In an era of ebooks and Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries and all manner of text-delivering digital device, Literary El Paso seems a throwback to an earlier era and a substantial reminder why one enjoys reading printed books in a cozy chair. Undeniably, portability is one advantage electronic devices have over the printed page. Whip out that iPhone while waiting for the bus and read to your heart’s content. Your heart. Me, I’m sure if I haul around this volume I either will forget my reading anteojos at home, or remember the lentes but set the book down somewhere and forget it. They say the memory’s the second thing to go and I do not remember the first.
Texas Christian University Press printed Literary El Paso’s 572 pages, plus xxiv front material, on a 7” x 10” page, giving the volume a comfortable heft and a shape that opens just right to fit a reader’s lap. The serifed font-- is it “Centaur” so highly praised in Carl Hertzog’s essay on page 9?-- is uncomfortably tiny for my eyes, but the typesetter’s justification spreads out individual letters so none touch neighbors (except in a couple of spots), and generous line spacing spreads the text across and down the page creating ample white space for maximal legibility. Once you’ve gotten hands on your own copy of Daudistel’s collection, you’ll likely agree Literary El Paso qualifies as a Morris Chair book.
Upon scanning Literary El Paso’s table of contents and paging serendipitously through the volume, readers will discover the editor’s liberal sense of “literary” as encompassing a wide variety of writing, from poetry to journalism to footnoted historical writing to fiction to essay. Indeed, Daudistel observes in her Introduction that “all writing coming out of a region is, in fact, the literature of that region” and that's what she's included, a rich potpourri of flavors.
Given such a cafeteria plan, readers may elect to browse the collection, not read it at a sitting. Daudistel’s made that easy by assembling her material into three themes. It’s a sensible organization that lends itself to part-by-part enjoyment. Part I, “The Emergent City / La Ciudad Surge”, opens with a cowboy fragment and features historians and journalists. Part II, calls itself “The People, La Gente”, and features a preponderance of Latina Latino writers, and fiction. Part III, “This Favored Place / Lugar Favorecido”, features poets and essays. The collection includes unpublished works from John Rechy, Ray Gonzalez and Robert Seltzer.
Given the pedo that erupted last Tuesday in Sergio Troncoso’s essay, Is the Texas Library Association excluding Latino writers?, Seltzer’s apologia for his father, Chester Seltzer AKA “Amado Muro” constitutes a mixed bag of biography and sympathetic character assassination, but not a defense for Seltzer père’s cultural appropriation--perhaps “reverse assimilation”-- of a Mexicano identity and his subsequent lionizing as a Chicano writer. Literary El Paso is silent about the controversy—see Manuel Ramos’ 2005 column for a useful assessment--electing a less-than-neutral biographical paragraph featuring Seltzer’s “Muro” pseudonym, and publishing two selections from Seltzer/Muro’s collected work.
Any work of such beauty as Literary El Paso comes with a blemish or two. Of these, the anthology’s coverage of Ricardo Sánchez is the least forgivable. Daudistel pairs Ramón Rentería’s “Another Struggle, interview with Ricardo Sánchez” with two Sánchez poems, “fragrance petals its presence…” and “Fridays Belong to Friends, Sometimes”. The interview piece alludes to Sánchez’ code-switching work, quoting Bobby Byrd saying “It’s a real pleasure to read his work not only for the meaning but also for the sound and the word play and the joy he has playing with both languages”. Oddly, neither of Sánchez’ two poems display such code-switching play. There’s an epigraph in “fragrance” placing the writing on “June 30, 1977 L. Chukosburgo, Te(de)jaslum cabulat/sufiteotls” but it’s an otherwise puro Inglés piece about sex. Ditto the second poem, about a “trío de locos” cruising Juárez cantinas.
Happily, Literary El Paso presents the writers’ language as originally writ, sans italics, absent forced appositional translation, diacritics in place, and misspellings. Allurista? Avelardo Delgado? (Rentería). All this makes for a pleasant reading experience that allows one’s eyes to follow across the page free of interruptions and distractions. Finally, Daudistel’s included a helpful Index alphabetized by both authors and titles, and for the latter, adding the author’s name just so you’re sure to find what you’re looking for. In fact, readers will find a lot of what they’re looking for in a book of this ilk, and ultimately Literary El Paso provides what anyone looks for in such an extensive and varied collection: a montón of fun.
News Note: Call for Papers re: Octavio Paz
La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú from CSULA invites participation in the following.
The 2010 Conference on Octavio Paz will be devoted to his poetry, poetics, and essays that examine world civilizations and modernity. The conference organizers invite papers on the following topics:
1. Octavio Paz and his writings on Mesoamerica: art, history, and religion.
2. Essays by Octavio Paz on art, poetry and culture of Colonial Mexico.
3. Octavio Paz and art criticism.
4. Studies on Octavio Paz’s autobiographical writings: poetry and essays;
5. Octavio Paz’s translations in Versiones y diversiones, including his theoretical reflections on translation.
6. Poetry and essays by Octavio Paz on China, India, or Japan.
7. Octavio Paz and collective poetry: from Renga (1969) to Hijos del aire (1979).
8. Octavio Paz and the Hermetic Tradition.
9. Octavio Paz’s historical critique of sex, love and eroticism in Western civilization, from Plato and Petrarch to Sade and Bataille.
10. Octavio Paz, Mallarmé, and Breton: Poetry and Poetics.
11. Octavio Paz, the Avant-Garde and Structuralism: from Marcel Duchamp to Claude Lévi-Strauss.
12. Octavio Paz and the modern legacy of world religions and civilizations: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Ancient Mexico, among others.
13. Octavio Paz and theatre: La hija de Rappaccinni.
14. Octavio Paz’s critical writings on colonialism, modernization, and totalitarianism in the 20th century.
15. Octavio Paz and the 1910 Mexican Revolution: Critical Essays.
The deadline for a one-page abstract of conference papers is March 31, 2010. Click here to review a PDF of the entire Call.