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.



  1. These are all very good snippets of writing. It is their loss that so many Internet babblers haven't found or benefited from your translations.

  2. I myself sometimes rather enjoy the Internet babblers, if they're witty at least. If they're humorless, I abhor them.

    I happen to be in Weybridge for the moment, and will be for most of the rest of the month. Don't be surprised if I come pedaling my bike by that big yellow house. . . .