11 December 2007

Bioy Casares' invention

I finished reading La invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares this weekend (published in English as The Invention of Morel, translated by Ruth L.C. Simms). From the outset, my expectations were high due to Borges' enthusiastic prologue: "He discutido con su autor los pormenores de su trama, la he releído; no me parece una imprecisión o una hipérbole calificarla de perfecta." He places it in the same league as The Turn of the Screw, The Trial, and Julien Green's Le Voyageur sur la Terre (as far as I can tell, this last has not yet been translated into English), and declares it a literary renewal of a concept found in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Sudden Light":
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore...
The novel is the (footnoted) diary of an escaped prisoner, stranded on an island that is rumored to be infested with a fatal disease that causes the loss of one's hair, nails, and skin. Any discussion of the plot would detract from the experience of encountering it for the first time, but suffice it to say that it involves obsession, immortality, fame, love, the parallel destinies of men and the images they create, and a woman named Faustine (which made me think of Goethe and deals with the devil). The invention itself is something we're on the verge of today--I was stunned when I flipped to the copyright page and discovered that it was first published in 1940 (!).

I look forward to reading it again. It's one of those books that demands a rereading for all of the missed clues from the first time around...

In his acceptance speech for the Premio Cervantes in 1990, Bioy Casares relates that before he finished reading the first chapter of Don Quixote, he knew he wanted to be a writer. Indeed, many literary essays have surely been written on Don Quixote's influence on La invención de Morel: the narrator suffers from a condition very similar to that of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

10 December 2007

Lagging behind

Over at Three Percent, Chad Post muses:
Instead of waiting for the English version to come out, I wish American media outlets would follow the lead of the TLS and others and review untranslated books. It would be great if major media outlets wrote about great international authors irrespective of the release of a new title in English.

Granted, this is never going to happen, but that also means that we’re almost always going to be lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of reading and discussing great literature. For better or worse, English is a colonizing language, and our resistance to other languages and cultures just means that the rest of the world is passing us by.
(I'm reminded of an interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o I read last week:
First, let me say that what I really oppose is all forms of monolingualism. It's not good for any society--American society or any other society.)
Post is also collecting a list of titles for a potential "Best Translations of 2007" list. (I suggested that Natasha Wimmer's translation of Delirium by Laura Restrepo be included. I read and enthusiastically admired the original earlier this year. Wimmer's translation looks excellent as well.)

Colombian litmag

Over the weekend, a friend told me about Colombian cultural magazine El Malpensante. Definitely something to keep an eye on:
El Malpensante es una revista literaria, pero no académica. Se fundamenta en el texto escrito de manera refinada, inteligente y perspicaz, y aunque por ello tiene un objeto paralelo al que estudia la academia, no suscribe una visión rígida de las letras. Preferimos aquellos textos, inclusive de actualidad, que a nuestro juicio no dependan de la moda o de la coyuntura presente y que puedan leerse casi con el mismo interés uno o dos años después de publicados. Por otra parte, El Malpensante considera una obligación descubrir nuevos talentos y rescatar escritores olvidados.

07 December 2007

That simple loop

Richard Powers, The Echo Maker:
To be awake and know: already awful. To be awake, know, and remember: unbearable. Against the triple curse, Weber could make out only one consolation. Some part of us could model some other modeler. And out of that simple loop came all love and culture, the ridiculous overflow of gifts, each one a frantic proof that I was not it... We had no home, no whole to come back to. The self spread thin on everything it looked at, changed by every ray of the changing light. But if nothing inside was ever fully us, at least some part of us was loose, in the run of others, trading in all else. Someone else's circuits circled through ours.
I finished this one today and now look forward to reading all of the posts and roundtable discussions that followed on the heels of its release. (Another thing I love about litblogs--the discussion is never over.)

Turning the last page on a Powers novel is an immensely satisfying feeling--as if the experience has left the soul searched, acknowledged, and accepted in some indefinable (yet wholly necessary) way. I've only read three of his novels--wonderful to know that there is still so much of his work left to discover.

06 December 2007

Someone should write a book

that examines Philip Pullman's retelling of Paradise Lost in His Dark Materials and that objectively, dispassionately compares his reading of Milton with those of C.S. Lewis and Stanley Fish. Blake should also be tossed in there (particularly a reading similar to Annie Dillard's in "A Field of Silence"). Also, how does Pullman read Paradise Regained? Would it clarify or confuse the issues raised in his trilogy?

Basically, with the renewed interest in Pullman due to the film release of The Golden Compass, I'd love to see exchanges that have more to do with literature than religious polemic. (Granted, polemic has its place, but it seems that it is more and more difficult to find assessments of such polarizing work that are free of agendas, pro or con.)

04 December 2007

Improvise a kingdom come

Linford Detweiler, "Only in America":
We want to move in closer, lean in together, improvise a little slow dance. So let’s move from the horns to the sound of the piano. Let’s find an old piano with a broken heart, like the upright piano we had at church, a piano full of prayers spoken and unspoken, a piano that makes the old hymns sound like they’re being played next door to a saloon. Let’s tell the truth. There were two taverns located right across the road from that little white wooden Protestant church where my father was minister. And as Karin likes to say—after what we grew up seeing in church, having a stiff drink nearby is the sort of convenience that makes America great. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The very first time I heard a piano. I can still see it. My mother has taken me to visit one of her friends who has adopted a boy a few years older than me. We walk into the living room, and there he is seated like God himself on a bench in front of a small wooden house with elephant-ivory keys, and pedals like a car. And that sound, the sound of a piano, that loud, infinitely happy/sad sound, that universe being born as he touches the black and white—I can’t believe my ears. I haven’t been walking all that long, but I walk as quickly as I can with unpredictable knees over to the corner of the bench and steady myself, and get the palm of my right hand up on the keyboard to slap the miracle and help it come out. The adopted boy glares at me and gives me a push. I find my seat on the living room floor. I joke now that I learned at a very early age that music was a cutthroat business: He was up, and I was down—and he wanted to keep it that way.

My mother grew up on an Amish farm with no electricity. She dreamed of owning a piano. Her second-grade teacher helped her cut out a cardboard keyboard and carefully draw the black and white keys. My mother, as a girl, would sit in her bedroom, one of 12 children, and play her cardboard keyboard, and hear the music that was only inside of her.

This is why the internet exists

Currently exploring the excellent new issue of The Quarterly Conversation. So far, I've read through the brilliant pieces by Marcelo Ballvé, Scott Esposito, and Javier Moreno. And there's even more to get to...


Yesterday, I stood transfixed while reading the entirety of Ingrid Betancourt's October letter to her mother.

Javier Moreno says it all:
Esos soldados que hablan y hablan pero no podemos escucharlos. No nos alcanza su mensaje, pero lo imaginamos (un saludo a mi madre, a mi mujer, a mis hijos, aquí estoy, aquí sigo, no puedo decir más, estoy bien, no se preocupen por mí). Es indignante, también. Y triste. Y todo lo demás.

Las FARC no quieren negociarlos ni cambiarlos ni entregarlos, no les interesa, nunca ha sido esa su intención, es lo único que tienen. Las FARC sólo juegan con el sufrimiento de los secuestrados y sus familias. No podemos seguir cediendo a la sucia manipulación.