Portrait of the Mal

Today starts a new series on bad texas of occasional translations of blog posts in Spanish - these are posts that make me pause, stop my incessant interscrolling and leave ripples and eddies in my brain for days after. There are contextual and translation notes after the translated post. To start things off, this post from Guatemala by Javier Payeras:

Portrait of the Mal°
Monday, August 18, 2008 on chulo chucho colocho

I feel guilty each time I write. I feel guilty each time I finish a page and someone else reads it. I feel guilty for thinking that I can make literature. People who make literature become the literati. I feel guilty for that, for saying that I'm a literary person. This is a long series of guilty feelings which finally end up being pure rhetoric.

I once read a phrase that I liked, something encapsulated in a book that motivated me to write. Someone gave me the recipe for baking a cake and I burned it. Someone clapped for me and I sang four more songs. Someone pushed me and I slipped. No one warned me that it would be easier if I didn't touch the pristine, blank sheet of paper I had in front of me with my impure hands.

No one should be taken to prison for the simple fact of writing, just as no one should be taken prisoner for stripping off their clothes. But if one writes and then publishes, it is the same as leaving the house naked and scaring the lady selling bread: it makes a mockery of the thin line between the semiliterate amateur and the genius. It is a crime.

So becoming a bad writer is the same as transforming into a criminal genius. I am a criminal: I have published a few not very important books, I have called myself a writer, they have called me a writer and up to this date I have not used surgical gloves to touch or to say what I love.

I greatly appreciate the people who make me see things and who through their criticism try to make me be reasonable. I have several people who discourage me for my own good and for the good of literature. They accuse me of being all sorts of things: opportunistic (that was the first thing they called me), pretentious, degenerate, disillusioned, consumerist, mediocre, phony, cynical, illiterate, insecure, naive, deceitful and a ton of other adjectives of that ilk. Unfortunately, writing is the best I can do (which does not mean that I do it well). Perhaps the most difficult of all has been to survive. When I show up to ask for a job, employers look at my resume and laugh. It seems stupid to them that I say I am a writer. Everyone thinks that a writer is a pompous person and not someone unemployed who—if they so desire—could throw away the trash or clean their toilets for them. They think that we writers live in cosmopolitan cities, we have money, literary agents, we dine with ambassadors, we give lectures in packed auditoriums and we sleep with lots of women. So then they answer

—you know we already hired someone—

and they give me no other option except turning around and taking off.


Contextual and Translation Notes:

I found the blog of Javier Payeras a few days ago by way of another Guatemalan author, Alan Mills. (Yes, I know, his name is Alan Mills and he is Guatemalan.) I was reading one of Mills' poems in Plan B, an independent poetry project out of Ciudad Juárez that is publishing amazing poets from all over North and Central America, a kind of bridge between worlds and languages if you will. So I read a poem in Spanish by Mills and I was shocked to find a gringo who wrote such amazing work in Spanish. So I went to his blog Revólver and discovered that his name was simply some kind of fluke of colonial experiments (I invented an explanation in my head) and that he was certainly no gringo. But while on his blog, I read a post that linked me to one by Javier Payeras, Retrato del mal. This post grabbed me and left me musing. So last night at 2am when I couldn't sleep I translated it. This morning, Payeras gave permission to post it.

° The title I translated as "Portrait of the Mal." Mal is actually a word in English, used more in medical terminology as I found in The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary. The definition is "a disease or disorder." I liked the idea of leaving the word mal there, because the noun mal in Spanish has multiple definitions (translation of the definitions from here) - 1) the opposite of good, evil; 2) material or moral harm; 3) misfortune or calamity; 4) illness or ailment. I wanted to capture the complexity of the word mal in Spanish and since I could think of no word in English that had these multiple meanings, I decided to leave the word mal which turns out then to be a decision not only to leave the word in Spanish, but also to translate the word into English, i.e. a medical term for a disorder. At the same time, I left the word untranslated and translated it. I'm a happy translator today.

1 comentario:

Lester Oliveros dijo...

POrtrait of Mal, is actualy de most great text was read by Payeras. Payeras is funny, but make serious literature. Thank by traslate. And, I hope in the future follow traslate other text. Regards.