sábado, 8 de junio de 2013

"Prólogo" to "Gran Sertón: Veredas"

"Prólogo" to Gran Sertón: Veredas
by Antonio Maura
Spain, 1999

To help situate João Guimarães Rosa's GS:V in its national and international (or at least transatlantic) contexts, I thought it might be useful to turn to Spanish academic/critic/fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Literature Antonio Maura, whose 1999 prologue to the Spanish translation of the novel and whose 2006 study "Recepción en España de Gran serton: veredas" ["Reception of Grande Sertão: Veredas in Spain"] have both been quite eye-opening for me.  In any event, tonight I'll begin with a quick rundown of his short but action-packed seven-page "Prólogo" to GS:V before possibly moving on to his slightly longer "Reception" article later.  Maura begins by noting that Brazilian writers of Guimarães Rosa's generation were heir to two competing traditions or what he calls two "tendencias literario-ideológicas" ["ideological/literary tendencies"]: Brazilian modernism on the one hand, which was interested in reflecting on language and the identity of the nation, and the regionalist novel on the other hand, which was interested in the denunciation of social problems through literature.  According to Maura,  GS:V is a synthesis of and improvement upon the two models although the impact of forerunners like Mário de Andrades' Macunaíma (modernist) and Graciliano Ramos' Vidas secas (regionalist) helps explain why JGR's readers find themselves in the presence of "una novela de características regionalistas y ante la obra de un autor que indaga en las raíces y en la estructura del portugués de forma semejante a como Joyce o Faulkner hicieron en la lengua inglesa" ["a novel of regionalist characteristics and before the work of an author who investigates the roots and the structure of Portuguese in a similar way to what Joyce or Faulkner did in the English language"] (7-8).  So far so good.  What really differentiates Guimarães Rosa from his Brazilian predecessors, though?  One thing is his insistence on the primacy of language, as evidenced from this tellingly wonky interview quote from the novelist: "El bienestar del hombre depende del descubrimiento del suero contra la varicela o la mordedura de la serpiente venonosa, pero también de que devuelva a la palabra su sentido original: meditando sobre la palabra, el hombre se descubre a sí mismo" ["Man's well-being depends on the discovery of the chickenpox vaccine or the anti-venom for poisonous snakebites but also on restoring to the word its original meaning: meditating on the word, man discovers himself"] (9).  Depending on how kindly disposed you are to this sort of thing,  the one-time traveling country doctor Guimarães Rosa's pronouncement may seem odd, philosophical, pretentious, or all of the above.  Yet the critic Maura goes on to show how JGR's apparently authentic uneasiness about the double-edged sword that is the word manifests itself in the very names of the characters of his novel.  The jagunço villain Hermógenes, for example, "llevaría en su nombre el haber sido generado por Hermes y, al igual que Autólico, Mirtilo, Pan o Hermafrodita, hijos de este dios, mostraría una ambigüedad entre lo animal y lo humano, lo masculino y lo femenino, lo moral y lo inmoral.  Hermógenes sería, en consecuencia, la representación de la astucia, de la traición y, por tanto, del mal" ["would bear in his name that of having been engendered by Hermes and, just like Autolycus, Myrtilus, Pan or Hermaphroditus, the children of this god, would demonstrate an ambiguity between the animal and the human, the masculine and the feminine, morality and immorality.  Hermógenes would be, accordingly, the representation of cunning, of betrayal, and, therefore, of evil"] (10).  All interesting enough, you say, but so what?  Maura's two-part reply is ingenious.  First he declares that "estos juegos de palabras, de significados, de polisemias invitan a una interpretación simbólica del libro que, además de como un relato de las banderías sertaneras o como la confesión de un ser humano, puede leerse como un discurso hermético --volvemos a Hermes-- semejante a los textos cabalísticos medievales" ["these plays on words, on meanings, on polysemes invite a symbolic interpretation of the book which, in addition to being a tale about the sertão factions or being the confession of a human being, can be read as a hermetic discourse--Hermes yet again--similar to medieval kabbalistic texts"].  Then he boldly submits that, in this respect, "el largo monólogo de Riobaldo podría dividirse, como una sínfonia, en siete movimientos temáticos de aproximadamente ochenta páginas cada uno, a excepción del cuarto, que actúa como paréntesis narrativo entre los dos bloques que suponen los tres primeros y los tres últimos tiempos" ["Riobaldo's long monologue could be divided, like a symphony, into seven thematic movements of approximately eighty pages each, with the exception of the fourth one, which acts as a narrative parenthesis in between the two blocks comprising the first three and the last three time frames"] (10).  Although I'd probably have to read GS:V another time or two before being able to put Maura's seven division breaks to the test (he provides descriptions which I'm choosing to leave out here for reasons of space), suffice it to say that this first-time reader of the novel was tickled with where the Spaniard went next.  I hope you'll pardon the extended paragraph, but it's just too juicy for me to chop up or otherwise abbreviate (11-12):

