Answering my Questions

Some days ago I threw in your little faces a handful of Luis Funñel-related questions, all of which I hoped to be able to answer within the week. I’m not sure I will manage this, but here are the results thus far:

1. What were the implications of Malcolm Harding’s discoveries? Well, one implication was that we ought to take even more care with translators and translations than we usually do. Who knows what they could have hidden within texts that never, in essence, belonged to them in the first place? Many translators complain that they don’t get enough attention – and yet the very point of a translator is, in many ways, to fade into the background. The problem with the Funñel/Merentés case, however, is that Merentés is the type of author no one will ever want in the foreground, if on any ground at all – all of which makes Funñel’s ascendancy over him a comparative delight.

2. Is Funñel still translating? I can’t be sure of this one, but it appears that the answer hovers in the arena of the positive (which is to say ‘yes’). According to one source, Funñel has spent the last four years working on a translation of another one of Merentés’ mediocre melodramas – namely Maria in the Sea with Me (though another, inferior, source suggests that the work in question is Autumn Lovers Fall). Will he be hiding another secret message in the book? I can’t see why not.

3. Does Funñel really support Felipe Elverde? A difficult question. Moeping, of course, thought that Funñel’s ‘gesture of support’ was always ironic – but I’ve never been sure.  All of this provides an interesting link nonetheless to my recent discussions of the hidden codes within Maurice Orbez’s Wall-Scrawlings, which Dr. Mark Phliger thinks to be similarly ironic. In fact, now I consider it it, I seem to remember D H Laven claiming that irony also had a major part to play in the mysterious codes of Khum Tash (correct me if I’d wrong). All this irony hidden deep below the surface – does it, I wonder, tell us more about conspiracies or contemporary reactions to conspiracies?

4. How did Funnel react to finding himself on my list of Greatest European Novels? This question still requires an answer. Are you out there Luis?

5. Where do the accents lie? Again, I await confirmation – despite going ahead with my own theories in this very post. Another one for Luis, I fancy.


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.

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.