Heidi Writes to Say…

She may be eschewing her duties to me as a critic, but Heidi Kohlenberg keeps going as a letter writer, elegantly butting her way into whatever topic I happen to be discussing. And for this I thank her. Or do I? Here, in any case, is her latest missive:

Georgy, my dear little innocent doughball – has it never occured to you that the Luis Funnel/Malcolm Harding/Johannes Moeping affair might have been a set-up from the start? Put it this way – who had heard of the work before it appeared on your list? I certainly hadn’t – and neither, I fancy, had you. Moeping claims in this review that he didn’t make the suggestion. But if he didn’t, who the heck did? Hidden codes or no hidden codes, I still don’t see how Funnel’s translation ever got through the net. Why would Malcolm Harding devote his time to writing a book about it unless there was something in it for him? Remember that both Harding and Funnel are frustrated translators. As for Moeping – well, what can I say?

I don’t know, Heidi, what can you say? Not that I’m altogether keen on turning this whole Luis Funnel [sic?] thing into yet another is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-conspiracy debate. There comes a time when one has to accept that things aren’t necessarily more complex than they seem. And as much as I like to poke holes in the soft clay of our perceived realities, too much poking doth a sore finger make.

Where’s the Accent?

It has been brought to my attention, with some spirit, that this blog and its associated website have, at moments, treated accents with what amounts to a ‘cavalier attitude’.

I’m not sure this is an entirely fair complaint. Every effort is made to check through details and, though I am aware that small errors are sadly commonplace, it is not for want of trying, especially when accents are concerned.

I will confess, however, that a clutch of conspicuous mistakes have been made in the case of my subject-in-hand, Mr Luis Funnel.

There: I’ve done it again. Truth be told, I’m not altogether sure where I stand on this one. Is it Funńel, Fuńnel, Funňel, Funñel or just plain Funnel? And as for his friend, is it Merentés, Mérentes or simply Merentes?

I stand in a pool of uncertainly, in poorly insulated footwear. If anyone should be interested in passing me a fresh pair of socks, I would be much obliged.


For those of you who haven’t read Johannes Möeping’s review of Luis Fuñnel’s San Estebon in Winter, here’s the synopsis you don’t really deserve.

The book to which the review refers is, in fact, the 1997 translation of a book originally written in 1956; the similarly titled San Estebon in Winter – a mediocre melodrama by Guillermo Merentes. Möeping ponders:  how did Fuñnel, a mere translator, come to be more famous than Merentes, the actual author? Could it be through the supreme poetic delicacy of his English adaptation?

No – it was instead by the means of a code he had concealed, with strange skill, within his text, discovered in due course by another translator, the famous Scottish fruitloop Malcolm Harding (most famous for his translations of Fabio Muzakaki’s work) who went on to write his own book about Fuñnel’s work, published in 2000. This revealed, amongst other things, that Funnel’s translation contained a secret message regarding the facist leader Felipe Elverde (aka ‘The Great Green’). It also revealed, in my opinion, that the majority of translators are, quite frankly, mad.

As noted, you can and should read more about this here

What I hope to do sometime over the next week, meanwhile, is to take a look at what Luis Fuñnel has been up to in the last decade. What were the implications of Harding’s discoveries? Is he still translating? Does he really support Felipe Elverde? How did he react to seeing his name on my list of Greatest European Novels by Contemporary Writers?

All of this – and more – to come.

Confused Creeds and Damaging Dogmas

The age of innocence is behind us. Writing as entertainment, as timeless art, as unsullied by doctrine, as a harmless leisure activity – all of this is beyond us, lost like a daft dog in the fog of the past. It is now a given that novelists have a hidden agenda. What a dangerous gang of desperadoes these writers are! It is not writing that drives them: it is instead the opportunity to spray about the nascent dregs of their scrambled ideologies like so much farmer’s pesticide. The age of the organic ideology is far away in the future. Writing at present is contaminated by a plethora of mind-bending chemicals: a noxious fusion of confused creeds and damaging dogmas lurking beneath the ripe surface of every sharply printed book.

(Johannes Möeping, here)

Whenever I read this, I wonder how it is that I never got round to writing that phrase – ‘lost like a daft dog in the fog of the past’ – myself. Sometimes I wonder whether I did, and whether Möeping stole it from me, but I’ve yet to find any evidence of this. Could I have said it one evening, after a glass or two of bilberry wine? One has to be careful when drinking with literary critics. If you’re not careful your wise words will be taken from you and printed within the week in someone else’s article. It’s like they say in Southern Poland: don’t mix Marxist critics with bilberry wine unless you have a very clever lawyer.

