Sunday, July 4th, 2010
At the opening of "Juan Muraña" (the fifth story in Brodie's Report), Borges refers back to a biography of Evaristo Carriego which he wrote in 1930 (and which I see was translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, in 1984*) -- his old classmate Trápani mentions the book by way of asking what Borges knows of "malevos," a word which I am not finding in the dictionary but which Hurley translates as "fighters and thugs and underworld types." ("Gangsters" seems like it might work just as well...)
I took the opportunity to have a look at Borges' foreword to Versos de Carriego, a selection which he edited in 1964** -- it is giving me another bit of nuance about the Argentine literary tradition Borges is coming out of. Previously I had been thinking the knife fighting in his Argentine stories was a reference to gauchesca literature, the literature of the pampas; but in this foreword he writes,
Esteban Echeverría was the first chronicler of the pampas; Evaristo Carriego, it appears, was the first chronicler of the arrabales [suburban slums around Buenos Aires].
There is knife fighting in gauchesca literature, but the knife fighting in the stories in Brodie's Report all takes place in the slums around Buenos Aires; the reference here is not to gauchos but to malevos.
Below the fold, a little more from the foreword, which makes Carriego's work sound fairly important to the evolution of Argentine literature. Carriego's complete works are online at Proyecto Biblioteca Digital Argentina.
From the foreword:
Carriego could not have carried out his works without the enormous freedom of vocabulary, of theme and of meter which Modernism granted to the literatures of the Spanish tongue, both on this side and on the other side of the ocean; but the Modernism which was his stimulus was also his enemy. A good portion of Heretic Masses is given over to involuntary parody of Darío and of Herrera. But beyond these pages, and beyond the rest, the discovery (let's call it that) of our suburbs is the most valuable contribution of Carriego.
I know little of his political inclinations -- a likely guess is that he was vaguely, eloquently an anarchist. [which cf Borges' statements about his own politics in the foreword to Brodie's Report.]... He worked ceaselessly, driven by the soft mania of the tubercular. ... He died twenty-nine years of age, at the same age and of the same disease as John Keats. Both men had a hunger for fame -- [this last bit I am finding very hard to understand, not sure whether from a language problem or a complexity problem:]
la pasión era lícita en aquel tiempo, ajeno todavía a las malas artes de la publicidad.
* di Giovanni wrote an essay on "Evaristo Carriego: Borges as Biographer," which one can read in part at Google Books
** (Also included in Prologos
is a foreword to Roberto Godel's Birth by Fire
-- In "Juan Muraña," Borges mentions that Godel was in school with him and Trápani.)
Monday, July 5th, 2010
In two or three pieces in Alma del suburbio, Carriego approached the epic; others were closer to social commentary. In Canción del barrio he crossed from Almafuerte's "sacred cosmic rabble"* to the humble middle class. In this second and final step we will find his most famous (if not his greatest) works of poetry. This journey brought him to what we might without deprecation call a poetry of quotidian misery -- a poetry of sick-beds, of failure, of time running in its course, wearing us down and sapping our will to live; a poetry of the family, of affections, of daily habits, even of gossip. It is worthy of note that tango would evolve along the same lines.
Here are Carlos Gavito and Marsela Duran, tangoing to Eduardo Rovira's "A Evaristo Carriego." The orchestra is the Boston Pops.
-- Borges, foreword to Versos de Carriego
* (or "omnipresent sacred rabble" maybe? di Giovanni renders it "cosmic holy rabble".)
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