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Sunday Stories: Enrique Sensini

I could have started this with: “Aren’t we all Enrique Sensini’s?”. It would have been an awful way to start. Possibly even worse than the way I did start it. There are two reasons for this: one minor, one major. First: there is no Enrique Sensini, at least not in the book “Llamadas telefónicas” by Roberto Bolaño. Further, the whole idea of taking story characters to be archetypes of something is flawed. It is likewise with the tendency to read stories in allegorical or symbolic ways. The notion of seeing stories as pointing to something outside of them (a message, a moral, universal truths) is annoying. Undoubtedly a lot of stories are conceived in this way. Stories thus conceived can be classed with the majority of stories: bad stories.

Good stories create as yet unknown worlds. They should not be reduced to a handful of insights about the world we think we already know. The stories in “Llamadas telefónicas” do that. Sensini exists. Enrique Martin exists. They do not exist to make a point (just like we don’t exist as an instrument of a bigger plan). This is not religion. It is creation. Enrique Sensini doesn’t yet exist. Creating him would throw some light on what might be. Knowing what might be tells us something about what is: “una sensación de estar y no estar, de distancia con respecto a lo que me rodeaba, de indefinida fragilidad.”

So who is this Enrique Sensini (if he isn’t Sensini, nor is Enrique Martin, nor is like any of us) ?

He might well be somebody who comes up with a couple of seemingly heavy first paragraphs just to test his readers for endurance. Not quite, Enrique Sensini would not leave it to a couple of paragraphs. Everything he would have written would be a test. I know this from his wife. Enrique (Sensini, not Martin) never talked about such matters to me. He talked a lot, but never on what he would write. Even if in the end he did write is at best a definite maybe for me. He did sometimes talk to his wife on this though, and she talked to me. She talked about Sensini (Enrique, not [blank]) because it was her way of talking about herself. I learned a lot about Enrique Sensini that way.

He, so she told me, was in love with the world. He not only wanted to embrace the world but wanted the world to embrace him as well. The problem was that the world played hard to get. She told me that he played hard to get as well with her, at first, but that she endured and finally prevailed. He quickly got addicted to her. As she was good and benevolent medicine to him (better than he was to her and he was awfully enduring and endearing when it came to her) this worked out well for both. It is not like one can survive this life without any addictions. Unlike Enrique Sensini though the world continued to play hard to get. This bugged him but he never let on, at least not outside of wedlock.

She told me, at an advanced stage of despair, that, when she finally realized this predicament, she told him to make a push for it. She told him to do as she did with him and that finally either the world would come around or he could give up on it altogether. I think she preferred the latter. I think she believed he still didn’t come fully around to her. It is dangerous to think what other people prefer or believe. It tends to annihilate the independence of the other. This is something Enrique Sensini’s wife taught me. I really liked her wisdom but Enrique never followed his wife’s advise. He just answered that if he needed to first convince the world the relationship would be structurally unbalanced. “Then give up on it.”, she said. “How can you give up on what you truely love?”, he replied.

She knew that what he wanted was that she took on herself the effort of connecting him with the world. Over time she had resigned to being a wife in most things but the one thing she could not offer him was to be the wife of a writer. She did not understand why people wrote, nor what they wrote about. It all felt artificial to her, and besides the point. She knew that he wanted this because he told her. I know she didn’t want to do it because she told me she couldn’t do it even if she would have wanted to. She also told me she didn’t want to do it. So she told him this was a stalemate, that he just had to choose & get it over with. “Would you have gotten over not getting me?”, he said. She replied she would have but she knew she was far from sure of it. “And anyway, there are no discrete choices in these matters. There is just luck, and bad luck.”

After that she fell asleep. He went downstairs thanking her for the good discussion. They were really a happy couple all in all. I’m sorry that I didn’t bother to stay in contact with them after they moved. I’m maybe even more sorry that they did not bother to stay into contact with me after that. I suspect Enrique Sensini has written a lot. I suspect none of it is very readable and the vast majority of it is not very good. I suspect the latter may well be somewhat on purpose, not doing the effort of making it better but certainly also not doing an effort to make it worse. I suspect they still live happily. I know I do not. I miss them.

He did quote me one piece of literature once, in Spanish, in an e-mail. I think they live in Spain now. It goes as follows. “Un poeta lo puede soportar todo. Lo que equivale a decir que un hombre lo puede soportar todo. Pero no es verdad: son pocas las cosas que un hombre puede soportar. Soportar de verdad. Un poeta, en cambio, lo puede soportar todo. Con esta convicción crecimos. El primer enunciado es cierto, pero conduce a la ruina, a la locura, a la muerte.”

[For those with the stomach of having read until here, I give you: one of the best sentences ever written.]

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August 7, 2011 - Posted by | squalor, Sunday Stories |


  1. “just to test his readers for endurance ” and ‘ she endured him”, this is so true, in reading books and especially in relationship, one pushes that, another person’s buttons so to speak hard just to test the boundaries what could be endured by the other, and the whole thing either falls apart or becomes stronger, maybe true for the trolls on blogs too, to decide whether to stay or go elsewhere
    about unknown worlds, those are fascinating, of course, but people mostly like to recognize things in the unknown worlds, it seems to me, similarities always win over differences, cz differences would always divide,but i shouldn’t be telling others by myself maybe, cz there could be people who genuinely like novelty
    and i confess i thought the post would hide somewhere something about suicides, it just so happens whoever’s book i liked at first reading at once i learn afterwards would have committed suicide or were like deeply unhappy at some point or throughout of their life, so writing requires suffering as the first requisite to be true and heartfelt like, maybe, not just talent, if different then the creation falls into some unserious’ for young adults” or something category and i can’t pass the endurance test with the book if it were testing me, well, that is just my perception of books of course, not just sad, melancholic books, but happy, sunny, humorous, children’s books too

    Comment by read | August 7, 2011

  2. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is not a moral command to radical nominalism.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | August 7, 2011

  3. Ceci n’est pas un mot.

    Also, the value of suffering for artistic expression is greatly overrated. It’s not because many artists suffer that suffering makes the artist.

    Comment by Guido Nius | August 8, 2011

  4. i don’t know, if not any arts, just people in general seem are different depending on whether they have suffered or not, their perception of life, ability to empathize etc
    always happy or at least content in some or other matter people are always kind of insensitive, thick-skinned regarding if not life in general then that particular matter
    so in arts everything what’s in life is like amplified, and maybe there just can’t be a genuine artist w/o some experience of suffering, the resulting art is not necessarily always grim or realist
    it’s not like, one has talent, and bam! s/he wrote/did something extraordinary just bc that talent like doesn’t let him/her be still, urges one to be industrious etc. always there is some experience in the beginning of any doing and that experience is mostly not happy one, i would guess

    Comment by read | August 8, 2011

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