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When I want to freak myself out, “I” think about “me” thinking about having an “I.” The only thing stupider than puppets talking to puppets is a puppet talking to itself.

Daryl Gregory


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Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Picaresque

I've been reading some stories from Angel Flores' Spanish Stories/Cuentos Españoles, a facing-pages bilingual edition of Spanish short stories from Don Juan Manuel to Goytisolo. It's kind of a tricky book to recommend other than to someone learning Spanish -- for which purpose it is extremely useful -- because the translations are close to literal, rather than literary. They serve their purpose very well, of allowing me to cross-reference when I do not understand a bit of the Spanish; but if I were just reading the English I think I would look for a more polished translation. Anyways, I am loving the book and I recommend it if you find yourself in a similar position to me, interested in acquainting yourself with the literature and language of Spain.

I'm a bit surprised by how well I can understand the old Spanish of Lazarillo de Tormes -- I am not worrying too much about recognizing verb tenses, generally it is just enough to recognize that a word is some form of a particular verb, and I can get the rest from context. The text uses a whole lot of subjunctive preterites and second-person plurals which I'm pretty unfamiliar with... Lazarillo de Tormes (you can read a bilingual edition of it here, by a translator who apparently wishes to remain nameless) is according to Flores (and confirmed by Wikipædia), the first instance of Picaresque literature. Neat! I'm not real well acquainted with this genre beyond Don Quixote and The Adventures of a Simpleton... Lazarillo is fun and entertaining but did not really draw me in, I think the narrative voice just sounds too stilted for me to really get into it -- by way of comparison the first few pages of Cervantes' La fuerza de la sangre (one of his Novelas exemplares, which you can read here) have me falling in love with his clear voice -- I have only read him in translation before, I think when I am a little better at reading Spanish I need to try Don Quixote in the original, or in a bilingual edition if such a thing exists.* Cervantes was writing only a few decades later than the author of Lazarillo so I definitely think the stilted quality of the latter is a product of the author rather than of his age

*A bilingual e-book of Part I of Don Quixote is available for free download from Fusion Bilingual eBooks. Also there is an abridged bilingual edition from Anglo-Didacto which comes with a CD of readings; my first impulse is to be skeptical of the claim that the updating of archaic forms has been "done with profound respect to the Spanish text as well as its translation in English, [and] only emphasises, more if possible, the magic of Cervantes' pen."

posted afternoon of September 20th, 2009: Respond
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El Libro Talonario

Next story in Cuentos Españoles after La fuerza de la sangre (skipping over several centuries -- did nothing happen in Spain between the early 1600's and the late 1800's?) is El libro talonario by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. A good solid story, a narrative voice I can relate to. And I find that a couple of years ago, it was made into a short movie! The movie is well done -- it gets across the idea of the story without adhering slavishly to its plot, and brings a modern perspective to it. Take a look, it's a pleasant 20 minutes:

posted evening of September 20th, 2009: Respond
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Friday, September 25th, 2009

...and speaking of movies based on stories from Cuentos Españoles,

I hope a movie has been made of Unamuno's El marqués de Lumbría; this opening paragraph would be spectacular on the screen:

La casona solariega de los marqueses de Lumbría, el palacio, que es como se le llama en la adusta ciudad de Lorenza, parecía un arca de silenciosos recuerdos del misterio. A pesar de hallarse habitada, casi siempre permanecía con las ventanas y los balcones que daban al mundo cerrados. Su fachada, en la que destacaba el gran escudo de armas del linaje de Lumbría, daba al Mediodía, a la gran plaza de la Catedral, y frente a la ponderosa fábrica de ésta, pero como el sol bañaba casi todo el día, y en Lorenza apenas hay días nublados, todos sus huecos permanecían cerrados. Y ello porque el exelentísimo señor marqués de Lumbría, Don Rodrigo Suárez de Tejada, tenía horror a la luz del sol y al aire libre. "El polvo de la calle y la luz del sol-solía decir-no hacen más que deslustrar los muebles y hechar a perder las habitaciones, y luego, las moscas..." El marqués tenía verdadero horror a las moscas, que podían venir de un andrajoso mendigo, acaso de un tiñoso. El marqués temblaba ante posibles contagios de enfermedades plebeyas. Eran tan sucios los de Lorenza y su comarca...
The ancestral mansion of the Marquéses of Lumbría, the palace as it was called in the gloomy city of Lorenza, appeared as a chest of silent memories of the mysterious. In spite of its being in fact occupied, the windows and balconies which gave out onto the world were almost always closed. The façade, where the great coat of arms of the Lumbrían lineage stood forth, looked south*, onto the great square of the Cathedral, whose ponderous construction it faced, but as the sun was shining all day long, and in Lorenza there are hardly any cloudy days, all of its openings remained closed. And this was because the excellent Señor Marqués of Lumbría, don Rodrigo Suáres de Tejada, abhorred the light of the sun and fresh air. "The dust of the street and the light of the sun -- he used to say -- do no more than dull the furniture's shine and spoil the rooms; not to mention the flies..." The Marqués was deathly afraid of flies, which might have come from a ragged, miserable beggar. The Marqués trembled at the thought of catching plebian diseases. And they were so filthy, the Lorenzans and the countryfolk...

