24 November 2010

The way through

From Underworld by Don DeLillo:
I walked back and forth across the parade in the blowing snow. Then I went to my room and threw off my jacket. I wanted to look up words. I took off my boots and wrung out my cap over the washbasin. I wanted to look up words. I wanted to look up velleity and quotidian and memorize the fuckers for all time, spell them, learn them, pronounce them syllable by syllable--vocalize, phonate, utter the sounds, say the words for all they're worth.

This is the only way in the world you can escape the things that made you.

27 October 2010

Two of us

From E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime:
When they ran their hair lay back from their broad foreheads. Her feet were small, her brown hands were small. She left imprints in the sand of a street runner, a climber of dark stairs; her track was a flight from the terrors of alleys and the terrible crash of ashcans. She had relieved herself in wooden outhouses behind the tenements. The tails of rodents had curled about her ankles. She knew how to sew with a machine and had observed dogs mating, whores taking on customers in hallways, drunks peeing through the wooden spokes of pushcart wheels. He had never gone without a meal. He had never been cold at night. He ran with his mind. He ran toward something. He was unencumbered by fear and did not know there were beings in the world less curious about it than he. He saw through things and noted the colors people produced and was never surprised by a coincidence. A blue and green planet rolled through his eyes.

20 April 2010

Laid bare (again)

From "Untitled (Flannery)" by Anne Carson:
Confusion. How much can you take. Love turns to hate. Should you play with it. The night is a mess. Winds toss the window aside. Dark comes in at an angle. Everything tilts. What if matter jumped its tracks. What if rust sang or eyebrows shat. What if a headache became king. Not as an art project, not just weekends, not making us each a better person—but simply chaos ripping the sockets out of your arms. Empedokles thought about this. He thought down to the bottom. At the bottom of water he thought “famine.” This thought upset him and he gave it the name of an obscure Sicilian goddess (Nestis), hoping no one would ask more questions. But it continued to bite. In the foundations of things, he had to admit, in the living sources of increase and growth, he saw desertion, lack, lament. Of course it is true mortals never stop dying but that’s not what he means. Perhaps there was a night his lover turned on him in a bar, spitting with hate, threw a cup of wine at his head and said You damage my soul! That’s not what he’s talking about either. He wants to name a doubleness that inhabits all things and prevents them from ever actually coming into being or going out of being.
And that's just the beginning.

Please just read the whole necessary star-swept thing...now.

16 February 2010

Realismo desquiciado

From David Toscana's beautiful black comedy The Last Reader (El último lector), translated by Asa Zatz:
In Icamole Lucio trusts his brain to the point that he has rejected everything taught him in Monterrey. Lending control? I don't lend anything. Conservation? My books have to last only a short time; when I die they can shrivel up and expire, too. And, more than anything else, he had scorn for cataloguing systems. A specialist explained how to classify books according to subject, date of publication, nationality of author, and other variables, by assigning numbers and letters. He never spoke of separating good and bad books, but, rather, insisted that the main classification be based on the concept of fiction and nonfiction. Lucio was utterly disillusioned on hearing the pronouncements of that specialist. He was unable to accept that book people, people of letters, could have made that classification; it was impossible that they would be so lacking in words as to call something by a name that it is not. Furthermore, where is the borderline between one and the other? Into which do memoirs of a president fall? A historical novel? Lives of the saints? On which side would A Soldier's Testimony go? If there are contradictions between two history books or two holy books, who decides which gets to be called fiction? Lucio closed his notebook and no longer listened to that faker. His ideas were clear. A history book talks of things that happened while a novel talks of things that happen, and so historical time contrasts with that of the novel, which Lucio calls the permanent present, an immediate time, tangible and real. Babette exists in that time, is more real than a national hero buried in the rotunda of eminent persons; Babette could never be in a section marked fiction; in that permanent present, a mysterious hand seizes Babette again and again each time the book is opened to the last page, and the girl irrevocably throws her umbrella into the Seine in Chapter 12; Babette is not nor will be turned into dust.
Long live Pancho Villa, you sonsofbitches, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. They worship both, create their own novels. They believe in them the way you and I believe in Babette. They also believe in the yarns about Evangelina's letter, in the Guadalupe Hymnal even though they haven't seen anything but the cover, believe in the novels of the Bible, the resurrection, angels, ships with animals of all the earth, in hell and paradise, the sun that stood still, snakes that talk and pigs that leap into a ravine, angels, demons, the crucified, and so many things that nobody has ever seen and never will except in the form of words. And so I cannot understand the resistance to using my library, why they think there is a gap between life and paper.

17 December 2009

A first encounter with Julian Gough

Thanks to Dalkey's Facebook site and their posting of an amazing interview with Julian Gough:
Do you want your work to be translated? Why or why not?

Of course I do. I want readers. I want to be understood, I want to be misunderstood, I want to get into fights, I want to swim in the Dead Sea, I want to die in my swimsuit, I want to visit Siberia (but leave again), I want to butt in on your national conversation, drink your national drink, shoot and stuff your national bird, eat your national icecream, kiss your poets and pat your dogs and weep at the airport as we hug each other and exchange email addresses and our respective national varieties of flu.

Given a choice, would you prefer a faithful, literal translation of your work or an interpretive re-imagining of it? Why?

An interpretive re-imaging, definitely. I don’t think a “faithful, literal” translation of my work – of any work - is even possible. If a translation were to be literal, it wouldn’t be faithful, and vice versa. Any decent writer is playing with nuances, rhythms, echoes, soundstuff that will evaporate in any literal translation. I like a lot of layers. Puns, resonances, double-meanings, Tipperaryisms, things my mum says at Christmas. Often the point of the sentence hasn’t anything to do with its literal meaning at all.

I use deliberately “wrong”, literal translations of phrases from the Irish language sometimes myself, because they sound fecking great in English. Friends of my dad would still say “I walked several strong miles”, and that is straight out of the Irish.

28 November 2009

Switching gears

After trying to figure out what to do with this site for over a year now, I've decided to focus my efforts on a new endeavor: Reading the Bogotá 39.

