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One never stops reading, though books come to an end, just as one never stops living, even though death is a certainty.

Roberto Bolaño

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Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Reading material

We're back from vacation! Pictures soon. I have a whole lot of new reading material on hand...

While we were in Modesto I visited my childhood hangout Yesterday's Books (it seemed so much smaller...) and got a cheap copy of Paradise Lost, which Mark (on Good Friday!) convinced me I ought to read. It certainly is easy to read -- not sure how much I am getting out of it, but it rolls in through my eyes quite easily.

In San Francisco we visited Ellen's old friend Maryam, who gave us copies of her new book Returning to Iran -- a look at events there from an expatriate's eye. Reading the first few pieces I am interested and looking forward to the rest.

Also in SF, I visited Libros Latinos on Mission and 17th, and picked up a bunch of books. They are a used book store specializing in Spanish and Portuguese lit with (seemingly) an academic target market. Definitely worth dropping in if you are in the area, a beautiful selection. I got:

  • Prólogos con un prólogo de prólogos by Borges -- forewords that he has written for a wide variety of books, published in 1974. Cervantes, Whitman, Swedenborg, Martín Fierro, Ray Bradbury(!), his own translation of Kafka...
  • Martín Fierro -- no idea if I will ever actually get to the point of understanding this, it seemed like a nice book to have on hand while I'm trying to understand Borges.
  • Putas asesinos by Bolaño
  • The black sheep and other fables by Augusto Monterroso (who will be the first author Bolaño has hipped me to) -- these are pleasant little fables about (mainly) animals. The blurbs on the back, from García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Isaac Asimov(!), might be the most compelling pull-quotes I've ever seen.
  • I did not buy, because of the price, Borges Laberintos Dručmelić, which is "The Immortal" and "The Circular Ruins" illustrated with stunning color plates of the paintings of Zdravko Dručmelić -- if you're looking to buy me a present, look no further.
  • The steep markdown which Libros Latinos offers on cash transactions meant I still had enough money in my pocket to stop at Nueva Librería México down the street and get a copy of Don Quixote.

...Arrived home lugging a big bag of books (Ellen and Sylvia also did some book shopping on the trip), and found on my doorstep a book I had ordered a while back from a used-book seller, Raul Galvez' From the Ashen Land of the Virgin: conversations with Bioy Casares, Borges, Denevi, Etchecopar, Ocampo, Orozco, Sabato. My shelves are full!

posted evening of April 10th, 2010: 2 responses
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Friday, April 16th, 2010

Gui Rosey

In "Last Evenings on Earth," there's some ambiguity about the nature of the book B is reading. It's identified as a book of French Surrealist poetry with pictures and brief bios of the authors; but the long paragraph about Gui Rosey's disappearance reads like a summary of the book, and the book being summarized sounds more like Savage Detectives than like a brief biographical sketch. Perhaps what is being summarized is what's going on in B's imagination as he reads...

posted evening of April 16th, 2010: Respond
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Saturday, April 17th, 2010


The high frequency in "Last Evenings on Earth" of the word clavadista (diver) makes me think about Bolaño's poem Resurrection: "Poetry slips into the dream/ like a dead diver/ into the eye of God." The word translated as "diver" here is buzo; I wonder what the distinction is. Is clavadista specifically a "cliff diver"? Is buzo a deep-sea diver?

Update: Yes, I think (based on Google image results) that it's a distinction between clavadista="an athlete who jumps gracefully into the water" and buzo="an explorer who wears a scuba suit and pokes around underwater" -- the fact that both of these are "diver" in English is coincidental, it's not part of the source material. Actually this makes the imagery in "Resurrection" a lot easier to understand.

posted afternoon of April 17th, 2010: Respond
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Last Evenings on Earth

On re-reading, I find the last third of "Last Evenings on Earth" confusing. It seems like there is supposed to be some confusion, like that's the point of it -- the title suggests (and B seems to be worried) that B and his father die in Acapulco; but I'm pretty sure (though the ending is totally open) that's not what is going to happen, rather it's some element of their relationship that is dying.

Bolaño sets this up at the beginning of the final section of the story when he says,

There are things you can say and things that can't be said, B thinks, depressed. From this moment on, he knows that he is approaching the disaster. ...

And here ends the parenthesis, here end the forty-eight hours of grace, when B and his father have visited the bars of Acapulco, have slept on the beach, worn out, have eaten and even laughed; here begins an icy period, a period seemingly normal but dominated by some frozen gods (gods who otherwise never interfere with the heat which reigns in Acapulco), a few hours which in another time, perhaps when he was a teenager, B would have called boredom, but nowadays he would never use that term; more likely disaster, a peculiar sort of disaster, a disaster which on top of everything else will distance B from his father -- the price they have to pay to live.

