21 April 08 | Chad W. Post

Today was our first real day of meetings about Argentine literature. Essentially today we were given a history of modern and contemporary Argentine literature. And, of course, today was the first day I realized just how shitty my Spanish really is.

Things started pleasant enough—we got a walking tour of literary Buenos Aires. We wandered some of the “labyrinths” off the main street (and saw beautiful buildings for sale) and the “mirror” street that Borges wrote about, where both sides are identical to one another (and beautiful buildings were for sale) and visited a café that was in some way connected to Juan Carlos Onetti . . . although it was, um, too noisy for me to pick up what this connection actually was. (Seriously, there was a lot of extraneous noise, but at some point early on—possibly when I was asking the German translator for the third time to fill me in, while insisting that I “understand” Spanish, I realized that I should keep coming up with new excuses for my failings.)

Anyway, it was an interesting tour that included readings of short pieces by Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Arlt, and Juan Carlos Onetti—a pretty awesome triumvirate of writers. (And we saw an insane watch shop that reminded me of a Cortazar story about how the worst gift you can give/get is a watch . . . )

In the afternoon, we visited Victoria Ocampo’s house and heard three speeches on Argentine literature. (And in case you’re wondering, Victoria Ocampo was the publisher of Sur which was the first magazine to publish translations of Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. And she was sister to Silvinia, one of the best Argentine short story writers and wife of Bioy Casares.) Author Carlos Gamerro gave the first overview of essentially modernist Argentine writing (we’ll publish the entire speech sometime in the near future) hitting on some of the highlights: Jose Hernandez’s Martin Fierros (which is name checked in Gravity’s Rainbow), Horacio Quiroga, Roberto Arlt (one of the first real Argentine writers to make a living at it), Leopoldo Marcechal (who wrote the Argentine Ulysses), Jorge Luis Borges (Gamerro had a great Borges bit—he said that Argentine writers, to this day, are trying to escape from Borges’s shadow, and that whenever he writes a essay, he does an uncensored draft followed by one in which he cuts out all of the Borges quotes . . .), Julio Cortazar, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Silvinia Ocampo, Alejandra Pizarnik, Ernesto Sabato, Manuel Puig, Rudolfo Walsh, Juan Jose Saer, Haroldo Conti, Copi, Nestor Perlongher, Osvaldo Lamborhini, and Ricardo Piglia (who is obsessed with Macedonio, who is ironically missing from this list).

The speech was really interesting—using the two Argentine trends of writing literature when politics is impossible, and exile as the organizing ideas—but rather than comment, I’ll just post the whole thing as soon as possible.

Then we had two talks about contemporary Argentine writing. By this time, my grasp of Spanish had devolved into nonsense. Both speakers were eloquent, but, you know, it was too dark in the room to really focus, so I missed a lot. (Honestly, they spoke really fast. Really fast.) One of the speakers is sending me her speech, so hopefully I’ll post that soon as well. The other had a fascinating bit about control and taste, arguing the critics and academics (one and the same in Argentina) essentially tell everyone what’s good, what’s bad, and the viewpoint of authors themselves is often overlooked. He recommended a few writers (full list of names to come), including Juan Forn.

Afterwards, there was a nice reception where Fundacion TyPA announced the winner(s) of the translation subsidy. This subsidy was supposed to go to pay for the translation of one title published by one of the editors who had been on this Semana de Editores viejo. In a positive twist, the government gave the Fundacion extra money and they ended up giving out three awards instead of one. I don’t remember the last two (I believe one was for a German publisher, the other, maybe Brazilian?), but the first winner announced was Chris Andrews for his translation of Aira’s Las Fantomas which is published by New Directions. (Barbara Epler attended last year.)

One of the fun things about trips of this sort are the great people you meet. I could go on and on about Claudia Stein from Buchergilde (Germany), Cristiane Costa from Nova Fronteira (Brazil), Marco Cassini from Minimum Fax (Italy), and Patrizia van Daalen from Shanghai 99 (China, but who is half German and Italian, and in addition to those two languages speaks English, Spanish, and Chinese—my god), and I probably will, but one of my favorite stories so far is from Antje Kunstmann of Kunstmann Verlag (Germany), who is the German publisher of Bolano. She said that when they brought him to Germany for a reading tour, he didn’t want to talk with the critics or answer any of their questions—instead all he wanted to do was watch and talk about Big Brother. Perfect.

Thankfully, tomorrow I’ll have a British girl interpreting for me, so hopefully my notes will be more comprehensive . . .

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