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Book Review : Bugged Beyonds Words by Man/Insect Metaphor

December 21, 1987|CAROLYN SEE

The Compass Stone by Fernando Arrabal, translated by Andrew Hurley (Grove Press: $16.95; 174 pages)

"The Compass Stone," by Fernando Arrabal, is a novel traditionally thought of as avant-garde. It combines elements of that famous pornographic novel "The Story of O" together with certain biological articles of faith that many men still hold dear. That is to say, that the female is deadly to the male.

"The Compass Stone" is set in a mythical castle. At one end of this castle is a dreary father, referred to always as the Maimed One, fed and dressed and ministered to by fat females who have taken away his masculinity. At the other end of the castle, his grumpy 18-year-old daughter has embarked on a life of crime. More than anything else she loves to arrange "soirees" where she entices a gentleman to take her to the movies, allows him to fondle her until his moment of orgasm and then she neatly slits his throat.

This is not a book for everyone. And personally, all I can say is: "Why, Fernando, why?" It's not as if you were 18 anymore--some pretentious and tiresome undergraduate, drunk on thoughts and words, going around parties collaring people to ask: "What labyrinth of spiritual permutations was produced by aggressions? How many millions of billions of neurons in the human brain had been required to give birth to competitive behavior? Did aggression drown muscular, sensory, glandular, spiritual differences between people? Did the owl moth and the longicorn beetle, at birth, feel lost in a maze of infinite complication? How were they guided so as to learn and to choose? Effectiveness and quickness--did that lead them inexorably to aggressiveness, fanning its embers, exciting their flames of desire?"

Gentleman's Fate

Because listen to this , Fernando! Any ox who managed to stay awake during his high-school bonehead biology class knows that the lady black widow is not very kind to her gentleman friends. After a six pack and a hard day on his truck, any ox will not hold back in his lectures to his tired wife about these matters.

But at least this ox will do it in plain English and not compose his diatribes thus: "For insects, was dying sleeping? In a garden of flowers?. . . . With its four legs raised in an attitude of aggressive defense, would it assure that the catacomb would be protected until the day of the insect's resurrection? Did the insects believe in a great beyond, as the Maimed One did? Even though that locked them into the humiliating servitude of constantly inventing and reinventing an era of love under the guise of eternity?"

I guess it doesn't matter, Fernando. I guess anyone who talks so smart must be smart--you've made your point. And it's almost fun reading "The Story of O" in reverse--all that stuff about a castle, and the people in it being prey to their strange and weird sexual desires, and that ornate, baroque convention of naming some of your characters simply by a capital letter and a dash (K--, the wrestler, what a guy, and S--, the aesthete, he knows more than he's letting on!).

I also like the idea of what you put in at the front: "I send it (this book) to press, even knowing that its interrogative style may seem somewhat forced or stilted, its semantics startling and not a few of its revelations disconcerting. . . ."

Old News

You were right about the stilted part, but again, the rest of what you say is pretty old news: "Men go mad with lust, but their sexual satisfaction can lead to a kind of death"? It seems to me I've heard that song before. And if you go on and on with sex (if you're a man), you may turn into a Maimed One, surrounded by fat, repulsive women who seem to be taking care of you, but who actually suck all of your joy of life away? (The oxen from the bonehead biology classes have summed up that masculine article of faith in one succinct bumper sticker: "No Fat Chicks!")

But, I know how it is. Once an opinion becomes your opinion, it becomes an important opinion; it suddenly seems like no one else has thought of it before.

Arrabal's basic position is that the whole world acts like the insect world. The male insect, if he is an author, sometimes begins to talk like this, he just can't help it. Here's another example of how Arrabal tells his story: "In the green house camel-crickets produced a certain kind of music, white flies executed various courting dances, murderer-ants drummed on the abdomens of their plant-louse slaves as they waited, self-absorbed, to see their sweet excrement emerge."

The female insect tends to edge uncomfortably away, muttering either: "I think I hear my mother calling," or "Don't they have any wine at this party, at least?"

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