-- there's a lot strange about this paragraph -- why is this "the price they have to pay to live"? -- but I'm primarily interested in the notion that B is being further distanced from his father here. The theme of the whole trip seems to have been B distancing himself from his father; at the end they seem if anything a little closer than over the course of the trip. Look at the penultimate paragraph of the story:
B thinks of Gui Rosey, who disappeared from the planet without leaving a trace, docile as a lamb while the Nazi's hymns rose up to a blood-red sky, and sees himself as Gui Rosey, a Gui Rosey buried in some vacant lot in Acapulco, disappeared forever, but then he hears his father, who is making some accusation to the ex-clavadista, and he realizes that unlike Gui Rosey, he is not alone.

This has the feeling of an important moment for B, the moment where he grows closer to his father (and given the barroom-brawl setting, it must be said there is a lot of potential for this to be corny) -- but the moment has been set up as one of further alienation. So I come away from the story not sure what to make of it -- B's defining characteristic is his passivity, his father's might be his boorishness or it might be his cool-headedness "when it counts." I feel for B and hope he has a better time on his next vacation...

posted evening of April 17th, 2010: Respond
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Friday, April 23rd, 2010


Bolaño spends a lot of his time in these stories talking about other authors. A long, climactic scene in "Days of 1978" is spent explicating the plot of Andrei Rublev; a central point of interest in "Wandering in France and Belgium" is the cryptic writing of Henri Lefebvre (whom I hadn't heard of before reading this story but who appears oddly not to be the same as the Henri Lefebvre whom I can find via Google -- his dates of birth and death and his life story and (afaict) work are all distinct. Seems very strange to reference a name, a name "B does not know from anywhere" and which gets B interested in deciphering his scribblings, and then have it be a different person from the historical owner of that name...

(Lefebvre is supposed to have contributed a piece to an issue of Luna Park which also contains writing by Sophie Podolsky, Brion Gysin, Roland Barthes, Roberto Altmann.):

The second day, after finishing a novel in which the murderer lived in a retirement home (although this retirement home seemed more like Carroll's looking glass), he makes the rounds of the anticuarian bookstores; he finds one on the rue de Vieux Colmbier and here he finds an old issue of Luna Park, number 2, a monograph devoted to graphics and typography, with texts and pictures (and after all, text is a picture and the reverse as well) by Roberto Altmann, Frédéric Baal, Roland Barthes, Jacques Colonne, Carlfriedrich Claus, Mirtha Dermisache, Christian Dotremont, Pierre Guyotat, Brion Gysin, Henri Lefebvre and Sophie Podolsky.
And then a page is given over to describing B's acquaintance with the work of each of these authors except Lefebvre... It seems very unlike what I am used to. Not complaining, not at all.

Further... The issue Bolaño is referencing is the actual Luna Park #2, which features actual logograms by an actual Lefebvre. If the biographical information Bolaño gives is accurate (and it's hard for me to see how it wouldn't be), this is just a different person with the same name as the Lefebvre profiled in the Wikipædia article linked above.

posted evening of April 23rd, 2010: Respond
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Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Wandering in France and Belgium

(I see other translators have rendered it "Roaming" or "Vagabond" in F and B, these may be closer to an accurate translation -- I'm leaving it "Wandering" thinking that reflects the directionless feeling I get from reading the story and trying to inhabit B's character.) In this paragraph B is thinking about how he knows the authors listed on the magazine's cover. Notice something interesting with tense, which is that the story having been told up to here in the present, here Bolaño wants to loosen the focus a little so he shifts into a mix of past tenses and actually goes so far as to alert the reader that's what's going on.