I've lived past my year of academic coursework, found a comfortable corner for my books, and have finally renewed my library card at the local branch of el Banco de la República. I'm ready to get back into my reading and learn what I can about what's been happening in Latin American literature lately. There are enormous amounts of catching up to do, but I'm looking forward to exploring new books and authors, and finding out more about what's been happening on the translation front.

02 October 2009

The intuitive capacity of an artist

In a new interview at Words Without Borders with María Constanza Guzmán, Suzanne Jill Levine discusses the whys and wherefores of her seminal book, The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction:
I wrote the book mainly, however, because I felt translating involved a rich thought process of which the reader of the finished translation would never be aware. What a loss to readers, and how unfair to the translator, that readers are not aware of what we experience, of how complex the process is and how it reveals the literary critic and scholar in the good translator. In other words, instead of writing an essay or a book, you are translating. You are using those other capacities plus the intuitive capacity of an artist. The gifted translator is a poet, a maker. Even in the Borgesian sense of a maker who, by rereading, is creating. So, that’s why I started writing notes on the margins of my translations early on.
Also, her take on Lawrence Venuti and the "canon of fluency" is extremely helpful:
I think that sometimes I’ve really taken control of the text and sometimes the editor might have been right. For example, in The Buenos Aires Affair, there was a certain amount of comma splicing, it was a device of stream of consciousness. Nonetheless, I could see where a reader might be turned off by that in English. Ronald Christ pointed it out. And I said, "Well, it’s Puig." Yes, he said, but you translate the punctuation. And he was right. Punctuation must be translated like everything else, every language has its rules and conventions. Larry says, yes, but why don’t you bring their conventions into my, your language. Well, this is a matter of negotiation. If you read his translations, they are very fluent. Theory is one thing and practice is another, in Larry’s case as well as others’: the practice of writing is an act of constant negotiation and no one theory has the final word. So, I would say that my translations, because the writers themselves wanted to be received in this culture, are definitely mindful of the reader. But I am not too sure that fluency would be the best or the most precise word to describe that.
To me writing can ideally be aware of its own ideological limitations, and whatever work can bring out the uniqueness of a particular translator’s voice or writer’s voice, is what is valid in literary criticism in general, and therefore in translation criticism. I don’t distinguish translation criticism from literary criticism because I think it is part of literary criticism. I get concerned when I see people imposing theories or ideologies on texts, when instead of departing from the text they depart from an ideology. I think that ideology is always present in all texts and in all readings. If you are not conscious of your own ideological limitations you are bound to make serious errors. [...] I think there has to be an awareness that each text has its own rules and (as Borges would put it) "morphology" and you have to come from inside the text as well as your ideology or beliefs. If you can’t do that well you are not doing justice to the text, to writing, to literature, to culture. I would say that the more people experience the process, the more sensitive they might be as interpreters.

21 September 2009

The mystery in the ordinary

From a recent interview with Marilynne Robinson:
Q: In your essay on Psalm Eight in The Death of Adam you wrote, “So I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes.” I think it’s very central to appreciating what you’ve been doing in your work.

A: Well, yes. I read things like theology, and I read about science, Scientific American and publications like that, because they stimulate again and again my sense of the almost arbitrary given-ness of experience, the fact that nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is intrinsically mysterious as a physical object, say, or as a phenomenon of culture, or as an artifact of the history that lies behind it. I’ve always been almost offended by the idea of mysticism, because it seems as if it diminishes what we know by every means that gives us access to it – it diminishes the simple spectacle of what we are and where we are, the complex spectacle, I should probably have said. I think probably one of the important things that happened to me was growing up in Idaho in the mountains, in the woods, and having a very strong presence of the wilderness around me. That never felt like emptiness. It always felt like presence. I never had the experience of banality, as it were. It always seemed as if there was something extraordinary around me, and I think that probably has done as much to form my mind as anything could have done.

Q: Lots of people have called what it is I think you’re talking about as seeing the sacramental. Is that what it is? That in everything you see there is a quality of the holy?

A: Well, yes, in the sense that I certainly think that the holy is at the origins of everything that exists, everything, and so necessarily that’s true. I mean, there’s a sense in which it’s a signature act, you know, the beauty of it, the scale of it, the intricacy of it, all that. It’s not as if holiness were something super-added to things, and that’s why I hesitate a little bit over the word “sacramental,” because there can be an implication that an unsanctified reality exists, as if there is any kind of unholy reality. I think that one of the meanings of Christianity, of the Crucifixion, is that the holy can be unvalued, abused. There’s no question about that. A great deal that you see in the world is the abuse of the sacred. But the intrinsic sacredness is invariable, is a constant.
I really think if I had to say that religion depends on one thing, putting religion categorically, you know, we have to think that people are sacred. Human beings have to be considered sacred. That’s the beginning, and then anything that, it seems to me that, really departs from that, that conditions people to part from it in their thinking, I think, is antagonistic to religious life.
(via The Literary Saloon)

15 September 2009

Juan Gabriel Vásquez in Chicago...

...this Thursday!
9/17/2009 (18:00 h)


Instituto Cervantes - Sala de Actos
31 W. Ohio St.
60654 Chicago, Illinois

09 September 2009

...and even better

Two Lines has a blog! I'll be spending a lot of time reading Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation over the next couple of days.

Reasons my week is getting better

  • At Three Percent, Dan Vitale reviews Anne McLean's translation of The Armies (Los ejércitos) by Evelio Rosero.
  • Rosero's new novel, Los almuerzos, comes out this month.
  • In "The Brazilian Sphinx", Lorrie Moore explores the life and work of Clarice Lispector.
  • A review of Lispector's The Hour of the Star (translated by Giovanni Pontiero) appears in the new issue of The Quarterly Conversation.
  • I'll have to comment on their take on translation as criticism soon--Walter Benjamin, Paul de Man, and others have gone back and forth on this issue for years...
  • From Scott Esposito's excellent essay, "Horacio Castellanos and the New Political Novel": "What for Ford Madox Ford was primarily a story of infidelity in inter-war England, and for Kobo Abe was about existentialist malaise in mid-century Japan, and for Walker Percy was about the alienation of the individual in a radically mediated society, and for Kazuo Ishiguro was a story of classism in contemporary England, becomes for Moya a story of the great political subconsciousness that seethes through life in 21st-century Latin America. Each of these writers shares an interest in portraying the space between objective reality and human subjectivity. Fundamentally, they are interested in what happens as the human mind attempts to piece together a reality, though it lacks the necessary information to do so. As the diversity of these writers’ output shows, the dramatization of this gap is a very malleable tool: an individual’s quest for objective truth can interrogate realities about the cultures that range from a bottom-rung operative in a Latin American state on the verge of failure to a wealthy, privileged gentleman in a European nation at the height of empire. What is most characteristic about these novels is that vital facts about the culture each is set in are bound up at the deepest levels with the narrators’ own gradual realization that there is no such a thing as an objective reality. The process of self-discovery is contingent on comprehending one’s cultural context."
  • And Suzanne Jill Levine offers an excerpt from her spectacular book (to be reissued in October), The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction.

