From Il Libro dei mostri (The Book of Monsters) by J. Rodolfo Wilcock
Translated from the Italian by Nicholas A. B. Kahn
The following pieces are two sketches from a book, Il Libro dei mostri (1978) written in Italian by J. Rodolfo Wilcock (1919-1978), a 20th century Argentine writer, poet, and translator. In each of this book’s original 62 sketches, a different character is described. The characters are presented as “monstrous” in a way that satirizes some aspect of 20th century life. While some of these characters have some sort of physical monstrosity, most are bizarre on a deeper level. These two sketches present characters that highlight the moral contradictions that a capitalist economic system forces people to accept.
The philanthropist Junius Polla doesn’t have the face of a man. But what face he does have nobody knows, because Junius Polla is utterly and permanently invisible. Some say he can be sensed—that he’s just a tiny bit hotter than room temperature. But of course if that were true then it would be too easy to mistake him for a warm breeze; one might just as well say that Junius Polla is nothing but a draft of air. For the wealthy, Mr. Polla is, above all, a benefactor to humanity: He is quite rich, owns one of the world’s largest oil companies, holds a majority stake in several multinational corporations, and his Swiss vault of gold nuggets measures in the tons. This allows him to subsidize hospitals, to endow universities, to buy football teams, to open vacation resorts, to create free public beaches, to fund national parks, theaters, and publishing houses, and to carry on all manner of such public works for the benefit of the numerous countries whose citizenships he has taken. Except that he’s invisible, so invisible that even his family is beginning to doubt his existence. Given that no one can see him, it would seem somewhat rash to assert an opinion about the greater or lesser reality of his existence. If anything can be mentioned in favor of his reality, it is the public’s swelling happiness, their ever-more-pervasive sense of levity and relief at the idea that there is someone out there, providing for their hardest-felt needs and for the smooth functioning of things in general. Ultimately, people feel protected; it’s better not to stick one’s nose too far into who or what is doing the protecting.
Just as Ancient Egyptian temples were essentially made up of columns—forests of columns and almost nothing else—so, for Angolo Spes, are rooms made up of the legs of tables and chairs: seeing as he is the most dwarfish of dwarves, being thirty centimeters tall at the very most, his field of vision ranges between hooves and paws; most of the furniture conducts its wordless business high above Angolo’s head. To tell the truth, even the lives of his equals (or relative equals) are conducted entirely above his head, and he involves himself in them from the level of the mops and the brooms, which wouldn’t otherwise concern him if it weren’t for the fact that he is a punctilious proponent of clean floors, especially since he is obliged to such intimacy with them; indeed, standing erect, his hands rest on the floor-tiles. He is not well-proportioned, it rather seems that he was at some point squashed by someone or something—perhaps the weight of destiny—and that he remained that way, compressed like a pill; he has a wide mouth, from one ear to the other, and his knees are like a pair of quinces. They call him Big Angolo; to call him Little Angolo, obviously, would wound his self-esteem.
Big Angolo is mad about gold; he buys and sells coins, for the most part on the sly, and he has loads of them: hidden under furniture, in the underside of the piano, inside the speakers of the Hi-Fi stereo, behind the refrigerator’s motor; pounds sterling old and new, Swiss napoleons, gold dollars, Louis d’or, Mexican and Chilean coins, twenty-lira Italian pieces. They say he’s extraordinarily rich, the wealthiest of dwarves, a real Nibelung. Ugly as a bulldog, he’s fond of reminding people that he could purchase all of us on a whim. And many in need stoop to ask for his help; they literally stoop down, for in order to coax him into a deal even the most dignified businessman must inevitably sprawl belly-down on the floor-tiles. A passion for gold is already quite a thing, so much more when paired with an equally pronounced taste for diamonds. No one knows where Big Angolo hides his diamonds, not even his wife—a lithe little Japanese woman, thin as a toothpick—it is said, however, that he keeps them at the bank, in a safe installed rather low to the ground, and that at home he keeps only a handful to look at, to fiddle around with. Diamonds are every bit as fun as coins to twirl around in one’s fingers.
Nicholas A. B. Kahn
Nicholas A. B. Kahn is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Brown University, where his research explores early American literature and intellectual cultures, especially their relationships to other cultures at moments of encounter. His dissertation is about perceptions and representations of people as monstrous on both sides of American encounters.