Ríos, Julián 1941-
RÍOS, Julián 1941-
PERSONAL: Born March 11, 1941, in Vigo, Spain; son of Fernando (a surgeon) and Regina F. (Taboas) Ríos. Education: Attended University of Madrid, 1958–62.
ADDRESSES: Agent—S.A. Balcells, Diagonal 580, 08021 Barcelona, Spain.
CAREER: Editor and writer. Editorial Fundamentos, Madrid, Spain, founder of Espiral magazine and literary series 1974; member of editorial boards of magazines, including Formations, Culturas-Diario-16, Nexos, and Syntaxis.
AWARDS, HONORS: Columbia University Translation Award, 1990, for English-language version of Larva.
(With Octavio Paz) Solo a dos voces (correpondence), Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1973, enlarged edition, Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico), 1999.
(With Octavio Paz) Teatro de signos, Editorial Fundamentos (Madrid, Spain), 1974.
Babel de una noche de San Juan, Del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1983.
(And photographer) Larva (novel), Del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1983, translation by Ríos, Richard Alan Francis, and Suzanne Jill Levine published as Larva: Midsummer Night's Babel, Dalkey Archive Press (Elmwood Park, IL), 1990.
Poundemonium (novel), Del Mall (Barcelona, Spain), 1986, translation by Ríos and Richard Alan Francis, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 1997.
Impresiones de Kitaj: La novela Pintada, Mondadori (Madrid, Spain), 1989.
La vida sexual de las palabras (nonfiction), Mondadori (Madrid, Spain), 1991.
Las tentaciones de Antonio Saura (nonfiction), Mondadori (Madrid, Spain), 1991.
Retrato de Antonio Saura (nonfiction), Circulo de lectores (Barcelona, Spain), 1991.
(With Eduardo Arroyo) Ulises ilustrado, Circul de lectores (Barcelona, Spain), 1991.
Sombreros para Alicia, illustrated by Eduardo Arroyo, Muchnik Editores (Barcelona, Spain),1993, translation published as Hats Off to Alice!, [Spain], 1993.
(Translator) James Joyce, El gato yet diablo (juvenile), illustrated by Mabel Pierola, Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1993.
Kitaj: Pictures and Conversations, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1994, Moyer Bell (Wakefield, RI), 1997.
Album de Babel, Muchnik Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 1995.
Amores que atan, o, Belles lettres (novel), Ediciones Siruela (Madrid, Spain), 1995, translation by Edith Grossman published as Loves that Bind, or Belles Lettres, A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Monstruario (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1999, translation by Edith Grossman published as Monstruary, A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Nuevos sombreros para Alicia, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 2001.
Contributor to books. Contributor to American and European periodicals in French, Spanish, and English.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Two novels, Auto de fénix and Puente del Alma.
SIDELIGHTS: Julián Ríos ranks among the most important postmodern authors in the Spanish language. Among his best-known works are the novels Larva and Poundemonium, the first two of a proposed series of five. Ríos is famous in the literary world for his love of word play; his books are filled with puns in many languages. In the reference work Interviews with Spanish Writers, the author was described as "a polyglot who assimilates sounds and tongues. In each of his pages, he strips the conventional Spanish language to the core, conquers it, gives it multiple meanings and multidimensional readings through a multilingual interplay." Furthermore, the interviewer noted, Ríos's "characters play along with him in this masquerade of words and guide the reader from the text on the right-hand page to commentary notes on the left-hand page." Ríos has been compared to such international giants of literature as James Joyce, Miguel de Cervantes, and Laurence Sterne.
Ríos was born in Vigo, Spain, in 1941. He began writing from an early age and enjoyed playing games, including ones that involved wordplay. Ríos's first book was a collaboration with Mexican writer Octavio Paz. The volume, Solo a dos voces, takes the form of a conversation between Ríos and Paz. Another collaboration with Paz was published the following year. Almost ten years passed before Ríos's next creation, Larva, appeared.
Larva was viewed by several critics as a novel in many parts. There is the main text, which appears on the right-hand pages, and the main notes to the text, which appear on the left. There is also a separate section called "Pillow Notes," as well as an index of names. A collection of Ríos's own photographs serve as both illustration and a kind of separate text. Comparing these sections to floors in a building, Ríos explained in Interviews with Spanish Writers: "There are various levels or stories in any minimally complex work…. One can remain on the ground floor, go up to the second level, stay somewhere in the middle, or survey the view from the roof. The reader can glance over something quickly and in passing, like in a stroboscope, or he can stop and observe the details."
The main characters in Larva are two lovers who happen to be writers, Milalias and Babelle. Also central to the novel is the literary figure of Don Juan, the famous lover—the book as a whole carries a sexual tone. In the Washington Post Book World, Michael Dirda noted Larva's "vitality, sexiness, and sinuous side-winding movement." Along with secondary characters such as Mr. X, Reis, Albert Alter, and the German Herr Narrator, Ríos includes himself as a fictional personage. Ríos explained in Interviews with Spanish Writers: "At the end of Larva, there is a scene in Reis's room … in London in which he speaks to a bearded stranger with round-rimmed glasses, Milalias, who is on his way to visit his beloved mentor, X. Reis overhears their conversation in Spanish. Reis and the bearded man, who are sitting having a drink together, comment that they have the same name, because the stranger says that his dentist's nurse mispronounces his name as 'Mr. Rayos.'"