Real Ale in Real Taverns

The world is full of non-believers, as Mr Frank Key proves in this post. It seems that some queer souls think the ‘singularly squalid tavern’ that is The Cow and Pins is a figment of Mr. Key’s imagination. A singularly squalid thought, that’s what this is.

Whilst we’re on the subject of spurious taverns, nevertheless, I might as well add that a young man of my acquaintance once made similar accusations regarding the existence of my favourite London public house, The Crippled Bee. I ought to point out that this man was a critic: a so-called ‘firebrand’ of the younger generation, whose ‘hilarious’ articles on the state of Belgian fiction had ‘delighted’ literary crowds in South London. He was, in short, short. Short on imagination, short on soul and short on credit at the bank of talents. His passing resemblance to Bob Dylan was never going to take him anywhere (except perhaps to a job as critic for a popular national newspaper, which is what he now does).

I am, however, veering off the point. The fact is that, though I should not like to think of myself as a man who forms cliques, or refuses to extend welcome to anyone outside of a specific belief system, I do nonetheless draw lines. And this man, red cravate and all, stood squarely on the other side of one of those lines. Which is why, all things considered, that when he asked me the whereabouts of that fabulous tavern The Crippled Bee, I took it upon myself to produce a prevarication. May all the gods forgive me, but I even went so far as to suggest that he was right to question its geographical location, for the actuality was that said tavern did not actually exist.

You must understand my motives. The Crippled Bee is a quiet place, frequented by a gentle sort. It has a thoroughly artistic identity, it always has done, but it doesn’t like to throw it in one’s face. A few literary events take place every now and again (take this one, for instance) but nothing out of the ordinary. There’s nothing remotely showy about the place – which is why the idea of it being populated by this young man and his cronies filled my pint glass with the dark ale of fear. Better to keep them away, no?

No. I probably shouldn’t have gone so far. God knows the place could do with a little more business, especially in these troubled times. And perhaps we old folk might have learned something from this curly-haired oik. On the other hand…

Honour and Orbez

Sharks can smell a drop of blood from many miles away. So what? Some academics can sense when someone, no matter who or where they are, is disparaging their pet subject. Take Dr. Mark Phliger, for example, author of the award-winning thesis, To Honour and Orbez: Maurice Orbez and the Phantom Code.

There I was, thinking that I might be able to put the Maurice Orbez controversy behind me for a few days and sail into the warmer waters of the Luis Funnel hullabaloo, when along comes Dr. Mark Phliger, paddling a raft of new arguments, less-than-neatly packed into the sort of sprawling letter that makes Victorian novels look like haiku.

Here follows a short summary of his claims.

Firstly, regarding the identity of Orbez, he seems to fall into the Carl Stensson camp, believing that, although a man called Maurice Orbez did exist, he probably enlisted the help of one (or possibly two) people in order to create the two books (Life is Sickness and Other Medieval Wall-Scrawlings and Pain is an Everpresent and Yet More Medieval Wall-Scrawlings). One of these people was – as Andrew K has pointed out – most probably a defrocked nun going by the name of Madame De Bouffray-Ticholauz. The other figure may have been Gustav Lamont, poetic prodigy and son of a Parisian butcher.

On the subject of whether or not the aforementioned books are pure fiction, or documented fact, Phliger ambles down a well-worn path, opting for a mixture of both. ‘It is,’ he writes, ‘impossible to imagine that the authors ignored real wall-scrawlings – though equally difficult to suppose that they could have come across so fertile a crop as this’. A tediously fair point.

And then we come to the code. Could it really be, as Andrew K has written, that ‘the location of the Ark of the Covenant or some such great Mystery are contained within the Wall Scrawlings’ ? According to Phliger, nothing could be further from the truth, though he understand’s Mr K’s argument. ‘After all,’ he writes: ‘Orbez’s intention was very much to give the impression of there being a code; a code which both was and was not there: a code that was created in order to make fun of codes themselves. In short, an ironic code.’ To understand the true nature of this ‘ironic’ or ‘phantom’ code we must, it turns out, read Phliger’s thesis (which, if his academic style is anything like his letter-writing style, will probably be a long and tiring read).

Of course, what these comments don’t deal with is why a strange team of two of three authors would want to create a couple of curious books containing ironic codes in the first place? The echoing question is, as ever: enough about the damn authors – what about their audience?

[follow the earlier part of this controversy here, here and, finally, here]

Another Hidden Agenda

A week or so ago I hadn’t even heard of Maurice Orbez: now I find myself exploring the revelation of the possibility that there could be a code hidden somewhere in one or all of his/her works. Such is the life of a critic of obscure European literature.

Speaking (or writing, as the case may be) of concealed codes, where better to turn than to the equally strange case of Guillermo Merentes, Luis Funnel and the ‘ultimate text’ of San Estebon in Winter?

More on this, in due time.