The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel)
Dedication To My Character Eterna
In Eterna I have known the maximum impulse to piety without vice, nothing confused or demented in the act of abnegation and mercy. Nothing that can be published, spoken, or otherwise evoked can prepare the mind for her fulminous and total impulse, her Act of Pity. The most gallant Promptness of spirit moves in Eterna’s every step, a total and instantaneous impulse, an altruistic leap towards succor or engladdening or consolation.
The sublimely Swift
It was in Eterna; and nobody saw it.
Her light shone and nobody saw it, not in anything.
Reality and the I, or principally the I, the Individual (whether or not the World exists) only gives itself fully in the altruistic moment of mercy (and of satisfaction) without fusion, that is, in plurality. The end point of What Is, of World, and is its only ethic is the non-instinctive act of Mercy, keeping for itself the lucid discernment of plurality, without confusing the Other with Itself: to still be other, while living for another.
A Superlative Individual
Capable of stopping time. Of compensating for death. Of changing the past.
And, so obliging with her Self, to kill
With her No
With her forgetfulness
With her comicalness
With her reproach
But ever melancholy over her unrelinquished past, her unappeaseable past.
What Is Born And What Dies
Today we release to the public the last bad novel and the first good novel. Which one will be the best? In order to prevent the reader from opting for his preferred genre at the other’s expense, we’ve arranged that these two novels be sold as an indivisible set; considering that we’re unable to impose a mandatory reading of both novels, at least there remains the consolation of having devised an obligatory purchase of what one does not want, because it cannot be untangled from what one does. Therefore, the Obligatory Novel will either be the last bad novel or the first good novel, depending on the reader’s taste. There is one absurdity that must not be permitted: that the reader thinks the two novels are equally good, and congratulates us on such comprehensive “good fortune.”
The Bad Novel deserves its homage; this is mine. This way, nobody can say I don’t know how to do things poorly, that I didn’t have the talent for this novelistic genre; that is, the bad. Thus I’ll show the full scope of my capacities in the same day. It is true that I have run the risk of mixing up the bad thoughts of Adriana Buenos Aires with the good ones that constantly occurred to me for Eterna’s Novel, but it’s up to the reader to collaborate and sort out the confusion. Sometimes I found myself perplexed, especially when the wind blew the manuscript pages around the room. Then I wouldn’t know which page belonged in which novel because, as you know, I wrote a page of each novel per day; nothing could help me because the pagination was the same, the quality of ideas, paper, and ink were all equal—I had made an effort to be equally intelligent in each, to keep my twin novels from quarreling. How I suffered, not knowing if the brilliant page before me belonged in the last bad novel or the first good one!
Let the Reader take charge of my agitation and trust in my promise of a forthcoming goodbad novel, firstlast in its genre, in which the best of the bad of Adriana Buenos Aires and the best of the good of Eterna’s Novel will be allied, and in which I will recollect the experience gained in my efforts to convince myself that something good was bad, and vice versa, because I needed it in order to finish a chapter of one or the other …
 Already in The Newcomers Paper and the Continuation of the Nothing (1944) these novels were so announced. As the Warning to Adriana Buenos Aires says, with its publication the original plan was restored, because although they were not sold as a set, the two novels have nevertheless appeared almost simultaneously. (Editor’s Note—Adolfo de Obieta)
Prologue To Eternity
When the world hadn’t yet been created and there was only nothingness, God heard it said: it’s all been written, it’s all been said, it’s all been done. “Maybe that’s already been said, too,” he perhaps replied out of the ancient, yawning Void. And he began.
A Romanian woman once sang me a phrase of folk music and I have since found it tens of times in different works from different composers of the past four hundred years. Indubitably: things do not begin; or they don’t begin when they are created. Or the world was created old.
There’s nothing worse than sloppiness, unless it’s the facile perfection of solemnity. This book will be eminently sloppy, which is to say it will commit the maximum discourtesy possible to its readers—except an even greater and all too common discourtesy: the perfect, empty book.
I’ve done what I can to hide the seams in the patchwork passages of my novelistic prose, which brings with it inexhaustible swatches of revision; and I do myself the service of confessing what no one will notice, because if ever a book demanded hard work it’s this one, and I believe that all art is labor, and very arduous labor at that.
But I know that a highly personal, compensatory immortality awaits me: Generations of readers will pass the shop window, and nobody will stop to buy the book.
