A debut novel of seduction and madness, hate and love, set in the world of Argentine academia and animated by the spirits of Wittgenstein, Rousseau, Nabokov and Bolaño
Rosa Ostreech, a pseudonym for the novel’s beautiful but self-conscious narrator, carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Elsewhere on campus, Pabst and Kamtchowsky tour the underground scene of Buenos Aires, dabbling in ketamine, group sex, video games, and hacking. And in Africa in 1917, a Dutch anthropologist named Johan van Vliet begins work on a theory that explains human consciousness and civilization by reference to our early primate ancestors—animals, who, in the process of becoming human, spent thousands of years as prey.
Savage Theories wryly explores fear and violence, war and sex, eroticism and philosophy. Its complex and flawed characters grapple with a mess of impossible, visionary theories, searching for their place in our fragmented digital world.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
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In the rite of passage practiced by the Orokaiva communities of New Guinea, the young boys and girls are first tormented by adults who crouch hidden in the foliage. Pretending to be spirits, the adults pursue the children, shouting, “You are mine, mine, mine!” They drive the initiates onto a platform similar to those used for the slaughter of swine; there, hoods are drawn over the heads of the terrified children, leaving them blind. They are led to an isolated hut deep in the forest, where they are made witness to the torturous rituals and ordeals in which the history of the tribe is encoded. Anthropologists have confirmed that it is not uncommon for children to die in the course of these ceremonies. In the end, the surviving children return to the village wearing the same masks and feathers as those who’d first threatened them, and join in a wild boar hunt. They are now not prey but predators, and they too shout, “You are mine, mine, mine!” Similarly, among the Nootka, Kwakiutl, and Quillayute tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it is wolves—that is, men in wolf masks—who torment the children, driving them at spearpoint into the dark heart of the rites of fear. When the ritualized torture is complete, the children are taught the secrets of the Cult of the Wolf.
The life of little Kamtchowsky began in the city of Buenos Aires amid the violence of the Years of Lead; her earliest memories dated to the return of Argentine democracy known as the Alfonsinist Spring. Her father, Rodolfo Kamtchowsky, came from a Polish family that had immigrated to the city of Rosario in the 1930s. Rodolfo’s mother died quite young, and he was sent to live with his aunts—the only man in the house. As early as primary school, he demonstrated an exceptional gift for abstract thought, and his fourth-grade mathematics teacher, who’d been to university, spoke glowingly of his capacity for formal innovation. When little Rodolfo brought this news home to his aunts it frightened them a bit, but they nonetheless decided that when he turned thirteen they would send him off to the capital to continue his studies.
Rodolfo was a happy child, but very shy. He spoke little, and at times appeared not to hear what was said to him. When the time came to move to Buenos Aires, he was taken in by yet another aunt, who lived across the street from Lezama Park. He enrolled at the Otto Krause Technical Institute, and later earned his engineering degree in record time.
Neither his timidity nor his chosen field had done him any favors in terms of meeting girls. In his engineering courses there had only been two female students, and he hadn’t really considered them girls as such—they were rather dumpy, almost misshapen, much as his own daughter would one day be. It soon become clear that fate and inclination had obliged him to be heterosexual, monogamous, and faithful. It was thus only natural that as soon as Providence brought him a woman (one belonging to the set known as “Girls”), Rodolfo would cleave to her, much as a certain type of mollusk swims freely through the ocean before driving its muscular appendage down into the sediment like an axe, its shell or mantle equipped with the ability to line the mucus-coated appendage with layers of calcium, though of course the lining will at some point disintegrate, and the mollusk will once again be adrift between death and the ocean’s depths.
When he first spotted her, she was walking along Corrientes Avenue: a short, dark-haired young woman in a tight turtleneck sweater, her black eyes lined in black, mask-like. Though Rodolfo had known of similar sets of empirical data, impressive only because of how perfectly generalizable and thus ordinary they could become, there was something in the moment’s avalanche of concrete detail—perhaps the way the pleats shifted beneath her buttocks, perhaps the bus ticket protruding from her back pocket—that he perceived as supernatural. Something beyond what he’d come to expect of this world. This passageway between a set of environmental data and his individual, untransferable status as eyewitness to it, as synthesized into the phenomenon of “her,” led him to experience a sense of decisiveness. He followed her down the street as if keeping watch over her. Then he noticed that others were watching her too, that an awareness of her was spreading, and as he came to understand the worth, in some sense, of this awareness, he likewise understood that she couldn’t possibly be oblivious to the fact that he’d been following her for at least ten blocks. Of course, this latter thought was of no importance whatsoever to the present stage of the process—he had already intuited its programmatic nature—and he resolved to stop thinking altogether.
