The Museum of Eterna's Novel
by MacEdonio Fernandez
translation by Margaret Schwartz
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When the first editor’s note appears early in Macedonio Fernández’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel, you aren’t quite sure it wasn’t written by the author in one of his alternate guises. But this is only the beginning of such playfulness. To American readers, Macedonio is not the household name that his former student and self-confessed plagiarist, Borges, has become. Yet his works circle, gambol, and swerve in an eminently familiar way. Macedonio stands (or more likely cartwheels) at the beginning of the Ultraist literary movement that made Borges possible, and his impact on the young Argentinean writer, as well as on later practitioners of experimental fiction, remains undisputed.
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel, a sprawling, enigmatic work begun in 1925 and “completed” when Macedonio died in 1952, is the fount of that influence. The book’s spirit is best captured in its last chapter: the “Final Prologue,” addressed “To Whoever Wants to Write This Novel.” In fact, prologues constitute almost half the book, bearing such titles as “Prologue of Indecision,” “Prologue for a Borrowed Character,” and “Prologue of Authorial Despair.” These preambles take shape as metaphysical inquiries, character sketches, and desultory lectures on the nature of art, passion, suicide, and (inevitably) prologues. Readers of Borges’s Labyrinths, or Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, or later self-reflexive novelists such as J. M. Coetzee and David Foster Wallace, will recognize the authorial game—finding new ways to break the fourth wall. Yet Macedonio also stands shoulder to shoulder with