Faced with the highly personal, exquisite, or rare, it’s best to take the position medieval theologians took when defining the divine: to describe not what it is, but what it is not. This book is not an essay; it follows no line of discourse but forks out in hundreds of microstories. It is not a history book, as it neither sticks to a chronology nor tries to explain things with scientific facts: Parra’s use of the past is fecundly rhetorical. And it’s not the usual critical text; rather than making pronouncements, it issues idiosyncratic remarks, unearthly flashes.
This unique ‘essay-album-tale’ resembles, if anything, a grouping of icons in the manner of Cesare Ripa. A highly unpredictable menagerie that applies ekphrasis on over sixty images of people deconstructed through emphasis on their unexpected, subversive, even dark sides. Commentary on icons to unveil hidden meanings is a Baroque tradition. Baroque, too, is this book’s having not one but lots of themes, in such a way that it works like old motley collections of curious matters and passages in anthologies, chrestomathies, and ‘silvas.’
What does Parra’s silva describe? All of modernity through more than 100 personalities, some in unexpected pairings: Le Corbusier with Anita Ekberg, Mies with Brigitte Bardot, Wright with Audrey Hepburn, Loos at his prime with Loos at death’s door. Figures through which Parra’s extraordinary prose builds a world that loves horror vacui and hates simplification and dogma. His very own, supremely personal, literary world.