages, thus producing one 'universal' tongue.

And the narrator is christened 'Esperanto'. A former rock star who idolises James Dean and Bob Dylan, he has perished into obscurity for many years and now lives sequestered in a dingy apartment.

And he is the novel's namesake: Ernesto cannot make himself understood to others. Sure, he has no speech impediments and he is articulate, but he lives in a world of rejection and unfortunate mishappenings.

Drifting in and out of sleep, experiencing odd dreams that overlap with the events of the book, his best friend is a giant called Montana Mágica, whose principal interest is the various sounds you can make with farts...

Taking place withing a week, the tone - like the character - is hasty and frenetic. What we mainly see is Esperanto's memories: the past relationships he has had with women, his relationship with his relatives and his debunked career as a rock star.

Once Ernesto gets caught up in a mix-up in a discotheque, the whole thing lets loose and grabs you by the thorat in a cocktail of weirdness... The only shortcoming is the repetetive language; I sometimes found myself re-reading lines, only to find it was the same line, slightly altered and slightly tinkered...

Is there a wealth of great latin-American fiction? Sure. Is this it? I'd say so. Does it beat the hell out of the derivative banal magic realism of the Garcia Marquez variety? Hell yes. Is it going to change the world? No. But it certainly is worth reading...

Thursday, 5 January 2012

My routine

"I lead an extremely quiet life. [...] I write during the day, go for a walk along the river in the early evening and then watch TV and drink whisky and soda. And that seems to be the right background for me as an imaginative writer; perhaps I need invisible surroundings and this suburb is almost invisible to me." - J. G. Ballard

A month-long break from university means I have the chance to practice my routine....


Get up by at least 8.30 and arrive at this pond by 9.00.


Read book.

Recently a few examples being:


Scourge the fridge for food. Invariably this tends to consist of egg, bacon, spagetthi, cheese, etc.


Go to the library and work. First two hours are spent on a short story (just started a piece called 'The Murmurings'), the next two hours are spent on an essay or other university work.

This is my workplace:


(From 5 onwards the schedule tends to be more variable and don't necessarily stick to it so rigidly)

'Chill'/listen to music. Last few days I've been using this block of time to hear Beethoven symphonies...


Once every two days, spend this block of time on the internet; the other day use this time to watch a film.

And all this will come to an end within a week or so... Aghhr. : (