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The Seven Madmen (Extraordinary Classics) by…

The Seven Madmen (Extraordinary Classics) (original 1929; edition 1998)

by Roberto Arlt

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227551,607 (3.9)34
Title:The Seven Madmen (Extraordinary Classics)
Authors:Roberto Arlt
Info:Serpent's Tail (1998), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt (1929)

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    Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (CarlosMcRey)
    CarlosMcRey: Like Palahniuk's Joe, Arlt's Remo Erdosain seeks salvation through depravity and self-destruction in the midst of an urban wasteland.

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Showing 4 of 4
The Seven Madmen is the sort of work that never seems to lose its impact. Even 80 years after its original publication, there's something uniquely unsettling about Arlt's account of one man's involvement in a bizarre criminal conspiracy. The man in question, Remo Erdosain, finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the novel. His bosses at The Sugar Company have figured out that he has been embezzling, and give him a day to return the money he has robbed. To make things worse, when he gets home, he learns his wife is leaving him for another man.

Desperate, he seeks out the help of a man who goes under the moniker of The Astrologer, a strange figure obsessed with criminal conspiracies and the overthrow of the established order. He is soon drawn into the Astrologer's strange plan, in which are involved several other strange characters, including Hafner, a math professor turned pimp whom people call "The Melancholy Ruffian," an army Major and the Gold Seeker.

I remember the first time I read it, I found it sort of disappointing, perhaps because it ends so abruptly with a "To be continued..." This time around, I found myself drawn more into its unique and nightmarish character. Of particular note is The Astrologer, which has struck me as one of the most intriguing characters in literature, up there with Ahab or Heathcliff. With his fascination for political philosophies, his deep cynicism and his strange schemes, he seems like a foreshadowing of the rise of men like Hitler, Stalin or bin-Ladin. The whole conspiracy he heads strikes similar strange tones, with each participant seeming to have their own strange scheme at play as well.

Arlt's description of the city is wonderfully evocative, and he draws heavily on the smells of the city as well as a pervading sense of darkness. It struck me as having interesting parallels with film noir, in which shadows are part of the atmosphere of moral decay. ( )
1 vote CarlosMcRey | May 22, 2013 |
Un mundo creado por mentiras que se superponen, complementan y contradicen. Un libro que nos muestra las fantasías que pueblan las mentes abúlicas de diversos personajes, que defienden con religiosidad las ideas del otro pero que no pueden encontrarse con su mismísimo ser.
Poco dinámico al comienzo pero atrapador hacia el final, donde las ideas se atropellan unas a otras. ( )
  CheapRegrets | Mar 22, 2013 |
What we have here is one of the most revolutionary books in South American literary history. It has been read and commented on by many of the region’s most famous authors: Borges, Cortázar, Onetti, Bolaño, Piglia, and many others. Its influence far outstrips its fame and its availability in translation. In fact, the second part of this story, Los lanzallamas (The Flamethrowers would be the presumed English title) has never been published in English. It’s possible to purchase a copy of The Seven Madmen online, but it doesn’t look like it’s currently in print.

I was suggested this book by a fellow foreign student while studying in Buenos Aires. It was cool because a lot of the streets mentioned in the book were rather close to the San Telmo neighborhood where I rented an apartment for a while. How neat, to be able to retrace a character’s footsteps in a foreign land. I enjoyed bouncing back and forth between Arlt and Borges during my time in Buenos Aires, because they gave two distinct versions of their home city: Borges’ view of Buenos Aires is more nostalgic, whereas Arlt’s is on the modern/dystopian/apocapolyptic side. I now find that it’s quite common to compare these two authors. I’ve seen this done recently in Beatriz Sarlo’s The Technical Imagination, where she affirms that:

“What Arlt saw in Buenos Aires was almost exactly what Borges failed to see. Against the pastel pinks of early Borges he set a pure, expressionist, contrastive coloration of whites; against a pleasant landscape (the Borgesian locus amoenus of sidewalks and residential districts), an iconography of open trenches and aggresive construction, trimmed out, as in Berni, with an industrial collage of sheet-metal scraps and bits of cable. Where other writers, his contemporaries, saw a city in the process of disappearing, he saw a city under construction. For Arlt, Buenos Aires was yet to be…”

Ricardo Piglia also includes a commentary on Arlt and Borges in Respiración artificial.

“All of which is nothing more than a way of saying, says Renzi, that Borges should be read, if one wishes to understand his work, from the interior of the system of 19th century Argentine literature, whose fundamental lines, with their conflicts, dillemas, and contradictions, he comes to close, to finish. Thus Borges is anachronic, he brings things to their end, he looks toward the 19th century. The one who opens, who inaugurates, is Roberto Arlt. Arlt begins anew: he is the only truly modern writer produced by Argentine literature in the 20th century.”

My idea is to persuade you that this is a book worth reading by dropping some prominent names (Borges above all) that can help put Roberto Arlt into a context the foreign reader can appreciate. I think once you have the book and start to read it, its value will become apparent. This is a very enjoyable book (if you enjoy dark and depressing things) and it’s surprisingly modern. It feels like it could have been written in 1970, or 2000, rather than 1929.

