Translating perfection: Ilan Stavans' Translation of Juan Rulfo.
Juan Rulfo. Trans. Ilan Stavans with Harold Augenbraum. The plain in flames = El llano en llamas. Austin : University of Texas Press, 2012.
I should have avoided Ilan Stavans’ Introduction to his translation of Juan Rulfo’s El Llano en Llamas. But I didn’t, and the first sentence threw me for a loop:
Perfection in literature, particularly in the genre of the short story, is an elusive quest.
In Stavans’ view, Rulfo achieves perfection--a perfect story manages to find a symmetry between form and content while making the reader feel that the words contained therein aren’t just a mix but the right mix—in three of the seventeen titles included in The Plain in Flames, “Luvina," “It’s Because We’re So Poor,” and particularly “You Don’t Hear Dogs Barking”.
Perfection. It’s an ideal of Criticism. The critic approaches a work of literature with a sense of perfection in mind. The critique expresses ways the piece approaches, attains, or falls short of perfection in the critic's mind. For a translator, however, saying a story is “perfect” sets up enormous expectations. Stavans elects to allow the stories to prove his point about them as stories, limiting his translator/critic's introductory remarks to biographical and historical context.
Rulfo tells a good story, sardonically understating enormous circumstances, creating empty landscapes, speaking in the voice of people with a flair for surprising remarks. Rulfo’s characters are men, ripped-off, defeated mestizos, a few murderers. They have names, but could easily be Lucky or Estragon. Rulfo writes with the same intensity and vision of a Samuel Beckett. Rulfo's characters are witnessed sharply outlined against essential landscapes: the father carrying his son atop his faltering steps, asks the son what he sees from up there. Nothing, the son answers and they trudge onward.
Anacleto Morones closes the collection with a gentle satire poking religious opportunism and horny church ladies. The story is a long joke Rulfo extends to the final sentence, a PG-rated irony that, in some contexts, will raise questions about sexism and ageism. The story is pure Bocaccio by way of the picaresque tradition.
Stavans writes that he and his collaborator, Harold Augenbraum, translated with keen awareness of problems arising from Rulfo’s dialectal syntax and cultural content, “exquisite localisms” Stavans calls them, taking three paths: choosing to leave some untranslated; substitute U.S. equivalents; provide appositional translation. The opening lines of Remember illustrates some of these choices:
Dimas’s grandson, the one who directed pastorelas, the Christmas plays, and who died reciting the “cursed angel complaint” during the time of influence….Remember we used to call him “El Abuelo,” Grandfather, because his other son, Fidencio Gómez, had two very playful daughters: one dark and very short, who’d been given the mean nickname of “La Arremangada,” Stuck Up, and the other one who was towering and who had light blue eyes and who people even said wasn’t his… 87
Influence, leaves me puzzled. Is the speaker puro country, speaking his particular regional dialect that lapses into spoonerism for “influenza”? Sometimes there isn’t a best word, like “poultice” injected in the midst of colloquial speech in another story.
Appositional translation interrupts the narrative flow in the monologue, calling attention to itself, in the apposition, thereby diverting a reader’s involvement in continuous discourse and adding a conversational element absent in the original story that reminds us of reading a translation.
Sometimes expectation has an occasional bump in the road, but on the whole—Stavans’ Introduction included—this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection. Readers of popular fiction will find strong links between elements in The Road and scenes featured in numerous stories in The Plain in Flames.
Rulfo’s writing in English is mannered, it echoes the English of B. Traven in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. At places, Stavans’ language gets in the way of the Rulfo on the page. But in many, many instances, translation achieves a height of sublimity that probably captures what the writer intended in his own idiom:
The sound of the river passing its rising water over the camichín boughs reached them; the rumor of the air softly moving the almond-tree leaves and the screams of the children playing in the little space illuminated by the light coming out of the store.
. . . .
In Luvina you’ll never see a blue sky. The whole horizon is colorless; always cloudy with a caliginous stain that never disappears. The whole ridge bald, without a single tree, without a single green thing for your eyes to rest on; everything enveloped in the ash-cloud of lime. 68
“Caliginous” stopped me in my tracks then my mind pronounced caliche and I was back on track. The Introduction doesn’t prepare me for that caliche rut so next time I’ll heed my normal practice and read the stories first, and only then the other stuff.
Email bag - San Antonio
Is Multicultural Education A Civil Right?
La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda emails news that Palo Alto College and Gemini Ink are sponsoring a Civil Rights Panel/Community talk entitled "Perspectives on Ethnic Studies: Is a Multicultural Education a Civil Right?" on February 7 at the Palo Alto College Performing Arts Center Main Theatre.
There will be a free screening of the award-winning documentary film, Precious Knowledge, at 11am, with the panel discussion to take place immediately after from about 12:15-2:15pm.
Juan observes, "We have some interesting panelists so it should prove to be a lively discussion on this very important educational issue. Do we have a right to learn about our own history and culture in our schools? How should this manifest itself?"
A reception with light food and drinks follows the panel discussion.
