Apr 25, 2011

A Mini Intro to Macedonio Fernandez

A wind beaten hermit-philosopher, some kind of dashing matinée conjurer, an aged troubadour whose spindle fingers grip his guitar close to his hollowing suit: it is difficult not to picture the life of Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952) driven by a mythological narrative.

And many who write about Macdenio nowadays believe his contemporaries willed it so.

Somewhat older than the writers of the early twentieth-century Argentine avant-garde - to which Macedonio became attached as a "permanent newcomer" - his unconventional lifestlye, his stimulating ideas and his disregard for recognition (Borges said that when changing lodgings, Macedonio simply left his piles of litererary and metaphysical writings behind) provided this keen generation of artists with a stock of anecdotes and a persona with which to endow the nascent Argentine literature with a mythical anchor.

I don't know if Macedonio ever mentioned brevity, but all of his work is fragmentary and experimental, and happily defies categorisation. For this reason, it is easy to see why Macedonio is considered a precursor to the minifiction that would come later, while giving writers of minifiction a mythological figure of their own.


    The She-without-shadow

    An accusation of having had a moment of bad thought towards the other, the fleetingest desire for bad, or forgetting for your own convenience, will cause Her to leave. But her shadow stain remains on the floor.
    The She-without-shadow.
    He, alone.
    In the chapter “how to erase the shadow” the friends start arriving, and he asks each one of them for the best way to extinguish the shadow, which has turned out to be indelible; everyone tried to get rid of it but nobody could.
    Until the chapter “Fortune had it that my foolish attempt to erase the shadow was impossible” starts. Then he burdens himself with problems regarding his duties, conduct towards that shadow.
    Meanwhile, the problem (for others, not for Her) of her walking without a shadow. Losing it was a deliberate act, leaving it there to obsess him, to raise him to a man whose only thought is the thinking on what this shadow is lacking; and her certainty that her shadow and his love will be hers again.


    Headline for drama

    In the silkasian village of Delitum, the girl Kina was startled by a mouse approaching the frying pan, and her first reaction was to throw a twig at it that she happened to have in her hand, very difficult to aim as a projectile, but which nevertheless struck the head of the mouse, which keeled over. In the meantime, in Rome, in the time between which Kina saw the mouse and struck it, Cassius’ dagger sunk into Caesar the second time. So as you can see, great successes were not only achieved in Rome.



    Symbol for the mystic innocence of living: Mother who on the threshold of her rural cottage looking and awaiting the arrival of her children at supper time cuts thick bread while balancing it on her belly, within which she already gave them their first nourishment.
    Mother always exactly herself; mysterious destiny accepted. Why? Why?

    Symbol for hardness or incomprehension or unaffection: wounding the yerba maté pressed into a portion, cracking it with blows from a hammer and chisel that destroy its perfumed and delicate soul.

    Universal static-structural symbol for pain: The curve of the human back.

    Dynamic symbol for pain and worldly concerns: The father’s inclined bust over a bowl of soup, sucked up without a word, without lifting his head until finished; who after today’s fatigue eats the soup, that’s to say the worldly life for tomorrow, tame delicacy in the gentleness of continued living.

Apr 3, 2011

Cool and Collective: Heliconia

About a year or so ago, Minifiction stumbled across a wonderfully clever piece of contemporary minifiction called 'Siseneg', a piece which had already won a prize in Argentina known as the ‘Oveja Negra’ (Black Sheep) for the best short short story of 2009. We translated it into English, posted it on our then nascent Facebook page, and watched as it gathered attention and stoked debate.

We contacted the piece’s author, Argentine writer Daniel Frini, and found out that he’s a founding member of an Argentine minifiction collective that goes by the name of 'Heliconia', and which, through both its innovation and its prodigious output, shows that Argentina maintains the edge when it comes to ultra short literature.

We also discovered that Frini is a great guy, as he agreed to answer our questions about Heliconia for publication on this Blog. Here’s what he had to say.

Minifiction: What is Heliconia and how did it come into being?

Frini: The Heliconia association is a group of Spanish language authors that formed as the natural successor to ‘Taller 7’ (‘Workshop 7’), an excellent literary virtual-workshop created by Argentine writer Sergio Gaut vel Hartman and coordinated by Spain’s José Vicente Ortuño. Heliconia itself was born in March 2009, also at the impulse of Gaut vel Hartman. Made doable by the possibilities for communication and interaction presented by the Internet and social networks, Heliconia can now count on some thirty writers with a variety of literary perspectives, the majority of whom are Argentine, although we also have Spanish, Mexicans and even one Peruvian – Oriana Pickman – who has settled in Norway.

