viernes, 31 de mayo de 2013

Gran Sertón: Veredas

Gran Sertón: Veredas [Grande Sertão: Veredas] (Alianza Editorial, 1999)
por João Guimarães Rosa [traducido del portugués por Ángel Crespo]
Brasil, 1956

Vivir  --¿no lo es?-- es muy peligroso.  Porque todavía no se sabe.  Porque aprender a vivir es lo que es el vivir, eso.  El sertón me produjo, después me tragó, después me escupió desde lo caliente de la boca....  ¿Cree usted mi narración?
(Gran Sertón: Veredas, 583)

Dada toda la atención prestada a sus inovaciones lingüísticas, su audacia narrativa, y su acercamiento a la oralidad brasileña, una de las muchas ironías del absorbente y enigmático Gran Sertón: Veredas es que este hito del modernismo sudamericano del siglo XX es, al menos en parte, un romance medieval modernizado y trasladado al sertão del Brasil del siglo XIX.  Por lo que se refiere al género pues, es una especie de obra atávica a pesar de sus rasgos modernos contradictorios y/o problemáticos.  Narrado en la forma de un monólogo de casi 600 páginas en extensión e ininterrumpido por capítulos o algo por el estilo, Gran Sertón llama la atención al incansable Riobaldo, un viejo ex yagunzo, quien se ocupa atajando por los campos y las veredas de Brasil y de su propia memoria--narrando su vida a un oyente sin nombre y volviendo a visitar los días de su juventud cuando él trataba de resolver el problema del bien y del mal en la época violenta anterior.  ¿Cómo era la vida en aquél entonces?  Como el semiletrado Riobaldo lo describe, el sertón en Minas Gerais y los estados vecinos era una especie de inferno dantesco sin leyes y análfabeto dominado por la religión popular, un elenco siempre variable de proscritos casi míticos, una vida desgraciada en todas partes, y el propósito que la fuerza hace el derecho.  Dos ejemplos tempranos deben ser bastante para demostrar la idea.  En el primero, un hombre vil que se llama Alejo mata a un anciano desvalido rogando limosna "sólo por gracia rústica".  Cuando los cuatro hijos inocentes del asesino se enferman del sarampión más tarde y todos se convierten en ciegos, Alejo lo percibe como un castigo mandado por Dios y de repente "cambió por completo...sudando para ser bueno y caritativo en todas sus horas de la noche y del día" (28).  En el segundo, algunos compañeros de Riobaldo tienen que matar a un mono enorme para sobrevivir durante una temporada de hambre.  Después de trincharlo y comerlo y a pesar de notar que el animal no tenía una cola, los yagunzos entonces descubren que "el mono" era en realidad un hombre salvaje que se escabullía por los bosques por falta de ropa y por haber "perjudicado de la cabeza".  La madre del muerto, llorando sobre la muerte de su "criatura de Dios", trata de obtener venganza al dirigir los hombres a alguna mandioca venenosa (68-69).  ¿Poco probable?  Quizá.  Sin embargo, es el tipo de anécdota folklórica que apoya un comentario que sigue más tarde: "¡Cada hora de cada día, uno aprende una nueva clase de miedo!" (100).  Aunque nuestro narrador puede bromea jactanciosamente que solo los fuertes pueden sobrevivir en el sertón del título de la novela ("Usted lo sabe: el sertón es donde manda quien es fuerte, con las astucias.  ¡Dios mismo cuando venga, que venga armado!" [34]), esto es el paisaje duro de bandidos, leprosos, brujas, y víctimas de mordeduras de serpientes donde las luchas entre pandillas de yagunzos tienen lugar, donde Riobaldo se enamora de una señorita llamada Otacilia y otro yagunzo llamado Diadorín, y donde Riobaldo, sufriendo de la malaria y antes de convertirse en un jefe de yagunzos si mismo, trata de vender su alma al diablo para poder superar un yagunzo enemigo que se llama el Hermógenes.  Si es difícil decir quien sea el Satanás de verdad, la existencia del diablo y la relación de Dios con los hombres son los temas predilectos que Riobaldo piensa en repetidamente: "Pecados, vagancia de pecados", él dice en algún momento.  "Pero, ¿estábamos nosotros con Dios?  ¿Podía un yagunzo?  Un yagunzo: criatura pagada para crímenes, imponiendo el sufrir en el quieto orden de los otros, matando y rapiñando" (230).  Preguntas sin respuestas, escritas sobre un papel vitela épico (Joca Ramiro es llamado "un par de Francia", Riobaldo dice que él no es como el "Guy de Borgoña" de fama carolingia, y hay una secuencia de tres páginas dedicada a los nombres de yagunzos como en el catálogo de los barcos homérico en Libro II del Iliada), todas envueltas en un acertijo que empieza con el neologismo (en traducción) estilo el ser y la nada "Nonada" (¿no nada? o ¿no es nada?) y acaba, ¿kabbalisticamente?, con el signo del infinito.  En resumen, un librazo grueso que merece una relectura y pronto.
*
Gran Sertón: Veredas [Grande Sertão: Veredas] (Alianza Editorial, 1999)
by João Guimarães Rosa [translated from the Portuguese by Ángel Crespo]
Brazil, 1956

