From the prologue to Felipe Alfau’s Locos: A Comedy of Gestures. I’d heard of this for years but disappointingly found it one of those cult-following books more interesting for its place in the history of experimental technique (written in 1928) than enjoyable for its content. The conception laid out below is so promising but the enactment falls short of similar experiments in Unamuno’s Niebla (Fog) from ~15 years earlier, Pirandello’s Sei Personnagi in Cerca d’Autore (Six Characters in Search of An Author) from ~5 years earlier, and Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds from ~10 years later.
This . . . novel is written in short stories with the purpose of facilitating the task of the reader. In this way the reader does not have to begin the book near a given cover and finish it at a point nearer the opposite cover. Each chapter being a complete story in itself, the reader may pick up this book and begin it at the back and end it at the front, or he may begin it and end it in the middle, depending on his mood. In other words, he can read it in any fashion except, perhaps, upside down.
However, for the benefit of those in whom the habit of reading a book in the usual manner is deeply set and painful to eradicate, the pages have been numbered clearly and the stories arranged less clearly in a conventional order which my friend. Dr. José de los Rios, and myself have found somewhat adequate.
Aside from this superficial arrangement, I am not entirely to blame for committing this novel; the characters used in it being, I believe, far more responsible than myself.
For some time I have been realizing more and more clearly the way which characters have of growing independent, of rebelling against their creator’s will and command, of mocking their author, of toying with him, dragging him through some unsuspected and grotesque path all their own, often entirely contrary to that which the author has planned for them. This tendency is so marked in my characters that it makes my work most difficult and places me in many a predicament.
The result of this is a bunch of contradictory characters inconsequent as their author and just as clumsy in their performance. As their personality is a passing and unsteady thing that lasts at most a book’s length, they have lost respect for it and change it at will, because they have a faint idea that life is abrupt and unexpected.
Their knowledge of reality is vague and imprecise. Sometimes I have given a character the part of a brother or a son, and in the middle of the action he begins to make love to his sister or his mother, because he has heard that men sometimes make love to women. Another character appears as a child in a situation that takes place when he should be a mature man, because he attributes his persistent failure to understand the situation to immaturity typical of childhood. Again, another character, who has the part of a chicken, begins to bark in the middle of her lines, because she has seen a dog she likes. Time and space do not exist for these people, and that naturally ruins my work completely.
By the end of this book my characters are no longer a tool for my expression, but I am a helpless instrument of their whims and absurd contretemps.