A Thousand Forests in One Acorn - Excerpt
From the Prologue
One breezy August afternoon in the village of Cashiers, North Carolina, I accompanied my mother to the local library. Despite a population of some 200 souls, the library is impressive and well-sponsored by the families who spend their summers in the mountains. They had received donations of estate books as part of the civic tradition of raising funds for community projects and we went to browse through what was available. A book edited by Whit Burnett—idea by John Pen—caught my eye, titled This is My Best. Over 150 self-chosen and complete masterpieces, and the reasons for their selection. As I flipped through the pages, I began to realize what an extraordinary piece of literary history it was. Published by Dial Press in 1942, the editor had asked the influential writers of the time to “edit their entire lifetime output to select the one unit which in their own, uninfluenced opinion represents their best creative moment. A book composed over many years, the focusing of many lifetime viewpoints, a public revelation of the private opinions of our best authors on how they look upon themselves, and what, in their writings, they most value.”
[. . .]
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay on History that there is one mind common to all individual men and therefore the whole of history exists in one man, all of history lies folded into a single individual experience. “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” He also wrote that “The fact narrated must correspond to something in me to be credible or intelligible. As we read, we must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience.” A little bit like taking a walk through Baudelaire’s forest of symbols that nod to all men in understanding.
As an American who has spent half a life in Spain working in publishing, I had long specialized in providing authors in translation for a Spanish language audience. So I found the idea of putting together a Spanish language version of this anthology a fascinating proposal for a literary adventure through some of the most celebrated writing in the language during the second half of the 20th century. To root out the acorn, the kernel, the driving obsession of a writer, of knowing what he or she, in the quiet of their study, considers the best representation of that obsession. To listen to the individual voices and fasten the images to some reality in my secret experience, walk among the nodding symbols; to be a lonely child growing up in Peru, a young man in Madrid whose lover dies in bed before they can consummate the act, a painter in Tahiti who finds inspiration on a stormy night or a mother who chooses power over love for her son’s future in a world of magical creatures. Perhaps, by living out these secret experiences, I might discover some occult map of the forest by its trees.
A Thousand Forests in One Acorn is much less ambitious in size and scope than Whit Burnett’s original. I suppose it is fitting for the new century and much could be and is being written on the current state of attention spans. Here there are 28 writers and they are all narrators of fiction. It’s worth noting that should in no way be considered a canon, not even a personal one, but simply a selection of some of the important writers of the 20th century who have been awarded prizes and widely acclaimed and celebrated in their countries. Space would never allow me to include all the writers whose work I admire and there are writers who would be considered more or less canonical who are not here, many of whom were invited but who were not able to participate—Gabriel García Márquez, Fernando del Paso, Fernando Vallejo, César Aira, José Emilio Pacheco and William Opsina, among others. Sadly, others were invited whom we have lost before the process could begin, namely Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Daniel Sada. The late Carlos Fuentes was one of the last writers with whom I had the opportunity to work, his words having now passed into literary history.
[. . .]
Organized chronologically by age beginning with the Argentine writer Aurora Ventur-ini, who received a prize from Borges as a girl and from young readers just recently, the anthology gathers the work of some of the best writers in the Spanish language of the second half of the 20th century. The youngest writer included, Evelio Rosero, was born in 1953. The premise is that the younger the writer, the more difficult it is to think that they have already written their best pages. If the anthology is to comply with a function of being an historical document, at least the bulk of the writers should be able to choose something that might be considered the best writing of their entire career.