book review the angry toy by Roberto Arlt

Germana Monte-Mór (Reviews Journal)
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By José Feres Sabino*

Language reveals that ownership is an illusion of ownership and literature works as the key to the other side.

What does it take to be a writer? What can one have with literature? Two intertwined questions and a work crossed by them. Thus proposes Ricardo Piglia, in his preface to the Argentine edition of the book the angry toy (1926), a way of reading not only this novel but all of Roberto Arlt's work.

The idea of ​​ownership present in the questions indicates the presence of two distinct and intermingled worlds: the space of the world and another space. Throughout the entire novel, there is a sovereign spatiality – determined by money and dominated by the owner of money – opposed to another – determined by the unknown and which is not dominated by anyone, but interviewed by the narrator.

the angry toy it is the novel of a writer's formation, Sílvio Astier, or his passage from one spatiality to another. Between the space prefigured by money and the space prefigured by literature, the formation of this young writer “laminated with anguish” (p. 66) takes place.

In the first chapter, “The Thieves”, the narrator declares himself a passionate reader of bandolier adventure literature. He wants to be like the characters in these stories: thief, protector of widows and lover of maidens. But the same person, a Spanish shoemaker, who introduces him to this type of literature, also charges rent to lend the books.

The juxtaposition of spatialities is also present when Sílvio, along with two friends, rob the school library. The robbery is the gesture of carrying out the adventures read in the space prefigured by money. Books will serve to make money or reading.

The second chapter “The works and the days” opens with a call for Sílvio to fully enter the world of money. The maternal imperative, “Sílvio, you need to work”, is enunciated precisely when he reads a book. He says goodbye to the adventure and goes to work. He begins as a bookseller in a used bookstore and will end his worldly apprenticeship as a paper salesman. Between working as a seller of used books and selling paper, there is a brief attempt to belong to the Escola Militar de Aviação to work as an inventor. (Sílvio was known among his friends as the inventor of a cannon.)

In all activities, Silvio fails. He robs the library but is discovered; he tries to burn down the used bookstore he works at, is discovered; at military school he is dismissed; and, selling paper, he cannot earn much money. All activity ends in nothing. This is Sílvio Astier's failure: he cannot establish himself in the space delimited by money, but he also cannot leave this space. In this, the narrator only glimpses, sensing, the presence of another space. Reading, the appearance of love one night in a dream, and the presence of the blue sky against the filth of the city and its inhabitants, split the sovereign space of money, indicating the presence of another spatiality.

How does Sílvio make the passage from one space to another? How do you go from money to life? How do you cross the line that separates the space of money (the angry toy) to the space of life (the happy toy)?

A companion, Manco, invites him to carry out a robbery at an engineer's house. Sílvio accepts and they arrange the robbery. Soon after, he decides to rat him out. He goes to the engineer's house and tells him the robbery plan. The delation is the gesture that authorizes the passage. By denouncing Manco, he takes the leap to the other side.

The engineer offers him money as a reward for his betrayal. But he also wants to understand why, for no reason at all, he rats on his friend. “Aren't you ashamed of having so little dignity at your age?”, the engineer asks Sílvio Astier.

Silvio refuses the money; the answers he gives to the engineer are the writer's birth confessions: “Everything surprises me. Sometimes I have the feeling that it's been an hour since I came to earth and that everything is new, flaming, enchanting. So I would hug people on the street, I would stop in the middle of the sidewalk to say to them: 'But you, why do you walk around with those sad faces? If life is beautiful, beautiful…'” (p. 137).

Delation provides a distance from the world created by money. It opens a hole in the fiction of money so that the narrator can get through to the other side. You can only get out of the angry toy when the toy is broken (a crime has been committed). To write is to commit the crime of refusing the sovereign language of money.

The two questions that opened this text can receive the same answer: nothing. One must have nothing to be a writer, because the writer is the newcomer to the world. It doesn't bring anything. And nobody. His task is to write to pay the debt not to the world, but to the other side.

Also, nothing is achieved by expressing the existence of two spatialities, that is, with literature one will not earn the money to pay the bills. In the case of Sílvio Astier, this is true. Writing or the presence of the space prefigured by literature is almost impossible for him. The only gain from creation – invention plucked from nothing – is the fact that language functions as a counter-story to the story that money establishes. Money – the language of our daily activity – gives the owner a feeling of ownership over all things. Language reveals that possession is an illusion of possession, since it is rooted in nothingness, and literature functions as the key to the other side, unknown to the players of the angry toy. In literature, ownership is equivalent to the expression of this poverty.

Writing is born to express the feeling of freshness, the overflow of joy for the simple fact of being alive – sensations that the newcomer can only communicate in writing, otherwise he would be considered crazy. Therefore, the writer extends to the players of the rabid toy (to the believers of the fiction of money) another fiction: there is another space and another game too.

* Jose Feres Sabino is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Reference


Robert Arlt. the angry toy. Translation by Maria Paula Gurgel Ribeiro. São Paulo: Iluminuras, 2013. https://amzn.to/3RgSLmS

Ricardo Piglia. “Introduction”. In: The rabioso toy. Edited by Ricardo Piglia. Buenos Aires: Espasa Calpe, 1993.

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