There is an exquisite sense of tension in the stories and novels of Juan Rulfo. The earthly and the ghostly are interwoven throughout. The first Rulfo story I read was “Talpa” and I’ve been hooked ever since. “Talpa” tells the story of a pilgrimage undertaken by a dying man, his wife, and his brother (the latter two are carrying on an illicit affair). Tanilo embarks upon a doomed pilgrimage in the hope that the Virgin of Talpa can stop his physical suffering. While alive he is riddled with sores and beset on all sides by the stench of death. While dead his presence seems to interpose itself between his wife and brother. In this way, the barrier between worlds begins to fade. A fragmented, non-linear chronology completes the effect. After this introduction, it was not long until I got round to readingPedro Páramo, Rulfo’s first novel. Without wanting to give too much away to any uninitiated readers, in this masterfully constructed text, the real and the phantasmagorical, the substantial and the ethereal, all jostle for prominence throughout, leading to a startling revelation concerning the nature of both narrator and characters. I remember exactly where I was when I read it for the first time. I suspect most readers ofPedro Páramofeel the same way.
I wrote my doctoral thesis on the cinematic and photographic work of Rulfo and recently co-edited (alongside Prof. Nuala Finnegan, director of the Centre for Mexican Studies at University College Cork) a collection of essays entitled Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World. Prose, Photography, Film. As the title suggests, part of the aim of the book was to draw attention to Rulfo’s powerful interventions in the areas of photography and cinema. As Douglas Weatherford notes, “one of the most persistent myths in the Latin American literary tradition,” is that Rulfo was the author of just two books. I hope my academic work will go some way to redress this glaring gap in Rulfian academia.
As for influence and inspiration in my own work? Well, when it comes to poetry, I have always felt that the only themes that are really worth writing about are life, death and desire. Rulfo explored all of these to startling effect. Most of us trail in his wake, I know I do.
–Dylan Brennan, author of the poetry collection Blood Oranges