No es necesario recordar la importancia y el significado que tiene el número siete en el judaísmo primitivo y en la cábala medieval.  En Gran Serton: Veredas el número siete viene asociado al tres o número de la Trinidad.  En esta misma línea de razonamiento vemos que el vocablo nonada, con el que comienza la novela, puede expresar tanto una nadería, una bagatela, como ser el término del que el Maestro Eckhart se sirve en sus sermones para expresar el ámbito sagrado en el que el alma humana pierde su raíz de criatura para hacerse uno con la realidad de Dios.  Si a esto añadimos el signo del infinito con el que concluye la obra, podremos hacernos una idea del propósito del autor.  Pero no sólo encontramos en Gran Sertón: Veredas ideas y conceptos del dominico alemán o de la cábala medieval, sino también de la Divina Comedia.  Son numerosas las referencias al infierno o al paraíso en esta novela que pretende servir también de iniciación a una sabiduría más alta, a un conocimiento del ser humano en todos sus órdenes significativos.  ¿No es acaso Riobaldo, como Dante en la Comedia, un alterego de su autor, convertido en personaje literario, y el libro, el relato de un viaje por los paisajes del infierno y del paraíso a la búsqueda de una razón universal?  Y por lo que se refiere a la crónica de un viaje, tampoco podemos dejar de mencionar el primer gran relato de viajes de la historia literaria occidental: La Odisea, poema que describe la travesía maritima de Ulises, quien, al igual que Riobaldo  --como advertirá el lector--, es protegido por Atenea, la diosa guerrera y virgen nacida de la cabeza de su padre.  También Riobaldo, como Fausto, hará un pacto con el diablo y, como Don Quijote, cabalgará por los espacios desérticos en la confusión de su locura, iluminado tenuemente por un ideal femenino que no logrará encarnar en ninguna mujer viva.

[It's unnecessary to evoke the importance and the significance that the number seven has in early Judaism and in the medieval Kabbalah.  In Gran Sertón: Veredas, the number seven comes associated with the number three or the number of the Trinity.  In this same line of reasoning we see that the word nonada, with which the novel commences, can signify a small thing, a mere trifle, just as much as being the term which Meister Eckhart makes use of in his sermons to express the sacred space in which the human soul loses its root being in order to become one with the reality of God.  If to this we add the infinity sign with which the work closes, we'll be able to give ourselves an idea of the author's aims.  But we don't only find ideas and concepts from the German Dominican or the medieval Kabbalah in Gran Sertón: Veredas but also ideas and concepts from the Divine Comedy.  The references to heaven and hell are numerous in this novel, which also tries to serve as an initiation to a higher plane of wisdom, an understanding of the human being in all his significant orders.  Isn't Riobaldo perhaps, like Dante in the Comedy, an alter ego of his author converted into a literary character, and the book an account of the journey through the landscapes of hell and paradise in search of a universal reason?  And as regards the chronicle of a voyage, neither can we forget to mention the first great travel account in western literary history: the Odyssey, a poem which describes the maritime voyage of Ulysses, who, just like Riobaldo--as the reader will notice--is protected by Athena, the war goddess and virgin born from out of her father's head.  Also, Riobaldo like Faust will make a pact with the devil and like Don Quixote will ride through the desert spaces in the confusion of his madness, tenuously illuminated by a feminine ideal that won't successfully be embodied by any living woman.]

