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.

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.


‘Let’s run through this again,’ said my wife, pouring me a glass of white (though I distinctly remember asking for red).
‘Who is Maurice Orbez?’
‘Well,’ said I, ‘according to Carl Stensson…’
‘He’s the one who smells like a wild boar, yes?’
If you didn’t already know, my wife is incredibly sensitive to smell, ordering all the people she knows according to their personal scent.
‘You’re thinking of A—– d– L——‘
‘Oh. So what about this Stensson chap then?’
‘He’s the guy who thought that Van Gogh faked his death. You said he smelled like a d—- f—‘
She stroked her right eyebrow gently. ‘Oh yes. I remember now. So what’s his line on d’Orbey?’
Orbez,’ I corrected her. ‘It’s Orbez. That’s the problem. d’Orbey is someone else entirely.’
‘So who’s Orbez?’
‘Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Stensson thinks that it’s a man from the nineteenth century who wrote a couple of novels about medieval wall-scrawlings, with or without the help of a defrocked nun.’
‘I see,’ said she. ‘And what do other people think?’
‘Well, Andrew…’
‘Who’s he?’
‘You’ve never smelled him. He’s some blogger fellow.’
‘I see. Can’t he afford a surname?’
‘Perhaps not,’ I said, giving her a look to suggest that, in this fair country, it is frowned upon to make fun of those who cannot afford surnames.
‘And what does he say about Orbez?’
‘He’s all for the defrocked nun,’ I explained. ‘He thinks she wrote the whole bang lot. Not only that, but she wrote them in code.’
‘What sort of code?’
‘I know not.’
She sipped her wine. I sipped mine. Vinegary. As I expected.
‘Are you still reading that new O’Droningham novel?’ she asked.
‘You know I am. Why do you ask?’
‘Well, you know – it’s just, what with you and your naughty monks, and all this stuff about defrocked nuns, I’m just wondering whether or not you might be causing undue offence to certain members of the religious community.’
‘Well, is it really necessary? You don’t want to give the impression that all monks release their sexual frustrations by writing erotic science-fiction, or that European history is full of defrocked nuns assuming false-names and hiding codes inside books about medieval graffiti..’
I scratched my nose wearily.
‘You may be right. In fact, I’m almost certain that a significant proportion of monks don’t fantasize about making love to aliens. Still, what can you do? I can’t risk not risking offending people.’
She spat a mouthful of wine back into the glass.
‘See?’ I said.
She sniffed. ‘ You know I hate it when you say that’.


Stensson replies, via e-mail (for context you are advised to peruse preceding posts):


Firstly: no, you can’t borrow my first editions. I have it on good authority that this ‘Active Reading’ of which you are so foolishly fond involves such practices as reading in the centre of a haystack, or in a bath of beans, neither of which are, in my opinion, even vaguely safe environments for a poor, defenceless book. What’s more I am a selfish and possessive bastard. I wouldn’t let Jesus borrow my Bible.

Secondly: you’re wrong (or ‘off beam’ as my brother’s father’s daughter used to say). My reference was not to Maurice d’Orbey (I’ll come back to him later) but, as written, to Maurice Orbez. That you have not heard of the latter comes as no surprise to those who know you. Luckily I am here, as others have been before, to set you straight (you always did need someone to tie your laces, didn’t you?)

Orbez hailed from Dijon and wrote, in the 1870s, two books. The first one was called Life is Sickness and Other Medieval Wall-Scrawlings; the second Pain is an Everpresent and Yet More Medieval Wall-Scrawlings. I suspect that the titles may provide a clue as to the books’ contents, but I will point out that both works are fiction. Orbez knew nothing of actual medieval wall-scrawlings: he simply made ‘em up – and thank God he did, for both books represent a well-contained riot of historical humour. Should you ever come across a copy – or a less self-interested friend who owns one – I insist that you dive into it (that’s a metaphor by the way: I don’t mean that you should read it whilst diving, which nonetheless sounds like your sort of caper).

Now, concerning d’Orbey, whose first editions I do not, sadly, own, I think you are doing him (and his father) an injustice by referring to the works merely as ‘raunchy ballads’. Most critics have by now agreed that the real strength of the d’Orbey poetry is the range of delicately wrought perspectives it provides on the father/son relationship. So there are a fair few barmaids, sans attire, thrown in: but there’s more to it than that, really there is. Hmmm… yes..

Now where was I? Oh yes. Lastly, though I thank you for drawing fresh attention to my article on the late great Lucas de Boer, I notice you have expressed some uncertainly over my claims to have met Vincent Van Gogh. All I can say is this: if it wasn’t the man himself, it was a mighty fine (and dedicated) imitator. Still, I respect your right to reserve judgment. My body of proof is missing a few limbs, I know.

 Toodlepip then,

C. S

P.S. By the way, you’re going to publish this on-line aren’t you? I wouldn’t have been so polite otherwise, you old **** ***** *********

My response? Well, um, indeed, yes.

More on this later.

Cold Meats and Raunchy Ballads

A little more from Carl Stensson’s ‘obituary’ of infamous death-faker Lucas de Boer (find the full article here):

‘I’ve seen the body, comforted the mourning women (well, someone’s got to do it), taken home the funeral cold meats for my daughter’s birthday party, received my share from the will (his Maurice Orbęz first editions, if you must know) and placed a bouquet of half-price lilies beside the gravestone…’

The first question nestling on all reader’s lips after reading this sentence is, of course, who the heck is Maurice Orbęz? Forgive my ignorance (please do) but I am personally unaware of any writer going by that name; that is unless Stensson is really referring to Maurice d’Orbey, an eighteenth century French writer, who co-wrote a series of raunchy ballads with his father, Eduoard d’Orbey (a retired politician). If so, he is most fortunate to be in possession of his first editions: worth a penny or two, I’m sure.

Indeed, if Stensson should be reading this very post – what are the chances of my borrowing a copy?