Considered one of the most important Argentinian writer since Jorge Luis Borges, Saer is wide-ranging and creative in The One Before, a collection of story-vignettes and two longer stories. Each one is like a snapshot of the writer's mind at a particularly philosophical moment in time: looking at a painting, remembering a friend, thinking about translation in all of its many manifestations.
In the introduction to this book, the translator suggests that Saer's main theme is itself translation and "the possibility of representing human experience in any language." After all, these vignettes have titles like "The Interpreter," "Argument Over the Term Zone," and "The Traveler."
I was particularly intrigued by Saer's story "Hands and Planets," in which two characters discuss questions of scale in relation to humanity and our planet. As Barco suggests "probably...in many of these grains of salt there are Ancient Greeces where Heraclitus is thinking that the events of the world are the product of a game of dice played by children." He goes on to talk about a recently televised moon landing and how, the moment the Earth started getting smaller as the camera pulled away, Barco and others experienced intense anxiety, as if they, too, were journeying far from home.
"A Layman's Thoughts on Painting" is yet another vignette that considers different perspectives. Just one page long, it opens with the (unexpected) line "I think more about frames than paintings." This is because the paintings within those frames deny the infinite moment of anticipation offered by the white canvas or wall: "each picture looks to me like a white wall that has been diminished, attenuated." Before the paint, there was the freedom and mystery of a blank canvas.
The One Before is a fascinating journey through Saer's head, and the title story is quite Proustian and hypnotic. Enjoy!