Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone

Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone

by Carlos Fuentes
     
 

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On New Year's Eve in 1969, a novelist in his forties meets the beautiful movie actress Diana Soren at a party and is fascinated by her oddly elusive charm. But in this novel from Carlos Fuentes, his infatuation turns into doomed pursuit as the fleeting object of his desire spurns him, and he is forced to reconsider the foundations of his life as a writer.

Overview

On New Year's Eve in 1969, a novelist in his forties meets the beautiful movie actress Diana Soren at a party and is fascinated by her oddly elusive charm. But in this novel from Carlos Fuentes, his infatuation turns into doomed pursuit as the fleeting object of his desire spurns him, and he is forced to reconsider the foundations of his life as a writer.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
A masterful writer, communicating the immediacy of scene and story while constantly interrupting the illusion of reality.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fuentes's latest novel (after The Orange Tree), which seems to be semi-autobiographical, grapples with a double nostalgia-for a love affair and for the bygone era of the 1960s. On New Year's Eve 1970, the narrator, an acclaimed Mexican novelist recently turned 40 (like Fuentes at the time), meets American actress Diana Soren, a character who draws from two mythic archetypes. One is the muse-like moon goddess alternately known as Cybele, Astarte or Diana; the second is the late Jean Seberg, whose stand-in here comes complete with a small-town Iowa upbringing, a burst into fame after being discovered by a dictatorial director to play Joan of Arc and a hounding by the American media for her radical affiliations, which ends in her suicide. Despite his passion for Diana, the narrator learns that she is a ``goddess who hunts alone,'' as their difficult affair undermines his confidence in his abilities as a Don Juan, his standing as a Mexican leftist and his prowess as an imaginative author. Real-life figures such as William Styron and Luis Buuel make memorable appearances, and the author's ironic, kindly take on his younger alter ego is affecting. Diana, however, lacks real mystique and individualism, and, ultimately, sparks fly not between the author's lovers but only between the lines of his glittery prose. (Oct.)
Molly McQuade
Fuentes writes in homage to a femme fatale who is ultimately most fatal of all to herself: the 32-year-old Iowa-born, has-been actress Diana Soren, viewed by her married Mexican novelist lover as a huntress like her mythological namesake. The fictional novelist narrates the story of his two-month affair with Diana, which took place in 1970 while she was shooting a third-rate movie on location in Santiago. Within the compressed panorama of a relatively short book, Fuentes wants to take the measure of 1960s political radicalism in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe and to reflect on its human and societal costs--not just to chronicle a relationship with "an exceptional woman." Meanwhile, he also considers the moral and artistic struggles involved in his character's creative crisis. The problem, though, in this abundantly ambitious novel is mainly the woman herself: Diana is meant to represent a universal fantasy figure, but she can't maintain the rapture and the tragedy that Fuentes pins on her. Another obstacle: writing in an apparently autobiographical mode, Fuentes seemingly prefers passion to irony. Still, the author's reputation will ensure interest where serious fiction has an audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466839953
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
05/14/2013
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
220
File size:
331 KB

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


No bondage is worse than the hope of happiness. God promises us a vale of tears on this earth, but at least that suffering comes eventually to an end. Eternal life is eternal bliss. Rebellious, unsatisfied, we argue with God: Don't we deserve even a taste of eternity during our passage through time? God has more tricks than a Las Vegas cardsharp. He promises us joy in the hereafter and sorrow on earth. We convince ourselves that knowing life and living it well in His vale of tears is the supreme defiance of God. Of course, if we are triumphant in our rebellion, God gets even: He denies us immortality at His side and condemns us to eternal pain.

Contrary to all logic, we ascribe logic to the Divinity. We tell ourselves, God could not be the creator of misery and suffering, human cruelty and human barbarity. We say, in any case, it was not a good God who created that but a bad God, the God of appearances, the masked God whom we can overcome only by wielding the weapons of evil that He himself forged. Sex, crime, and, above all, the imagination of evil: aren't these also the gifts of a malevolent God? So we persuade ourselves that only if we murder the usurper God will we, clean in body, mentally free, see the face of the first God, the good God.

But the great cardsharp has yet another ace up his sleeve. When we've worn out body and soul trying to reach Him, God reveals that He is only what He is not. All we can know about God is what He is not. To know what God is is something neither saints, nor mystics, nor Church Fathers know; not even God Himself knows. He'd collapse, fulminated by His own intelligence, if He knew.

