Continuity and Fiction:
the personal library of Alberto Ruy Sánchez
Text by Mar Gámiz
Photography by Toumani Camara
“Yet his story cannot be told in a traditional manner: the protagonist is a flow, a voice that runs and introduces itself in different bodies and situations.”
-Alberto Ruy Sánchez, The Fire’s Hand 1
Outside, the midday sun of an agonizing summer sets; a hummingbird hovers and in its agitation makes me notice the thick tree that guards Alberto’s house. Its roots refuse to undergo the cement slabs, and I realize my ignorance as I do not know what length represents that iceberg-like manifestation of the tree’s roots. It’s not a ceiba tree, but it reminds me of the Mayan sensibility that made the ceiba cut across words, endowing it with the solid and flexible continuity of wood.
Inside, Alberto welcomes us warmly. The purpose of the visit is to see his library. He warns us from the beginning: it is not only his library, but one built by him and his wife, Margarita de Orellana, more than thirty years ago. He also quickly reveals the concern that has haunted him since he started writing: how to make harmoniously coexist that which he has read with that which he has written? To answer us (to answer himself), he begins the tour from the living room, where the art books are placed, up to the third floor where the entrance to the library is located, noticing conscientiously the objects that hold stories of travel, love and work.
For Georges Bataille men are discontinuous beings because they die. The only possible moment of continuity in being is fertilization, when two discontinuous beings merge into another.
We somehow crave continuity, yet also according to the French philosopher, the only material means to achieve it is by dying. I wonder, however: is dying not a little like diving into the fabric of a novel, into the thoughts and feelings of the characters? For he who creates them as for he who reads them, the immersion that each book entails – inevitably -, the life-death duplicity as well as the indistinctness, the merging of the boundaries between the self and the other, the particular and the universal. Reading and writing are bridges that allow, or at least give, the illusion of continuity. [That same evening Zaydun, in his studio, held a book with both hands, exactly the same way Tarik was holding the pot to change it from one side to the other. They made the same ritual gesture without knowing. One with clay, the other with paper in hands. Both join all the men that have done so before. And myself, about to do so with this book in which I read their stories.]
When asked about the future of his library, Alberto says he does not want to impose anything on his children, who will decide, perhaps, what to do with it. However, Alberto does want something for his death: he’d like his ashes to be turned into a vase [Death, thinks Tarik, is also a stubborn thing, obstinate in its forms, capricious in its results. What better than to marry it to an equally capricious work of clay. ], a “useless beauty,” but loaded with the meanings with which Alberto has built his life: his family, his travels, his sensory world, his readings and his works.
As with the threads of a tapestry, Alberto and Margarita have woven the corners of their home with books and artworks, faithful reflections of experiences lived. An indigenous recreation of a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres find its justification with the editorial work enclosed inside a wooden cart of Artes de México, which in turn recalls the hours of a Parisian studio and the voluptuousness of the Mexican territory. Close by, a vase that travelled protected by a large embrace, flaunts a calligraphy so far undeciphered, but highly suggestive of Alberto’s literary world. A world that, as we’ve seen, has erased the boundaries between that which is received and that which is created, between reading and creation [He had learned to master a high proportion of his possibilities. But never all, of course. To know so is to be a true creator. What is possible overwhelms us in our craft and in our life. Being a master of the craft is not mastering everything, but knowing that it sails in flows of matter, currents that travel upstream and downstream].
The objects arranged not only along the library but the whole house as well, maintain a constant dialogue with the universes described in the books. The continuity between them generates more meanings, while everything works like a Renaissance theatre of memory, in which the lives of the inhabitants of the house are reminisced, [A manual of love is a book that takes us by the hand. It guides us by touching us. It guides our steps from fingers and eyes.] and in which prefigure those that may occur.
Despite the house having been remodelled three times to give nodal space to the library, despite it being organized according to the limits imposed by the alphabet, the library goes beyond the doors and filters itself throughout the house and beyond, as each one of the two carries it on their backs wherever they go. The library is the family’s ceiba tree.
Image, letters, accumulated life and imagined life. In the personal library of Alberto Ruy Sánchez continuity strikes us, and we participate in the flow of human matter.