Juan Goytisolo

Juan Calduch, Juan Goytisolo, and Dr. D. in 1999.

There are famous people and then there are famous people you never heard of.

As a graduate student in Hispanic Studies, I had to read a novel, La saga de los Marx, by Juan Goytisolo for a seminar on Modern Spanish (as in, from Spain) Literature. I had never even heard of Juan Goytisolo. Then the professor who assigned the novel assured the graduate seminar that he was world-famous. I just took her word for it. But I was suspicious of just how famous he was.

Well, regardless of his claim to fame, I began reading La saga de los Marx. I was captivated by Goytisolo’s writing. I couldn’t identify a protagonist or a setting. He inserted foreign languages sans translations. There was no storyline to speak of. Or standard punctuation, for that matter. He seemed to have studied grammar and stylistic rules only so he could break as many rules as possible. However, the writing piqued my curiosity and I read the novel in a mere two sittings.

When the class met to discuss the novel, only one other student said she had read the entire novel. But she wasn’t sure if she really liked the novel. I, on the other hand loved it! I immediately decided that I would write my seminar paper on this novel. I was intrigued by the postmodernist style.

As I was writing my paper, I decided to reread the novel to find supporting citations for my paper. Curiously enough, I enjoyed the novel even more upon reading it a second time. I loved it so much that I decided to write a letter to Juan Goytisolo, c/o of the publisher. Imagine my surprise when he wrote back! Usually when I like a writer that much, he or she has already been dead for a long time. Sometimes dying even before I was born. How rude!

Well, this paper inspired me to further my studies and become a doctoral candidate. I showed Juan Goytisolo’s letter to the seminar professor and she asked me to invite him to speak at UIC. He accepted the invitation and spoke at our university, with me as the guest of honor because he came on account of my letter and I was writing my doctoral dissertation on his novels. I was truly honored. I was also surprised at how many people came from miles around to hear Juan Goytisolo speak and plug his latest novel. He was a fascinating man, as I discovered while giving him a tour of the Chicagoland area.

Well, Juan Goytisolo truly is world-famous. Every year he gets nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of these days, he may actually win it. But to think I had never heard of him before that graduate seminar!

Bumper stickers

Please use bumper stickers responsibly!

I enjoy reading so much, I’m glad someone invented bumper stickers! Now I can also read while I drive. The other day, I saw this bumper sticker as I drove: “Bumper to Bumper / Butt to Butt / Get Off My Ass / You Crazy Nut.” Well, that was a very lame bumper sticker as far as bumper stickers go. I thought back to the glory days, the actual Renaissance of bumper stickers. I remember reading some excellent bumper stickers long ago, in the Golden Age of public expression.

Yes, like many American cultural icons, bumper stickers were born about the same time as t-shirts with messages, way back in the 1960s when everyone seemed to have something important to say. Once, long ago, t-shirts were essentially underwear, something that men wore under their dress shirts with a collar. And there were no bumper stickers then; bumpers were still bare and naked. Their sole purpose was to protect the car and its occupants in case of a collision. In the 1950s, juvenile delinquents, JDs, began wearing white t-shirts as outerwear and car bumpers got bigger and brighter chrome, but alas, neither took advantage of all the possible attention that be showered upon them in the 1960s. Then, someone viewed the white t-shirt as a blank canvas intended for artistic expression. And, Voila! The message t-shirt was born, and riding on its shirttails, was the bumper sticker.

Some of the messages were exclusive to their medium, but most messages expressed themselves equally as well on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker: “If I told you that you had a beautiful body / would you hold it against me?” However, I prefer bumper stickers. T-shirts have long ago reached their saturation point and we’re now seeing the reemergence of plain white t-shirts. I mainly prefer the bumper stickers because I love to read and they allow me to read while I drive. I wax nostalgic as I recall some of my favorite bumper stickers! I can still see them, like my family and friends gathered round the holiday dinner table! Let me recall a few for you.

I remember there were political messages: “No Nukes,” “Save the Whales.” And there was a religious message: “Jesus Saves.” And then some genius, in a stroke of absolute brilliance, penned this magnificent treasure: “Nuke the Whales for Jesus”! I was amazed that this author didn’t win the Nobel Prize for literature.

When the Born Again Christians bragged, “I Found It,” National Lampoon offered the rebuttal: “I Lost It!” For a while many station wagons and minivans boasted, “My child is an honor student at …” Suddenly, there were some bumper stickers that read, “Your Kid’s An Honor Student / But You’re A Moron” and “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.” To “If You Can Read This / You’re Too Close,” someone replied, “If You Can Read This / Thank a Teacher.”

Then there those bumper stickers that expressed a variety of feelings: “Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beer Holder.” “Insanity Is Hereditary / You Get It From Your Kids.” “Ex-Husband In Trunk.” “Don’t Hit Me / My Lawyer’s In Jail.” “How’s My Driving? / 1-800- EAT SHIT.” “Gas, Grass, Or Ass / No One Rides For Free.” “If This Van’s A Rocking / Don’t Come A Knocking.” I saw an old clunker sporting this bumper sticker: “My Other Car Is A Rolls Royce.” Then I once saw a Roll Royce with this one: “My Other Car Is A Lear Jet.”

As much as I love reading bumper stickers, I have only ever had one bumper sticker on all of my cars: “USMC.”

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