This will be the novel that’s thrown violently to the floor most often, and avidly taken up again just as often. What other author can boast of that?
A novel whose incoherencies of plot are patched together with transversal cuts that show what all the characters of the novel are doing at every moment.
An irritating read, this book will annoy the reader like no other, with its false promises and inconclusive and incompatible methodology; nevertheless it’s a novel that will not cause reader evasion, since it will produce an interest in the soul of the reader that will leave him allied to its destiny—it’s a novel that needs a lot of friends.
In the end, the final organization and revisions took me three frenzied days; happily, I wear detachable shirt cuffs, and I had kept all of the ink-stained ones ever since I began to conceive of the novel; about a thousand of them have all of my notes, in addition to twelve thousand composition books and notepads and loose pages: I threw it all into a corner of my room. Once I made it out of bed, I flung myself to the floor, where I stayed for three days; I raved and I cried, a hundred times over I howled: This is the last time I write for publication.
If Eterna had seen me, she would have laughed so hard it would have almost made her sick. It’s unhealthy to laugh when you don’t want to laugh, and this is the way she laughed in the face of this Hysteria. She never understood Hysteria—what a hopeless creature!—and I appreciate it so much, and it’s so essential to me that I procured for her an expensive and extremely ornamental cigarette holder made of vinagrol, a material whose discovery I commissioned. When it solidifies, it may be made into cigarette holders for smoking hysterics. It is this characteristic of Hysteria, so typical of the male of the species, that particularly excites the fatal explosion of Laughter in Eterna. “My my, what a tantrum!” she exclaims, and thus can’t help but make it worse. One could be on the point of death, choked with passion by the dexterity and patience with which, during a long telephone call that she herself initiated and which began with words of soothing kindness, one has been brought to the ultimate in ridiculous desperation, making one feel he had indeed been quite intemperate.
This is the mystery of Eterna that only I know: she finds more goodness in the sentiment of men than in the soul of women, yet she would like to correct this defect in the male character. There are therefore two Mysteries of Eterna: her felicity in turning a distant phrase; her felicity in her perception of the Ridiculous, to the point of making not only herself but others ill with her own Laughter. Thus she is a Mystery I have never grasped.
All human suffering, without a father and son having to fall in love with the same woman, without desire between a brother and sister, without kinship, or aberration, or blindness, or madness—all
human suffering makes Tragedy and
All the blessings of human life, without the millionaire marrying the factory girl, without a happy marriage between a blind man and an ugly woman; without power or glory, but for Passion, the only certainty.
Prologue To My Authorial Persona
The greatest risk one runs in publishing a novel at this stage in life is that nobody knows your age; mine is 73, and I hope that it will rescue me from a potential judgment such as: “For the First Good Novel, it isn’t bad at all, and since it’s the author’s first novel, we predict a brilliant future, if he perseveres in his aesthetic conjurings with strong will and discipline. In any case, we’ll await his future work before rendering a definitive judgment.” With this kind of postponement, I’ll be left out of posterity, and prematurely at that. It’s not flattery at every age when the critics postpone the judgment reserved for novices and squander all confidence on our future.
Moreover, I had planned to publish this novel twenty-two years after the earth completely exhausts its supply of petroleum, because a fortune teller once told me that at the same moment the world will run out of the ample supply of readerly yawns on which we presently rely. Unfortunately, the World Readers Union has promised to take revenge on a certain writer, reserving for him—he just announced his forthcoming work—all the abundant yawns at its disposal and thus severely limiting the available supply for my no less anticipated novel. So you see what good luck it is to be a writer. With this guarantee— which nobody until now has enjoyed—who wouldn’t happily hurl himself into the public eye?
Also I’ve noticed, since becoming an author, how grateful I am to the man who says, “I’ve read everything.” I’m counting on him to come through at an opportune moment, as this melancholy item just appeared in La Razon: “On The Impossibility of Reading Everything.” I’m hurrying to publish my novel so that it may appear before the commencement of this exasperating impossibility.
This is a celebrated novel in press, so often promised that the author himself isn’t willing to bet on when it will come out.
Nobody dies in it—although the book itself is mortal—since as people of fantasy, the characters all die together at the end of the story: it’s an easy extermination. Just as the sacristan puts out the candles at the end of mass, authors run the risk of forgetting things and repeating someone’s death, because they take upon themselves the unnecessary task of meting out a little expiration to each protagonist—so as not to leave the fish out of water, the “character” out of the novel.