Vivir  --¿no lo es?-- es muy peligroso.  Porque todavía no se sabe.  Porque aprender a vivir es lo que es el vivir, eso.  El sertón me produjo, después me tragó, después me escupió desde lo caliente de la boca....  ¿Cree usted mi narración?

[Living--isn't it?--is very dangerous.  Because one still doesn't know.  Because learning to live is what living is, just that.  The sertão produced me, then it swallowed me, then it spit me out from the heat of its mouth....  Do you believe my account?]
(Gran Sertón: Veredas, 583)

For all the talk about its linguistic innovations, its storytelling audacity, and its focus on Brazilian orality, one of the many ironies about João Guimarães Rosa's engrossing, enigmatic, epic Gran Sertón: Veredas [original title: Grande Sertão: Veredas; colorful but misguided English title: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands] is that this landmark work of 20th century South American modernism is at least in part a medieval European romance updated and translated to the sertão or backlands region of 19th century Brazil.  In terms of genre at least, it's a wild and woolly throwback of sorts in spite of its contradictory and sometimes thorny modern trimmings.  Delivered in the form of a sprawling, nearly 600 page long expanding universe of a monologue uninterrupted by chapter breaks or anything else for that matter, Gran Sertón finds the indefatigable Riobaldo, an elderly former yagunzo [Portuguese: jagunço] or mercenary for hire, tirelessly crisscrossing the veredas or pathways of both back country Brazil and his own mind--narrating his life story to an unnamed listener, revisiting the days when he attempted to make sense of good and evil in the violent times before the city and modern politics took sway.  What was life like back in those distant days?  As the semi-literate Riobaldo describes it, the great or grand sertón [Portuguese: sertão] in Minas Gerais and the neighboring states was a sort of lawless, unlettered Dantean heaven and hell dominated by folk religion, a rotating cast of almost mythical outlaws, ubiquitous misery, and the proposition that might makes right--clearly more Inferno than Paradiso then.  Two examples from early on should suffice to give you a good idea of this.  In the first, a meanspirited man named Alejo kills an elderly itinerant alms seeker "sólo por gracia rústica" ["just for country kicks"].  When the killer's four innocent children later catch the measles and go blind, Alejo takes this as a punishment from on high and drastically changes his ways, "sudando para ser bueno y caritativo en todas sus horas de la noche y del día" ["sweating to be good and charitable in all his hours night and day"] (28).  In the second, some of Riobaldo's companions are forced to kill an enormous monkey in order to have something to live off of during a time of famine.  After carving up the animal and eating some of it despite noticing that it didn't have a tail, the men then discover that it was actually a wild man named José dos Alves, who was accustomed to roaming through the woods naked after having lost his mind and for lack of clothes.  The man's mother, weeping over the loss of her "criatura de Dios" ["child of God"], tries to exact revenge on the starving men by directing them to a poisonous yucca grove for their next meal (68-69).  Farfetched?  Perhaps.  But it's the kind of folklore-like anecdote that bolsters a comment that's made later on: "¡Cada hora de cada día, uno aprende una nueva clase de miedo!" ["Each hour of each day, one learns a new kind of fear!"] (100).  Although our narrator can boastfully joke that only the strong can survive in the great backlands of the novel's title--"Usted lo sabe: el sertón es donde manda quien es fuerte, con las astucias.  ¡Dios mismo cuando venga, que venga armado!" ["You know it: the sertão is where the one who calls the shots is the strong man, the cunning man.  When God himself comes, he better come armed!"] (34)--it's precisely this unromanticized landscape of bandits, lepers, purveyors of witchcraft, and snakebite victims where the struggles between rival jagunço warlords take place, where Riobaldo falls in love with a maiden named Otacilia and another jagunço named Diadorín, and where Riobaldo, suffering from malaria and before eventually becoming a jagunço leader himself, will attempt to sell his soul to the devil in order to defeat a rival jagunço leader named Hermógenes.  Who the real devil is isn't entirely clear, but the devil's existence--and man's relation to God--are questions Riobaldo returns to again and again: "Pecados, vagancia de pecados" ["Sins, vagrancy of sins"], he confesses at one point.  "Pero, ¿estábamos nosotros con Dios?  ¿Podia un yagunzo?  Un yagunzo: criatura pagada para crímenes, imponiendo el sufrir en el quieto orden de los otros, matando y rapiñando" ["But, were we with God?  Could a yagunzo be with God?  A yagunzo: a being paid for crimes, imposing suffering on the quiet order of others, killing and stealing"] (230).  Questions without answers or at least answers that can't be trusted set down on epic vellum (Joca Ramiro is referred to as a "par de Francia" ["peer of France"], Riobaldo tells somebody he's not like the Carolingian Guy of Burgundy, and there's a three-page sequence in which jagunço names are recorded like the Homeric catalogue of ships in the Iliad Book II) and all encased in an riddle that begins with the being and nothingness translation neologism "Nonada" ("No es nada" or "No nothing" or "It's nothing") and ends with--kabbalistically?--the infinity sign.  In other words, a big fat book that's just begging for a reread.