La Revista, que aparece o aparecía tres veces al año por iniciativa de Marc Dachy, está editada en Bruselas, por TRANSéDITION, y tiene o tenía su domicilio social en la rue Henry van Zuylen, número 59. Roberto Altmann, en una época, fue un artisto famoso. ¿Quién recuerda ahora a Roberto Altmann? piensa B. Lo mismo con Carlfriedrich Claus. Pierre Guyotat fue un novelista notable. Pero notable no es sinonimo de memorable. De hecho a B le hubiera gustado ser como Guyotat, en otro tiempo, cuando B era joven y leía las obras de Guyotat. Ese Guyotat calvo y poderoso. Ese Guyotat dispuesto a comerse cualquiera en la oscuridad de un chambre de bonne. A Mirtha Dermisache no la recuerda, pero su nombre le suena de algo, posiblemente una mujer hermosa, una mujer elegante con casi total seguridad. Sophie Podolsky fue una poeta a la que él y su amigo L apreciaron (e incluso se podria decir que amaron) ya desde México, cuando B y L vivían en México y tenían apenas algo más de veinte años. Roland Barthes, bueno, todo el mundo sabe quién es Roland Barthes. De Dotremont tiene noticias vagas, tal vez leyó algunos poemas suyos en alguna antología perdida. Brion Gysin fue el amigo de Burroughs, el que le dio la idea de los cut-up. Y finalmente Henri Lefebvre. B no conoce a Lefebvre de nada. Es el único al que no conoce de nada y su nombre, en aquella librería de viejo, se ilumina de pronto como una cerilla en un cuarto oscuro. Al menos, de esa forma B lo siente. A él le gustaría que se hubiera iluminado como una tea. Y no en un cuarto oscuro sino en una caverna, pero lo cierto es que Lefebvre, el nombre de Lefebvre, resplandece brevemente de aquella manera y no de otra. The magazine, which appears (or was appearing) three times a year under the initiative of Marc Dachy, is published in Brussels, by TRANSéDITION; it has (had) its home office on rue Henry van Zuylen, number 59. Roberto Altmann, at one time he was a famous artist. Who remembers Roberto Altmann nowadays? thinks B. The same with Carlfriedrich Claus. Pierre Guyotat was a noteworthy novelist. But noteworthy is not synonymous with memorable. In fact B would have liked to be like Guyotat, in another age, when B was young and was reading Guyotat's works. This bald, powerful Guyotat. This Guyotat who was fixing something for dinner, in the darkness of a chambre de bonne. He can't place Mirtha Dermisache, but her name reminds him of something, maybe of a beautiful woman, almost certainly an elegant woman. Sophie Podolsky was a poet whom he and his friend L had appreciated, you could even say adored, way back in Mexico, when B and L were living in Mexico and were hardly over twenty years old. Roland Barthes, well good, everyone knows who Roland Barthes is. Of Dotremont he has heard vague reports; perhaps he has read some of his poems in some lost anthology. Brion Gysin was that friend of Burroughs, the one who gave him the idea of cut-ups. And then at last Henri Lefebvre. B hasn't seen Lefebvre at all. That's the only one whose name he has never seen at all; in that anticuarian bookstore, the light comes on right away, like a match struck in a dark room. Or at least, that's about how B feels. He would like if it would light his way like a torch. And not in a dark room but in a cavern -- what's for sure is that Lefebvre, the name Lefebvre, shines briefly in just that manner, not in any other.
I am not satisfied with certain bits of this translation, most notably the sentence about Guyotat fixing something for dinner, and the last couple of clauses of the last sentence. And whether B and L are adoring Podolsky's work or the poet herself. If you notice anything that sounds off or see a way to improve the way it sounds, please mention it in comments.

One thought running through my head as I go over this passage, is how Bolaño can write using bits of his experience, and I don't necessarily need to label the writing a form of memoir -- I have a habit of thinking of The Savage Detectives as if it were, or were in parts, a work of autobiography -- the bit about Sophie Podolsky references a bit of Bolaño's experience, and also a bit of Belano's experience, and I don't really see any need to untangle which is which.

posted evening of April 24th, 2010: Respond
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Who remembers Roberto Altmann nowadays?

(and after all, text is a picture and the reverse as well)*
Certainly not me -- this story is the first time I had ever heard of him (after a brief bit of confusion where I thought Bolaño was talking about Robert Altman) -- I'm grateful to Bolaño for mentioning him, and getting me to look up some lovely images. Altmann's work (or the bit of it that I'm looking at right now) is strongly reminiscent of the Codex Seraphinianus (in a way that much other logogram art is not, I think the addition of comix to the mix really makes it into something very different) -- and of course in the same vein, of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.Domingos Isabelinho of The Crib Sheet provides scans of Altmann's story Zr + 4HCl → ZrCl4 + 2H2/ U + 3F2 → UF6 (and see also his previous post for more context) -- just beautiful, tantalizing stuff. I feel drawn to imagine a storyline for these beautiful, impossible creatures and their heiroglyphic tongue and their alphabetic decorations.

* (Note: I'm pretty sure the translation I quote at the top of this post is not quite right, that Bolaño is just saying in the case of this magazine, text is the picture and vice versa, not making a more general statement -- but I've sort of fallen in love with this formulation.)

posted evening of April 24th, 2010: 2 responses
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Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Continuity problem?

