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Juan Filloy: Op Oloop (Op Oloop)

Filloy published this book in 1934. Then, after publishing three more books in the next five years, he stopped publishing from 1939 to 1971 and was almost forgotten. Even after he started writing again, he was not well known even in Argentina. Only recently has he been rediscovered and, thanks to the wonderful Dalkey Archive Press, he has been made available in English, though how this book was translated I do not know as the Spanish (I was lucky enough to get a copy of the 1934 edition) is full of word games and strange language. He has been compared to writers such as Kafka and Borges but I don’t see those connections. Indeed, the closest connection I can see is his near-contemporary and near-neighbour Juan Emar. Both are clearly inspired by surrealism (contrary to the literary trends going on in their respective countries at the time), both look more to the European modernist rather than Latin American sources for inspiration and both clearly wish to thumb their nose at contemporary trends, both literary and social.

We start with the seven-letter trend. Virtually all of Filloy’s books have seven letter titles, for no reason at all. This one is no different and, like several of his other books, it is not obvious what the title means till you read the book. In the one paragraph introduction we learn that our hero is called Op Oloop, short for Optimus Oloop, though he is never referred to as Optimus during the book. The book takes place during a period of twenty-hours. Op is a Finnish statistician or, as he is described, a systemaniacal humanist. He was born and brought up in Finland. He had been in the Red Guard during the Finnish Civil War but had left Finland in 1919 (presumably after the Whites had won). He had travelled around Europe before ending up in Buenos Aires where he now lived. Presumably, he is now fluent in Spanish. He is certainly well-off, as he has a valet and a chauffeur-driven car.

Op is not only a statistician, he is an obsessive one. He is la más perfecta máquina humana [the most perfect human machine]. He is opposed to all spontaneity. Everything has to be planned. His wall is covered with charts, tables and diagrams. His furniture is full of reports, studies and surveys. His day is strictly regimented. He had tried to apply his scientific methods to gambling and carried out detailed studies and research and read other studies but has been unable to find a scientific way of beating the casinos. But his day is certainly scientifically regimented. For example, from 7 to 10 in the morning, his day has been set aside to write invitations. By 10, he has written all the invitations except one, the one to his best friend Piet van Saal. But his system will not allow him to continue beyond 10. Indeed, he finds himself physically unable to do so, so he stops, leaving Piet’s invitation incomplete. He consoles himself with the thought that he will see Piet later in the day and can invite him verbally. However, he has a 10.30 appointment at the Turkish bath and his chauffeur is ready with the car. When he is finished at the baths, he gives a precise tip – 35 centavos – to each of the attendants. We then learn about his scientific study of tipping. He even gives the attendants a lecture on tipping and how they might improve their lot. However, on the way from the Turkish baths to his friends, the car has an accident (it is his fault, not his chauffeur’s but it is the chauffeur who has to report to the police station). This, of course, puts out his schedule and completely ruins the rest of his day.

Indeed, he is so upset that when he arrives at the house of the Finnish Consul, he seems to have a breakdown, despite the presence of Franziska Hoerée, his fiancée, and her father. (He had earlier said that he did not like women, primarily because they always smelled of perfume.) A doctor is called and refuses to treat him because, says the doctor, he is mad. When Op and Franziska fall over and are hurt, a second doctor is called, who turns out to be the father of the first one and he leaves to call the police, thinking that Op has been killed. But it turns out all right and Op sets off to his fine dinner. At the restaurant, they are offered a menu in various languages, particularly English and German. Op clearly does not know English as, when he sees tongue offered, he is horrified to be offered tongo, the Argentinean Spanish for a bowler hat. The dinner lasts for several hours and the various participants – Ivar Kittilá, a sound engineer, Erik Joenson, a former submarine captain, Cipriano Slatter, the head of sanitation, the dandy, Gastón Marietti and the air traffic commissioner, Luis Augusto Peñaranda – learn about Op’s life but also talk about life, love (including marriage and prostitution) and happiness. It is suggested that in the not too distant future, there will be only one sex and that words often change because they are misheard

Things change at the end, as Op visits a brothel as he has heard that there is a Swedish girl there but he finds out that she is Finnish and it all becomes more serious. However, it is a wonderful witty, lively, anarchic story and I shall look forward to reading more of his work. But how sad that there is only this one in English and that his fellow Argentinians were unable to appreciate his work.

Publishing history

First published by Ferrari Hermanos in 1934
First published in English by Dalkey Archive Press in 2009
Translated by Lisa Dillman