Bedazzled, Saint John of the Cross is the mortal who has come closest to God's intelligence, just so he can communicate this news to us: "God is Nothing, the supreme Nothing, and to reach Him, we must travel toward the Nothing, which cannot be touched or seen or understood in human terms." And to humiliate hope, Saint John leaves us only this terrible passage: "All the being the creatures possess, compared with the infinite being of God, is nothing . . . All the beauty of the creatures, compared with God's infinite beauty, is the greatest ugliness." Perhaps Pascal, French, a saint, and a cynic, is the only thinker whose wager saves both our conscience and our concupiscence: if you wager that God exists and He doesn't, you lose nothing, but if God does exist, you win everything.

Standing between Saint John and Pascal, I give God a nominal, that is substantive, value: God is the shorthand term for what brings origins and destiny together in a single embrace. The reconciliation of these two terms has been humanity's immemorial task. To choose origins alone is at first a lyrical, then very quickly a totalitarian nostalgia. To wed oneself exclusively to destiny can be a form of fatalism or fortune-telling. Origins and destiny should be inseparable: memory and desire, the living passage in the present, the future, here and now . . . That's where I'd like to locate Diana Soren, a woman perversely touched by the Divine.

Standing between Pascal and Saint John of the Cross, I would like to create a mythic, verbal world for her that would approach the mendicant question that stretches out its hands between earth and heaven: Can we love on earth and someday deserve heaven? Instead of being penitents, flagellants, hermits, or creatures starved for life, can we fully participate in it? Can we obtain and deserve earthly fruits without sacrificing eternal life? Without begging forgiveness for having loved "not wisely but too well"?

Christian mythology, which opposes charity to the implacable judgment of the Old Testament, does not attain the beautiful ambiguity of pagan mythology. Tle protagonists of Christianity are always themselves, never others. They demand an act of faith, and faith, Tertullian said, is absurd: "It is true because it is incredible." But what is absurd is not necessarily ambiguous. Mary is a virgin, though she conceives. Christ rises, though He dies. But who is Prometheus, he who steals the sacred fire? Why does he exercise his freedom so as to lose it? Would he have been freer if he hadn't used it and lost it though be didn't win it either? Can freedom be conquered by a value other than freedom itself? On this earth, can we love only if we sacrifice love, if we lose the person we love though our own acts, our own failure to act?

Is something preferable to everything or nothing? That's what I asked myself when the love affair I'm going to tell about here ended. She gave me everything and took everything from me. I asked her to give me something better than everything or nothing. I asked her to give me something. That something can only be the instant in which we were, or thought we were, happy. How many times did I ask myself, Will I always be what I am now? I remember, and, I write to recover the moment when she would forever be as she was that night with me. But all unique things, amatory, literary, in memory or desire, are quickly abolished by the great tide that always rolls over us like a dry flame, like a burning flood. All we have to do is leave our own skin for an instant to know that we are surrounded by an all-powerful pulsation that precedes and survives us. For that pulsation, my, life or hers, our very existences are unimportant.

I love and I write to obtain an ephemeral victory over the immense and infinitely powerful mystery of what is there but does not show itself ... I know the triumph is fleeting. On the other hand, it makes invincible my own secret power, which is to do something - this very moment - unlike anything in the rest of our lives. Imagination and language show me that, for imagination to speak and for language to imagine, the novel must not be read as it was written. This condition becomes extremely dangerous in an autobiographical text. The writer must be lavish in presenting variations on his chosen theme, multiply the reader's options, and fool style with style through constant alterations genre and distance.

This becomes an even greater need when the protagonist is a movie actress, Diana Soren.

It's said that Luchino Visconti provoked a combination of surprise and delight in Burt Lancaster during the filming of a scene from The Leopard when he stuffed with silk stockings a bag supposedly filled with gold. Diana was like that: a surprise for everyone because of the incomparable smoothness of her skin, but most of all a surprise for herself, her skin surprised by her own pleasure, astonished at being desired, smooth, perfumed. Didn't she love herself, didn't she feel she deserved herself? Why did she want to be someone else? Why wasn't she comfortable in her own skin? Why?

I - and I lived with her only for two months - want to run even now to embrace her again, feel her for the last time and assure her that she could be loved with passion, but for herself, that the passion she sought did not exclude her true self ... But the chance for that is gone. We leave a lover. We return to a woman we don't know. The eroticism of visual representation consists, precisely, in the illusion that the flesh is permanent. Like everything else in our time, visual eroticism has accelerated. Over the course of centuries, medallions and paintings were created to make up for the absence of the loved one. Photography accelerated the illusion of presence. But only cinematographic images simultaneously give us evocation and immediacy. This is how she was then but also how she is now, forever ...