...But it looks like no; several of his stories and books have been filmed but not this.

*How great a dialect for "south" is "noon"? A lovely one.

posted evening of September 25th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Double Standard?

-- Y para guardar un secreto que lo era a voces, para ocultar un enigma que no lo era para nadie, para cubrir unas apariencias falsas ¿hemos vivido así, Tristán? ¡Miseria y nada más! Abrid esos balcones, que entre la luz, toda la luz y el polvo de la calle y las moscas, mañana mismo se quitará el escudo.

-- And so to guard a secret which was no secret, to shroud a mystery which was clear to everyone, to conceal our false appearances we have lived like this, Tristán? -- Misery, nothing more! Open these balonies, let the light in, all the light and the dust of the street and the flies, and tomorrow we will take down the coat of arms.

I was so wrapped up in the story of The Marqués of Lumbría yesterday evening, I was actively cheering Carolina on as she said this -- then I took a step back from the story and asked myself, am I judging Unamuno differently because he is "foreign"? If a present-day Pierre Menard were writing these lines I might think the plot was corny and over-determined. A couple of things that ran through my head --
  • Unamuno is "foreign" -- he is of Spain, he is of the 19th Century, he is of Catholicism. I am exoticising the story by attributing these things to it, which are all outside my experience. This seems like a not-great way of reading, like something that would prevent me from really understanding the story. ...There may be some truth to this but I would be leery of giving it too much weight.
  • I am a less sophisticated reader in Spanish than in English. The barrier separating me from the text, the time it takes to figure out what is being said, is making my reaction to the story more immediate, and delaying my critical/analyical reaction... I'm not sure that this is a coherent idea -- it is sort of tantalizing, to think that I can get into a younger, more naïve head by reading foreign language.

But in the end I think what is making the plotting of this story work, where I might find the same plot elements cornball in another context, is Unamuno's imagery, his descriptive voice. The reading of the story has felt up until this point like looking at dark paintings, there was a sense of claustrophobia imagining the characters as figures on dimly-lit canvasses -- so much so that when Carolina speaks out and orders the windows and balconies uncovered, I get the sense of her figure tearing itself away from the canvas -- this is an interesting image regardless of how much verisimilitude I'm prepared to accord the plot elements.

posted morning of September 27th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, October 4th, 2009

More Spanish stories

I've been poking around in Cuentos Españoles this weekend -- I got another similar book yesterday, Cuentos en Español (Penguin, 1999)* and the story that really caught my attention was La indiferencia de Eva, by Soledad Puértolas. The pace and rhythm of the story are almost perfect and I'm finding it easy to identify with her characters, to place myself in her scenes. I would like recommendations for further reading of her work, if any of you have read it -- she has several novels and collections of short stories, though I am finding nothing in translation.**

* and apparently Penguin also published bilingual collections of Spanish stories in 1966 and 1972 -- I'm surprised at how much of this I am finding!

** This is wrong -- the novel Bordeaux has been translated; and at least Google Books thinks that one of her stories appears in the collection After Henry James, though I haven't been able to find any reference to this collection elsewhere.

posted evening of October 4th, 2009: 2 responses
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Frivolity

He notado que esas personas hablan con la mayor liviandad, sin tener en cuenta que hablar es también ser.

I've noticed that these people [European colonists] speak with the greatest frivolity, without taking into account that to speak is also to be.

This line (from Walimai by Isabel Allende) is resonating, sticking in my mind as something deserving of further consideration. Not sure yet what to make of it...

posted evening of October 4th, 2009: Respond

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

In the penal colony

What a way to be introduced to a character! From Juan Goytisolo's La guardia:

Recuerdo muy bien la primera vez que lo vi. Estaba sentado en medio del patio, el torso desnudo y las palmas apoyadad en el suelo y reía silenciosamente. Al principio, creí que bostezaba o sufría un tic o del mal de San Vito pero, al llevarme la mano a la frente y remusgar la vista, descubrí que tenía los ojos cerrados y reía con embeleso. ...

El muchacho se había sentado encima de un hormiguero: las hormigas le subían por el pecho; las costillas, los brazos, la espalda; algunas se aventuraban entre las vedijas del pelo, paseaban por su cara, se metían en sus orejas. Su cuerpo bullía de puntos negros y permanecía silencioso, con los párpados bajos.

