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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Idiot President (followed by Collectors)

illustration for The Idiot President
from The New Yorker
no copyright infringement intended

(click here for the Romanian version)

Don't jump on hasty conclusions, it's not about a real president, from our turbulent present, or from a nebulous past, or from some self-contradictory future. Though it fits somehow. It's the title of a story by Daniel Alarcón, published in The NewYorker in 2008: just that, The Idiot President - and this story is about a play carrying the same title, The Idiot President. The play is about a president (who is an idiot), his son (also an idiot), and the president's valet (the biggest idiot). The valet is changed daily, as the president enjoys variation. In order to make this happen, the president's son takes time to persuade the valet to revolt against his boss. The valet refuses firstly to think about it (he is so idiot, to the point not to realize that a president is replaceable, after all), but eventually he is gained by the idea of revolt (just by the idea, he doesn't go further). Then the son reports to his father about the valet's treason. So the president condemns the valet to death and hires another guy.

A troupe of self-declared independent artists tours the country with this play, village after village and small town after small town. It's in Peru. One of the artists is just the author of the play, a guy whose name is Henry. The second artist is an old friend of Henry. The third is the narrator (you gotcha, the story is written in the first person). This narrator is waiting for a visa to leave the country and move to the States, so he doesn't care anymore for what's going on and joins the troupe, as provocative and useless as it looks like. Various things happen on the road, drunkenness and stuff, one of the towns has no electricity, as the provider supplies only the villas of American managers (it's a mining center, and the managers are from US, so it goes).

A picaresque story, the narrator is somehow a picaro, let's say a sympathetic looser, the plot is not essential, the loosely connected events are sketching a picture of these poor villages and towns. The three guys playing each evening in a new place are  post-modern anti-heroes or something, and they bring a surreal aura over everything, transforming the raw reality in an imaginary universe - only this imaginary world is not an idealized window of the reality, it's simply revealing all the wrongs and absurdities there. Sometimes also sublime niceties: in the town without electricity, people come  to the theater equipped with their mining hard hats and headlamps, and so the show takes place lighted by hundreds of glow-worms.

The theatrical tour ends, some years pass, for the narrator the US visa keeps on delaying, and he keeps on trying to find a job. No way: once a picaro, always a picaro.

illustration for Collectors
from The New Yorker
no copyright infringement intended

From another story of Daniel Alarcón (Collectors, published in The New Yorkers in their most recent issue) we learn what followed. Eventually Henry was put in jail for his play, being considered a terrorist, he met in prison Rosalio, a young illiterate, and they fell in love. Henry managed to organize a show with The Idiot President in prison, using the inmates as cast - that's a story calling in mind Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The technique of Daniel Alarcón is here different than it was in The Idiot President: there is the story of Rosalio, and the story of Henry, independent one another, and they both flow in the prison, an absurd universe where you must expect only the unexpected, the sole rule being that anything that happen must defy the logic, otherwise it cannot happen. An infamous prison, a Dantesque world, seen with picaresque eyes: the same imaginary universe revealing in the raw reality all stupidities and absurdities. Also sublime niceties: the show organized in prison for instance, or the emerging love between the two inmates.

After some years a revolt starts in prison, the army comes to restore order, and all prisoners are killed.

(Daniel Alarcón)



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