It's her image but also her voice, her movement, her undying beauty and youth. Death, the great stepmother of Eros, is both overcome and justified by this reunion with the loved one who is no longer with us, having broken the grand pact of passion: united until death, you and I, inseparable ... Only movies give us the real image of the person: she was this way, and even if she's acting Queen Christina she's Greta Garbo, even if she's pretending to be Catherine of Russia she's Marlene Dietrich. The Soldier Nun? But it's only Maria Felix. Literature on the other hand liberates our graphic imagination: in Thomas Mann's novella, Aschenbach dies in Venice with the thousand faces of our imagination all in motion; in Visconti's film, he has only one face, fatal, unexchangeable, fixed, that of the actor Dirk Bogarde.

Diana, Diana Soren. Her name evoked that ancient ambiguity. Nocturnal goddess, lunar metamorphosis, full one day, warning the next, a silver fingernail in the sky the day after, eclipse and death within a few weeks . . . Dina the huntress, daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo, virgin followed by a retinue of nymphs but also mother with a thousand breasts in the temple at Ephesus. Diana the runner who only gives herself to the man who runs faster than she. Diana of the crossroads, called for that reason Trivia: Diana worshipped at the crossroads of Times Square, Piccadilly, the Champs Elysees ...

After all is said and done, the game of creation defeats itself. First because it takes place in time, and time is a fucking bastard. The novel takes place in 1970, when the illusions of the 1960s were doing their best not to die, assassinated but also vivified by blood. The first revolt against what our own fatal fin de siecle society would be: so brief, so illusory, so repugnant, the sixties killing their own heroes, the U.S. saturnalia devouring its offspring - Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Malcolm X - and enthroning its cruel stepfathers, Nixon and Reagan.

Diana and I would play the Rip Van Winkle game: what would the old man say if he woke up after sleeping for a hundred years and found himself in the United States of 1970, with one foot on the moon and the other in the jungles of Vietnam? Poor Diana. She saved herself from waking up today and seeing a country that lost its soul in the twelve Reagan-bush years of spurious illusions, brain-killing banalities, and sanctioned avarice. She saved herself from seeing the violence her country brought to Vietnam and Nicaragua, which boomeranged back to the sacrosanct streets of a suburbia profaned by crime. She saved herself from seeing the primary schools drowning in drugs, high schools becoming mad, gratuitous battlegrounds; she saved herself from seeing the daily random death of children murdered by pure chance when they happened to look out a window, fast-food customers machine-gunned with hamburgers still in their mouths, serial murderers, unpunished looters, ritualized corruptions because theft, fraud, murder to obtain power and glory were part - why not? - of the American Dream.

What might Diana have said, what might the solitary huntress feel, seeing the children of Nicaragua mutilated by weapons from the United States, seeing blacks kicked and their heads split by the Los Angeles police, seeing a parade of grand liars in the Iran-Contra conspiracy swearing the truth and proclaiming themselves heroes of freedom? What might she say, she who lost her child, of a country that is seriously considering sentencing child criminals to death? She would say that the 1960s ended up by going white, fading like Michael Jackson, the better to punish anyone of color. I'm writing in 1993. Before the century ends, the burning graves, the dry rivers, the swampy slums will fill up with the color of migrant Mexicans, Africans, South Americans, Algerians, of Muslims, and Jews, over and over ...

Diana the goddess who hunts alone. This narrative, weighed down by the passions of time, defeats itself because it never reaches the ideal perfection of what can be imagined. Nor does it desire that perfection, since if language and reality were identical, the world would come to an end, the universe would no longer be perfectible, simply because it would be perfect. Literature is a wound from which flows the indispensable divorce between words and things. All our blood can flow out of that hole.

Alone at the end is we're alone at the beginning, we remember the happy moments we save from the deep latency of the world, we demand the slavery of happiness, and we only listen to the voice of the masked mystery, the invisible throb that in, the end manifest itself to demand the most terrible truth, the sentence that brooks no appeal, of time on earth:

You did not know how to love. You were incapable of loving.

Now I'll tell this story to admit just how right the horrible oracle of truth was. I didn't know how to love. I was incapable of loving.

Meet the Author

Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) was one of the most influential and celebrated voices in Latin American literature. He was the author of 24 novels, including The Death of Artemio Cruz, The Old Gringo and Terra Nostra, and also wrote numerous plays, short stories, and essays. He received the 1987 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor.

Fuentes was born in Panama City, the son of Mexican parents, and moved to Mexico as a teenager. He served as an ambassador to England and France, and taught at universities including Harvard, Princeton, Brown and Columbia. He died in Mexico City in 2012.


Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) was one of the most influential and celebrated voices in Latin American literature. He was the author of 24 novels, including Aura, The Death of Artemio Cruz, The Old Gringo and Terra Nostra, and also wrote numerous plays, short stories, and essays. He received the 1987 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor.
Fuentes was born in Panama City, the son of Mexican parents, and moved to Mexico as a teenager. He served as an ambassador to England and France, and taught at universities including Harvard, Princeton, Brown and Columbia. He died in Mexico City in 2012.

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