lunes, 10 de junio de 2013

Recepción en España de "Gran sertón: veredas"

"Recepción en España de Gran sertón: veredas"
by Antonio Maura
Spain, 2006

Antonio Maura, barely a teenager at the time that Ángel Crespo's translation of João Guimarães Rosa's novel introduced the Spanish-speaking parts of the Iberian Peninsula to Gran sertón: veredas back in 1967 (note: that's the original cover from Seix Barral's Biblioteca Formentor pictured above), was hardly the only Spanish reader affected by this publishing industry milestone then or now.  But what can the history of the "Recepción en España de Gran sertón: veredas" ["Reception of Gran sertón: veredas in Spain"] tell us about the translatlantic impact of this lone, isolated translation event?  More than you might expect.  Way more than you might expect, in fact.  As just one example, I'm beginning to suspect that even if all roads don't lead to Rome as far as GS:V literary criticism goes, many of those that don't do lead through Canudos.  Da Cunha's Os Sertões, Guimarães Rosa's Grande Sertão.  What's in a name?
A little more context.  Maura, whose work here is actually the transcription of a talk given at a literary conference in Catalonia in 2006 celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the publication of João Guimarães Rosa's GS:V, notes that Ángel Crespo was actually beating the JGR drum in Spain as far back as 1963.  As the director of the Revista de Cultura Brasileña at that time, Crespo (1926-1995) wrote an article in which he claimed that "Guimarães Rosa ha abordado la descripción del sertón y sus habitantes desde un punto de vista tan personal que ha superado, casi diría de un solo plumazo, la tradición de la novela regionalista" ["Guimarães Rosa has tackled the description of the sertão and its inhabitants from a point of view so personal that he has transcended, almost one would say with a single stroke of the pen, the tradition of the regionalist novel"] (108).  Quite a feat.  But in addition to giving the Brazilian novelist credit for essentially having singlehandedly annihilated a tradition, the future GS:V translator also seized the opportunity to make a seemingly judicious if ultimately way off the mark prediction: "el particularísimo lenguaje de Guimarães Rosa, le hace prácticamente intraducible" ["Guimarães Rosa's so extraordinarily idiosyncratic language makes him almost untranslatable"] (10).  From those famous last words, let's fast forward to February and then June of 1967 when Crespo's translation of GS:V came out on Seix Barral and then was almost immediately followed by a special issue of the Revista de Cultura Brasileña dedicated to JGR and his novel.  Maura uses this part of his presentation to discuss the early Spanish reaction to the work.  For those who, like me, are either at least moderately interested in the contours of Spanish-language literary history in general or are maybe just curious about how Latin American authors of the Boom decade finally broke out of the critical and commercial stranglehold previously applied by Spanish peninsular literature critics and fans alike, some of the responses are fascinating.  Critic Julio Miranda, for example, concentrating on the mix of colloquial and learned language on display in the novel, concludes that, "Si hubiera que dar un solo calificativo a esta novela --o poema--, aparte del de genial, yo diría: barroca" ["If I had to come up with a single qualifier for this novel--or poem--other than brilliant, I would say: baroque"].  Although Miranda satisfactorily explains why he would choose this word, it's the comments he makes afterward that are so intriguing from a Spanish critic/Latin American novel point of view (112):

¿No es barroca la mejor literatura americana?  ¿No lo es Carpentier, no lo es Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, no lo fue Vallejo?  Y Guimarães se inmerge en lo americano con plena conciencia de lo que hace, sabiendo, como Riobaldo, que si vende sus recuerdos, "estoy vendiendo también a los otros".  Guimarães Rosa, que recorrió a caballo las tierras del interior de Brasil, como médico.  ¡Como médico precisamente!  Y no venderá a América, no.  El Gran sertón es un pulso sostenido a lo largo de 440 páginas por que nada se escape, por poseer literariamente esa América que necesita encontrarse a sí misma.  Novela del sertón, novela de todo Brasil, novela de toda América.  Novela del hombre humano.  Regionalismo y universalidad en contrapunto riquísimo.

