Eva the Fugitive (Eva y la Fuga), by Rosamel del Valle
This is a short novel of passionate subtlety, very cautiously ensnaring powerful flashes of emotion by slowing them down, using confusion as brakes. In the interval it takes a reader to think about what it means for a passageway to be both unavoidable and difficult to get into, there is enough time for a fleeting emotion to appear off to one side of the reasoning, without it becoming trapped in a static representation of a Feeling. An emotion may be fleeting because it is too weak to last, but it can also be fleeting because it’s too strong to move slowly, or because the one to whom it occurs isn’t fast enough or sharp enough to register it. And a fleeting emotion is different from the type of emotion that stops to smile for the camera and make sure it’s in good light. Rosamel del Valle, the pen name of Moisés Gutiérrez (1900-1965), spun Eva the Fugitive together out of fleeting emotions and confusion.
The phenomenon of confusion is fascinating, at least to me. Some works of art or thought are confused, which is to say they are messed up somehow, but there’s another kind of work which, without being confused itself, captures the phenomenon of confusion (I think of Kafka). This can be done pretty simply, by tangling ideas together, but that method for creating confusion is rudimentary; it assumes that confusion is nothing but excessive haste or the misplacement or unnoticed alteration of a crucial term, so that confusion is made out to be just clarity waiting to happen. A more sophisticated approach, del Valle’s, gets closer to essential confusion; it presents confusion in clarity.
Eva the Fugitive was written in 1930, while del Valle was still living the Bohemian life in Santiago, Chile. A voracious reader with wide-ranging tastes, he synchronized himself with the Surrealist movement then under way in Europe. Eva the Fugitive is plainly inspired by Andre Breton’s novel Nadja; the narrators, or narrator, of both repeatedly encounter a fascinating woman in city streets. They become linked together by a love that is as strong as possible but completely unfamiliar, with none of the moments that conventionally comprise love. They do lover-ly things, but they don’t do them in the usual way. There are no ordinary moments. The emphasis is entirely on those aspects of love that aren’t recorded, that might be thought impossible to record.
Eva the Fugitive is a prose-poem novel, and del Valle’s style is unique. He presents surfaces, relentless sentences that go on and on with a steady, building power or pressure, overwhelming and confusing and beautiful, persistently surprising, creating an impression of great precision but without any of the finality that would seem to be indissoluably linked to precision. Or his style could be described as clearly vague, and precisely indecisive; he masterfully runs his line through moments of possibility between two different conclusions, to keep to the difference. This is a love-record that preserves chiefly the elusive qualities of each encounter and each character the kind of qualities that are so small, quick, and easily overlooked or blurred into larger, cruder amalgamations of impressions so that one wonders if these are really what characters are normally considered to be. The narrator, Eva, and the narrator’s friends, with whom he has conceptual conversations, are like mobiles of qualities that move in and out of different internal relations, rather than static lumps with name tags on them.
The reason for del Valle’s extreme caution and punctilious strangeness seems to be that the impressions with which he is working are so fragile that they can be destroyed by a mischosen adjective or other qualifier. The memory of these feelings is minimal, right down at the threshold of what could be remembered, so they don’t have the strength to resist the wrong adjective. The wrong quality, once set there, becomes indistinguishable from the right one, and the memory is destroyed and instantly replaced with a phantasm. Del Valle has found a way to retain the impression that doesn’t disfigure its object, because every clinging word is melted.
There is no plot or even development, so much as there is a series of the modalities of one kind of love-moment in some of the most rareified, poetic and distinctive prose I’ve ever encountered. This short book is like a long encounter that is never more than lightly defined although it does manage somehow to convey a strong sense of place and of the particular identities of things. Del Valle conjures up a feeling of brilliant immediacy, in part by his use of the present tense, and of reminiscence at the same time. I was constantly tracing the words back as I read, because each sentence uncrystallizes itself by means of its qualifications. The prose is always crystalline, even when it falls back on and unlaces itself logically it nevertheless continues to extend itself poetically, so the meaning is never indistinct and in fact gains in strength as it splits from logic.
The result is a novel that is dreamlike to an extraordinary degree, one of the very best. The prestidigital syntax with which these sentence produce their sense induces dream mind in the reader: “presences not altogether alive but more than radiant” the book is filled with presences and somethings and not altogethers and almosts and not this but thats. Many of the qualifiers are surprising. Del Valle also goes into zones and spaces and areas defined mainly by the tendency of certain kinds of things or affects to occur there, and not, for example, by physical markers or social limits.
The reader can’t ask whether Eva is a real woman or a phantom of the narrator’s desires without missing the novel’s important question, which is whether or not love is a kind of shared dream certainly this love is.
“I see a world in the distance, in a dream white in color. In the center of that world there is something that belongs to me...
“I maintain my stand against the rigidity of certain principles, especially relating to life, or better still to the pleasure or to the anguish of living. I have an intense hatred for everything that does not contain some secret exit, something like a secret passage leading to a living void. That is to say, I love the act of breaking the seal of that living void that justifies or sacrifices an existence by consent.”
This ‘stand’ helps us to see that there is an enemy or a danger in Eva the Fugitive; del Valle calls it ‘asphyxia’ and it resembles what William S. Burroughs refers to as ‘stasis horror.’ It’s a condition of excessive fixity that freezes and stops life; del Valle detects asphyxia at work in the reduction of things, living moments, to flat representations or conventional elements, props and characters, in a conformist work of art. The ‘living void’ is like the aleatory compositional technique of automatic writing which maintains an access to spontenaeity, and is not the closed economy of familiar ideas and tropes. Automatic writing is a mechanism for producing more strictly new combinations, and it is necessarily a mechanism because, if it were an art in the conventional sense, if it didn’t have the automatism of a machine that proceeds without a plan, without knowing-in-advance, it wouldn’t be able to produce new things. That is why the language has to be everted under pressure, in sentences that get so long it’s no longer possible to keep an eye on how they began, or in sentences that flash by so quickly the initial links in the chain are indistinguishable, and the chain unlinks. The line, if it’s a Klee line, at this point, or at this point, or at this point, doesn’t make reference to the earlier parts of the line. The living void isn’t really empty, it’s just that, being alive, it isn’t possible to name its contents, at least not in advance. They are what’s still to come.
What the Surrealists accomplished largely by chance, although it is interesting to note that their automatic writing exhibits a distinctive style of its own anyway, del Valle manages through a different way. His writing ripples back over itself, back and forth, in addition to running along ahead of itself. And so he produced a novel unlike any other, unlike Nadja. Written in 1930, published posthumously in 1970, and only recently translated, Eva the Fugitive stays, with the most delicate insistence, always just ahead of us.