‘You don’t gain anything by urinating on a tomb’, claims the Argentine culture minister Jorge Coscia in this article: seemingly wise words, whatever the context. He is however, in this case, responding to Eduardo Labarca’s curious book-cover, in which the Chilean writer is photographed urinating (or so it seems) on the tomb of Jorge Luis Borges. Labarca, for his part, is not penitent; nor is he embarrassed. ‘I am not just a person who goes around peeing on tombs, but a writer with a serious oeuvre’, he says. Solid if not spectacular defense of his reputation there.
Those of us who are well-versed in the strange world of obscure European literature will know, of course, that peeing on tombs is the least of what we might expect from any ‘writer with a serious oeuvre’. Pyetr Turgidovsky, the self-professed bad boy of contemporary Russian literature, claims to have built houses on top of writer’s tombs. ‘I am a strong believer in karma’, he once wrote, ‘for which reason I insist that all my living spaces are thoroughly infused with the spirit of the dead’. Someone ought to have reminded him that, when one thinks about it, every inch of the ground on which we walk must contain traces of the dead. In the midst of life… (and so on and so forth).
Other writers have gone for a simpler, though no less disrespectful approach. Didier Lolo used to start every working day by ‘jumping all over the tombs of Pere Lachaise’. He now ends his days in the same way. ‘The graveyard is my playground’, he writes in his latest book. ‘What’s more,’ he points out, ‘tombs make excellent dining tables. Per Lachaise is simply a party waiting to happen’.