6 August 08 | Chad W. Post

Over at A Journey Round My Skull, Will Schofield has a fascinating interview with the translator Gilbert Alter-Gilbert. Alter-Gilbert has translated a number of interesting authors, including Miguel Angle Asturias, Vincente Huidobro, Oliverio Girondo, Marie Redonnet, and Leopoldo Lugones.

Since Alter-Gilbert is also a critic and literary historian, this interview is chock full of semi-obscure authors and movements to pursue. (As mentioned in the preface to the interview, Will is in the process of adding links to all these authors and movements.)

This is a long, captivating interview with any number of highlights, such as the bit about John Calder:

Calder is a fascinating figure. A gentleman of the old school, he will always hold a shining place in my memory as the perfect picture of a proper British publisher, in his double-breasted navy blue blazer, with one brass button missing, stoically holding forth about toeing the line against the predations of all-encroaching barbarism. Calder authored an indispensable apologia for literary endeavor entitled The Defence of Literature, in which he asserted that writers ought to be coddled and cherished and supported in every possible way as a priceless cultural resource. Now, here are the thoughts of an enlightened individual!

And a section about Lugones and Macedonio Fernandez:

Borges was influenced by another important contemporary: the eccentric, if avuncular, philosopher manqué Macedonio Fernandez who, though a fully licensed attorney, preferred to spend his days (and most of all, his nights) strumming his guitar and indulging in fanciful metaphysical speculation. A sort of offbeat eminence grise of the Pampas, Fernandez was better known for his personality than for his writing, the best of which is marked by satire and sardonic paradox. Perhaps it was Fernandez who, with his twisted humor, fostered in Borges the acerbic wit and penchant for the felicitous phrase which led him to mint such gems as “the original is unfaithful to the translation” and, when someone clumsily attempted to slight his friend Santiago Dabove by remarking that he had written only one book, Borges quipped, “Yes, but how many people have written even one?” Borges must be credited with formulating his own literary modalities, original and distinct. Despite being thoroughly steeped in the grand cosmopolitan tradition of fantastic fiction, Borges managed to fashion a body of work that is not discernibly derivative and, for the most part, is cut from whole cloth. But he didn’t spring from a vacuum . . .

His history of nineteenth-century French literary movements is great, especially since he highlights some of the lesser known, and more edgy, groups:

The gothic novel created a huge sensation in its day, and stock features of crumbling, fog-enshrouded ruins, forsaken glades, haunted castles, chain-rattling ghosts and doom-laden protagonists filled readers with dread, frenzy and hysteria; hence the term “frantic.” The Frantic School is also known as the Frenetic School. A good example in this vein is Nodier’s collection of tales and anecdotes Infernaliana. I like to think of Aloysius Bertrand, too, as a writer of this brand. Among the public-at-large, Frenetic School came to be known as one of the synonyms for the Bouzingo. The Bouzingo (sometimes called Bousingo or Bousingots, and meaning noise, racket, uproar, ruckus) were a collective of flamboyant Bohemian writers and artists probably named after the roaring boys of seventeenth century England. Forerunners of Anthony Burgess’s Droogs, the roaring boys were drunken rowdies who traveled in packs, blustering boisterously through the moonlit streets of London, roughing up passersby, ambushing maidens and generally wreaking havoc and raising Cain. Jaded, disaffected youth out on a tear, they were amoral pranksters intent on amusement at any cost.

And his diatribe against academics:

Marxist troglodytes who stalk the groves of academe have deemed that writers with religious foundations should not be taken seriously. It’s inexcusably petty to dismiss such writers out of hand merely on account of their religious proclivities. Cotton Mather is arguably more interesting to read than the majority of recent Nobel laureates and Bloy and Papini endured personal hardships and spiritual struggles that put to shame those of Augustine and St. John of the Cross and make them look like namby-pambies. The precious, hand-wringing academic mafiosi who blackball such writers are a pack of pretentious, politically-correct poltroons. Countless brilliant writers have been suppressed or, worse, ignored, simply on account of unorthodoxy.

Overall, this is an awesome interview — in part because of its focus on the translator as a literary historian more aware of trends and writers than most other people. It looks like some excerpts of Alter-Gilbert’s translations will be available on A Journey Round My Skull in the near future, which is also extremely valuable. Kudos to Will Schofield for such a great project.

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