Vol. XXVI, #2 William Eastlake / Julieta Campos / Jane Bowles
Review of Contemporary Fiction
A Cock-Eyed Comedy, by Juan Goytisolo
reviewed by Pedro Ponce
Trans. Peter Bush. City Lights, 2005. 173 pp. Paper: $13.95.
Juan Goytisolo’s A Cock-Eyed Comedy is a picaresque hash of world history, Spanish culture, and religious orthodoxy. Beginning with the mysterious appearance of Father Trennes—who claims to have witnessed scientific proof of the divinity of a communion wafer—the novel proceeds to reprint manuscripts penned by Trennes as “Friar Bugeo Montesino.” The first manuscript, “My Saints and Their Works,” takes significant liberties with the genre of hagiography: “Abdelkadir was in his thirties at the time and worked for the French railways. . . . For a reason beyond me, our first encounter represented an exceptional engagement: he refused union and time and again offered his magnificence to my hallowed lips.” A companion manuscript, “The Secret Dwellings,” describes the sacred spaces where such encounters took place, including the Luxor Cinema, where Roland Barthes “roamed the holy places elegantly elated: he saw, he conquered, he came like Caesar . . .” But Goytisolo’s comic vision is less about using Roman Catholicism as narrative straight man and more about questioning the conventional separation of the natural and divine. As one of the novel’s huge cast of characters observes, “To follow nature is not, nor can it be sinful, for it is God-given for our recreation.” In Peter Bush’s translation, Goytisolo presents American readers with a playful satire that is at once hopeful and—in its backdrop of intolerance and inquisition—disturbingly familiar.