03 September 2009

Volpi on literature in Latin America

Jorge Volpi affirms that there is no "Latin American literature". He explains:
No hay nada que ligue, directamente, a escritores de una parte del continente con escritores de otra. O sería una unión tan arbitraria como hablar de escritores del mediterráneo, del Medio Oriente, del África Subsahariana, en donde solo por razones de clasificación académica sirven, pero ya no dice mucho de lo que verdaderamente está pasando. Creo que hasta Roberto Bolaño, que es un ejemplo claro, había la intención en esta generación de escritores de referirse a una tradición latinoamericana. De conocerla, de apreciarla y de revelarse frente a ella. Pero me parece que, prácticamente, eso ha desaparecido en los escritores de mi generación y los más jóvenes. Los modelos ya no son, necesariamente, latinoamericanos. Ya ni siquiera la lengua española es motivo de unión, como se vio aquí en Bogotá 39. Hubo invitados dos escritores, que consideramos latinoamericanos, pero que escriben en inglés. Entonces no es tanto decir como que no tiene futuro la literatura latinoamericana, como decir que esta literatura ya no existe. Pero existen escritores valiosísimos también en estos países y hay que también dejarlo claro y espero que quede patente en el libro.
("There is nothing that directly links writers from one part of the continent with writers of another. Or it would be a connection as arbitrary as talking about writers from the Mediterranean or the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa, where it works for reasons of academic classification, but it doesn't really say much about what's truly happening now. I think that even Roberto Bolaño, who is a clear example, and writers of that generation, had the intention of speaking of a Latin American tradition. To know, appreciate, and show themselves as being a part of it. But it seems to me that this has practically disappeared in writers of my generation and in the younger one. The models are no longer Latin American, necessarily. Now the Spanish language isn't even a reason for union, as we saw with the Bogotá 39. Two writers were invited, who we consider Latin American, who write in English [Junot Díaz and Daniel Alarcón]. So it's not like saying that Latin American literature has no future, but that this kind of literature no longer exists. Yet there do exist incredibly valuable writers in these countries, which must be made clear, and which I hope is evident in my book" [El insomnio de Bolívar].)

You'll be hearing more about him soon from Three Percent:
We’re also kicking off the next Reading the World Conversation Series season in October with a visit from Jorge Volpi, who is one of the founding members of the Crack group (“crack” as in “break” with derivative magical realism) and author of Season of Ash.
M.A. Orthofer already has it under review.

UPDATE: Fellow Bogotá 39 author Iván Thays comments on this same interview and concurs with Volpi's take on Bolaño.

02 September 2009


It was with much delight that I read Katherine Silver's translation of an excerpt from Antonio Ungar's most recent novel, Las orejas del lobo (Ears of the Wolf) in the new issue of Words Without Borders.

Last fall I translated the first two pages from his 2004 novel Zanahorias voladoras as an exercise for a tutorial. The original is a gorgeous piece of writing, ethereal and bewitching, which flowed very well in English. I should've known that it was only a matter of time before someone else got to his work first...

But many congratulations are in order to Katherine Silver for winning this year's national award for literary translation from Colombia's Ministry of Culture. Until today, I didn't even know that this award existed! Now I've got a bright, shiny new goal to strive for. And I'm very happy that Ungar's work is finally being made available in English.

New poetry

The Latin American Review of Books has new content up for September, including a review of Maurice Kilwein Guevara's Poema by Francisco Aragón:
It’s work, then, that engages history and politics through art. “The Sound of Glass is Unmistakable” (p. 54), another emblematic piece in this vein, reads like a metaphorical micro history of South America, where Bolívar’s dream of a united continent ends, shattered:

Sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, even my mother who normally avoids the atomic sunlight like a movie star, scurry out of a hundred holes to witness the splintered cart and mangled horses, the twin condors circling, the shards of blue sky everywhere.

The range of artists and eras Guevara engages is admirably ample, and the sensibility throughout—its engagement with what I’ll call more avant-garde techniques in that they resist facile narrative, and the allusions to various events in the history of the region—places the collection, in my view, within a tradition that is arguably as Latin American as it is American. Put another way, Poema establishes the Colombian-born Guevara as the most “Latin American” of Latino poets in the United States, if not simply one of our most cosmopolitan poets, period.

And yet: if the city of Pittsburgh was a more predominant presence in Guevara’s earlier volumes, the city of steel and bridges, where Guevara was raised, continues to hold an indelible place in his imagination. “Bright Pittsburgh Morning” (p. 17) begins:

This must happen just after I die: At sunrise
I bend over my grandparents’ empty house in Hazelwood
And pull it out of the soft cindered earth by the Mon River.

Even here, though, his method insists on a narrative logic of its own—divorced from a more conventional reality.

30 August 2009

Ah, the memories

Thanks to the English PEN World Atlas, I discovered James Smith's article at Booktrust on the BCLT Summer School, which I attended during a week in July:
I went up to Norwich for a day and a night to get more of an idea of how the summer school operates, and was struck first and foremost by the dedication of those attending: the students (for want of a better word), the workshop leaders, the visiting authors and the organisers.