What’s more, I’m sure no living man was ever in a narrative, since physiological characters, besides being hampered by fatigue and various indispositions—which is why one never sees protagonists falling ill and taking cures, because their job is only to represent falling ill, and to continue with an active performance of illness and death—are of a realist aesthetic, and our aesthetic is creative.
This is a work of the imagination not lacking in plot—so much so that it runs the risk of exploding out of the binding—and it’s such a precipitous plot that it’s already started in the title, to allow time to fit everything in; the reader comes late if he comes after the cover.
In this novel everything is known, or at least confirmed, so no character is forced to publicly display his ignorance, that is, that he doesn’t know what is happening to him, or that the author doesn’t know what is happening to him, or that he is maintaining the character’s ignorance out of a lack of trust. You never see our protagonists exclaim: “Dear Lord, what is this? What should I think? What do I do now? When will this suffering end?” The reader doesn’t know what to answer; distressed, he gets it wrong, and restricts himself to giving notice.
This must be what happens to authors:
1)They haven’t publicized their novel enough.
2)They don’t know how to render “the unsayable” with “ineffable” style.
3)They still believe that sonatas, paintings, verses, and novels all need titles.
In this Novel, the Impossibility of situations and characters, that is, the sole criterion in classifying something as artistic (without the complications of History, or Physiology), has been so cultivated that nobody—no one versed in daily impossibilities, or anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the impossible—could, by alleging that facts or characters were as familiar as their neighbors, deny the relentless fantasy of our tale.
It would be even better if I had put into action the “novel that went out in the street” that I had proposed to a few artist friends. We would have really increased impossibilities in the city.
The public would have seen our “scraps of art,” novelistic scenes unfolding by themselves in the streets, catching glimpses of one another among the “scraps of the living,” in sidewalks, doorways, domiciles, bars, and the public would believe it saw “ life;” it would dream the novel but in reverse: in this case, the novel’s consciousness is its fantasy; its dream the external execution of its scenes. But we would need another theory in addition to the one we just sustained, that of Impossibility as the criterion for Art.
This novel’s very existence is novelesque, thanks to having been so often announced, promised, and then dropped, and any reader who understands it is novelesque, too. Such a reader would make himself known by the label of fantastic reader. This reader of mine would be very well-read among all the many reading publics.
The Author Also Speaks
I sometimes anxiously wonder how this sublime and difficult novel— difficult now for the reader, but first for me—could be forgettable, considering it contains a frightened General who’s hesitating in the darkness on the basement stairs of the house, called “La Novela,” while Eterna guides him, and his trembling prompts her to say: But General, take hold of my skirt and walk confidently, I won’t lead you astray.
Also you will read how it happened that Eterna, one windless day in Buenos Aires, sent a messenger—with one arm in a sling and a paralytic hand—to cross the whole city with a lighted candle pressed into a contraption in his hand. He was on the point of burning himself because nobody had volunteered to blow the candle out, and he didn’t have enough breath to blow it out himself because he was a character in this novel and was consequently exhausted by the “efforts” that the dignity and glory of appearing in such an indubitably sublime novel so imperiously demands. Reduced to heroic ashes, the messenger was left in a reliquary, not because the porteño (as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are known) isn’t the most benevolent and pious of men, but because so many scholars, writers, journalists, politicians, capitalists, communists, religionists both old and new, and penicillinists, have the porteños so full of promises and so lacking in a sense of reality and sincerity that—they didn’t trust the messenger! They didn’t trust Eterna! And so they begrudged the most endearing messenger that ever lived even a breath of assistance.
Also it will be discovered that I gave life to the nonexistence of the Lover, just as Posterity has given life to such illustrious nonexistences as authors, making them out of nothing in the name of glory. Another nonexistence given life by operas, novels, and poems is unrequited love, which, if it is actually love, is a structural impossibility. Innumerable nonexistent things have been invented: today there is a whole other world of nonexistences (the Unconscious, duty, synesthesia, lots of “Gods” from various “religions”). Permit me just this one inexistence in my novel: The Gentleman Who Doesn’t Exist; it’s necessary to endow a work of art with such a character, so that the others can show off their existence. The one nonexistent character gives life to the others by contrast.
