A Sample of Saer

Next year we’re publishing the first of three novels by Juan José Saer, and Steve Dolph (the co-founder and co-editor, with Brandon Holmquest, of the translation journal and soon-to-be-book-publisher Calque) will be translating all three of the novels.

The other day Steve sent us a paragraph from his translation of Glosa, and he was kind enough to let me share it with you here (he even gave us a little context). It’s only a paragraph, but what a paragraph!

The following scene is from Glosa, by the Argentine novelist Juan José Saer (1937 – 2005), forthcoming from Open Letter next year. Winner of the Nadal Prize in 1987 and a student of the French new wave, Saer’s work was influenced by the nouveau roman writing of the late 1960s, a strong departure from the magic realist tradition culturally dominant in Argentina at the time. Closer in style and subject to writers like Julio Cortázar and Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Saer’s writing tends toward an interest in the isolation of urban life and psychology, particularly the psychology of violence. Originally published by Seix Barral in 1986, Glosa tracks two young men from Buenos Aires as they walk together across the city along the central street, the Avenida San Martín. In the passage below, the narrator, Angel Leto, is looking back at his friend, nicknamed the Mathematician, whose completely white outfit (including white moccasins) has up to this point been described with considerable irony, as he crosses the street to catch up with him after a brief separation.

He is present, clearly visible. For some reason he ignores and which he of course is not thinking about, Leto’s thoughts and memories are interrupted and he sees the street, the trees, the newspaper building, the cars, the Mathematician, the sky, the air, the morning, as a clear and animate unity from which he is slightly separated but completely present with, in any case at a fixed and necessary point in space, or in time, or matter, a fluid or nameless but no doubt optimal location, where all contradictions, without his having asked or even wanted it are, benevolently, erased. It’s a novel and pleasant state, but its novelty doesn’t reside in the appearance of something that didn’t exist previously but in a build-up of evidence in the preexistent, and the pleasure, in turn, doesn’t reside in a gratified desire but in some unknown source. It’s hard to say whether the clarity comes from Leto or from the objects, but suddenly, seeing the Mathematician advance upright and white from between the trunks of two cars separating in opposite directions Leto begins to see the group, the Mathematician included, not as cars or trees or houses or sky or human beings, but as a system of relations whose function is no doubt connected to the combination of disparate movements, the Mathematician forward, the cars each a different way, the motionless things changing aspect and location in relation to the moving things, everything no doubt in perfect and causal proportion so that living it or feeling it or however you’d call his state, but without thinking it, Leto experiences a sudden, blunt joy, in which he can’t distinguish the joy from what follows, sharpening his perception.

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