The translation of desire

While coherence, understood as a monolithic direction, persists as a requirement imposed by each cultural ecosystem on its writers, from time to time there are authors who are rebellious enough to take their feet out of the pot and reinvent themselves to unsuspected extremes. It’s not about trying foreign genres or joining the game of heteronyms, but about writing from the position of a different writer, from a palpable otherness. For some reason that is surely not easy to explain, sometimes, among the most renowned authors, this inflection coincides with the granting of the Nobel Prize. This has been the case with novelists like Kenzaburo Oe Y J. M. Coetzee, who, contrary to the general trend, have continued to write abundantly after obtaining the highest literary award to which one can aspire but, allow the abrupt tone, as if they were others. In the case of Coetzee (Cape Town, 1940), this otherness already manifested itself in 2003, the same year the Nobel Prize was awarded, with the publication of Elizabeth Costellothe novel starring the alter ego feminine of the South African writer with which, incidentally, he offered his particular parody of the phenomenon of autofiction. Special mention deserves his Jesus Trilogymade up of The childhood of Jesus (2013), Jesus’ days at school (2016) and Jesus’ death (2019), three misunderstood novels that hardly anyone liked (not even Javier Mariaswhich is saying something) and in which it was certainly difficult to find the usual Coetzee, but which carried the narrative solution illuminated by Cervantes in the Quixote to extremes of amazing essentiality, even beyond what Borges had intended. But the new course taken by the author of ‘Disgrace’ did not stop only in the aesthetic, nor in the moral: Coetzee decided to take advantage of his influence to get out of the common tendencies of the marketing and establish their own rules of the editorial game. Thus, some of his latest works (such as seven moral tales) have seen the light not in the original English, but in its translation into Spanish, by the hand of collaborators such as Maria Soledad Constantini Y Leander Pinkler, through releases made from Argentina with which the author intends to curb the editorial supremacy of the English language throughout the world. Now, his latest novel, The Polishhas just seen the light in the Argentine publishing house Ariadne’s Thread (in whose catalog other titles of the author appear) with the translation of Mariana Dimopulos and will not be published in English until 2023. We are also referring to an independent publisher, originally linked to the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Malba) and outside the large publishing groups, which gives a special connotation to the strategy of Coeetzee. Although in a rather discreet way, yes, the novel has been distributed in Spain, which allows you to enjoy such a premiere, also, on this side of the pond.

The Pole presents himself with the tight fit of a nouvelle and narrates a love story set mainly in Barcelona, ​​in the years before the pandemic, between Witold, a 72-year-old Polish pianist; Y beatricea Catalan who works in the organization of classical music concerts about to turn 50. As for the theme, the novel thus connects with titles immediately prior to the Jesus Trilogy What slow man (2005) and diary of a bad year (2007), in which Coetzee explored the mechanics of desire in mature, handicapped, diminished or at least eroded men, faced with the entry onto the scene of younger women. That The Polish reaches readers for the first time as a translated novel is due to an effect, if you will, metaliterary: in the novel, Witold and Beatriz can only communicate in English, a language that she dominates but that he does not finish giving right. When Beatriz is ordered to translate some of Witold’s poems written in Polish, the translation acquires a leading role that is also manifested in music: as a pianist, Witold lives permanently in the head of Chopin, aspires to reconstruct the world in which the composer created his scores to embroider the perfect interpretation, which is also an exercise in translation. On the surface, ‘The Pole’ is presented as a reading of the Divine Comedyopenly expressed in the name of Beatriz but also in various explicit references to the work of Dante, in which the loved one takes the initiative and executes his particular reckoning by having his part with a future that the poet has been denied (the poet is here, by the way, a bad poet, so the reckoning accounts finds its particular balance). In the background, Coetzee is presenting a novel (in an interview published in the newspaper Clarionthe author nuanced and defined The Polish as “a project smaller in scale than a novel”) about the difficulties that the human being faces when it comes to knowing the other, of translating the other, and of desire as a longing to be translated, understood seamlessly, by the other.

Coetzee presents a reading of the ‘Divine Comedy’ in which Beatriz takes the initiative for her particular reckoning

Formally, Coetzee extends his austerity characteristic with portentous results, especially when it comes to revealing with the greatest precision the emotional construction of her characters (“Part of her intelligence consists in knowing that an excess of reflection can paralyze her will”, she writes about Beatriz). Each chapter is structured in brief numbered narrative units, sometimes coinciding with the paragraphs, which allows us to notice the greatest effort put into the depuration, in the option for an atomized writing that allows the expendable to be removed with the greatest cleanliness. Thus, both in the theme (the desire observed from the prism of the Divine Comedy) like in the parsimony radical and on the premise of a literature that prefers to give itself from its translation, Coetzee pays an increasingly less reserved tribute to Samuel Beckettan inescapable reference in his work but which, especially from the Jesus Trilogy, seems to have settled as a priority. That’s fine: before a reading like that of The Polish we can only surrender and celebrate the way in which literature allows us to overcome difficulties and get to know the other, translate it, be it without reservations, until we are complete.

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The translation of desire