João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967)

"Y en esto, que le cuento a usted, se ve el sertón del mundo.  Que Dios existe, sí, despacito, de prisa.  Existe, pero casi sólo por intermedio de la acción de las personas: de buenos y malos.  Cosas inmensos del mundo.  El gran-sertón es el arma fuerte.  ¿Dios es un gatillo?"

["And in this, which I'm telling you, the sertão of the world is seen.  Let God exist, yes, slowly, quickly.  He exists, but almost only by means of people's actions: of the good ones and the bad ones.  Immense things of the world. The great-sertão is the powerful weapon.  Is God a trigger?"]
(Gran Sertón: Veredas, 348)


Mi yagunzada 
Miguel, St. Orberose
 
Rise, in lieu of a field guide
 
Scott, seraillon
 
Richard, Caravana de recuerdos


14 comentarios:

  1. I failed, I didn't finish it but I loved what I've read so far (1oo) pages and had even written a mini-review in which I state that I find the comparison to Ulysses absurd, it does remind me much more of one of Hieronymus Bosch's paintings, especially the tryptich Garden of Earthly Delights, than a modernist work.
    I found the long paragraphs a bit challenging at times and was reminded of listening to some of my elderly relatives when they go on a ramble about the good (and bad) old times, jumping from one topic to the next.....
    I did start the German and then read the first 50 pages again in French and finally read on in German... I'll finish it but it may take some time.

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    1. Caroline, I hope you get a chance to finish the book sometime soon--I thought it was much stronger in the second half of the novel or at least it seemed that way after I had more of a sense of where Guimarães Rosa was heading in terms of the plot. I can't comment on the Ulysses comparison since my experience with Joyce is very limited, but I thought The Odyssey and The Divine Comedy were sort of general precursors for the quest narrative elements although I'm not sure what the models would have been for Guimarães Rosa's language experiments--he seemed more interested in representing a particular type of (regional?) oral culture-like literature-rather than being interested in language experimentation itself from what I'd anticipated going in. I really liked the rhythm of his prose after I got used to it, though. Anyway, thanks for reading along with us part way and for weighing in here--will be interested in hearing more thoughts from you about the work and your two translations when the time comes (the little I've read of the English seems very stilted compared to the much more fluid-sounding Spanish text I used, and it was disappointing to see additions and deletions of entire sentences in one short comparison of a passage I made).