Man, that's some good stuff there from Maura.  Maybe I should save his reception article for some other time and end this GS:V cycle on a contextual high note that would be tough for me to replicate anyway.  Or maybe I could share a little about that Guimarães Rosa-centric piece on the contemporary Brazilian novel written by an Uruguayan character from Borges' El aleph.  That might provide some conceptual Lat Am fun in the sun, too. 

Source
Antonio Maura's "Prólogo" to JGR's novel can be found on pages 7 (lucky) through 13 (unlucky) of the Ángel Crespo-translated Gran Sertón: Veredas (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1999).  The Antonio Maura photo above, attributed to EFE, accompanies this 2011 write-up on Maura from El Mundo.


11 comentarios:

  1. Superb commentary as always Richard.

    On the The seven thematic movements thing, if it is really there, is so intellectually impressive on Maura's part. It is amazing how one can pull that out of such a complex work.

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    1. Thanks, Brian--you're very kind. Maura's a careful enough reader that I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt on the seven movements thing until proven otherwise. However, on rereading his descriptions again today, I'm not sure he needs any benefit of the doubt: I'm increasingly satisfied with his explanation. In short, pretty amazing indeed!

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  2. Books should just skip page 13, the way buildings sometimes do not have a 13th floor. Right? Obviously.

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    1. I second that motion, Tom, although I myself am rather partial to the number 13 for various non-occult reasons. That missing page might throw off many bloggers' pages read counts, though, and so what would we all do without those crucial stats then?

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    2. There is always a 3th floor / page anyway. It's just hidden behind another word, which may give it even more power! ; )

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    3. "Even more power"? Good one, Séamus! Now if I could only find that, ahem, 13th Floor Elevators album, I'd be all set. Cheers!

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  3. A nice prologue indeed. I tried to count the set pieces in the book. There may be more than seven. I bet it's close to thirteen.

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    1. Rise, I suspect the number could rise and fall based on how one does the math. I'll try and get you Maura's division breaks some day. In the meantime, I love how Maura's idea of a Riobaldo protected by an Athena figure meshes so nicely with some of the things you wrote about in your post on Diadorim. Fantastic stuff!

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    2. True, a wonderful correspondence with Maura's idea.

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  4. Richard - Great stuff. I will definitely have to pay more attention to the magic seven part structure next time, though I was already impressed enough with the structure, and its neat division in two halves just at the critical junction - Joca Ramiro's murder and Riobaldo's acknowledgement of his love for Diadorim. Maura's notion that the novel can be read "as a hermetic discourse" is crazy-wild, and probably right, but one aspect of GS:V I greatly admired is that nearly all of JGR's referential games are made to just dissolve into the narrative. I never get the sense that he wants to trumpet his rather formidable knowledge. In his earlier work, Sagarana, he doesn't manage this quite as well, what with a few characters named "Aeneas" and "d'Artagnan" and the like. The few times he does this in GS:V struck me as a joke, a little bit of texture in the plastering, for instance tossing in, amidst a long list of jagunço names, one "Cavalcanti," Dante's great influence. Dante is everywhere in the poet's journey through a dark wood that is GS:V.

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    1. Scott, am inspired by so much of what you say here: "the critical junction" and the storytelling structure, the "dissolve into the narrative," the Cavalcanti reference which I somehow missed. All great stuff! That being said, I'm also happy to hear of JGR's early, apparently less-successful experimentation (I think I've only read "The Third Bank of the River" story out of all his other stuff, but I'm trying to get a Spanish-language version of Sagarana from an Argentinean source of mine). In any event, I agree that JGR doesn't seem to "trumpet" his knowledge--I guess, like Dante, he was just an erudite guy. Lucky for us!

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