Then a miracle occurred: it started to rain, and Rodolfo was carrying an umbrella. The young engineer quickened his pace. His heart filled as the young woman laughed a bit distractedly and accepted the protection he offered. They stepped into a bar called La Giralda to warm up and dry off; as Rodolfo had hardly gotten wet at all, he concerned himself exclusively with warmth, and blushed ever so slightly, but she didn’t seem to notice. She peeled off her wet sweater, giving Rodolfo a glimpse of her flesh-colored bra, and he hid his erection by sitting down as quickly as he could. They ordered hot chocolate, and she wolfed down a few croissants.
Later that same afternoon, caught up in the flood of chatter and delighted with his newfound and apparently innate ability to talk to the girl and imagine her naked simultaneously, Rodolfo told her that the aunt with whom he lived in Buenos Aires had said that his other aunts, the ones who lived in
Rosario, had had to work as prostitutes to provide for him. The girl was a sophomore psychology major; she responded languidly that in fact Rodolfo believed that his own mother had been in that line of work. The girl gazed at her reflection in the window, practicing her Evenly Suspended Attention, then glanced at Rodolfo to gauge his reaction. His mother had died of cancer, and in her final years she’d been unable to rise from her bed; stunned, he took a bite of the chocolate-covered churro in his hand, and let his thoughts drift.
The following day he went to the university to look for her. The Psychology Department was divided into two areas of study—“psychosocial” and “humanistic”—both housed in Philosophy and Letters over on Independencia Street. Like Rodolfo, the future mother of little Kamtchowsky belonged to the first generation of middle-class youth to throw itself more or less en masse into the market for higher education. In 1968 the Psychology Department produced twice as many graduates as it had the year before; its explosive growth continued, peaking in the early 1970s at more than four hundred graduates per year. When the Peronist party returned to power, the university gutted and rebuilt all of its departmental programs, the course offerings now influenced by the entire spectrum of Marxist doctrine. Many once-mandatory courses became optional, and in 1973 the department’s plan of study was reoriented to emphasize the field’s social aspects, in particular its communitarianism and fieldwork. The new approach downplayed the importance of professional training through coursework and curricular obligations. Marxist epistemology determined that the main priority should be support for popular struggles; the specific obsessions of fields less reliant on partisan imperatives were given second-tier status at best. Enrollment rates had grown precipitously, and forty-five percent of the new female students chose the psychology department, where women outnumbered men by a ratio of eight to one.
For a university graduate, the statistical probability of interaction with either a professional psychologist or one in training was thus extremely high; nonetheless, this was Rodolfo’s first time. Never before had he received the look of scientific condescension native to a mind that is forever tracing deep connections between unscientific postulates and the world itself. Psychoanalytic jargon allowed both respectable professionals and those en route to respectability to pepper their vocabulary with genital references that would have been out of bounds even in openly lowbrow entertainment contexts such as cabaret shows. Government censors could close striptease joints and ban certain films, but psychoanalysis was perceived as a sort of linguistic vanguard, a close cousin of “freedom of thought,” and the members of its lexical entourage had managed to insert themselves into the moist cavities of the middle class.
The key to the enthusiasm with which society had embraced the field was undoubtedly its medical origins—its very existence was justified by its alleged ability to alleviate pain. To Rodolfo, the constellation of words that calmly orbited the anal and vaginal orifices seemed indescribably mature and daring, unlike anything he’d ever known (and in this sense much like love); the implications left him all but priapismic. The young woman often let her eyes fall closed as she spoke, interlacing her speech with significant pauses. She seemed intelligent, but it was impossible to know for sure. When she spoke earnestly of the Oedipal myth, of Little Hans and the vagina dentata, of autoerotic mothering in Melanie Klein, Rodolfo hid his surprise as best he could and scrutinized her face, trying to determine whether or not there was, beneath all the eyeliner and mascara, a member of the lettered elite who actually took all this nonsense seriously. It seemed reasonable to him that between the demands of romance and those of political militancy, she wouldn’t have time to get a real degree. Each time she spoke of the passion of the people’s struggle, of mobilizing the masses from below, of shattering the shell of the individual once and for all, Rodolfo got such a hard-on that he could have filled the mouths of all those rebel woodcutters in Chaco with proteins and fatty filaments, each last one Made in Kamtchowsky. And somewhere in the course of one of these interludes, little K was conceived.