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Juan Goytisolo: Carajicomedia (A Cock-Eyed Comedy)

One of the many reasons that I like Goytisolo is because of his no holds barred attacks on authority figures in Spain and, in this one, he lets loose on the Catholic Church. The original Carajicomedia (the Spanish title of this work) was a parodic poem originally published in 1519. It was written anonymously but was attributed to the fictitious Father Bugeo. Bugeo is the adjective for someone from the city of Bujía (more commonly known as Béjaïa in English), a city captured by the Spanish shortly before the publication of the original Carajicomedia. Bugeo may, it has been suggested, be cognate with the Spanish bujarrón, which means homosexual. Carajicomedia is almost certainly related, at least for Goytisolo, to the Spanish carajo, the slang word for penis, hence the English title, a pun in case you had not got it. The original poem is about an impotent man who tries to regain his potency by visiting numerous prostitutes.

We first meet Father de Trennes (Goytisolo uses the French père de Trennes in the Spanish text) in the present day. He meets Goytisolo himself. We are soon introduced to a host of other real writers. Goytisolo and de Trennes talk in English and French, with Goytisolo often leaving the conversations in the original in the Spanish text. Father de Trennes, who will soon become Father Bugeo, is a highly intelligent and educated man. Though an emissary of the Catholic Church, he does not seem very religious, liking his alcohol, going out dancing and, as we soon discover, a rampant and practising homosexual. Indeed, we soon discover that his religion is sex and he even uses the language of religion to describe his sexual activities, which are numerous. The second part nominally takes up the manuscript of the Carajicomedia and consists of a description of Father Bugeo’s sexual encounters, mainly with young Arab men (he is mainly in North Africa). We also learn that, though he is still very much alive, he was born in the sixteenth century. Indeed, we get a description in a mock sixteenth century Spanish, of his early life and his conversion to a religious way of life.

As we come back to the present day, we meet real writers again, particularly Jean Genet but also other famous gay writers such as Manuel Puig but Goytisolo is not letting up on the fun. We follow Bugeo/de Trennes through the ages, his sexual encounters, his elegance but also his sufferings as he is persecuted. He also refers throughout to a literary tradition that includes not only the Genets and Puigs but skips back through earlier literature, such as Shandy (Fui el primer antecessor de Tristán Shandy, Blas Cubas y Cristóbal Nonato [I was the first predecessor of Tristan Shandy, Blas Cubas and Christopher Unborn]) and Andrei Bely as well as a hodge-podge of earlier Spanish writers. In some respects, it is great fun and it is also enjoyable watching Goytisolo having a go, head on, at the powers-that-be but, all too often, I frankly found the detailed and never-ending descriptions of the sexual encounters less than interesting, both from the sexual and literary points of view.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 2000 by Seix Barral
First published in English by Serpent’s Tail in 2002
Translated by Peter R. Bush