The workshops are the core of the summer school’s activity. This year, BCLT offered Chinese, French, German and Spanish into English; and English into Italian. The groups, ranging from five to twelve in number, work with an experienced translator to translate passages of a book in the source language, the author of which takes part in the sessions. Flitting from workshop to workshop, I was interested to discover that each group worked in similar and yet different ways.
It would be hard for me to describe exactly how incredible the whole experience was. Led by our fearless leader, Nick Caistor, we embarked upon translating the entirety of Eduardo Berti's short story, "Hugh Williams" (from his first collection, Los pájaros). As the end result was to be read aloud on the last day of the course, the overwhelming task of getting ten translators to agree on each sentence and turn of phrase was eventually focused into the task of creating an oral adaptation. It was a brilliant success. Many of the story's darkly comic elements were somehow highlighted amid the process, provoking laughter in our audience when we finally read it aloud. Thanks to Nick Caistor's unflagging patience and Eduardo Berti's unceasing good humor, we all improved as translators and had an unforgettable week.


I just discovered this great little interview with Anne McLean (a.k.a. who I want to be when I grow up):
Can you explain what you do?

Probably not, but I guess what I do is rewrite Spanish and Latin American prose in English. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. I like a description George Szirtes gave recently: "Translation is hearing and replying: it is trying to get your ear, mouth and mind round that which potentially fascinates you in another work in a different language."

Describe a typical working day. What did you do today?

I wish I had such a thing as a typical working day. I’m very disorganized and easily distracted and tend to go off on tangents and forget what I was doing, saying, reading, writing or where I was supposed to be going about 17 times a day.

It’s not quite noon but so far I’ve proofread a few chapters of the proofs of Ignacio Martínez de Pisón’s forthcoming To Bury the Dead, I’ve read a chunk of Javier Cercas’ new book, Anatomía de un instante, which has just been published in Spain and I hope I’ll eventually get to translate it, and this afternoon I’ll translate some pages of The Secret History of Costaguana, which is Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s most recent novel (and that will probably involve all sorts of looking things up and getting lost in other books and on websites).

29 August 2009

Going silent

Anne Carson's "Variations on the Right to Remain Silent"--and what keeps us hooked as translators:
There is something maddeningly attractive about the untranslatable, about a word that goes silent in transit. I want to explore some examples of this attraction, at its most maddened, from the trial and condemnation of Joan of Arc. [...]

During the trial Joan’s judges returned again and again to this crux: they insisted on knowing the story of the voices. They wanted her to name, embody and describe them in ways they could understand, with recognizable religious imagery and emotions, in a conventional narrative that would be susceptible to conventional disproof. They framed this desire in dozens of ways, question after question. They prodded and poked and hemmed her in. Joan despised the line of inquiry and blocked it as long as she could. It seems that for her, the voices had no story. They were an experienced fact so large and real it had solidifed in her as a sort of sensed abstraction—what Virginia Woolf once called "that very jar on the nerves before it has been made anything."** Joan wanted to convey the jar on the nerves without translating it into theological cliché. It is her rage against cliché that draws me to her. A genius is in her rage. We all feel this rage at some level, at some time. The genius answer to it is catastrophe.

I say catastrophe is an answer because I believe cliché is a question. We resort to cliché because it’s easier than trying to make up something new. Implicit in it is the question, Don’t we already know what we think about this? Don’t we have a formula we use for this? Can’t I just send a standard greeting card or paste in a snapshot of what it was like rather than trying to come up with an original drawing? During the five months of her trial Joan persistently chose the term voice or a few times counsel or once comfort to describe how God guided her. She did not spontaneously claim that the voices had bodies, faces, names, smell, warmth or mood, nor that they entered the room by the door, nor that when they left she felt bad. Under the inexorable urging of her inquisitors she gradually added all these details. But the storytelling effort was clearly hateful to her and she threw white paint on it wherever she could, giving them responses like:

… You asked that before. Go look at the record.

… Pass on to the next question, spare me.

… I knew that well enough once but I forget.

… That does not touch your process.

… Ask me next Saturday.

And one day when the judges were pressing her to define the voices as singular or plural, she most wonderfully said: “The light comes in the name of the voice.”

The light comes in the name of the voice is a sentence that stops itself. Its components are simple yet it stays foreign, we cannot own it.
(via Maud)

Odds and ends

Over at fade theory, they're currently reading Living to Tell the Tale (Edith Grossman's translation of Vivir para contarla): García Márquez's memoirs. Originally, it was to be the first installment of a trilogy, but this may be it for now. Maybe I should finally crack open my own copy...


Matthew Cheney interviews Samuel R. Delany on the release of a new edition of The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction.

(via Light Reading)


This makes NO sense. Reading Rainbow Reaches Its Final Chapter:
Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that's not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

"Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read," Grant says. "You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read."
But apparently, "research has shown that teaching the mechanics of reading should be the network's priority" (forget about giving them any reason to do so in the first place).

(via Enter the Octopus)

UPDATE (31 Aug.): Bookninja directs us to Mediabistro's efforts to think of ways to keep it going in another form.

28 August 2009

"Passive censorship"

As if we needed it...more worrying news out of Venezuela:
Once listed as “essential goods”, all imported books would now require government certification, either demonstrating they were not produced domestically, or else not produced domestically in sufficient numbers. In practice, this means that for all titles they want to import, publishers or distributors have to submit an application describing the books in question and request that a share of foreign currency be allocated for their import. (In Venezuela, the government regulates the use of foreign currency for imports.) These applications are then reviewed by a government bureaucrat, who has the power to decide how many copies will be imported.
(via Bookninja)

27 August 2009

Saramago's better half

José Saramago's wife and Spanish translator, Pilar del Río, had a lively interview last weekend with El Espectador. Aside from translating Saramago's books into Spanish, she also translates each blog post he writes for O Caderno de Saramago (El Cuaderno de Saramago), which has recently been published in book form. She is also president of A Fundação José Saramago (La Fundación José Saramago). They met and married over twenty years ago, and after having suffered a life-threatening condition not long ago, he says she is the reason he is still alive.

