Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Léautaud, Pla, Ribeyro

Paul Léautaud's monumental diary is endlessly fascinating (it seems that only some of the earliest volumes have been published in English translation, and anyone seeking to publish translations of the rest of them would have to secure the rights from the French society for the protection of animals, to which the never-married and childless Léautaud left the rights to his work), and references to it sometimes turn up in somewhat surprising spots. In the Spanish translation of Josep Pla's diary, El cuaderno gris, for instance, one comes across an undated note consisting almost entirely of an entry taken from Léautaud. It is introduced by Pla with the simple words "an opinion":
Paul Léautaud
Verses are clearly a childish thing. People who write things in rhythmic patterns, to particular beats, each line ending in similar sounds, that singsong of a child's reciting--at bottom, it's ridiculous. I've thought for a long time that if I had a son and he had a literary bent or even an inclination for the life of the mind I'd keep all the poets from him, even though I don't like being a guide in that field. Those people cause you to waste a lot of time when it comes to the development of the mind. I wasted at least fifteen years letting myself be lulled by their nonsense. And the novel? How can a man, at fifty, still write novels? How can a person even read them? Poetry and novel--they are certainly the lower forms of literature.

Léautaud also makes several appearances in Julio Ramón Ribeyro's La tentación del fracaso, yet another excellent diary not available in English (it is published in Spanish through 1978; the diaries from later years, still only in manuscript, are being held in a bank vault in Paris). Ribeyro, perhaps not surprisingly, refers to Léautaud's "atrocious" death, which he approached with complete lucidity and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. Foutez-moi la paix, he supposedly said on his deathbed. Leave me the fuck alone.

Stendhal, Wedekind, and Others

One keeps forgetting to plug one's more recent translations (the purpose of this blog, after all). They are available as ebooks on most of the usual online bookselling sites. Authors translated include Stendhal, Marià Vayreda, Leopoldo Alas, Federico De Roberto, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Heinrich Mann, and Frank Wedekind.

The Catalan Vayreda seems never to have been translated into English before; on looking up Wedekind to see what English translations of his work had been published, one is somewhat surprised to find oneself in what one might not have been inclined to consider good company. Oh well.

Soon to be published are English translations of Marivaux's play Les Fausses Confidences and of Nerval's Les Confidences de Nicolas (on the eighteenth-century libertine and printer Rétif de la Bretonne, whose books the 1911 Britannica encyclopedia describes, not altogether inaccurately, as "unfit for general perusal.")

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Three Easy Pieces

Three prose pieces from Julio Ramón Ribeyro's Prosas apátridas:

At uncommon moments my gaze acquires an intolerable sharpness and my mind a power of penetration that frightens me. Everything becomes a sign, an omen. Things stop being what they seem to be to become what they probably are. The friend I'm talking to is a clothed animal whose words I barely understand; the Monteverdi song I'm listening to, the sum of all melodies invented up to now; the glass I have in my hand, an object offered me, over the centuries, by Stone-Age man; the car crossing the square, the dream of a Sumerian warrior; and even my poor cat, the messenger of knowledge, temptation, and catastrophe. Everything loses its innocence to become what it hides, germinates, or means. These moments, unbearable, all you want to do is close your eyes, cover your ears, abolish thought, and fall into shoreless sleep.


The surprise--indeed, the terror--I felt as I saw the agency employee, with his withered arm, that one arm shorter than the other, topped off with a hand not a hand but a kind of stump with fingernails, threaten the waiter at the bar. I realized just then that the extremity I considered his weakness, and which I pitied him for, was his customary tool of aggression.


Facing forward or facing backward in a moving train: the amount of country you see is the same, but the impression you get from it is so much different. Those who travel facing the right direction feel as if the country were being thrown forward toward them or, rather, as if they were getting thrown forward toward the country; those traveling facing backward feel as if the country is fleeing them, becoming lost to sight. In the first instance, the traveler knows he's approaching a place, whose proximity he senses with each new fragment of space that appears before him. In the second, he knows only that he is moving away from something. Likewise, in life, some people seem to travel facing backward: they don't know where they are going, what's awaiting them, everything evades them, the world that others take in with a forward-looking act of perception is, for the former, nothing more than flight, residue, loss, defecation.