the short story project


Nir Baram On:

Maestoso by Jorge Volpi

About a year ago, I read the book In Search of Klingsor, by Jorge Volpi – one of the most fascinating contemporary Latin American writers – with astonishment. It is a brilliant metaphysical detective novel that takes place at the end of WWII and focuses on the search for Hitler’s scientist. In fact, it is more a sort of play on the detective novel, for the novel is built entirely on different perspectives, chaotic movements through space and time and abstract contemplation of philosophical questions. Most of all, the novel demonstrates how the main question in the detective novel, for example “Where is Klingsor?”, can turn into a metaphysical question that concerns the actual possibility of knowing anything about the world.
The story before us, Maestoso, depicts a harp player who falls in love with music at a young age but, as she grows up, finds herself pressed by the rules of the music world – the press, public relations, concerts, parties – and loses touch with the thing she loved so much. The story focuses on a musician but seems to relate to artists of all fields these days. At least in my opinion, the question that arises in the story is the same one that occupied Volpi in the novel “In Search of Klingsor”: Is there a possibility of a total life, one in which a person dedicates himself entirely to the one thing that is at the very center of his being? In a world where there are various contradicting powers at play – bureaucratic, ideological and commercial powers – can a person retreat to a place where these powers have no hold over him? Is there such a place?
Gradually, the withdrawal of the protagonist portrayed in the story, back to music and music alone, takes an extreme form of separating herself from everything that she feels is holding her back, even her own self.
“Determined not to let anything bother her, when she woke up she stopped all the clocks and covered all the windows with heavy curtains so she would never know what time it was: she spent all her time with the baleful consolation of electric light. She wished that her body could put a halt to its own rhythm and needs… Almost without thinking she took off all her clothes: even they got in the way of her relationship with art…” And so, the question whether “there is such a place” gradually takes on a radical form; it is not only a matter of withdrawing from the world, but also of withdrawing from your habits, your body, your needs, maybe a sort of withdrawal from yourself for the one and only thing you believe that is yourself. The story offers no answers; like all of Volpi’s works, it makes you think.