I remember well the first time I saw him. He was sitting in the middle of the courtyard, his torso naked and his palms resting on the ground, laughing silently. At first, I thought he was yawning or he suffered from a tic or from St. Vitus' Dance; when I raised my hand to my forehead and cleared my view, I found he had his eyes closed and was laughing, in a trance. ...

The kid had sat himself down on top of an anthill: ants were crawling across his chest; his ribs, his arms, his back, some were venturing among his tangled hair, passing over his face, entering into his ears. His body swarmed with dots of black and he remained silent, his eyelids down.

Wow. This is a real trip to visualize -- I've been looking forward to reading this story of Goytisolo's, which is the last one in the book of Spanish-language stories I've ben reading for the past few weeks, especially since Badger recommended him to me as a major influence on Pamuk... I'm not understanding this story well enough yet to talk about it in the context of literary influence or parallels... but man! What a stunning image.

Update: added a little context from the first paragraph.

posted afternoon of October 10th, 2009: 1 response
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Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Dos cuentos argentinos

At 3% today, I read about the forthcoming Op Oloop, which will be the first of Juan Filloy's 27 novels to appear in English. Nice! It was also the first I had heard of Filloy, who appears to have had a long and important career. In honor of the occasion, I will try my hand at translating his short story "La vaca y el auto."

The cow and the car

by Juan Filloy
The rain has firmed up the unpaved road's surface. The recently rinsed atmosphere is fresh and clean. The sun's glory shines down at the end of March.

A car comes along at a high velocity. Beneath the pampa's skies -- diaphanous tourmaline cavern -- the swift car is a rampaging wildcat.

The moist fields give off a masculine odor, exciting to the lovely young woman who's driving. And accelerating, accelerating, until the current of air pierces her, sensuous. But...

All of a sudden, a cow. A cow, stock-still in the middle of the roadway. Screeching of brakes, shouting. The horn's stridency shatters the air. But the cow does not move. Hardly even a glance, watery and oblique, she chews her cud. And then, she bursts out:

-- But señorita!... Why all this noise? Why do you make such a hurry, when I'm not interested in your haste? My life has an idyllic rhythm, incorruptible. I am an old matron who never gives way to frivolity. Please: don't make that racket! Your clangor is scaring the countryside. You do not understand why; you don't even see it. The countryside flies past, by your side; your velocity turns it into a rough, variegated visual pulp. But I live in it. It is where I hone my senses, they are not blunt like yours... Where did you find this morbid thirst which absorbs distance? Why do you dose yourself with vertigo? You subjugate life with urgency, instead of appreciating its intensity. Come on! lay off the horn. Time and space will not let themselves be ruled by muscles of steel and brass. Speed is an illusion: it brings you sooner to the realization of your own impotence. The signifier of all culture is the intrinsic slowness of the unconscious, which unconsciously chooses its destiny. But you already know yours, girl: to crash into matter before you crash into materialism. So, good. Don't get mad! I'm moving. Let your nerves once again become one with the ignition. Reanimate, with explosions of gas, your motor and your brain. The roadway is clear. Adiós! Take care of yourself...

The car tears away, muttering insults in malevolence and naphtha.

Parsimonious, chewing and chewing, the cow casts a long, watery gaze. And then a lengthy, ironic moo, which accompanies the car towards the curve of the horizon...

And while I'm doing this: I get a lot of misdirected Google hits by people looking for "a translation of El dios de las moscas" or similar phrases -- I had never heard of this story until people started coming to my site looking for it; but I like it. (But do your own homework, people!) It is by Marco Denevi. Dare I say, a little bit in the manner of Borges.

The god of the flies

by Marco Denevi
The flies imagined their god. It was another fly. The god of the flies was a fly, sometimes green, sometimes black and golden, sometimes pink, sometimes white, sometimes purple, an unrealistic fly, a beautiful fly, a monstrous fly, a fearsome fly, a benevolent fly, a vengeful fly, a righteous fly, a young fly, an aged fly, but always a fly. Some of them augmented his size until he was enormous, like an ox, others pictured him so tiny he could not be seen. In some religions he had no wings («He flies, he sustains himself, but he has no need of wings»), in others he had an infinite number of wings. Here his antennæ were arranged like horns, there his eyes consumed all of his head. For some he buzzed constantly, for others he was mute, but it meant the same thing. And for everyone, when flies died, they would pass in rapid flight into paradise. Paradise was a piece of carrion, stinking, rotted, which the souls of dead flies would devour for all eternity and which was never consumed; for this celestial offal would continually be replenished and grow beneath the swarm of flies. --of the good ones. For also there were evil flies; for them there was a hell. The hell of the condemned flies was a place without shit, without waste, without garbage, without stink, with nothing at all, a place clean and sparkling and to top it off, illuminated by a dazzling light; that is to say, an abhorrent place.

posted evening of February 7th, 2010: 1 response
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