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    2. Richard, I think one model for his neologisms, which I can't detect either in The Devil to Pay translation but rather in his short stories selection in The Jaguar, could be César Vallejo of Trilce.

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    3. I guess I need to revisit Vallejo, Rise--think it might be close to 10 years since I last read anything by him, and my memory's not as sharp as Riobaldo's seemed to be. Also, I hope to sample some of JGR's short stories before the end of the year now that I've finally wrestled with his big, unruly masterpiece for the first time.

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    4. I'd also consider Mário de Andrade's Macunaíma (1928) as a strong influence on GR's style.

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    5. Miguel, that's good to hear. I almost bought an original language version of Macunaíma on Friday to see if I could teach myself to read a novel in Brazilian Portuguese, but it was a little too pricey for my tastes so I'll see if I can get a copy at the library one of these days (or settle for the English translation that's available).

      P.S. to Rise & any others: I've edited the end of my post to reflect the fact that "nonada" doesn't appear to be a neologism in Portuguese but only in my Spanish translation (unless Guimarães Rosa "invented" the word--but I can't be bothered to check). My linguistic bad! :(

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  2. I actually made a moderate effort to find a copy of an English translation of this book but was unable to do so.

    It really sounds like it is up my ally as I love works full of such sweeping, but odd tales filled with philosophical musings.

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    1. Brian, my hunch is that the English translation is nearly impossible to find in its print form unless you have lots of cash or access to a good library system. It's too bad, though, because the work features both a one of a kind story coupled with a singular way of telling that story. An "odd tale filled with philosophical musings" is a good way of summarizing some of what I what I liked about the work; however, I suspect that this was one of the aspects that disappointed or at least underwhelmed Miguel. He's already indicated that he doesn't have much to say about the book, and I felt like I would have needed about 5 posts just to do the thing a minimal amount of justice!

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  3. Will come back and read when I've finished it, which, considering I've only read 50 pages, may take a while.

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    1. Obooki, does that mean you don't want to hear about the big jagunço apocalypse at the end in which all of mankind outside the sertão is destroyed? No worries, that doesn't actually happen, just trying out some ideas for my new moneymaking scheme: Guimarães Rosa fan fiction!

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  4. My interest in this has been further piqued by this review but €300 plus is my annual budget for books. Won't somebody republish the English translation? Please? Or a new one.

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    1. I thought I paid a steep paperback price at somewhere around $25 for my translation, Séamus, but I don't think that'd even cover the VAT for some of the prices I've seen or heard mentioned for the English-language one. The book was great but maybe not 300 Euro great, you know?

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  5. I read this when you first posted it; now coming back it two weeks later it still seems a near miraculous condensation of some of the key elements in the novel. Curiously, though I got that Dante was a great influence, and could say where The Odyssey is worked in as well, I found the Faust elements amounting to little more than borrowing the notion of a pact with the devil. It's literally, in GS:V, a pact with evil - to exact revenge - not exactly the usual worldly gains sought in the Faust legend... Two other potential influences the book raised for me: Saint Augustine's Confessions - some of Augustine's tone and interior wrangling are echoed uncannily in Riobaldo's; and the Oedipus cycle, in Riobaldo's denial/inability to understand what's in front him. Harriet de Onis glancingly compares him to Faulkner. Barbara Shelby, translator of one of JGR's (also out-of-print and heinously expensive) short story collections makes an interesting case for comparing him to Melville.

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    1. Thanks, Scott--even though I felt like I barely scratched the surface re: GS:V here (hence the proliferation of follow-up posts on the critical response to the work), I appreciate the kind words. My next post will actually have a little more to say about the classical "identity" motif in the novel that you touch on here (i.e. paralleling the Oedipus cycle), but I love what you say about the Augustinean influence--hadn't really considered that but it's so retrospectively clear (!)--and the "pact with evil," which I agree isn't entirely Faustian in nature. In fact, you may be inspiring a reread of the novel much sooner than I'd anticipated--thanks!

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