Minifiction: What’s it like working with such a large group of writers?

Frini: It’s fascinating to see how the members’ experience, training and ability to compromise – a large part of which was gained during their participation in the literary workshop that existed prior to the formation of the group – has enabled a system of work that’s functional and horizontal, where each individual step is freely debated by all the members, demonstrating a synergy that boosts the end result. The ‘playful’ aspect of writing has great importance to the group – that’s to say, literary creation as a kind of game. Even the private emails sent back and forth often have something creative that has gone on to become the origin of a story co-written by two, three or more of the writers, and then published in the Blogs maintained by Heliconia.

Minifiction: You mentioned the Blogs and the possibilities the Internet has given you. In what ways has Heliconia taken advantage of the Internet as a medium?

Frini: As a ‘working area’, the Internet has allowed Heliconia to centre its production on minifiction, which has found a natural home and a way to present itself through the three Blogs that the group keeps, which are arranged more or less arbitrarily according to the number of words in the stories. ‘Breves no tan breves’ (‘Not so Brief Briefs’) has texts of between 150 and 1000 words and with more than 2400 stories to date, while ‘Químicamente Impuro’ ('Chemically Impure') texts of between 50 and 149 words, and with more than 5100 stories available.

Qiangyan Wang

Chi’s granddaughter was beautiful. They called her Small Net to Catch Glances, and they say that when she blinked she caused typhoons in the China Sea. Everybody loved her. Only one man could make her tremble. Nobody possessed her, ever. The Tellers of Stories say she did not die. They say she faded into the snow one winter that lasted too long.

(Daniel Frini, posted on Químicamente Impuro on March 30, 2011)

Ráfagas, parpadeos’ (‘Flashes, blinks’) has texts of 49 words or less, and there is also the sister-blog for poets, ‘Poemia, el fuego de Heliconia’.

Of course, we don’t just publish Heliconia’s material, the group’s members also act as selectors and we publish (in prose, one day on ‘breves no tan breves’, the following on ‘químicamente impuro’) material by other classic, established or new writers, material that has either been forwarded to us by the authors themselves or which has been discovered while ‘patrolling’ other Blogs, of course with the consent of the writers (making a total of more than 600 authors). Furthermore, we’ve started a Facebook group, ‘Heliconia and Blogs’, in which any writer is welcome to participate in any language – all you have to do is request to be added.

Where the ‘playful’ aspect I talked about earlier comes into it most is perhaps in the Blog ‘Ráfagas, parpadeos’. Apart from the regular updates, within the group itself we suggest different ‘instructions’ for writing, which has thrown up some really interesting results. One of those, for example, was to write microstories of an exact number of words (six, in homage to the famous Hemingway microstory, ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn’) or thematic stories, based around Kafka’s Metamorphosis, say, or the Trojan War, or vampires. We also have “regressive stories” there, written by one or a number of different authors, which consist of presenting 50 stories, the first with 49 words, the second with 48, and so on, until you arrive at a story with zero words, just a title.

“Suicide Note”, by Esteban Moscarda: I am scared: Death seems beautiful

"Dream”, by Oriana Pickman: Now I turn off my eyes.

“Cup Half Full”, by Sergio Gaut vel Hartman: My legs amputated, sold my shoes.

The Blogs also serve as a display window for the authors to be considered for other publications, virtual or otherwise: many texts have been requested, translated into other languages and published in countries as diverse as Italy, France, Russia, the U.S., as well as Peru, Mexico, Spain, etc.

Minifiction: Is Heliconia active outside the web?

Frini: Yes, Heliconia also organises regular readings and literary meetings, or ‘tertulias’, where we read to an audience the texts that make up the Blogs.

Minifiction: What’s the next step for Heliconia?

Frini: Well, the next step is, of course, to bring out our work in print. To this end, Heliconia has created the ‘Tanamoshi Project’ – open to any writer who wishes to take part – to publish books, a collaborative venture where all the stages of the publication process are carried out by the project’s members. The scope has been widened here, and the books are not only collections of minfiction: there are novels, poems, short stories and more. At present there are two books on the market, a collection of minifiction called Instantaneas by Martín Gardella and a novel called Una Simple Palabra by Clauda Cortalezzi, and there are more than 30 more books currently at different stages of development.


Minifiction will be bringing you more of Heliconia’s writing via our Facebook page, so keep an eye out!