Adolfo Bioy Casares Bioy Casares, Adolfo (Vol. 4) - Essay

Bioy Casares, Adolfo (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bioy Casares, Adolfo 1914–

Bioy Casares is an Argentinian short story writer, novelist, and essayist. With his friend Jorge Luis Borges, he has written several volumes of short stories and one of film scripts. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32.)

We hear sad murmurs that our century lacks the ability to devise interesting plots. But no one attempts to prove that if this century has any ascendancy over the preceding ones it lies in the quality of its plots…. I believe I am free from every superstition of modernity, of any illusion that yesterday differs intimately from today or will differ from tomorrow; but I maintain that during no other era have there been novels with such admirable plots as The Turn of the Screw, Der Prozess, Le Voyageur sur la terre, and [The Invention of Morel], which was written in Buenos Aires by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

[One] popular genre in this so-called plotless century is the detective story, which tells of mysterious events that are later explained and justified by a reasonable occurrence. In this book Adolfo Bioy Casares easily solves a problem that is perhaps more difficult. The odyssey of marvels he unfolds seems to have no possible explanation other than hallucination or symbolism, and he uses a single fantastic but not supernatural postulate to decipher it. My fear of making premature or partial revelations restrains me from examining the plot and the wealth of delicate wisdom in its execution. Let me say only that Bioy renews in literature a concept that was refuted by St. Augustine and Origen, studied by Louis Auguste Blanqui, and expressed in memorable cadences by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

     I have been here before,
     But when or how I cannot tell:
     I know the grass beyond the door,
     The sweet keen smell,
     The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

In Spanish, works of reasoned imagination are infrequent and even very rare…. The Invention of Morel (the title alludes filially to another island inventor, Moreau) brings a new genre to our land and our language.

I have discussed with the author the details of his plot. I have reread it. To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.

Jorge Luis Borges, "Prologue" to The Invention of Morel and Other Stories, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, translated by Ruth L. C. Simms (copyright © 1964 by Adolfo Bioy Casares; reprinted by permission of University of Texas Press), University of Texas Press, 1964, pp. 5-7.

Bioy Casares is a close friend and collaborator of Borges, and Borges's influence is very clear in his work (if we knew more about him, we might also say that his influence is very clear in Borges's work). He is in one sense more inventive than Borges, better able to create a plot and sustain a narrative. But he appears to lack Borges's eeriest and most important gift: the ability to suggest the uncanny lurking in the quietest, most unlikely corner of a house or a phrase. Diary of the War of the Pig has the logic of dream, or seems to invite such a logic, but it doesn't have the intensity of a dream, although it seems to be seeking it….

A young man shoots an old man, and explains to the court that he was so irritated by the sight of a bald head, and by the old man's slow reflexes, that he just couldn't resist the temptation to kill him. The jury understands, and he is acquitted.

What is interesting about the book is less its premise and the competent but uninspired execution of its consequences, than the psychology of the old men, who are busy either trivializing the whole thing, arguing about whether the war of the pig ought not to be called the war of the hog, or caving in wholesale to the arguments of the young, secretly agreeing to despise themselves, to feel ashamed at the course of nature. Bioy is plainly thinking here of that damaging impulse so common in persecuted groups, and memorably dramatized in Kafka: the impulse to believe that your persecutors are in some sense right about you.

Michael Wood, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1973 by NYREV, Inc.), April 19, 1973, p. 37.

Casares' Diary of the War of the Pigs [might be called] "magic realism"…. Its theme—to over-simplify—is the pain and problem of growing old. This is expressed through a group of aging men, with one, Vidal, at the centre, who live in a city in which, as we gradually become aware, groups of young men are waging a campaign of terrorism against the old. This terrorism Casares keeps very effectively in the background: no Clockwork Orange exhibitionism of blood and horror, only the thud of bombs in the distance and Vidal's awareness, now and then, that one of his friends has disappeared. The true drama, of which the terrorists' acts are a sort of symbol (though one which, like all effective symbols, is only reality pushed one stage further, the reality of our generation-obsessed age-fearing society)—the true drama lies in Vidal's ever-increasing sensitiveness, his awareness of the isolation of old age, his striving to accept the humiliations it entails. All this we found convincing and moving. Where the story seems to falter is in its delineation of a belated love-affair which, one gathers, was to save Vidal from utter despair—and in its dubious ending, which seems to leave everything ambiguous: did Vidal stay with his love? did the young men call off their "war of the pigs"? And if they did, why? But even if the ending is unsatisfying, the work as a whole has real imagination, intense but controlled.

Patrick Cruttwell and Faith Westburg, "Fiction Chronicle," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1973 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Summer, 1973, pp. 417-18.