More than sexual situations and bizarre characters, according to Dirda, "where Larva cracks open and takes wing is in its language, a kaleidoscopic display of linguistic excess that, like [James Joyce's] Finnegan's Wake, starts with 'the abnihilisation of the etym' and then turns the King's English into a 'kinks English' of puns, palindromes, acronyms and unruly garrulity." The critic concluded that the novel "shows off the whirl within the word and reminds us that language can aim to be other than a transparent window, that one can sometimes have more gain with less pane."
The sequel to Larva, Poundemonium, was promoted as the second in a five-volume series, albeit a shorter one compared with Larva and with Ríos's projected third novel, Auto de fénix. Deemed by Brian Kenney in Booklist as "less accessible" than its predecessor, Poundemonium "resurrects Larva's punmad, verbose characters" to become a creation "both astoundingly confusing and tremendously funny." The work is titled Poundemonium because the figure of poet Ezra Pound is central to it, despite the fact that the action of the story takes place on the day following Pound's death, when its characters begin to visit London sites connected to Ezra Pound. The story "walks a fine line between being a sly meditation on [Pound] and being an inchoate word-goop," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Dwight Garner, also remarking that the work "often shambles along like giddy Beat-era poetry." "In his more lucid moments, Ezra Pound would have appreciated this combination of puzzle and pastiche," noted a contributor to Publishers Weekly.
Ríos expounded on the poet's importance for Interviews with Spanish Writers: "I have always considered him an emblematic figure, and very generous in three ways: first, because he was a magnificent poet and he managed to recapture lost traditions while innovating new styles; second, because he was very generous intellectually and he stimulated his colleagues and young writers." The third way, Ríos continued, was "because he was very important as a transmitter and translator of other cultures."
While Pound is central to Poundemonium, his essence is summoned in the novel through the help of Ríos's familiar characters, Milalias and Babelle. Ríos explained in Interviews with Spanish Writers that "the book gets its principal cue from the descent into hell at the beginning of Pound's Cantos…. Of course, Poundemonium is a play on words between Pound and pandemonium. Anyway, in my book, that descent into hell leads us on a pilgrimage through certain areas of London." Ríos commented: "The image of Ezra Pound is gradually evoked by visits to his old haunts—where he worked, lived, and socialized—before concluding with a special purifying bath when the main character returns home to his love, Babelle, at sunrise. It is a trip to the end of the night that aspires to daylight."
Following the publication of Poundemonium, Ríos wrote several other books while continuing to work on the series he began with Larva. Among these are nonfiction volumes on artists that Ríos admires, such as painters Ronald B. Kitaj an Antonio Saura. He has also collaborated with illustrator Eduardo Arroyo on two works. One is titled Sombreros para Alicia, and further explores the character Lewis Carroll created in Alice in Wonderland. Juan Goytisolo, critiquing the translation, Hats Off to Alice!, in the Times Literary Supplement, noted "Ríos's rich sinuous land of textuality."
Amores que atan, o, Belles lettres was published. A "much more readable" work than Poundemonium or Larva according to Harold Augenbraum in the Library Journal, the book once again shows Ríos's "inventiveness." Comprised of twenty-six sections, the work follows its narrator, Emil, as he discusses the many lovers who previously left him—portraying women and situations similar to those in literary history. Although Augenbraum recommended the work, he suggested that Loves that Bind, or Belles Lettres has too many "simplistic puns" and that Ríos is "not always good at conveying passion." In contrast, in his Booklist review, Kenney called Loves that Bind, or Belles Lettres "cerebral stuff but also passionate" and referred to its creator as "one of Europe's most imaginative and playful novelists."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Interviews with Spanish Writers, Dalkey Archive Press (Elmwood Park, IL), 1991.
Booklist, October 15, 1995; December 15, 1996, Brian Kenney, review of Poundemonium; May 15, 1998, Brian Kenney, review of Amores que atan, o, Belles lettres; January 1, 1999.
Library Journal, November 1, 1996; April 15, 1998, Harold Augenbraum, review of Amores que atan, o, Belles lettres.
Nation, March 11, 1991.
New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1997, Dwight Garner, review of Poundemonium.
Publishers Weekly, November 25, 1996, review of Poundemonium.
Rain Taxi, fall, 1998, Alexander Laurence, interview with Ríos, p. 48.
Times Literary Supplement, May 3, 1991; December 3, 1993, Juan Goytisolo, review of Sombreros para Alicia.
Washington Post Book World, February 24, 1991, Michael Dirda, review of Larva; July 26, 1998, David Streitfeld, review of Amores que atan, o, Belles lettres.
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