The book is divided into three long chapters that are further split into subtitled sections. In them Remo Erdosain enters into contact with a variety of characters. He also spends a lot of time by himself, daydreaming about millionaire women who will comprehend his suffering and save him, or imagining scenarios whereby he will invent machines and dangerous gases capable of bringing the city to its knees. Starting from an initial scene where the management of the company he works for explains to him that he’s been caught in a long-running swindle that has netted him $600.07, he moves from one humiliation to the next: he asks a crazy Bible-thumper/gambler named Ergueta for some money and is embarrased in public, he shows up at home just as his wife is leaving him to go live with the captain, and then his wife’s cousin Barsut comes over and knocks him to the ground with a mighty slap to the face. He revels in this suffering and imagines the extremes it might reach. He thinks about his crime (skimming money from the company he works for) and how committing theft didn’t result in any life-changing shift in his person. He thinks about how he could come to be through a greater crime (murder) that would make him exist in the eyes of the others who surround him.

Erdosain’s self-reflection alternates with encounters with the book’s other characters. He repeatedly travels to the verdant suburb of Témperley to vist the Astrologer, whose secret society inspired by the KKK holds meetings at his estate and discusses plans to generate money through the operation of brothels that will in turn be invested in the expansion of said society. They’ll form colonies where future members will attend sessions in preparation for the coming revolution that will propel them to the pinnacle of power. One of the peripheral members of the society, the Melancholy Pimp, maintains three women and once tried to kill himself with a gunshot wound to the chest (hence the nickname). He’s bored and explains to Erdosain how he came to be a pimp, and why he’s decided to disinterestedly participate in the society. Barsut is a lot like Erdosain, and eventually he’s put to use by the society due to an inheritance he received a few years back. His presence at the Astrologer’s estate will bring Erdosain closer to that great crime that will cause him to exist. Hipólita (the Cripple), Ergueta’s wife, eventually enters into contact with Erdosain and tells him about how she spent her adolescence working as a servant until she decided to dedicate herself to “the life” (prostitution) so as to take control of her destiny and make money. They’re all crazy (some more decidedly so), as the title might lead you to believe, and they use and manipulate each other in order to forward their respective master plans.

It’s not a well-ordered book, it jumps around haphazardly, and things don’t all resolve themselves at the end. The narrator is a person in whom Erdosain has confided, but we never find out who he is and what circumstances have lead Erdosain to spill the beans. There are occasional footnotes that mention the upcoming sequel and make a few observations as to the reasons behind different characters’ actions. What it lacks in order, though, it makes up for in its powerful portrayal of some messed-up people living really weird lives. There’s one scene where Erdosain visits a family he’s been trying to help. They’re poor and hungry, and they’ve been assisting him with his inventions (he’s an inventor). The current project is the copper-plated rose, and when he visits them they’re so, so very excited to see him and show him their latest success. As he leaves, one of the women from the family follows him and starts trying to tell him her love to him. She wants to prove how much she’s learned about science and how devoted she is to his projects, and tries to explain all the stuff she’s been studying to help him. She keeps going on and on, mentioning complex chemical reactions she’s learned for his sake. After a while, he curtly replies: “You don’t interest me” and walks away. It’s really brutal.

Anyway, there’s a lot to be said about this book and a lot of different people have already said a lot about it. I definitely recommend it. Re-reading it reminded me of what a remarkable novel it is. ( )
6 vote msjohns615 | Mar 18, 2012 |
This pre-boom argentine writes a hard-boiled existential Dostoyevskian thriller set in 1920's Buenos Aires. Unfortunately the 2nd half of this book 'Los lanzallamas' has never been translated into English. Unlike the Russian I mentioned above he chucks the idea of any kind of hero and soups up the action. What that leaves us is a gritty cityscape filled with gangsters, criminals, prostitutes and revolutionaries all looking for their piece of the pie. Bill collector and anti-hero Remo Erdosain bounces from one to the other intent on finding someone who will bail him out of the money he's embezzled from his employer 'the Sugar Company'. Unbeknownst to him at the same time as his wife is preparing to dump him. Increasingly depressed he falls under the sway of a politically savvy revolutionary nicknamed 'the Astrologer' who is planning a coup d'etat who is surrounded by a small group of cynical supporters and con men--of particular note is the gangster Haffner (aka The Melancholy Ruffian) and Hipolita (aka The Lame Whore). Nasty, sloppy but an intriguing writing style. This ride does not come with shock absorbers. It is simply built for maximum speed. Thought provoking but still a lot of fun. A great book. ( )
3 vote lriley | Jul 23, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberto Arltprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sabarte Belacortu, MarioleinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wellinga, KlaasAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The moment he opened the door to the manager's office, with its milk-glass panels, Erdosain tried to back out; he could see he was done for, but it was too late.
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