La Bloga On-line Floricanto, 1st of 4 in the 2d of 2013
Francisco X. Alarcón, Samuel Duarte, Raul Sanchez, Nilim Kumar, Patrick Fontes
Obama Takes a Long Look by Francisco X. Alarcón
Street Vendor's Drive-By by Samuel Duarte
Twelve Step Recommendations for Republicans by Raul Sanchez
Temporal Sky by Nilim Kumar
Mrs. Sanchez Didn’t Know by Patrick Fontes
OBAMA TAKES A LONG LOOK
by Francisco X. Alarcón
yes, Obama, take it all in,
the whole sea of humanity,
dreams, fears, longings
listen to the roaring
murmur of the crowd,
the flapping of little flags
on half a million hands,
the whispering wings
of the butterflies of history:
“follow the path
marked by your heart —
the Red Sea will part…”
© Francisco X. Alarcón
January 21, 2013
Street Vendor's Drive-By
by Samuel Duarte
Every Sunday afternoon
the street vendor creeps
under the sweltering sun
peddling through inner-city streets with
slathered with mayonnaise, rolled in parmesan
and sprinkled with powdered chili.
We try resisting the
aromatic contrail clouds
enticing us away from reality
only to find ourselves
searching for change.
The Vendor pulls to the side.
He lifts his straw hat
and in no time
prepares our orders with
no sanitary masks or
latex-rubber gloves or
intersecting red-light cameras
keeping a watch over the slapping of butter.
As he spools the steaming corn-cob over
barrio-ghetto dogs assessing the air
To plastic-covered couches and Velvety Jesus’
hanging over skeletons swarming suburbia
where tycoons make a killing
through the insatiable corridors of misery
Past agricultural immigrant towns
gleaming cotton boll capsules
under the shadows of their King,
He who uprooted the Yokut’s ancestral feet
while our sons and brothers lay dead
over pot-holed-tar-pebbled streets
by the militaristic hands of wooden men
To mid-afternoon Fulton Mall preachers
echoing heavenly Hallelujah uprisings
against high-rise tenements of love
And contain the sweltering rage
as we pry each golden kernel row
and listen to the Street Vendor jingling away
with a few more dollars in his pocket
leaving us to pick the sunny yellow flesh
caught between our teeth.
© 2013 Samuel Duarte. All rights reserved.
Twelve Step Recommendations for Republicans
by Raul Sanchez
1.- Remove the wool off your eyes.
2.- Educate yourselves, learn a little History.
3.- Stop ignoring Latinos.
4.- Appreciate Diversity.
5.- Stop threatening Mexicans.
6.- Appreciate our contribution to our society, this country, our country.
7.- Realize that the Latino culture has already influenced your lives.
8.- Latinos are your neighbors, you just don’t see them because they are invisible.
9.- Not all Latinos are criminals.
10.- You already eat and drink the same foods and drinks we do.
11.- Get a grip, the border was not always there.
12.- Stop thinking of us as moochers, we are here to give and contribute.
© 2013 Raul Sanchez. All rights reserved.
by Nilim Kumar
A sky is in every human heart
but no one turns his head inside to look at it
those who fall in love
may suddenly see
that sky in their heart
of course that sky
is but a temporal one.
© 2013 Nilim Kumar. All rights reserved.
Mrs. Sanchez Didn’t Know
by Patrick Fontes
Mrs. Sanchez didn’t know
the farmer’s drain off
flowing thick like bean juice
into the water table in Dinuba
gave her happy-go-lucky mijo
big brown eyes
now she wails like La Llorona
rocking back and forth
beating her wrinkled chest
in front of a bedroom altar
scaring next door kids
while St. Christopher’s flickering
candles mournfully dance on her walls
her lamentations pour out the windows
down the litter strewn alleyway
past the midnight taco stand
“Ayee Mijo Pobreciiiiiiito!”
wiping dried tears at daybreak
a rooster screams at a red dawn
she heads to the fields
a weeping shadow floating beside canals
working for the farmer
who drinks fresh water
© 2013 Patrick Fontes. All rights reserved.
Francisco X. Alarcón, Samuel Duarte, Raul Sanchez, Nilim Kumar, Patrick Fontes
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, born in Los Angeles, in 1954, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992), Sonetos a la locura y otras penas / Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company 2001), De amor oscuro / Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press 1991, and 2001).
His latest books are Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun/Poemas para el Nuevo Sol (Swan Scythe Press 2010), and for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008) which was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and as an Américas Awards Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together/Poiemas para sonar juntos (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award.
He teaches at the University of California, Davis, where he directs the Spanish for Native Speakers Porgram. He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:
http://beyondaztlan.com and http://moonpathpress.com
Patrick Fontes. Currently I am a PhD candidate in history at Stanford University. My research involves border issues, Mexican religion, the Virgin Mary, immigration into the Southwest, and the criminalization of Chicano culture. I grew up in Fresno, in a working class Chicano home. My father was a construction worker, my mom, a waitress. My father grew up in makeshift tent communities, picking crops up and down California in the 1950s and 1960s. During the Mexican revolution my great grandfather, Jesus Luna, crossed the border from Chihuahua into El Paso, then on to Fresno. In 1920 Jesus built a Mexican style adobe house on the outskirts of the city, it is still our family’s home and the center of our Mexican identity today. Nine decades of memories adorn the plastered walls inside. In one corner, a photo of Bobby Kennedy hangs next to an image of La Virgen de Zapopan; in another, an imposing altar to Guadalupe. The smells, voices, sounds, hopes and ghosts of familia who have gone before me saturate my poems.