1 March 10 | Chad W. Post

While I’m tanning doing journalism at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, I thought it would be interesting to totally overload everyone on Macedonio Fernandez. Museum of Eterna’s Novel ranks right up there as one of the books that I’m most proud to be associated with. It’s unique, strange, “difficult,” endlessly playful, important, influential, conceptual, frustrating, enjoyable, and one of the most devoted love stories ever written. To build up to the March 11th event for Macedonio (“The Greatest Event Since It and the World Began”), which will take place at the Americas Society and feature Edith Grossman, Margaret Schwartz, and Todd Garth, all this week we’re going to be serializing Margaret’s translator’s introduction. And next Monday we’ll run a special interview one of our interns did with her about the translation. Enjoy!

I first encountered the archive of Macedonio’s manuscripts, notebooks, photographs, and diaries in 2002, in the closet of an apartment in Buenos Aires’s Cabellito district. I had come to Argentina as a young Fulbright scholar in search of Macedonio’s son, Adolfo, who was his father’s literary executor and posthumous editor, responsible for the meticulous work of typing out and arranging Macedonio’s chaotic longhand. Since the bulk of Macedonio’s publication was posthumous—including The Museum of Eterna’s Novel—it is only thanks to Adolfo’s meticulous care and patience that this book exists at all.

Unfortunately, the elderly Adolfo had died just a few months earlier, and the archive was in limbo. Perhaps because North American pilgrims to the shrine of Macedonio are few, or perhaps because I had come so far only to face disappointment, I was eventually put in touch with a friend of the family, in whose apartment the archive was temporarily stored. I read the manuscripts, under supervision and in secret, every day for two months, as clouds moved across the Southern Hemisphere’s winter sky to settle over the river at dusk.

I inhaled the musty, yellowed pages, stroked my finger across the indentations made on the page by a thick pencil and a heavy, elderly hand, obsessively catalogued marginalia, stains on the paper, fingerprints in the ink, and even a crumb of something stuck to the page—perhaps evidence of Maceodnio’s famous sweet tooth?—the fun and the frustration is, one cannot know. An archive is in many ways defined by what it cannot contain.

The most obvious piece missing from the archive is the writings that are commonly thought to have been lost because of Macedonio’s own neglect for them. The story goes that he wrote on crumpled café napkins, that he used to light the stove or his cigarette with loose manuscript pages, or that he piled them up in suitcases, only to abandon them when he moved from one flophouse room to the next. Though this neglect for his own written production is a cornerstone of the Macedonio mythology, the enormous number of writings that have survived (over thirty notebooks, and five full manuscripts of The Museum of Eterna’s Novel) suggest that perhaps rumors of Macedonio’s disinterest in his writings have been greatly exaggerated.

Less obvious, and more real, missing pieces are the notebooks full of undeciphered pages. Macedonio did not type: every one of the manuscripts in his archive is handwritten. The early notebooks, like the diary or so-called “Book for Oneself ” (Libro para si mismo) are written in ink in the lovely calligraphy considered a courtesy and a grace in the nineteenth century. As he aged, however, Macedonio’s hand grew ever crabbed, and his utensil—in the later notebooks usually a dull pencil—more easily smudged and blurred. These later notebooks are thus often illegible for long passages. The object-quality of the notebooks, their stubborn thingliness, stands in this case as a kind of maddening tease, as the words, though they are there on the page in clear and obvious reality, do not necessarily give way to intelligible meaning, especially in an author whose hand followed his meandering and fragmentary thoughts with such obsessive fidelity. Like Poe’s purloined letter, some of these thoughts are hidden in plain view, illegible.

As physical and thus mortal objects, these manuscripts have a lifespan. They were almost all written on cheap dime-store paper, and many were written with highly acidic ink. This ink is slowly breaking down the wood fibers in the paper, which will eventually disintegrate even if they are kept under ideal conditions. But the immediacy of the stroke of the living hand on the page leaves its trace on these manuscripts in a way I can only describe in metaphysical terms. The marks are not always intelligible or identifiable: they are ciphers. The only certainty is that Macedonio once held his living hands to these pages. It’s like laying one’s ear to a train track to listen for the vibrations of a train that passed fifty years ago. Microscopically, they are there—and knowing that is the thrill that keeps your ear pressed to the tracks.

*

Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952) is best known in his native Argentina as the mentor of a young Jorge Luis Borges, who later wrote of his friend, “I imitated him to the point of plagiarism.” This confession, however, belies the longstanding anxiety of influence between the two writers, and gives some insight into why Macedonio—as he is affectionately known—is more of a local folk hero than an internationally renowned writer. There exists a Macedonio of Borges’s invention, and this invented character’s reticence, or failure, to publish tends to reinforce Borges’s quaint mythology of a man dedicated to meditation, stillness, and only incidentally to the written word. Nevertheless, Macedonio wrote thousands of pages of manuscript in his life, most of which remained unpublished when he died, in 1952. His son, Adolfo de Obieta, organized and published these manuscripts, serving as literary executor, editor, and high priest of the cult of Macedonio until his death in 2002.

The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is Macedonio’s most important work. This is the first time it—or any of his considerable oeuvre—has been translated into English in its entirety. He began what he called the “first good novel” around 1925, at the height of his involvement with the avant-garde literary scene in Buenos Aires. He would labor over the book for the next twenty-seven years, producing five full manuscripts in total, the first of which was written out in longhand by his lover, muse, and companion, Consuelo Bosch. Although The Museum of Eterna’s Novel eludes categorization, its many prologues and self-conscious use of authorial persona often lead to its characterization as an example of proto-postmodernism. Macedonio himself would have shrugged off this label, and insisted instead that the novel is a sketch for a metaphysics wherein love conquers death.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >