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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

The Diaries of Emilio Renzi:
A Day in the Life

Ricardo Piglia

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To purchase The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life

Title: The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life
Author: Ricardo Piglia
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 357 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life - US
Los diarios de Emilio Renzi. Un día en la vida - US
The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life - UK
The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life - Canada
Los diarios de Emilio Renzi. Un día en la vida - España
  • Spanish title: Los diarios de Emilio Renzi. Un día en la vida
  • The third in the The Diaries of Emilio Renzi-trilogy
  • Translated by Robert Croll

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive self-accounting of a great reader and writer

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 22/9/2017 Nadal Suau
La Nacion . 15/10/2017 Pedro B. Rey
Publishers Weekly A+ 10/8/2020 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Quizás, de las muchas características admirables de estos diarios, la que más me impresione sea la minuciosa vigencia de sus análisis acerca de las conexiones entre política y cultura, economía y escritura, tecnología y arte, identidad colectiva y estilo individual... (...) Se cierra una obra importante, en sentido múltiple. Son estos los diarios de un Piglia lúcido hasta el final, a la vez curioso y desapegado, empeñado en entender cómo va a narrarse el mundo." - Nadal Suau, El Cultural

  • "Sería un error reducir el atractivo de Un día en la vida a su construcción formal. Del magma fluctuante de las notas no sólo surgen formulaciones sobre la vida y el oficio. También se revela una psicogeografía de autor, con los cines, bares, librerías de Buenos Aires, que es también el retrato de una época." - Pedro B. Rey, La Nacion

  • "A meditation on both the accumulation and ephemerality of time, Piglia's final work is a brilliant addition to world literature." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life is the third and final volume in the Diaries-trilogy, and is itself divided into three parts. Only the first -- 'The Plague Years' -- is largely in the simple, dated diary format with the generally short entries that also make up most of the two previous volumes, while the second part, 'A Day in the Life' is more narrative in presentation, with shifting (personal and temporal) perspectives; finally, the concluding part is a diary-section of much more recent 'Days without Dates'.
       'The Plague Years' is presented largely as the diaries of Piglia's alter-ego Emilio Renzi from 1976 to 1982, mostly spent in an Argentina during the dark years of el Proceso, under military rule, the years of the Dirty War against the population. (Renzi/Piglia did spend six months teaching in the United States in 1977 but here the diary goes silent, jumping from a 12 December 1976 entry in which he mentions getting an offer from the University of Californian, San Diego to spend six months there -- "Leave and have six months' rest from this horror. Why not go ?" -- to the entry for 6 July 1977, when he is: "Back in Buenos Aires, entering the city under fog".)
       The Argentine political situation does inevitably figure -- not least in the decision to remain there for (most of) this time, for personal reasons, meaning also that: "As we have decided not to go into exile, we live under always unstable conditions" --, and Piglia does at times express concerns about the authorities and, for example, what they might make of some of his writing -- i.e. should he be careful in what he notes down ? (There is the suggestion that some care is taken, but the overall impression is of not being overly concerned with the possibility of being 'found out' and read.) The main focus of these diaries, however, remains -- as in the earlier volumes -- his writing and reading (and, relatedly, his teaching), the centerpiece being the novel Artificial Respiration, as the diaries chronicle his work on and hopes for it, culminating in its 1980 publication and then some of the aftermath of that.
       So also he notes about it and the circumstances of those times:

