Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nineteen Years Without

Peruvian Julio Ramón Ribeyro, one is reminded, died nineteen years ago today. Nineteen years! One stumbled across his superb work very shortly before his death, which one wasn't made aware until years later, on opening a book of essays and, with a shock, seeing the dedication: To Julio Ramón Ribeyro. In memoriam.

In Ribeyro's honor, then, and for the readers (crackpots both, one imagines) of one's infrequently updated blog, text 115 of Prosas apátridas: 

My black cat and I, this rainy summer night. The silent room. Now and then a car slips by on the wet street. The neighborhood is asleep, but my cat and I are still awake, I, at least, reluctant to call it a day without having done anything to justify it, to give it meaning, and to make it different from others just as stinting and empty. Maybe that's why I write pages like this one, to leave tokens, light traces of days that deserve to figure in no one's memory. Time is threaded through every one of the letters I write, my time, the weave of my life, which, like the figure in the carpet, others will decipher.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gaya on Galdós

Spanish painter and writer Ramón Gaya (for an introduction to whom one is indebted to Andrés Trapiello and his excellent diaries, published under the collective title Salón de pasos perdidos) on Galdós:
Gaya, by Juan Ballester

Galdós I imagine taking one turn after another around Madrid, without haste, to be sure, but not after the fashion of the promenader or the flâneur or with the flâneur’s cynicism; rather, with that stray dog’s gait that is wisdom more exactly than it is slowness; after all, what might come across as vagueness of objective in stray dogs is nothing other than wisdom, profound wisdom, the conviction that there are no absolute places to betake oneself to. Galdós, with his overcoat and scarf, looked like a high-class beggar, a beggar who doesn’t beg, who gets everything without begging; and little by little reality gave itself over to him cordially, without violence, without conquest, without study. Flaubert (certainly a great artist, but less chosen) has such a studious attitude before reality that it often flees, flees offended to give itself over to someone else, someone who, rather than observing it as a phenomenon, treats it as a friend, as a brother; treating reality as an equal—that is, without servility or haughtiness and, of course, without objectivity, without the insult of objectivity—is Galdós’s secret. Galdós sees the most surprising, most monstrous, most unlikely events with great naturalness because, instead of striking the coarse pose of the observer of a spectacle, he offers to be a friend to those events—not to get involved, to take sides, since that would be butting in where he’s not wanted—he offers to be a fellow creature of reality’s to keep it from feeling forsaken or observed. It’s not that Galdós mingles with and gets lost in reality; instead, he makes common cause with it without getting involved in it, and once this common cause is made, once they have become brothers, nothing about this reality can surprise him. It’s easy to identify two attitudes in the great novelists, that of the objective scoffer—Stendhal—and that of the generous wreck—Dostoyevsky—but it’s hard to find a compassionate attitude like Galdós’s. Flaubert thought he was la Bovary, but the thing isn’t being the characters on the inside or gazing on them from afar; the thing is cohabiting with them, approaching them without passion or expediency. Now, after several foolish remarks from 1898 about Galdós, it seems that he is beginning to win favor again, but the researchers, historians, and critics—as always—are digging laboriously through the material of his novels and weighing and measuring the prose, the style, the composition, the accuracy, the imagination, and the symbols without understanding that while they are giving themselves over to this shortsighted work, his greatness is escaping them. We will find Galdós’s greatness not in the composition or content of his novels but in the harmonious relationship miraculously created between him and Reality.

Recent Translations

From Catalan: Narcís Oller's "The September Revolution" and "Novena for the Dead"; Robert Robert's "The Back Room"

From German: Heinrich von Kleist's "Anecdote from the Last Prussian War" and "Betrothal in Santo Domingo"; Frank Wedekind's "The Vaccination"

From Portuguese (Brazil): Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis's "Coimbra the Clerk," "The Diplomat," "Sooner the Tarpeian Rock," "The Pale Woman," "Nameless Flower," "Holidays," "A School Story," "Trio in A Minor," and several others, many not previously available in English

Monday, March 25, 2013

Ángel Ganivet, Pío Cid, Suicide

In late November of 1898, the Spanish writer Ángel Ganivet, consul at Riga, twice threw himself into the freezing waters of the Dvina (he was fished out the first time, but, perhaps somewhat ungratefully, he jumped right back in, and this time there was nothing doing). He was not yet thirty-three.
Ganivet, by José Ruiz de Almodóvar

The very year of his suicide, Ganivet had published (self-published, in fact) an extraordinary book, Los trabajos del infatigable creador Pío Cid, whose main character, Pío Cid, is an eccentric clearly modeled after Ganivet himself. Though Pío Cid is never less than intriguing, he is perhaps not always as witty or brilliant or selfless as his tireless creator Ganivet seems to think he is. For that reason, then, when Judith Ginsberg, in her book on Ganivet, examines the possible reasons for his suicide, the following remarks do not seem out of place:
The persistent association of Pío Cid and Jesus Christ strongly suggests a pathologically grandiose self-image which would be in keeping with Utrillo's impressions of Ganivet when the two of them met in Barcelona in the late summer of 1897. Such an omnipotent self-image would be impossible to maintain and the inability, failure, or perceived refusal of the outside world to support such a self-image has long been associated with suicide attempts in neurotically depressed people.

Pío Cid's self-image (and thus Ganivet's) does indeed seem disproportionately grandiose at times. All the same, on reading Ganivet's delightful work, one also wonders if, in his case, the larger world, by refusing to recognize his brilliance, did not penalize itself most of all. It can be of little comfort to him, of course, but 115 years after he drowned himself in the Dvina Ganivet has found at least one reader, from a country different from his own, for whom translating his work is a delight and a consolation and perhaps even an act of revenge.

Nuto Revelli in English

Mussolini's Death March: Eyewitness Accounts of Italian Soldiers on the Eastern Front, a translation of Nuto Revelli's La strada del davai, is the first of Revelli's books to appear in English. It won't be the last.