Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Kalpa Imperial

The other book I am reading at the moment - on Kindle - is Kalpa Imperial by Argentinian writer Angelica Gorodischer (originally published 1983). It is translated by Ursula Le Guin, which is why I bought it. Here is a Strange Horizons review from 2004. Kalpa Imperial is a collection of stories set in an elaborate, universal and eternal empire, which has risen and fallen a million times. The reviewer on Strange Horizons invokes the same phrase which had been going through my mind as I read it - Philip K Dick's dictum 'The Empire Never Ended'. A kalpa, of course, is an aeon of history, a complete cycle of the cosmos.

The stories read like allegories or fables rather than literary stories, and I think the allegory is about how storytelling creates the empire. The prose is heavy on lyrical and complex descriptions of cities and palaces, but the people are archetypal roles like 'thief who comes to rule the empire' or 'wicked prince who is driven mad by his dreams'. I have recently been reading The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by Lovecraft, and it has a very similar feel to that, or the sparse and fantastical writing of Borges or Calvino.

We should reject that rigid bourgeois formula where the only respectable subject for fiction is introspection and individuation of character. I like the way that genre stories celebrate externality and physicality, and return to an ancient model of storytelling as the recounting of events. But magical-realm books like this - I know not everyone feels the same - do not call me back insistently to read more. Like Gormenghast the world is imaginative and colourful, but it isn't going anywhere.

Here are links to two extracts from the stories which are available online. You can see that the text is about words as a way of constructing the empire.

Probably the good emperor, who seems born to smiles and good nature, though he wielded weapons like the black-winged angel of war when it was a matter of eradicating from the Empire the greed and cruelty of a damnable race, will reply to the counselor that chattering for an hour with each of his subjects is one way of ruling the Empire, and not the worst way.

Precisely one hour after sunrise, seven servants, each dressed in one of the colors of the rainbow, entered Prince Livna'lams's room and woke him by repeating meaningless words about fortune, happiness, obligation, benevolence, in fixed phrases hundreds of years old.
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