Thoughts on Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds

Rather than review Sergio Chejfec’s novel My Two Worlds, I want to reflect instead on who should read it.

Parks and long walks separate me from time and install me in a different dimension, an alternate one , obviously compatible with the true one, shall we say, or in any case, with the regular one, isolated and at times autonomous as it may be. (75-76)

First & foremost, they should be walkers, for whom each step taken is also one lost — a taking that makes no lasting claim & a loss that is never so final. Their destinations are familiar for their being so incomprehensibly foreign — for every recognition and remembrance they find, of which they try to take hold, proves eventually too heavy with significance, and slips the grip of its proper naming.

Generally, when I walk I look down. The ground is one of the most revealing indicators of the present condition; it is more eloquent in its damages, its deterioration, its unevenness, and irregularities of all sorts. I’m referring to urban as well as rural ground, difficult or congenial. And I’m specifically referring to the ground of paths, to ground altered by humans in general, because ground in the abstract, the ground of the world, speaks different, near-incomprehensible languages. (29)

Second & just as important, these readers should be sitters, who in arresting their forward motion detain, that is, somehow confine, the expansiveness of the moment — who, in those moments of cornering knowledge find themselves seized by a certain unknowing.

But what amazed me was that even though I could see them all on the far side of the fountain, beyond my companion and myself, I heard them as if their voices came from behind us, from where we were actually seated. Perhaps this was another effect of the place or, more precisely, of the mist created by the jets of water, which dissolved present time and distorted space; or it could have been a consequence of the symmetry. The present: until that afternoon I had rarely noticed the confused , and at times inconsistent, meaning of this word, to which we should add the sense of ambiguity it often possess. . . . (59-60)

These walkers who are sitters, they will be the ones who on some level already know that walking in rhetorical circles is not always idle sophistry, and that some novels that seem to get nowhere are in fact not aimless — they (these readers & these novels) will be the ones to identify the dotted lines of a world in the process of being made, lines otherwise invisible, lost between the gaps of a differentiated creation, all those innumerable blanks, the whispering trauma of a void, that compose the manifold density of all our visible world’s “this”s and “that”s.

As might be readily expected, after having this thought I began to imagine a world made up of dotted lines, the indecisive sketch of its contours , the design of its relationships. Just as with the water, one could trace sounds, physical trajectories, material changes and the passage of time. The line denoted the relationship between objects, which could be of the same nature or not. But naturally, since this was a physical representation, each connection lingered on, permanently drawn on the paper, superimposed on earlier or later ones, creating the ‘fountain’ effect I mentioned before: a weft of dotted lines that crisscrossed, and whose arcs ended up a bit tangled, delineating a complex skein; not illegible, with some effort, just slightly chaotic. And in that denseness I found a kind of dramatic consistency, as much in the most immediate , theatrical sense, as in the tragic sense: the fatuous display of the real as the triumph of density. (64)

The readers who will appreciate Chejfec’s novel will perhaps find themselves thinking of W. G. Sebald, for whom connections were never simple. For both, an allusion made is one that has been borne like a burden, a memory misplaced in the past that outgrew the present, and has betrayed the simplicity of One. Allusion and memory speak not simply of temporal complexity — the latticework of all time’s modes & tenses — but also of multiplicity — the possibilities unsought, paths unacknowledged, and persons unseen. Reading a writer like Chejfec, we become aware that we are also being read — not by some mysterious aesthetic or real Other, some primordial Author — by the invisible world(s) (who dares speak of their memories & allusions?) that we bear in our reading.

In general, I know that when speaking of private and opposing worlds, one tends to refer to divided, sometimes even irreconcilable facets of personality or of the spirit, each with its corresponding secret value and its psychological, metaphysical, political or simply practical—or even pathological—content. But in my case there was neither a moral nor existential disjunctive, what was more, I saw that my two worlds weren’t separated in an equal or reciprocal way; neither did one world linger in the shadows or in private as the flip side of the other, the visible one, who knows which; nor would they seek to impose themselves over the other or to merge as one, by force or not, as tends to occur in these cases. Nothing of the sort; they seemed a nearly abnormal example of coexistence, of adaptive tendency and of absolute absence of contrasts. I took all this into consideration, and it seemed worrisome and insoluble . . . But an instant later I resigned myself, thinking that when all was said and done I ought to bow to these conditions, because just as we cannot choose our moment to be born, we also know nothing of the variable worlds we’ll inhabit. (102-03)

Chejfec, as it were, leaves room for the contrasts that inhabit the monotony of being and, in effect, invites his readers to walk and sit . . . simultaneously, but without a hint of paradox.

Which is to say in an abstract way what I’ve been getting at all along: if you’ve read this far in the post, you should read his book. 

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds

  1. Matthew Lyons (@unhommequidort) Says:

    While reading this post I kept thinking of César Vallejo’s “Traspié entre dos estrellas” with it’s “Beloved are the ones who sit down.” The poem reads like impressions during a walk. I have had my eye on Chejfec’s book. After reading this post I’ll be getting my hands on it. Thanks Brad.

  2. Brad Johnson Says:

    I’d not considered Vallejo’s poem . . . good call on that. I’d not thought about it in quite some time. Thanks for the reminder.


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