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The promise of living in the here and now…

image credit: Image: Saul Bellow (1915-2005), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, in a picture from the 1980s. KEVIN HORAN / CORBIS
German Toro Ghio's picture
CEO, Germán & Co

Germán José Manuel Toro Ghio, son of Germán Alfonso and Jenny Isabel Cristina, became a citizen of planet Earth in the cold dawn of Sunday, May 11, 1958, in Santiago, capital of southern Chile....

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  • Jan 20, 2023

Written in Spanish by José Andrés Rojo,  El País

20 JAN 2023

Translation by Germán & Co

The weight of guilt for mistakes made and the helplessness of those who cannot find a job are notes of this era that Saul Bellow already captured in his short novel 'Carpe diem'.

Bad times. There is a war that is disrupting everything, inflation is high, the price of the shopping basket has risen alarmingly. There are many people without jobs, young people without great expectations, sometimes there is no way out of the hole. These complications are usually reduced to a few figures in the newspapers, the ones that show how the economy is doing, the number of new contracts or the number of unemployed, percentages of all kinds. Be that as it may, this dance of numbers does not look inward, little is known of the experience of each of those who are suffering the slaps of life. Let's take a guy in his early 40s, he's lost his job, and every morning he's already shaved at eight o'clock in the morning. He thinks that getting up early might help him in the arduous task of looking for a way out.

A typical day, from the moment he goes down to breakfast until the end of the afternoon, when this man bursts into an endless stream of tears at the funeral of a stranger: this is what Saul Bellow tells in a short story, Carpe diem. Literature is still a good instrument for peering into what is really going on inside people and, as Martin Amis says in his latest book, "novelists are hosts, people who open the door and invite you in". So let's jump right in and see what happened to this Tommy Wilhelm, who as a young man fell out with his family and went to Hollywood to try his luck. It seems he "happened to be stunningly handsome", so someone persuaded him that his future lay in the Mecca of cinema.

It didn't go well. The agent who dragged him in soon dumped him (he would later be accused of pimping, he had a network of hookers who set him up on the phone). And this is what happens. Deceit, crazy dreams, manipulation, cheating, bad decisions. In the end, many end up in a mess, the doors close, and the certainty that it is one's own fault prevails. And that is precisely what the figures do not show: the hell of settling accounts with one's past and good intentions. Tommy Wilhelm, for example, "thought he should, could and would recover the good things, the happy things, the simple, easy things in life". A psychologist he met at the hotel where he lived - a charlatan, according to his father - encouraged him to gamble his money on the stock market. He did. He gave him what he had left and signed a power of attorney for him to invest it in shares and fix his future.

Carpe diem is a short novel from a long time ago and takes place in circumstances that have nothing to do with the present. Saul Bellow simply opens the door and lets us see what is going on inside his protagonist: the desolation of feeling lost, the certainty that over time he has only made mistakes and, above all, the discovery that even those closest to him - his father - disown him as a stinker. Suddenly, someone talks to him about living in the here and now, about taking advantage of opportunities - "with all that money around, you don't want to play the Indian while others take advantage" - and he decides to take the plunge. It's just another story, one of many that shows the helplessness of not finding a job.


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