Something that is driving me a little batty about "The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura" (in Putas asesinas) is trying to work out the chronology of Connie's pregnancy. She was impregnated by the Preacher, who then left, and later she was a hooker in New York and met Bittrich and came back to Medellín and started acting in porn movies; but some of the movies are made while she is pregnant, and there's no indication that she has a child when she's in NYC. The only way that would work is if she lived with the Preacher and got pregnant after she had come back from New York and started working for Bittrich; but I thought the narrator said that was not the case. -- No that's wrong, he says "Abandoned by my imbecile father, here's Connie, with Doris and Mónica Farr" -- but that doesn't include anything about the abandonment (or the liaison) preceding the acting career.

A couple of translation things -- I think this uncredited (uncredited? I cannot find the translator's name on it) English translation in the New Yorker does the story some violence by breaking it up into paragraphs and sections. The original story is all one paragraph and it's characterized by a really driving, insistent force of pulling the reader along -- really difficult to put down. I'm trying to do a translation all in one paragraph, don't yet know if I'll be able to communicate that effect in English. Is this a typo? When Connie and Mónica get together with Bittrich,

echaron a rodar los dados por la Séptima Avenida, el artista prusianao y los las putas latinoamericanas. Ya no había nada que hacer. Cuando sueño, en algunas pesadillas, vuelvo a verme reposando en el limbo y entonces oigo, al principio lejano, el golpe de los dados en el pavimento.
-- I can only make sense of that if both instances of "dado" are actually "dedo".*

* No, not a typo: As Rick points out in comments, "rodar los dados" and "golpe de los dados" both refer to the act of rolling dice.

posted evening of May 8th, 2010: 8 responses
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Sunday, May 9th, 2010

The mechanics of translation and blogging

So I'm wondering something about legality or (I guess) just about what's ethical behavior. When I finish my translation of "The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura" (which is starting to look like more real of a possibility, and maybe will have a rough draft in place sometime this week?) I think I might like to post it in some form at readin -- it is too long for a blog post but maybe a linked page. I'd like to get people interested in reading this story and potentially talking about the sound of the narrator's voice and the crisp solidity of the characterizations. But I don't know how within my rights it is to do that with Bolaño's text, how far have I made it my own text in the process of translating it? (Should probably take a look at Edith Grossman's new book for guidance in this regard.) (And yes, clearly I've already posted a lot of long excerpts here, both direct quotations and my translations -- a whole story of this length and of this recent vintage seems somehow different.)

And on a similar note, a question/reflection about my blogging process. It's generally been that I will post the first or second draft of a translation as I finish it, occasionally even as unfinished fragments -- and sort of make minor revisions in place over time, and major revisions when they occur as a new post. I'm not sure how effective this is in engaging dialogue, which is sort of my dream-readin, hasn't really worked out that way so far but hope springs eternal... Possibly if I waited until I had more of a complete, revised work and posted that, more people would be interested in reading and chatting about it. And following on that, maybe a second level revision process would kick in, take this literary translation stuff to the next level. Let me know what you think, I'd appreciate it.

posted morning of May 9th, 2010: 2 responses
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Wednesday, August 4th, 2010


So we all think we don’t want genre, we want to be anti-genre or perhaps hybrid, but since these are genres too, let us think about what it means to really go genreless. To go genreless in our contemporary publishing environment is to make a work without a ‘document map’, without a diagram, without a blueprint. Without a sales category. A work such as this has no overview or topography. It can’t be nicely summarized. It cannot be publicized, because it lacks ‘publicity’. In place of publicity it has secrecy, distortion, obscurity, waste. It is a waste product. Así pensamos todos que no queramos género, queremos ser contra-género, tal vez híbrido. Pero como esas también son géneros, consideramos qué significa él, actualmente sin género. Ser sin género en la industría editorial contemporanea es escribir una obra sin «mapa de documento» o programa, sin diagrama. Sin categoría de venta. Tal texto no tiene ningún descripción topográfica. Y no se puede buen reducir. No se publica porque la «publicidad» lo falta. En lugar de publicidad tiene silencio, deformación, oscuridad, desperdicio. Es basura.
Looking at Christopher Higgs' post today at bright stupid confetti led me along to this essay, "Problems after genre" by Jovelle McSweeney, and somehow hit on the idea of rendering it in Spanish. I wonder if this will improve my ability to speak and compose in Spanish. The first effort sounds a little strained, not such a natural tone. More of the essay below the fold.

posted evening of August 4th, 2010: 1 response
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