When asked about her translation work, she said:
Traducir es casi una imposibilidad, porque ¿cómo pasar a otro idioma la respiración del autor, la duda previa, la intención con que se teclea? Eso es imposible, pero se hace lo que se puede. En cualquier caso, el trabajo de traducir es importante, tanto que, como Saramago dice, los autores hacen las literaturas nacionales, pero los traductores son los que hacen la literatura universal... De no ser por los traductores, García Márquez no sería García Márquez en Japón, en Finlandia o en Rusia. Es decir, él sería quien es, pero los japoneses, finlandeses o rusos que lo aman no habrían tenido la posibilidad del encuentro.
("Translation is almost an impossibility because how can you carry into another language the breath of the author, his previous doubts, his intention when he types? It's impossible, but you do what you can. In any case, the work of translation is important, so much so, Saramago says authors make national literatures, but it is the translators who make literature universal... If not for translators, García Márquez would not be García Márquez in Japan, in Finland, or in Russia. That is, he would be who he is, but the Japanese, the Finns, or the Russians who love him would not have had the opportunity of discovery.")

When asked about any unforgettable anecdotes from the process, she replied:
Tengo memoria de cada libro y de cada artículo traducido. No he perdido ni un detalle, no he olvidado nada, haber traducido, y al lado del autor, en convivencia con él, es mi tesoro, un tesoro que a nadie más importa y que guardo porque en él me recreo. ¿Una anécdota? Una frase. La pronunció Carlos Fuentes, un día, viendo donde José trabaja y dónde lo hago yo. Dijo: "Qué suerte, la traductora en casa", y lo dijo con tanta vida que me conmovió oírlo. Me sentí muy orgullosa.
("I remember every book and every article I've translated. I haven't lost even one detail, I haven't forgotten anything--having translated, and by the author's side, living with him, is my treasure, a treasure that doesn't matter to anyone else and which I protect because I enjoy myself with him. An anecdote? A phrase. Carlos Fuentes said it one day, seeing where José works and where I do too. He said: "What luck, the translator in the house" and he said it with such enthusiasm, I was moved when I heard him. I felt very proud.")

New review

Over at the Words Without Borders blog, a brief review of mine on Translation in Practice, edited by Gill Paul, went up on Monday. It's full of common sense and well-delineated specifics on the ways translators, editors, copyeditors, and publishers can work together and improve communication practices in order to produce quality literary translations.

23 August 2009

The Bogotá 39: Two Years Later

As the 22nd International Book Fair (and its blog, Las palabras de la feria) in Bogotá draws to a close, El Espectador provides a much-needed update on the Bogotá 39. In the past two years, Andrés Neuman (Argentina) won the 2009 Alfaguara Novel prize for El viajero del siglo (The Traveler of the Century), Jorge Volpi (México) won the 2009 Debate-Casa of América prize for his forthcoming (November 2009) essay El insomnio de Bolívar (Bolívar's Insomnia) and Juan Gabriel Vásquez was shortlisted for the Independent's Foreign Fiction Prize (along with Anne McLean) for the English translation of Los informantes (The Informers). Many others also published new books.

Both Volpi and Vásquez agree that a common element of the 39 is that they do not share any one theme, ideology or literary voice:
“Lo que ha pasado es que se ha producido un fenómeno de desregionalización de la producción artística, en donde no tenemos que ser aprobados en nuestros países y, en el exterior, no se nos exige que escribamos como latinoamericanos, con los tonos del realismo mágico. Finalmente se está dando un proceso en donde uno encuentra su público en pequeños grupos de personas que no tienen por qué estar supeditados a un territorio en concreto. Vamos hacia un panorama más libre”, describe Volpi.
("What's happened is that a phenomenon of non-regionalist artistic production has emerged where we don't have to be approved in our own countries and, in the exterior, they don't demand that we write like Latin Americans, with tones of magical realism. It's finally creating a process where one finds his or her public in small groups of people that don't have to be tied to a specific territory. We're moving towards a more open outlook", describes Volpi.)

20 August 2009

Venturing out

In the past few weeks I've submitted a dissertation, moved back to Colombia, and stepped in to replace a third-grade teacher. One more week will find me in a new apartment with the dust (hopefully) settling around me.

Happily, I'm back to my book-buying ways and hope to begin writing more about the Colombian literature I'm reading. I don't want to jinx myself by saying too much, but I think it's safe to say that things will resume in the next week or so.

In the meantime, I'm hugely relieved to be back home in my tierra querida.

22 May 2009

More on Benedetti

In compiling the post on the passing of Mario Benedetti (which went up yesterday at the Words Without Borders Blog), it was good to see so many pre-existing clips featuring him on YouTube. The first one is by his publisher and features him reading "No te salves", "Táctica y estrategia", and "Hagamos un trato", plus brief quotes and cover shots of 17 of his books. The second is a clip from a television interview:

18 May 2009

Another loss, but an amazing life

Álvaro Mutis writes of the death of Mario Benedetti:
El escritor y poeta colombiano, Álvaro Mutis, dijo que con la muerte de Mario Benedetti, "Latinoamérica pierde a un escritor continental, un escritor cuya obra refleja el sentir de todos los países de la región".

"En el estado actual de América Latina perder a un escritor como Mario Benedetti es una de las mayores pérdidas", explicó Mutis a Efe.

Después de una reciente hospitalización desde el 24 de abril al 6 de mayo, el escritor Uruguayo Mario Benedetti falleció en su domicilio en Montevideo a los 88 años.

Mutis, uno de los más destacados literatos latinoamericanos, indicó que Benedetti era el representante del ideal de escritor latinoamericano que sintetizaba el sentir de todos los pueblos.
I'm sure many more tributes will be expressed in the coming days.

UPDATE 19 May: Benedetti, la alegría de un triste:
Benedetti consiguió permear con sus escritos zonas generalmente indiferentes a la poesía mediante un arduo trabajo de sencillez en los versos y de empleo de palabras del común. "Ha ignorado deliberadamente la supuesta existencia de palabras 'poéticas' y de otras que no lo son", explica el premio Nobel José Saramago. Intérpretes tan célebres como Joan Manuel Serrat y Daniel Viglietti musicalizaron sus poemas. "Sus versos eran contagiosos", según Serrat.

Muchos consideran por eso que, después de Pablo Neruda, es quizás el poeta latinoamericano más conocido de las últimas décadas.
Benedetti, más o menos la muerte:
En su literatura no sólo está Montevideo sino América Latina, con todos sus dolores y claroscuros.

