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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

— William Blake

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Thursday, June 17th, 2010

🦋 Réquiem

I've gotten a little bogged down in the translation process for Réquiem -- I thought I would try writing out some summary data as a way of helping myself get a handle on the story:

Slavko (to be precise, his narrator Felipe; having no information to the contrary I am identifying the author pretty closely with the narrator) discovers on June 14, 1986 (he is 16 years old, like I was that year) a strange power: by stealing a book from the shop of his family's friend Fernández and reading the book, he can cause the book's author to perish. The first to go is Borges (as you can see from the date) -- you have to be able to forgive this as an accident, after all he could not have known beforehand what his theft would entail -- and a few days later a local author, a young dentist whose name is never given named Benjamín Castro; Felipe stole his book of poetry seeking to confirm whether Borges' death had been his fault. Then in awe of his power, he does not exercise it for several years. But one thing leads to another...

Slavko kills Bioy Casares, by stealing a copy of Morel's Invention on March 8th, 1999. This precipitates the end of his relationship with Susana M (who he believes was already interested in the faculty dean anyways).

The next to go is José Ángel Valente, on July 18th, 2000, after Felipe steals a collection of his poetry. Here we see Felipe going off the deep end -- he embarks on a career of murdering authors just before he publishes an essay about the author -- Juan José Arreola dies on December 3, 2001; Arturo Úslar Pietri (February 26, 2001), Camilo José Cela (January 17, 2002), "and the majority of the authors whom we've seen disappear in the last few years" (not clear on the precise date of the story -- it was published in Piedepágina in 2008 but may well have been written, and set, a few years before that) -- people begin to notice the sequence of coincidences, the head of his department eventually calls him out. The ending is a nice twist that I don't want to give away...

This story interests me a bit by the way it draws on and amplifies the theme of the recent Latin American issue of Zoetrope (which is where I found out about Zupcic), the passing of an older generation of Latin American authors and the coming into their own of new authors with new voices and styles.

posted afternoon of June 17th, 2010: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Slavko Zupcic

Sunday, May third, 2009

🦋 Reading as therapy

Apologies for a not-fully-coherent post, I'm just trying to get a bunch of stuff that's on my mind out here and not editing much.

¿Por qué no me importa parecer un irresponsable cuando tu saliva permanece aún fresca sobre mis labios? ¿Por qué detengo a los desconocidos en la calle y les hablo de ti? ¿Por qué se me caen las cosas de las manos cuando creo que te acercas?

The story I posted about below, "Asemblea los martes" by Slavko Zupcic, is just lovely to read aloud and listen, without the stream of language being fully comprehensible at reading-aloud speed. This is like the experiences I was having with recordings of spoken Spanish earlier this year -- or like reading e.g. Faulkner or Pynchon can be, where I slip in and out of understanding language as sentences containing meaning, and hearing language as melodic, rhythmic bits of sound.* So all this is keeping in mind Dave Barber's post from Thursday, "What We Lose in Growing Up" -- the way that post resonates for me is with my constant need to craft a narrative that justifies what I'm doing, that points out how I am productively enabling my development into a better person. I was thinking, the moment of joy in the reading aloud, the unreflective perceiving language as sound, is a moment where this narrative is absent; what I'm doing now is constructing the narrative around that moment, where what I'd really like to be able to do is to communicate the moment of rapture. Not quite sure where to go from that...

Porque sí. Porque ya hemos enviado las tarjetas. Porque las invitaciones quedaron bellísimas. Porque les pusimos los cruasanes míos y las tamaras de Ernesto. Porque las hicimos con cartulina rosada. Porque les dibujamos corazones por todas partes. ...

posted afternoon of May third, 2009: Respond
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🦋 El Papa vendrá, nos conseguirá relaciones

Relaciones, visitas y olanzapina para todas, por favor.
The highlight of this issue of Zoetrope: All-Story is certainly the last story, "Tuesday Meetings" by Slavko Zupcic. It's the story of Benedict's drive-by benediction of a mental institution, as told by the inmates of the institution; specifically by schizophrenic René, who publishes the Haloperidol Eye with minutes of their Tuesday meetings with Ismael, the resident psychiatrist. The story is complex, dense, subtle, and hilariously funny; I'm not going to write about it right now because I'm still a fair ways away from understanding the Spanish text, but hopefully will return to it later on. This story by itself is worth the price of the issue; I'm definitely thinking about seeking out some of Zupcic's other work. I see he has written a book billed as a "children's novel", Giuliana Labolita: el caso de Pepe Toledo -- who knows? that might be right at my reading level. This story does not seem to be available online (no, this is wrong: the story is readable in English only at Zoetrope's site); another story of his, "Réquiem" can be read at piedepá

