Saturday, September 15, 2012

A poem in the pocket

To follow up my earlier post on Héctor Abad Faciolince's memoir El olvido que seremos, I should mention the same author's more recent book Traiciones de la memoria, ("Betrayals of Memory") which itself is a bit of a spin-off.

The title of El olvido que seremos ("the oblivion we will be") was taken from the handwritten text of a poem found in Abad Faciolince's father's pocket when he was assassinated in 1987. That scrap of paper, which is now lost, evidently bore an attribution to Borges, but, curiously, the poem was not to be found in any of the authorized editions of his work. Moreover, when Abad Faciolince contacted a number of Borges scholars and biographers, as well as his widow Maria Kodama, they unanimously dismissed it as a fake, and its origin appeared murky. A Colombian poet, Harold Alvarado Tenorio, would later claim to have received the poem, along with four others, directly from Borges, but then changed his story and declared that he had written them himself and passed them off as the work of the master. (Neither version of his story appears to be true, nor would they be the last Alvarado Tenorio would advance.) Abad Faciolince followed the convoluted trail of the poems back to their original printed source, in a limited-edition pamphlet published in Argentina in 1986 by a press called Ediciones Anónimos, and eventually uncovered what seems to be almost incontestable evidence that they were in fact written by Borges. Traiciones de la muerte includes a number of illustrations of the parties involved and of the various editions of the poems. It's a somewhat bizarre and obsessive but ultimately satisfying exercise in literary detective work.

As for the poem that started all this, here is the original text, followed by the translation that appears in a review of Oblivion (the English-language edition of El olvido que seremos) in the Nation. (The translation is not specifically credited, but is probably by Natasha Wimmer, who translated Jorge Volpi's original Spanish-language review.)
"Aquí. Hoy."

Ya somos el olvido que seremos.
El polvo elemental que nos ignora
y que fue el rojo Adán y que es ahora
todos los hombres, y que no veremos.
Ya somos en la tumba las dos fechas
del principio y el término, la caja,
la obscena corrupción y la mortaja,
los ritos de la muerte y las endechas.
No soy el insensato que se aferra
al mágico sonido de su nombre.
Pienso con esperanza en aquel hombre
que no sabrá que fui sobre la tierra.
Bajo el indiferente azul del cielo
esta meditación es un consuelo.

Already we are the oblivion we shall be—
the elemental dust that does not know us,
the dust that once was red Adam and now is
all men, the dust we shall not see.
Already we are the two dates on the headstone,
the beginning and the end. The coffin,
the obscene decay and the shroud,
the death rites and the dirges.
I am not some fool who clings
to the magical sound of his own name.
I think, with hope, of that man
who will never know I walked the earth.
Beneath the blue indifference of heaven,
I find this thought consoling.
In addition to "Un poema en el bolsillo," which follows the trail of the Borges poem, Traiciones de la memoria includes two shorter pieces, "Un camino equivocado" and "Ex futuros." It was published by Alfaguara in 2009. One of the other participants in the affair, an editor named Jaime Correas, has published his own version in a "non-fiction novel" (which I haven't read) entitled Los falsificadores de Borges. It is said to be supportive of Abad Faciolince's conclusions.

1 comment:

Nancy Scott Hanway said...

Wow. Sounds fantastic. I am definitely going to read it. Thanks for a great summary of what sounds like a difficult plot to describe!