Para un poeta debe ser una suerte de consagración cuando sus creaciones van de boca en boca, cuando las recita un estudiante, cuando las pronuncia un ama de casa. Cuando se vuelve patrimonio de todos. Algunos, muy sofisticados, dirán que esa situación es carencia de hondura. Otros, con menos pretensiones, afirmarán que es como ver caer la lluvia, o como ganar el pan con el poder de los sueños. Y de la luz.
José Saramago: Poetas y poesía:
el mundo no podría soportar muchos días de esta intensidad emocional, pero tampoco, sin la poesía que hoy se expresa, seríamos enteramente humanos. Y esto, en pocas líneas, es lo que está sucediendo: murió Mario Benedetti en Montevideo y el planeta se hizo pequeño para albergar la emoción de las personas. De súbito los libros se abrieron y comenzaron a expandirse en versos, versos de despedida, versos de militancia, versos de amor, las constantes de la vida de Benedetti, junto a su patria, sus amigos, el fútbol y algunos boliches de trago largo y noches todavía más largas.

15 May 2009

Evelio Rosero and Anne McLean

win the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize!:
When Ingrid Betancourt was freed last summer after six years held hostage by Colombian guerrillas, Evelio Rosero's thoughts were with the kidnap victims still in captivity. Most are ordinary citizens, seized by guerrillas, paramilitaries or criminal thugs for ransom, not the "jewels in the crown", as the French-Colombian politician and her three American companions were known. "We are all happy," Rosero told me in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, "But she's one among many, and we must not forget all the rest."

Rosero's concern for civilians caught up in more than four decades of fratricidal conflict spurred his winning book, The Armies. He has written short stories and children's books. This is his seventh novel, published in Spanish in 2006 ­ and his first to be translated into English. In 2006, he won Colombia's National Literature Prize, awarded by the culture ministry.

10 May 2009

Vonnegut understood more than he thought

Paul Verhaeghen on why translators are from Tralfamadore:
In walks the translator. Doesn’t he look a bit like a plumber’s friend, with his suction cup neatly planted on the ground, so eager to teach the writing Earthling many wonderful things about time? Linear or non-linear, it doesn’t matter, because the text is there and the translator ploughs through it at will, and from every angle. The translator is an honest-to-god liar, pretending to believe in a truth that is entirely somebody else’s – yours -- cross-wiring his dreams with the wind that whipped some other fellah’s plains -- yours. The irksome paradox is that in his command of the fourth dimension, the translator becomes shallower, not deeper. He sobs over the death of every character, but not inconsolably so – it’s only a book, and the character lives on, forever on the page. True, the translator is powerless to prevent your mistakes, but he is gracious and merciful towards them. So it goes, he says, and he either shrugs his shoulders or tries to smooth it out. Did you notice that he is stylishly two weeks overdue for a haircut, while your hair gets brutally trimmed every six months by your lover, in your sleep, with very blunt scissors? Did you notice he’s wearing a full set of clothes while he translates, and never skips a meal? He is extraordinarily precise, your translator, he wants to render each and every one of your puns, he wants to bring each of your clever nuances to light – the best of translators are so good, you can’t believe it’s not writing.
(via Three Percent)

Extremes are sometimes necessary

And another name for the TBR list--Kiko Amat:
Regarding Latin America, Amat said the region awakens in him “an enormous fascination; it’s a world that’s so strange. There’s a really beautiful enthusiasm that clearly is non-European.”

“I love how the concept of the artist here is lived from the standpoint of celebrating that privilege, while in Europe there’s a perspective that’s much more comfortable, as if (the artist) were someone who had always been born for that,” he said.

He also criticized contemporary Spanish culture, which he said is “boring and serious,” adding that “even when they try to approach the popular ambit, they do so in a way that’s so pompous, so academic and so pretentious.”

“I don’t have to apologize to the cultural elites because I like ‘Spiderman.’ But not apologizing for that makes me sound strange within the literary world. (But) I have no intention of being accepted by the popes of high culture; that doesn’t interest me in the slightest,” he said.
(via The Literary Saloon)

04 May 2009

Here and there

A few notes of mine on the London Book Fair's "Marketing Translations and Other 'Difficult' Books" panel just went up today at the Words Without Borders Blog (which also currently features excellent coverage of the PEN World Voices Festival).

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Haworth, Salisbury, Bath, Oxford, London, and Madrid with my two sisters. The weeks leading up to it were full of essay busyness (studies of Orlando Mejía Rivera's El enfermo de Abisinia and Jorge Franco's Paraíso Travel), which is only now beginning to wind down (somewhat)...as dissertation prep also starts this week. There has been much to say and no time in which to say it, but I've been keeping track of thoughts and things to share for the future.

I'm also very excited about the short list for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: of the six novels, two are by Colombian writers Evelio Rosero and Juan Gabriel Vásquez (both translated by Anne McLean). The winner will be announced on 15 May.

Finding old friends in Madrid

13 February 2009

Beyond blindness

José Saramago wept on hearing the words of recently liberated Sigifredo López:
Nunca he podido alardear de firmeza emocional. Lloro con facilidad, y no por culpa de la edad. Pero esta vez me vi obligado a romper en sollozos cuando Sigifredo, para expresar su infinita gratitud a Piedad Córdoba, la comparó con la mujer del médico de Ensayo sobre la ceguera. Pónganse en mi lugar, miles de kilómetros me separaban de aquellas imágenes y de aquellas palabras y el pobre de mí, deshecho en lágrimas, no tuvo otro remedio que refugiarse en el hombro de Pilar y dejarlas correr. Toda mi existencia de hombre y de escritor queda justificada por ese momento. Gracias, Sigifredo.
I may be skeptical of certain things, but watching the video clip Saramago posted moved me to tears as well. There is hope. We will never give up in this struggle for peace.

(via El Tiempo, with thanks to A.)