And the Lover agrees to put at our novel’s disposition all of his nonexistence, as long as it lasts, without the fear of putting it at risk by entering into a “life of art;” this life enchants him less than his nonexistence, and to this he prefers the “altruexistence:” existence for others, which is to say, love. The only thing he won’t risk is to live for the sake of living, or longevity, with birthdays.
With such rich elements I intend to make the first “novel,” and not only first of the day it appears, in the morning, the moment when all novels have their minute of primacy. I have tarried too long in Literature; I must urge myself to get up early, since the slow-footed are always hurrying towards something: that is, to get to a place that isn’t behind. It’s not yet late in the genre “novel:” I will start behind. I repeat: I aim to write the first genuinely artistic novel. It will also be the last of the protonovels: mine will make last of what came before it, since it no longer insists upon its own past.
For all this I believe, as Author, to have credited myself with the following novelistic specialties:
The Novel That Begins
The Frustrated Novel (a manufacturing defect)
The Novel That Went Out In The Street, with all its characters, to write itself.
The Prologue-Novel, whose story plays out, concealed from the reader, in prologues.
The Novel Written By Its Characters
The Inexpert Novel, which sets itself the task of killing off its “characters” separately, ignorant that creatures of literature always die together at the End of a reading.
The Novel in Stages
The Last Bad Novel—The First Good Novel—The Obligatory Novel.
 In Índice de la nueva poesía americana (The Anthology of New American Poetry) (1926) there appears a “Salutation from the Lover to the Non-Existent Gentleman— Novel of Hope,” included in Miscellany (volume VII of the Complete Works). The Lover appears again in Not All Consciousness is Wakefulness, which bears precisely this subtitle: “A Compilation of the Papers Left by a Novel Character Created By Art, the Lover, the Gentleman Who Doesn’t Exist, the Student of His Hopes;” in “Solution” and “Conclusion” the aforementioned persona explicates his metaphysical doctrine, which correlates with that of the present novel. (Editor’s Note—Adolfo de Obieta)
To The Critics
Suicide has made more than one mediocre author glorious before he’s able to achieve that sobering “second edition:” making his a suicide that waits until it’s justified. But I’ve taken more precautions against true suicide, which is to survive in the face of failure. Success is mostly editing, that’s what makes things nice. To edit is the other great Power; thus, this novel, started at age thirty, continued at fifty and at seventy-three, has finally achieved supremacy: a person of Good Taste as the third author and as a result the editor of all three. In the end I’ll be the author of a letter to the critics, a sort of “open letter” but for the living: suicide is not something you can edit out.
Letter To The Critics
I’m the only one who understood you, gentlemen; the first who grasped your basic vocation: those eternally in hope of Perfection, who are daily reduced to eulogizing book binding, driven to it by the continual failure of the poem, the novel, the printed word, one after the other and day after day; you, gentlemen, are the only lovers and connoisseurs of Perfection. No such thing for the writers, the publishers of sketches, hasty books, opportune books, party books; someday Perfection will come in the form of a book, just as you rightly hoped and planned: until now Perfection has only been seen in the grace and moral power of certain men and women, known to all of us, who will never gain either historical or name recognition.
But it’s good that you wait, and I’m sure the day Perfection appears as a Book you will all applaud, unanimously and immensely gratified. Writers have always understood that for some time now we should have been in compliance with this critical attitude. But knowing how terribly fatiguing it is to construct a novel according to strict artistic standards, and what little hope there is of getting it right, not only do we suffer, but we also waste our talents since we don’t write the Book, and in waiting to write, we forget the nicety of waiting to find perfection in the efforts of others.
I didn’t find an easy way to execute my own artistic theory. My novel is flawed, but I would like to be recognized as the first who has attempted to use that prodigious instrument, the commotion of consciousness—that is, the novelistic character in its proper efficiency and virtue. By this I mean the total commotion of consciousness of the reader, and not the trivial occupation of the attention with a particular, precarious, ephemeral topic: itself. With this and some other thoughts formulated in the course of the book, I approach this Perfection you gentlemen expect, and set an example as well: a rigorous doctrine of the literary art.
If I’m wrong, I won’t be the first, or the last. You may give me the maximum sentence.
I know very well that my work will keep you waiting in your quest for Perfection, but perhaps I may succeed in whetting your appetite. If your appetite is whetted, then my book was good enough.
I realized that all you really know is what Perfection is not.