[Isn't the best literature from America baroque?  Isn't Carpentier, isn't Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, wasn't Vallejo?  And Guimarães immerses himself in "the American" with full conscience of what he's doing, knowing, like Riobaldo, that if he sells his memories, "I'm also selling those of the others."  Guimarães Rosa, who traveled through the interior of Brazil on horseback, as a doctor.  As a doctor!  And he won't sell out the Americas, no.  Grande Sertão is a pulse sustained through 440 pages and from which nothing escapes, just to literarily grab hold of that America which needs to find itself.  A novel of the sertão, a novel of all Brazil, a novel of all America.  A novel of the human being.  Regionalism and universality in an exceedingly rich counterpoint.]

Miranda's point about the commonalities shared by the new Latin American literature, while adulatory and hyperbolic and paternalistic all at once, is nonetheless well taken.  For her part, the critic Silvia Moodie focuses on the unusual but "tremendamente realista" ["tremendously realistic"] depiction of the landscape to be found in GS:V--even likening it to Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões [Backlands: The Canudos: Campaign] in some ways.  Anticipating the point that Maura would make in his 1999 prologue to JGR's novel, though, Moodie argues that Da Cunha's "positivist" portrayal of os sertões (plural) is very different from Guimaraes Rosa's often mystical treatment of the sertão (singular).  In the latter work, "el sertón es también símbolo de vida.  [...]  El sertón tiene una interpretación mística en la novela, donde el ambiente geográfico es llevado al plano filosófico vital.  El sertón está por todas partes, pero principalmente en el alma del yagunzo" ["the sertão is also a symbol of life.  The sertão has a mystical interpretation in the novel, where the geographical environment is transplanted to a vital philosophical plane.  The sertão is everywhere but primarily in the jagunço's soul"] (114).  From here, Maura takes a detour from the critical reception of the work to talk about an article on translation methodologies written by Revista de Cultura Brasileña managing editor Pilar Gómez Bedate.  Following her lead, Maura remarks that "Ángel Crespo era ya entonces un poeta reconocido que se interesaba por la traducción como una prolongación de su trabajo literario.  Es también destacable su versión de la Divina comedia en tercetos encadenados, las de algunas obras de Fernando Pessoa y la de la más significativa poesía brasileña de todos los tiempos" ["Ángel Crespo was already back then a reknowned poet who was interested in translation as an extension of his literary work.  His versions of the Divine Comedy in terza rima, some of Fernando Pessoa's works, and the most important Brazilian poetry of all time are also outstanding"] (115-116).  According to both Gómez Bedate and Maura, Crespo's risky intent--more than just to produce a simple translation like those of Taylor and de Onís in English or Jean-Jacques Villard in French--was an attempt at "transcreación poética" or something akin to a "poetic translation recreation."  Maura understandably explains the concept better than I can: "Es decir, que no nos hallamos sólo ante una traducción, sino ante el esfuerzo  --a veces descomunal y titanico-- de un poeta que trata de recuperar la pujanza de una lengua que, por el uso, ha perdido su brillo, su fogosidad y su vida" ["That is to say that we don't only find ourselves before a translation but before the effort--occasionally colossal and titanic--of a poet who's trying to recover the power of a language which, by use, has lost its sheen, its verve, and its life force"] (116).  Maura then dedicates his next two paragraphs to describing how the Revista de Cultura Brasileña crew presented GS:V as "una obra maestra del lenguaje de talla similar a la de Ulises de Joyce" ["a language masterpiece similar in stature to that of Joyce's Ulysses"] and as a work touted for being rather difficult to decipher--which is also how he first encountered the work in his university days (116-117):

Esta fue también la primera impresión que tuve de este libro del que me hablaron cuando estudiaba en la Universidad del Deusto, en Bilbao.  Estábamos entonces subyugados por la innovación lingüística y léxica de Joyce y de su ex-secretario Beckett, por el denominado nouveau roman, por la magia del sur faulkneriana, por el surrealismo americano de Huidobro o el desgarramiento existencial de César Vallejo.  Ahora nos hablaban al oído de un libro mucho más hondo y misterioso, que se servía de la lengua con gran originalidad e inventiva, pero que era mucho más veraz que un simple juego de palabras al estilo joyceano.  Y así fue como leí por primera vez el Gran sertón: veredas en la versión de Ángel Crespo. 