Saint-Exupéry and tv

A friend recommended J. Wood's posts at Powell's, and now I love reading what he has to say after watching Lost. But he outdid himself with this wonderful literary analysis of The Little Prince (in reference to the episode of the same name):
A strange thing then occurs in the sixth chapter; the narrative voice changes to second-person. The audience was in the third-person objective position, and is all the sudden being addressed as if the audience were displaced into the subject of the story. The switch from objective to subjective space is interesting, and it changes back to third-person objective in the seventh chapter. This is just one of the elements the story shares with Lost; like the island characters' experience of cut-up time mirroring the audience experience of narrative time, or how the characters' search for pieces of the overall puzzle is carried over beyond the show proper into the broader experience of the audience; this short chapter mirrors that unstable position where the audience falls into the fiction. Like the fox says in The Little Prince, words are the source of misunderstandings.
I'm a sucker for this sort of thing and would really love for him to delve into more of Joyce's Ulysses (as he begins to discuss in this same post). Since next week's episode "316" is partially inspired by what's found on that page in the Vintage edition of Ulysses, he just might.

31 January 2009


On Thursday, another post of mine went up at the Words Without Borders Blog. Somehow, I was able to begin to articulate the strangeness of my situation. But just now, I'm irremediably homesick. I think posting a few things that have occupied my thoughts lately will help.

Nearly two weeks ago I found out about Gina Parody's resignation from the Senate. As the youngest person to be elected to Congress in Colombia, she is also the most direct and clear-spoken--and is undeniably brilliant. In the interview she gave with RCN (the video follows this letter to her supporters), she expressed the reasons why she could no longer represent her (former) party. Her integrity and clear belief in her principles is awe-inspiring. At 35, she's closed this chapter of her political career, but continues to explore other ways to fight for change. (At this point, she sees education as a main avenue.)

Between January and July of 1861, Colombia had a black president. Juan José Nieto, governor of Bolívar, served as interim president while Mosquera arrived to Bogotá. History had forgotten, his tomb is falling apart. But memory is returning...

The Hay Festival is in full swing! I'll be checking this year's blog all weekend. (I love looking at last year's too.) A., his sister, and another dear friend are in Cartagena right now! I look forward to hearing all about it.

Junot Díaz talks about how his two great loves--books and the Caribbean--were brought together for the first time in his life when he first attended the Hay Festival in Cartagena: "Cartagena fue la primera vez en mi vida en la que mis disparatados yos se sintieron como uno solo."

And because I can't help it... Two "Bettyadictas" from Mexico and Spain visit Colombia for the first time, thanks to one of the greatest shows ever: Yo soy Betty, la fea. (Yes, I may as well join la Asociación de Bettyadictas Anónimas too!) Originally a Colombian "telenovela" that ran between 1999 and 2001, it has since been adapted by 18 other countries around the world. It's brilliant--hysterically funny and deeply moving at once. (They've been running it again in Colombia and I had to leave before it finished. Luckily, I was able to see the rest of it on YouTube.)

30 January 2009

Favorite things

In this list of "17 Things I Love," Neko Case discusses the books she read while making Middle Cyclone and why they're amazing. See which titles by Annie Dillard, Richard Adams, Joseph Mitchell, Sherman Alexie, Angela Carter, Lynda Barry, and Tomek Tryzna have won her devotion.

17 January 2009

Yet another reason I love Colombia

Being able to buy García Márquez novels at supermarket check-out counters.

(The last photo, from top to bottom: Cien años de soledad, El amor en los tiempos del cólera, El general en su laberinto, and La mala hora.)

I read El otoño del patriarca in a week, rushing to finish it before I had to leave Santa Marta (since it was A.'s copy and I couldn't bring much back with me because then I'd have even *more* to haul back from England in the summer. Which makes me wonder, because no matter how firmly I've resolved not to buy books, I seem to accumulate them regardless. Evidently, there is no escape.). The last three days consisted of swimming through 100 pages each--and I do mean swimming. This 398 page novel consists of six paragraphs. SIX. There are very specific reasons for this--which I'll probably investigate later. I know he was heavily influenced by Faulkner and the modernists, and when I finally read our copy of El olor de la guayaba (lengthy conversations he had with his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza), I'll know more. There's a whole section dedicated to this novel of his.

I think the reason I was able to sail through it so easily is that I didn't get hung up on trying to remember what was said at the beginning of each sentence. Sound strange? Ok. It's as if he's structured this novel like a flowing river. Each sentence is an individual current in this river, and you have to let yourself get swept away by it. Float along, see the sights, take in all that he's telling you. But don't get caught up in trying to remember the sequential order of things or where you started from, because then you'll spend your time trying to arrange and sort and categorize, reading it will become a chore, and you'll (ironically) miss what you were supposed to experience along the way.

Yes, he's very deliberate about the decisions he made. There is no dialogue punctuation, which helps the sensation of being carried along by something greater--a lone sailor in a rowboat. It's a little scary, but once you stop worrying about who is telling the story (there seem to be many voices telling it, many "I"s, the voices of various people in this coastal city) and simply take in the words as they come, it's an entrancing experience. I've felt like this reading Faulkner, Woolf, and Joyce, but never quite this strong. Probably because I was reading great chunks of it at a time and simply enjoying the story--the intrigue, the horror, the tragedy, and (yes!) the humor. (What a marvelously wicked sense of humor García Márquez has!) I could almost hear the voice of this lonely, monomaniacal dictator--his verbal tics and repeated sayings, his "que carajo" and "no seas pendejo" and frequent pleas to his mother, Bendición Alvarado (of the sewing machine and myriad birds).

The best reading experience I've had in a long time.

16 January 2009

Andrew Wyeth

I knew this would happen someday...but it still seems too soon.

15 January 2009


Another dispatch of mine went up at the Words Without Borders Blog on 4 January. I returned from Colombia on Sunday night and I'm slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things. Hope to have more to offer soon!

14 January 2009

A way out

A few lines from Paul Auster's Oracle Night...

"I didn't get that far. But we would have found a way out. People can't die in their dreams, you know. Even if the door was locked, something would have happened to get us out. That's how it works. As long as you're dreaming, there's always a way out."
"Thoughts are real," he said. "Words are real. Everything human is real, and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren't aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment. Maybe that's what writing is all about, Sid. Not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future."