Wittgenstein: "My work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one." A good definition for the novel I'm about to publish: in this situation, politics is what cannot be said.
       Piglia is heavily invested in that novel, Artificial Respiration -- a novel in which 'Emilio Renzi' also figures ... --, and believes in its importance; to see it published is a major accomplishment, perhaps a turning point. He notes, for example:
My current position in Argentine literature is minor or secondary. I like this place, on the margins. Behind, for example, Asís, Medina, Lastra, Rabanal. We'll see what happens after the novel is published.
       One of the last diary entries in this section -- and thus one of the last diary-entries in that long sequence of notebook-transcriptions that filled the first and second volumes -- has him writing letters: "concerning the English translation of Artificial Respiration", the final major step in truly taking him from being a player merely on a small national stage to the international one; it certainly was life-changing.
       As in the previous two, this volume of The Diaries of Emilio Renzi finds the author reflecting on the exercises involved: the original writing of the notebooks and then this present-day re-working of them. They have been important in his life, throughout -- the notebooks: "run through my life like nothing else" -- but there's considerable ambivalence about the exercise, too, and this reëxamination of the past -- or at least what it results in:
I don't want to reread these notebooks, sometimes they are an assessment that I don't want to face. Sensation of extreme precariousness. Continuous present.
       His efforts to deal with past-in/as-present shape much of this volume, as commentary and narrative also wrestle with the question. 'The Plague Years'-section is bookended by narrative pieces, mainly in the third person, but with the authorial-I also making himself felt. The closing piece here is actually titled 'Endings', and has him at a crossroads; "he imagined his life without the notebooks, without the notebooks, he emphasized, without the weight of the written record of the things he did, desired, thought, or believed". And it's the 'I' that then has the final words here:
I stopped in 1982 because, up to that point, I had neither abdicated nor committed suicide, and later, like the Prophet Isaiah, I would confuse the years and the days; the span of one whole day would enclose, within its hours, many times.
       The next section is then such 'A Day in the Life', a more experimental take on capturing life and its moments, consisting not of diary entries but longer narrative pieces (that are, however, all of a piece). Here he has others describe Emilio Renzi, for example -- and Emilio admitting he is: "interested in forgetting, he told me, in being blank, without recollection; he wants to live in the pure present, without memory". But of course he is also rooted in and indeed completely made up of past ..... Here he is also presented, in part, as someone claiming: "I don't write anymore, he says, I only transcribe, he says, I only record".
       Forgetting "is one of the great themes of literature", Renzi tells one of his classes here, and his efforts at a kind of forgetting (but also, inevitably, recreating and reïmagining ...) dominate much of this section, much of it in how he faces recollection as events from his life also pass in review in some detail.
       Among the most amusing parts imagines a distant, distant future, and how: "The Diaries of Emilio Renzi or Book of Quequén" might be seen then, including how:
Some historians contend that the book was written during the first decade of the twenty-second century, pretending to have been composed fifty years before. Others, by contrast, accept the proposition implicit in the book and believe that the diary was indeed written over the course of an extensive period, approximately spanning from 1957 to 2007. Whatever the elucidation of this dilemma may be, it remains one of the most ancient testimonies of literary practice during the age of expansion of Web culture, prior to its abrupt shifty and its crisis at the end of the twenty-first centuries.
       The final section, 'Days without Dates', is again a diaristic one, with short entries -- whereby he notes what day of the week it is for each, but nothing beyond that. These are from the time where his physical decline increasingly affected him, with the final entries very much of a body near its end; a time when he notes:
Dying is hard; there's something happening to me, it isn't an illness, it's a progressive state that alters my movements. This won't work.
       As such this trilogy also become a final testament and reckoning -- complete, to the the extent possible, even as the exercise also shows the near-endless possibilities of re-presentation and examination of the collected life-material.
       Among the amusing accounts in this final section is what amounts to a great story (and business ?) idea, taking the author(ial voice) beyond the grave, as it were, in a different kind of living (and producing) on:
Faced with the proliferation of books found -- in computer archives -- among the papers of famous dead authors (Bolaño , Cabrera Infante, Nabokov, etc.) a group of writers has decided to earn their living by writing posthumous novels. After several meetings, they decided to write Samuel Beckett's posthumous novel, Moran, a continuation of the trilogy. Along with the manuscript itself, they must invent a way for the novel to have been discovered.
       (Of course writing posthumous novels is already a big business -- though the authors who 'live on' tend not to be quite as niche as Beckett et al. but rather authors with considerably larger followings -- Robert Ludlum, V.C.Andrews, etc. ...)
       This is only one variation of an interest Piglia shows, especially in this latter part of this work, for different ways of telling -- storytelling in an age of rapid technological (and everything that goes with it) change. So he enthuses: "David Simon, creator of the series The Wire, is a great social storyteller", but notes that the form he works in is already being, fundamentally, superseded (out of which, however, it gains a strength of its own):
Social narrative shifted from the novel into film and after film into the series, and now its moving from the series to Facebook and Twitter and online networks. What grows old and loses currency ends up becoming loose and free: when the audiences of the nineteenth-century novel moved toward fil, the works of Joyce, Musil, and Proust became possible.
       Focused on, and unable to escape the written word, Piglia returns even at the end to the question of the purpose and value of the notebooks and his method -- reminding (himself, too) that: "diaries aspire to story, and in that sense they're written in order to be read (even if no one reads them)". His Diaries do achieve that: much of the fascinating material is to be found in his brief appreciations and observations, such as notes on authors and his reading, but the life-story -- of someone who has dedicated himself entirely to literature -- also comes across, and it is thoroughly engaging, over all three volumes of this larger work.
       Early on in The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life, Piglia suggests: "The telling of stories brings relief from the nightmare of History", but his stories and notes also proved that History -- from the largest scale to the smallest personal one -- is inescapable; it certainly suffuses these texts. So also in the conclusion, with Piglia facing death: a final silencing of the man, but not his writings (which, as he playfully suggested, may be found and read (and perhaps re-written, by enterprising future littérateurs) in entirely new and different ways, down the line).
       A fine conclusion to this diary-trilogy, and a fascinating companion-piece to this author and his work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 November 2020

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The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: A Day in the Life: Reviews: Other books by Ricardo Piglia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Ricardo Piglia lived 1940 to 2017.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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