[This was also the first impression that I had of this book that they were talking to me about when I was studying at the Universidad del Deusto in Bilbao.  We were mesmerized back then by the linguistic and lexical innovations of Joyce and his ex-secretary Beckett, by the so-called nouveau roman, by the Faulknerian magic of the South, by Huidobro's Latin American surrealism, by César Vallejo's crushing existentialism.  Now they were whispering in our ears of a much deeper and much more mysterious book, one that made use of language with great originality and inventiveness but which was much more truthful than a simple Joycean play on words.  And so that was how I read Ángel Crespo's version of Gran sertón: veredas for the first time.]

From this wonderful personal anecdote about his student days and a winning follow-up about how he later rediscovered the novel during a sojourn in Brazil, Maura returns to the topic of GS:V's "propio destino editorial" ["own publishing fate"] in Spain (118).  There's talk about a Galician scholar who wrote a book on the "galleguidad" in JGR's work, including all the Galician "nombres" ["names"], "dichos" ["sayings"], "cantos" ["songs"], and "danzas y costumbres de origen popular" ["popular dances and customs"] said to abound in the Rosian body of work (119).  There's talk about Uruguayan author Cristina Peri Rossi's complaint in a Barcelona journal that, as late as 1982, the Spanish public manifested "una ignorancia salvaje" ["a savage ignorance"] about Brazilian literature.  One of the problems?  "Los editores, por su parte, no se han preocupado por editar a los autores brasileños de una manera sistemática y a la vez selectiva; los pocos que han sido traducidos, lo fueron en virtud de la tarea fantástica de algún traductor que los impuso: tal es el caso de Guimarães Rosa y de Graciliano Ramos" ["The publishers, for their part, haven't bothered to publish the Brazilian authors in a systematic and at the same time a selective way; the few that have been translated were translated by dint of the fantastic piece of work of some translator who demanded them: such is the case with Guimarães Rosa and Graciliano Ramos"] (120).  In siding with Peri Rossi in regard to the accuracy of the complaint about the Spanish "provincianismo cultural" ["cultural provincialism"] of the times, Maura takes pains to clarify that both a few Brazilian classics in general and GS:V in particular eventually found some hardcore fans in Spain against all odds.  José María Guelbenzu, for example, is on record reminding us that "la parte geológica (del libro de Euclides) inspiraría a Juan Benet el memorable comienzo de su Volverás a Región" ["the geological part (of Da Cunha's book) would inspire the memorable beginning of Juan Benet's Return to Región"] (122).  And it's to María Guelbenzu, "uno de los escritores españoles de mayor conocimiento e interés por las grandes narraciones de todos los tiempos" ["one of the Spanish writers with the most profound knowledge of and interest in the great narratives of all time"], that Maura turns to in the end because, "al referirse a los dos sertones, el de Euclides y el de Rosa, concluye que mientras el primero sería comparable con la Ilíada, el segundo sólo podría serlo con la Odisea" ["on referring to the two sertones (i.e. the plural of sertão) of Da Cunha and Rosa, he concludes that while the first one would be comparable to the Iliad, the second of the two could only be comparable to the Odyssey"] (124).  I'd like to give José María Guelbenzu the last word here; the anecdote that follows appears on pages 124-125:

Durante una estancia en São Paulo, un amigo escritor me sugirió la idea de considerar dos libros cumbres de la literature brasileña, Os Sertões, de Euclides da Cunha, y Gran serton: veredas, de João Guimarães Rosa, en paralelo con los dos relatos señeros de la literature clásica griega, la Ilíada y la Odisea.  La comparación es tentadora porque, en realidad, Los sertones es la historia del asedio y destrucción de Canudos ("La Troya de estuco de los jagunzos") y Gran sertón: veredas es un viaje lleno de episodios aventureros por el sertón hasta alcanzar el hogar de retirada.  Otra relación procede: hay entre ambas una diferencia semejante a la que distingue la Ilíada  --en tanto que expresión y representación del cambio que se origina en la religió y la sociedad griega, de lo dionisaco a lo apolíneo--  de la Odisea, que es una auténtica novela de personaje en un espacio mitopoético.