29 December 2008

More love for Hay

Having attended the Hay Festival in Cartagena for the past two years, I can decidedly say that this literary event has become an established and well-loved tradition for us. Sadly, I'll be back at university before things kick off on 29 January...and I nearly passed out when I saw who's coming this year--two writers I was hoping to see at the two prior fests I've attended: Laura Restrepo and Junot Díaz (!!!). But we've already reserved A.'s tickets so I have the consolation of knowing that at least I'll be able to experience it vicariously. The other huge event will be Fernando Vallejo--I predict a VERY lively evening for that one!

Many congratulations to the organizers of the Hay Festival in Cartagena for another spectacular line-up: Laura Restrepo, Junot Díaz, Fernando Vallejo, Alberto Manguel, Gerald Martin, Alan Pauls, Daniel Samper Pizano, Juan Gossaín, Eduardo Lago, Ricardo Silva, Salman Rushdie, and Martin Amis, among many others. May you continue for centuries to come!

Mario's elusive Blanca

Oh the joys of vacation reading! I picked up a copy of En ausencia de Blanca in Cartagena last January but have only now gotten around to reading it, thanks to A.'s unreserved enthusiasm for it (a link to a PDF of the first chapter of the Spanish original can be found here). Here's a bit from Mr. Orthofer's excellent review of the English translation by Esther Allen:
In her Absence is a nice study in contrasts, and Muñoz Molina presents these two mismatched mates and their backstory very well. The way the story unfolds gives it an air of mystery as well, hinting at parts of what happened all along the way, but only putting all the pieces together as the novel comes to its conclusion. There's something artificial about this story arc, twisted out of shape as it is (this -- in this order -- isn't how one would expect this particular domestic tale to be recounted), but it does allow Muñoz Molina to slowly fill out his portrait of the couple, and it's this he does very well.

In her Absence is an unlikely but still very appealing love story, and a rich characters-study. Muñoz Molina's writing is a pleasure to read, and he's fashioned a small but agreeable little novel here. Recommended.

26 December 2008

Vargas Llosa on Onetti

Alfaguara has posted a few things Mario Vargas Llosa had to say about his recent book on the work of Juan Carlos Onetti, which was published last month:
Básicamente lo que yo hago en este ensayo es investigar la manera en la que Onetti utilizó la ficción como un mundo alternativo. La respuesta a la derrota cotidiana es la imaginación: huir hacia un mundo de fantasía. Es decir, aquella operación de donde nació la literatura, por la que existe la literatura y por eso el título del libro.
("Basically, what I do in this essay is investigate the way in which Onetti used fiction as an alternate world. The answer to everyday defeat is the imagination: to flee to a world of fantasy. That is, the operation from which literature was born, for which literature exists, hence the title of the book.")

The first 22 pages of El viaje a la ficción: El mundo de Juan Carlos Onetti (The Journey to Fiction: The World of Juan Carlos Onetti) are up at Alfaguara's site (as a PDF), as well as the original press release.

14 December 2008

Goings and comings

It has been a crazy week, but I'm finally finishing up my last essay to hand in tomorrow (on how form and content should not be separated in the translation of novels, particularly Latin American novels that share intertextual similarities with the modernists).

This week also brought a great honor. Bud Parr, who is the new editor of the Words Without Borders Blog, had asked if I would contribute a few thoughts on my translation studies now and again, and my first post went up on Wednesday. I travel back to Colombia on Tuesday, but hope that over the break I'll have more to share. Part of my vacation will be dedicated to working on the translation of some poems for my dissertation, so perhaps some of my experiences will find their way there (especially as I live in the region where the poet was born!).

Incidentally, there is also a marvelous article by Alexander Cuadros on the plight of the displaced in Bogotá on the main site. Well worth your time.

23 November 2008

Waving, not drowning

With two major essays and a presentation due within the next three weeks, I haven't had much time at all for peeking through this window. But I can't complain as my time revolves around analyzing translations of work by Pablo Neruda and Laura Restrepo... I hope to be able to offer more on this in the next couple of weeks as there have been some surprising discoveries.

In the meantime, here is something I would love to see (although it's old news)... You Are Free, the Joseph Arthur documentary by Bryan Johnson.

The Innocence Mission have also been busy: Street Map is available for pre-order. It sounds lovely.

02 November 2008

Interchangeable biographies

From Arcadia's recent article on the friendship between Paul Auster and Enrique Vila-Matas:
Alguna vez Vila-Matas confesó que nunca dejaba de leer una entrevista a Paul Auster porque el autor norteamericano siempre le brindaba ideas para nuevos libros. Se declara uno de los más antiguos lectores españoles de Auster. “Descubrí el libro El arte del hambre y desde entonces lo leí todo —asegura—. Recuerdo con fascinación al detective de La trilogía de Nueva York. Y las dos veces que he estado en Nueva York he acabado, sin darme cuenta, en Central Park, acordándome sin querer de ese libro”. Precisamente en Nueva York se cruzaron por primera vez cuando el Instituto Cervantes los reunió, en octubre de 2007, para que leyeran fragmentos de sus respectivas obras aprovechando la edición en inglés de El mal de Montano (Premio Herralde de novela y mejor libro extranjero en Francia) y que los dos comparten la misma editorial en Estados Unidos (New Directions) y en España (Anagrama). Allí coincidieron en afirmar la importancia que tiene para ellos incluir otros libros y anécdotas literarias en sus obras y destacaron la soledad que experimenta todo escritor. “Cuanta más experiencia de la soledad tiene uno, más paradójicamente vive la sensación de que esa experiencia no es precisamente de ostracismo o de aislamiento, sino de apertura hacia los demás”, citó más tarde Vila-Matas a su camarada Paul Auster, en un artículo de prensa que tituló “De lo contrario sería Auster” y en el que se cuestionaba por qué no era Paul Auster. “Indignó a los lectores mexicanos de la revista Letras libres, porque dijeron que ya sabían que yo no era él’, declaró después el catalán. Como si buscaran con ello reafirmar su afinidad asistieron al evento vestidos casi idénticamente. Llevaban uno y otro traje negro, con sus ojos de pronunciadas órbitas y sombría apariencia de poetas malditos. Los dos convergen también en su vacilante relación con Nueva York y Barcelona, escenarios privilegiados de sus libros.