Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 25, 2019

Imminence, by Mariana Dimópulos, translated by Alice Whitmore

Recently, I went to a most impressive art exhibition at the Carlisle Street Artspace at the old St Kilda Town Hall.  The young artist Daniel Coulson is upfront about his struggle with mental health, and the artworks on display were a testament both to his sense of disassociation and alienation, and his recovery.  He draws and paints in what is called Expressive Art, and you can see the style he uses and the artists he admires at his Pinterest page.  I’m beginning this review by reflecting on my experience of seeing a visual representation of dislocation and alienation, compared to reading about it.  When I look at a painting like this one, the play of light, colour and texture shows the paradox of the self dissolving and at the same time insisting on breaking through.  The eyes of the young woman suggest that she is determined not to submit to the torment she feels.  It’s a very powerful painting.

But reading Imminence is a more depressing experience.  A young woman drifts through a day and a life without feeling.  As the book begins, she has come home from a prolonged stay in hospital after the birth of her baby.  She cared so little about the existence of this infant, that she left the decision to abort it or not, to her lover.  Now she feels nothing for it, and abandons its care to Pedro.  And it’s not post-natal depression because she’s been like this all her life, an observer of others, disengaged from the business of living.

We’re alone together, for the first time.  I have to touch him now.  I try stroking a foot, then a shoulder.  But no current lifts in me, nothing pulls at my chest the way they said it would.

The baby has a foot that shines silver from the wool of his bootie.  I try again, but I can’t even get close.  Removing the covers, removing any of his layers, is suddenly unthinkable.  I laugh to myself.  I tell myself it’s impossible, and the thought is like a soothing caress; nothing is wrong, it will pass.  (p.1)

Her cynical friends are contemptuous of men, and love, and commitment.  Her male lovers — Pedro, Ivan and Cousin — are perfunctory experiences.  There are episodic events in a haphazard chronology, but the only one that engaged me at all was an episode of sheer stupidity when the narrator and Ivan were stranded in the desert because their car broke down.  I understood that this extreme event was to show the extent of the narrator’s lack of feeling: it really is the ultimate in not caring about yourself and others when you put yourself in danger to no purpose, but still, while I recognised that I was meant to empathise with the narrator, I felt more in sympathy with the 17-year-old boy who had to risk his own safety in order to help her out.

In his thoughtful review, Joe at Rough Ghosts comments that some readers might find it hard to ‘forgive’ the narrator’s detachment — and I think that’s how I felt.  I was impatient with her self-absorption, I got tired of her whining, and I found that the only character I cared about was the poor little unloved baby.  I was also frustrated by my inability to make sense of the book, even after I had consulted my own review of All My Goodbyes by Dimópulos … which I did because I remembered that I’d only made sense of that one by reading up on trends in Argentinian Lit in Michael Orthofer’s The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction.  

So, yet again, I find myself not liking the style or preoccupations of this type of Argentinian writing very much!

I read Imminence for Stu’s Spanish-Portuguese Lit Month at Winston’s Dad, and as a prelude to #WitMonth (Women in Translation), in August.

Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Title: Imminence
Translated by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, Southern Latitudes collection, 2019, 152 pages
ISBN: 9781925336962
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing


Responses

  1. Lisa, have you ever seen the Cunningham Dax Collection at the Dax Centre on Royal Parade? Dr Eric Cunningham Dax was head of the Department of Mental Hygiene in the 1960s before all the Psychiatric hospitals were closed. (My father used to work for him.) One of the most remarkable things he did was to collect hundreds of artworks by mentally ill patients in the system at the time. They are classified by different types of mental illness, and some of them are astonishing – well worth a visit.. I found Daniel Coulson’s paintings very expressive and moving – thank you for writing about them

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    • That sounds like a very worthwhile project. (I think I might have seen something about this collection online, or on TV?)
      I was very impressed by Daniel’s work: he’s not only expressive, he also has good technical skills. I think he would make a great portrait painter, if that’s what he wants to do.

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  2. What a great book I used to work with art therapist years ago it’s amazing what a medium for expressing ones emotions art can be

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I could paint or draw…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Me too Lisa have tried over the years but just a poor artist

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        • Well, it’s a real handicap for a primary school teacher not to be able to draw, especially if you teach kids for whom English is a Second Language. You might be talking or reading about, say, a lighthouse, and the kids look puzzled because the word isn’t in their vocab. If you can draw, it’s easy enough to sketch one on the whiteboard, and they know what you mean. They have the word and the concept in their language, just not in English. But if you can’t draw, and you have to try and describe it, it’s much harder.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Me too Lisa!

        This sounds like an interesting book. I haven’t read much, if any, Argentinian literature. I love that book cover and your segue to your review. Well done!

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        • Well, it’s nice and short, if that’s any inducement! Only 152 pages.
          But it took me a week to read it, which is not so good!

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          • Haha, that is an inducement, but I must say that it often takes me that long to read a book, mostly because I find very little time to read my books. Many days, it’s less than an hour by the time I do all the things I seem to need to do, which includes checking emails, and blogs, of course!! I really hoped to be able to dedicate afternoons to reading when I retired but that hasn’t happened somehow (like now – I’m hoping to get to my book soon, before I go out to a Friends of the NFSA event. As Secretary I need to be there by 4.15pm.)

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I would get angry with this character too – she seems so self absorbed.
    isn’t that photo on the book cover odd.How the hell did she get out of that window space and manage to perch there???

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    • It must be photoshopped, surely.
      But it’s a good image, showing how she doesn’t fit, and is perched precariously. A good example of how the visual is sometimes better than words.

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  4. I have an easier time understanding art works of depression, etc than reading about it. In books it can drag on, in art you see it all at once and move on. It is a subject I tend to steer away from in books having struggled with it much of my life. Now I am well I avoid it.

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    • I can understand that. You don’t want to gt dragged down again.

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  5. Interesting… do you think it might have worked better as a short story?

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    • I don’t know. I don’t think it’s the length of it that’s the problem: it’s the tone and the fractured narrative. I think the chaotic structure was deliberate, written to convey the way she felt about the world, but, well, there’s a fine line between fractured narratives that work and those that don’t, and IMO this one doesn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It seems to me books very rarely stand alone. As you imply, this is no doubt a response to a whole complex of trends in Argentinian art and needs to be read within that context to be understood. I would be really interested to read it if it were Australian but … so little time to properly understand other cultures.

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    • I certainly found that with the first book that I read by this author, and I’m indebted to Michael Orthofer for his book that explains the main trends in a nation’s literature. But it didn’t help much with this one. I keep thinking about it, and wondering if I’ve missed some metaphor somewhere…

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