posted afternoon of May third, 2009: Respond

Saturday, May second, 2009

🦋 Hypothetically

The stories in this issue of Zoetrope: All-Story are getting better and more absorbing as I work my way through the magazine -- probably a product of my growing focus and attention. I just finished reading (for the third time, I think I've got it now) Antonio Ungar's "Hypothetically" (online here) -- it reminded me a bit of Waiting for Godot except with only a single tramp. It's a brief (5-page) fable about wanting to change one's circumstances, but in the end just going on. It takes place in three scenes: the narrator's friend Pierre witnesses a brutal argument ending in murder in the house next door; he fantasizes about leaving London and his job and changing his life; then a month later he is with his friends, celebrating a new 2-year contract from his employer, talking about moving in with his girlfriend and applying for British citizenship. In the last sentences he turns to the narrator "como preguntando algo"; his friend can only "inclinar un poco la cabeza y felicitarlo, con la copa arriba, ensayando la mejor de mis sonrisas."

This fable runs the risk of being over-determined -- a similar story has been written often enough that if Ungar dwelled too much on the framework of the fable, it would be boring and trite. But I get the impression he knows this -- most of the story is the first scene, quickly setting up Pierre's life and thoughts and then describing the argument and the crime with a keen realism which contrasts nicely with Pierre's detachment. The second and third scenes are quite brief and work really well this way -- Ungar does not spend time driving his point home, and because he passes it so lightly along, its impact is much greater.

posted morning of May second, 2009: Respond

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

🦋 Island Food

I've been enjoying the stories in Zoetrope: All-Story's Latin American fiction issue. Reading them very slowly, moving back and forth between the Spanish and the translation; this is definitely helping get them anchored in my thoughts...

Ronaldo Menéndez' story "Insular Menu", about Cubans trying to get by during a period of rationed food, makes me hungry! The story is funny and colorful, the narrator's neighbors raising pigs and crocodiles in their apartments, the zoo director fattening and slaughtering the ostrich, the neighborhood kids fishing from the rooftop for cats; it closes with a dazzling description of the Cuban cuisine that the narrator is missing. The entire long paragraph is well worth your while, I'm just going to quote a bit of it:

I saw the populous sea that surrounds the islands, and in the sea saw nets and in the nets saw multitudes of shrimp and prawns, saw them populating long familial tables below smiling faces, saw dishes of avocados in slivers and slivers, making a green zebra out of the ceramic, saw oxtail gleaming under chili cream sauce, saw squid and octopi drowning in their ink, saw plantains, mameys, star apples, sapotes, sweetsop, chirimoyas, mangos, saw extra-large lobsters letting their fragrance touch all noses equally...
This is a passage where rhythm is really key. Take a look at the original:
Vi el populoso mar que rodea la isla, y del mar vi redes y de las redes vi muchedumbres de camarones y langostinos, los vi poblando largas mesas familiares bajo rostros risueños, vi fuentes de aguacates en lascas y lascas y lascas, haciendo de la cerámica una cebra verde, vi rabo de toro encendido bajo crema de ají, vi pulpos y calamares ahogados en su tinta, vi plátanos, mameyes, caimitos, zapotes, anones, chirimoyas y mangos, vi langostas de talla extra larga dejando que su olor tocara por igual todas las narices,...
...What to say? I like the English passage, and there does not seem to be any mistranslation (though "in slivers and slivers" is not great), but it does not hold a candle to the Spanish.

Update: Jim Tucker posts his own attempt at an English translation in comments, and does it very well indeed.

posted morning of April 26th, 2009: 4 responses

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

🦋 After García Márquez

I find very interesting the idea (which I found at La Bloga's interview with Daniel Alarcón, on the occasion of Zoetrope: All-Story's publishing its new Latin American Issue) that Latin American literature has fallen captive (at least as it is seen from North America) to the legacy of García Márquez -- that diverse strands of work are "interpreted through the single, constricting and somewhat outdated lens of magical realism." This issue looks like it will do something to push back against that tendency; I'm looking forward to reading it and perhaps to looking at Diego Trelles Paz' anthology of new authors (authors under 40, those born after Cien años de soledad), El futuro no es nuestro.

Alarcón and Trelles Paz have more to say about the legacy of Cien años de soledad (which "we would describe -- without exaggeration -- as perfect") in the editor's note to the Latin American issue.

posted evening of March 25th, 2009: 4 responses
➳ More posts about Cien años de soledad

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