[During a stay in São Paulo, a writer friend suggested to me the idea of considering the two most important works of Brazilian literature, Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões and João Guimarães Rosa's Grande Sertão: Veredas, in parallel with the two unequalled tales of classic Greek literature, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  The comparison is tempting because, in reality, Os Sertões is the story of the siege and destruction of Canudos ("The mud hut Troy of the jagunços") and Grande sertão: veredas is a journey through the sertão full of adventurous episodes until reaching the hearth that is home.  Another relationship is fitting: there is between both works a difference similar to that which distinguishes the Iliad--an expression and representation of the change that originates in Greek religion and society from the Dionysian to the Apollonian--from the Odyssey, which is an authentic character-driven novel in a mythopoetic space.]

Maura, Antonio.  "Recepción en España de Gran sertón: veredas."
Revista de Cultura Brasileña, 2007, 108-125.

6 comentarios:

  1. These posts on JGR's reception by writers/translators in Spanish are really so good. Thanks for taking the time to translate the good stuff. Given that JGR's poor reception in Spanish seems to mirror his current reception (absence, really) in English, it really is a pity that his legacy is more translator-driven than translator and publisher-driven.

    1. Thanks, Rise, I'm glad you've enjoyed them--they're actually super fun for me to do/share, but anything that requires that amount of transcribing and translating still takes a lot out of me (Microsoft Word doesn't help by "correcting" spelling "mistakes" written in another language ad nauseam either). Anyway, these JGR critics sure have a lot of interesting points to make about JGR, don't they? Too bad they don't have as much pull as the publishers as far as new GS:V translations go.

  2. Reading about GS:V is infinitely more interesting than reading GS:V itself. Excellent piece, Richard!

    1. Sorry you didn't enjoy GS:V as much as Rise and I did (and as much as I think Scott did), Miguel, but thanks for the kind words about the post anyway. I appreciate it! One of the unexpected side effects of the group read for me was that it gave me a timely kick in the pants to get to Macunaíma and Graciliano Ramos' Vidas secas sooner rather than later (your Brazilian posts from last month were motivational as well).

  3. First, I just have to comment on the cover of that Spanish edition, which so nicely serves to represent the propagating network of dots and lines (veredas and the paths that connect them) of the physical and metaphysical sertao in GS:V, and looks a lot like this visual map ( of Internet connections (which has a sister map I can't find that shows an almost identical pattern caused by neurons firing in the brain):

    The notion of GS:V and OS serving as the two-volume Brazilian Homer is just about irresistible.

    It's great that you have access in Spanish to critical writing about GS:V; it's almost shocking how little of it there is in English (though I've commanded via inter-library loan a collection of essays on JGR just published last year).

    I find Maura's comments about Crespo's "colossal and titanic" effort to provide a poetic recreation of GS:V fascinating. I started reading GS:V in a later French translation by Maryvonne LaPouge-Petorrelli that I found initially hard-going because of such an approach (an archaic word two pages in I only recognized because it had completely stumped my French hosts when we once saw it as part of a street name in a medieval French village). Switching to Taylor/De Onis later on, the transition was like sailing off a cliff. For the English version, the translators clearly opted not to try Crespo's approach, and instead smoothed over some of the rough-edged, eruptive vitality of Riobaldo's language. I was not entirely bothered by this. Having now had a taste of both approaches, I find both valid. But I suppose I'm hoping for the third bank of the river from the next translation into English, which I hope someone will bring out soon.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding to you, Scott, but that two volume Brazilian Homer thing was about half my reason for posting on Maura's presentation in the first place--what an enticing idea, no? I guess I'll have to look at more of the U.S. translation to get a feel for all these differences I've been hearing about among the translations, but the parts of it I've read have seemed so wooden--even if otherwise "accurate"--that I'm happy I read Crespo's Spanish translation first. Anyway, agree with you about the original Spanish translation cover--need to look up that link you sent so I can compare. Cheers!