NEA's Writers' Corner

This is cool . . . The NEA recently posted this page featuring links to samples from all the recipients of this year’s Translation Fellowships.

Here’s just a sampling of the samples:

Esther Allen’s translation from Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto (Spanish):

The governor remitted an incomprehensible case to me. No sooner had he asked that I consult then I complied with the request. I had no wish to ponder the question of whether he, the governor, had the authority to remove a man convicted of murder from prison and have him escorted to my office with only a single guard at his side to “explain the situation to me,” in order to see “by what manner and how to proceed to the staying of the charges.” It was of utmost importance that I attend to him without evincing awareness of how he had reached me, nor with what high recommendations and designs on the part of the recommender. I had to attend diligently to my stability, my post, precisely in order to disencumber myself of him, and of the post.

I was also obliged to hear the prisoner out, which very shortly revealed itself to be impossible, for it is not possible to listen to one who does not speak. On the marrow of the question, that is, the narrative of his crime, he was closed up, not with steeliness but in absence and silence.

Edward Gauvin’s translation from L’Angoisse de la première phrase (Fear of the First Line) by Bernard Quiriny (French):

It was while reading Bartleby & Co., by the Spaniard Enrique Vila-Matas, that Pierre Gould found his calling. This astonishing book took the form of numbered sections that the narrator, a lowly bookkeeper, conceived as footnotes to an imaginary text. They all concerned a single subject: Bartlebys, named after Bartleby the Scrivener, who spent his time doing nothing in an office he never left. Bartlebys, as the narrator saw it, were writers “attracted toward nothingness” who never managed to set a single line down on paper or who, having done so, gave up writing in the end. Thus Vila-Matas invited readers on a sort of stroll “through the labyrinth of the No, down the roads of the most disquieting and attractive tendency of contemporary literature”: that of inquiring into what writing was, and “prowling about its impossibility.”

After a few pages of acclimation (Gould liked to finish books, not start them; what he needed was that all-encompassing book, the dream of demiurges and philosophers that rendered all further reading pointless, since everything had already been written in it) — after a few pages, then, Gould was hooked by the Spanish writer’s game. He came across names well-known (Walser, Rimbaud, Keats, Salinger) and less so (Bobi Bazlen, Gregorio Martínez Sierra, Enrique Banchs); he was surprised by the attitudes of these authors without bodies of work, or with aborted ones; admired their obstinacy in refusing to consort with writing despite their obvious talents. In his eleventh footnote, Enrique Vila-Matas’ narrator mentioned a collection like his own: Literary Eclipses, by the Frenchman Robert Derain, a volume entirely devoted to writers unique in having written one book and one alone before renouncing literature forever. “All the authors in this book are inventions,” the narrator adds, “just as the stories attributed to these Bartlebys were in fact written by Derain himself.”

Gould re-read this passage several times, wondering if Derain and his book really existed, or whether they too were inventions. That Vila-Matas spoke of them so casually and seemed to think so little of the fact a Frenchman had had his idea before he did made the latter hypothesis more likely. At any rate, Gould found the idea behind Derain’s Eclipses more interesting than that of Vila-Matas, whose selection criteria were looser. After all, his Bartlebys could have had the respectable beginnings of a career before giving up, whereas Derain’s eclipsees had had the willpower to quit after the heady exaltation of a first attempt. The former might well have confirmed the promise of a first book; the second, with superb hauteur, had not even conceded this much to literature.

Jason Grunebaum’s translation from The Tale of the Missing Man by Manzoor Ahtesham (Hindi):

Apart from cops and robbers, another popular game at the time was playacting cinema in the outer room of the grand house. Here, too, [the deaf and dumb cousin] Apyaya played a prominent role….

Whenever someone walked outside the door, the opening permitted the shadow to be projected onto the wall behind it…the image was small, elongated, and topsy-turvy.

This game of light-and-shadow held such magic that it never got stale. On top of that, the family elders considered real movies to be an evil thing, and only rarely, by accident, did anyone receive permission to see an actual film; therefore, this outer-room cinema was a means of entertainment just as TV is now. No need to buy a ticket, and no fixed show times. Watch as long as you like, and leave when you’ve had enough. The children greatly anticipated the long summer afternoons when the sun was at just the right angle, and when the outer room was free for use as a cinema. But there were also unspeakable afternoons when some grownup dropped by and dashed the children’s most fervent prayers. He’d waste priceless hours talking about nothing, laughing at stupid things, chewing paan, spitting away; all the while the group of kids slouched in the corners, flashing one another quizzical glances, and growing despondent, thinking only of the approaching sunset . . .

Elizabeth Novickas’s translation from Frank Kruk by Petras Cvirka (Lithuanian):

“An incident with a pig”

It happened one fall when the pigs were being butchered. The dickens only knows how or why, out of all the decent Krukelis pigs, there arose one mischievous, unutterably disobedient pedigreed sow, who thought up all sorts of trouble for the Krukelises, as if the devil himself had in truth beset her and wagged her tail. Zidorius’s pigs were always white, but this one was as black as tar. True, she did farrow twelve at a time, but then she’d crush half of them, and even eat a few. If you left the door open for a second, the sow would run inside, knocking over the benches and the table. One time Zidorius returned from the fallow field to find the sow lying in the bed, and around her, wiggling all at once were black, spotted, and even white piglets! Full of gratitude and fatherly joy, Zidorius called to his wife:

“Just look, what a lady! She even knows to put her head on the pillow! Really now, Elziuk, what a clever little thing!”

He counted them up — there were twelve, but four were already crushed to death. When they tried to get her out of the bed, the proud lady showed her teeth, since all her family were spoiled that way: Zidorius’s farrowing sows were always put in a warmer and softer spot. Zidorius and Elzė decided to leave the sow indoors for a few days, while they settled down for the night in the kitchen or the granary. What ungratefulness! The next morning the sow chewed up Zidorius’s Sunday coat. There was a leather wallet and several dozen bills in its pocket.

“She ate it, that creature of the devil!” Zidorius screamed, shaking the empty wallet.

Be sure and check out the main page to read these complete samples and 16 more . . .

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