Friday, November 04, 2005

Manifestations of the Bogeyman

In Goya's Que Viene El Coco a cryptic and threatening figure looms over a woman and her child. The title of this piece, one of Goya's Capricho paintings intended as an illumination of society, is usually translated as "Here comes the Bogeyman" (The best known Capricho is likely The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters)


One website, CocoWeb, has collected the thousands of names for the Beast that lurks in the darkness.

Sleep, child
Sleep now
For here comes El Coco
and he will eat you up

In Mexico we knew him as "El Cucuy."

Do not wander into the streets our parents and grandparents would warn us, or you will be stolen away by El Cucuy. It was either him or the abductress known as La Llorona, the weeping woman who was also bent on taking us away. They are both a class of phantom known as "Asustadores" - Frighteners. In any case, the message was clear: Darkness looms out there beyond the circle of warmth of safety that is our own family. And the darkness is inhabited by monsters.


I am making my way again through Donoso's Obsceno Pajaro de la Noche (The Obscene Bird of Night). The title comes from a Henry James Sr. quote:

Every man who has reached even his intellectual teens begins to suspect that life is no farce; that it is not genteel comedy even; that it flowers and fructifies on the contrary out of the profoundest tragic depths of the essential death in which its subject's roots are plunged. The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.

Mudito, the main character, lives his life in different worlds. He is the outcast, a hunchback living among children and nuns in a labyrinthine monastery. He is also the servant of a wealthy couple who have given birth to a deformed child. The child is known simply as Boy. To insulate Boy from the world, his parents decide to seclude him, to keep him apart from the world. In the universe they build for him, mirrors have been banished and his parents have recruited monsters and freaks, culled from hospitals and circuses, to keep Boy company - to show him he is not alone in the world and he is not different. Mudito's qualifications are that he is more hideous than Boy.

The Coco too makes an appearance. In the course of Donoso's novel, a main character suddenly finds himself inside a burlap sack. The world becomes dark. The character is removed from the novel. What happened to him? In one of my Spanish editions of this novel, the cover shows a sack against a black background. Jose Donoso, the author of the novel, is himself Chilean. In Chile, the "Coco" , the universal abductor, takes the form of "El Hombre de la Bolsa", the Man of the Sack.

(I've been using up some spare time to put together my notes on this novel and write them up on a different website: Notes on the Obscene Bird. It'll be ready when its ready.)

No comments: