Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Entre Julios

The copyright page of this little book, which consists of fifteen paintings by Julio Silva accompanied by texts by Julio Cortázar, suggests that it was first published in the 1970s, though the Alfaguara edition shown is from 1996.

Cortázar's brief one- or two-page prose sketches, reminiscent of his earlier Cronopios and Famas, tease whimsical vignettes out of Silva's gently surrealistic artwork, describing a world whose endearing though sometimes cantankerous creatures dwell in the perpetual childhood we all secretly long for, whether we admit it or not. I can't get scans of the interior art, so these images are lifted from Patria Grande, which also has some of Cortázar's texts for the book (in Spanish). As far as I know no selections from the book have appeared in English to date, though it's been translated into Polish and other languages. Where are ye now when we need ye, Paul Blackburn?

What good would it do to get angry at the creatures of Silvalandia? They are shapes, colors, and movements; at times they speak, but above all they allow themselves to be looked at and they enjoy themselves. They are blue and white and they enjoy themselves. They accept without protest the names and deeds that we imagine for them, but they live for themselves a life that is yellow, violet, green, and secret. And they enjoy themselves.

Silvalandia's two creators, Cortázar who died in 1984 and Silva is who still with us, were longtime friends and fairly regular collaborators. Among other things, Silva was responsible for the cover of the original Spanish-language edition of Rayuela (Hopscotch). He was also the designer of Cortázar's wonderful collage-books La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos and Último round, neither of which has appeared in its entirety in English, although a nice selection of their contents was translated by Thomas Christensen and published by North Point Press some years ago as Around the Day in Eighty Worlds. Unfortunately Christensen's translation is now out of print.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sakhalin Rock

A couple of footnotes to my last post, on Kayano Shigeru's Our Land Was A Forest.

Kayano devotes one chapter of his memoir to his work with an older scholar named Kindaichi Kyōsuke, with whom he collaborated for several years on the transcription of Ainu yukar (epic poems). Although I didn't at first make the connection, this Kindaichi must be the same as the Kyōsuke Kindaiti who contributed the volume on Ainu Life and Legends to the Japanese Government Railways Tourist Library series. (The Tourist Library volumes use an alternate system of Romanization for Japanese names, which is why the spelling of his name is different.)

While some of Kindaichi's comments in that 1941 volume may now seem condescending towards the Ainu (whom he reported were rapidly striving to assimilate into Japanese culture) there's no question of his importance as a scholar, and Kayano remembered him fondly. Here, from Our Land Was a Forest, is a picture of the two of them together.

Below is an interesting video, "Sakhalin Rock," from a group called the Oki Dub Ainu Band.

Although I don't understand the lyrics (other than the few snippets that are in English), it's fairly clear what this is about. Now part of Russia (though it has also been at various times under Japanese control), Sakhalin Island was once part of the Ainu world, but the remaining Sakhalin Ainu were forcibly deported to Japan by the Soviets after the end of World War II. The video includes snippets of a map of the island, archival photographs, Ainu artifacts and designs, as well as, towards the end, images of what appear to be Russian women. It serves as a useful reminder that cultural memory is not always passed on in the ways that outsiders and preservationists might choose.

The traditional instrument Oki is playing is called a tonkori, no doubt the same instrument illustrated in the woodcut below from Ainu Life and Legends, where it is described as "a kind of harp."

Friday, October 15, 2010

From a Green World (Kayano Shigeru)

About all I knew about this book when I bought it was what was implied in the title: Our Land Was a Forest: An Ainu Memoir. The author, Kayano Shigeru, turns out to have been an extraordinary individual, and his modest autobiography, written in Japanese and translated by Kyoko and Lili Selden, is well worth reading.

Born in 1926 in the tiny village of Nibutani on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō, Kayano grew up amid dire poverty and severe social discrimination, left school at 15, and supported himself for many years by felling trees in the island's forests, yet somehow, inspired by a tireless passion to preserve the artifacts and culture of his people, before his death in 2006 he wrote or compiled scores of books, founded a number of schools and at least one museum, and became the first member of his nation to serve in the Japanese Diet. Throughout his life, as both an amateur scholar and an activist, he struggled to defend the rights and and record the traditions of the people who once held sway over the whole extent of the island they call Ainu Mosir as well as in the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin to the north.

Kayano's memoir beautifully evokes the pride, the sadness, and the occasional bitterness of an ancient people struggling to survive.
The Ainu have not intentionally forgotten their culture and their language. It is the modern Japanese state that, from the Meiji era on, usurped our land, destroyed our culture, and deprived us of our language under the euphemism of assimilation. In the space of a mere 100 years, they nearly decimated the Ainu culture and language that had taken tens of thousands of years to come into being on this earth.
Though the count of the remaining Ainu population is disputed, the number of speakers of the language has dwindled to the point that its continued existence as a living tongue is unlikely. Kayano's efforts, and those of his fellow Ainu and a handful of scholars from outside, came not a moment too soon.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cortázar: A Manual for Manuel

Cortázar's last novel, assuming one doesn't count A Certain Lucas, and his last book for Pantheon, appeared in the US in 1978. The wording of the title (the original being simply Libro de Manuel) was Gregory Rabassa's idea, Manuel's Book and The Screwery having been considered and discarded. The book, Cortázar's only overtly political novel, presented some special publishing difficulties, as the text includes newspaper clippings and other documents in Spanish that had to be translated and mocked up into authentic-looking English versions. I haven't read the book in nearly thirty years (it's on my list), and it may read very differently now when the images evoked by the idea of secretive cells of urban guerrillas have shifted considerably.

The jacket design is by Bob Cuevas, the author photo above by Anne de Brunhoff. As far as I know there was never a paperback edition in the US, and as of this writing the translation is out of print.

As early as 1975 Cortázar had broached the subject of changing publishers with Rabassa, who was by now his agent as well as his chief translator. He complained that he had never really been happy with the house, although his positive relationships with editors Sara Blackburn, Paula McGuire, and Jean Strouse had made the situation tolerable. He specifically mentioned Knopf, who in fact became his primary American publisher after A Manual for Manuel. Rather than continue exhaustively with the remainder of his output, including posthumously published editions (he died in February 1984), I think I'll consider that a logical endpoint for this series of posts, and maybe add a couple of sidenotes at my leisure another time.

Cortázar: All Fires the Fire

I think this is the best of the Pantheon Cortázar jackets. The designer is again Kenneth Miyamoto, who had created the jacket for 62: A Model Kit, but the painting on the cover is Paul Klee's The North Sea. The way the central swath vanishes in the distance always makes me think of "The Southern Thruway," one of the eight stories included inside, even though it's an empty beach rather than a superhighway jammed with vacationers returning to Paris.

The back cover features that wonderfully over-the-top Neruda quote:
Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a grave invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who had never tasted peaches. He would be quietly getting sadder, noticeably paler, and probably little by little, he would lose his hair. I don’t want those things to happen to me, and so I greedily devour all the fabrications, myths, contradictions, and mortal games of the great Julio Cortázar.
Gregory Rabassa was once again the translator. This edition was published in September 1973, the same month that Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile and the same month that Neruda died.

Cortázar: 62: A Model Kit

This dust jacket is so similar in style and lettering to the one used for Hopscotch that you'd think it would have to be by George Salter as well, but Salter was long dead and this dazzling design was in fact by Kenneth Miyamoto. If you didn't look closely you might miss the suggestion of a cityscape with mountains in the distance. The superimposed geometrical forms below the title are actually appropriate, since the novel is set in several real European cities but also takes place in overlapping dimensions ("the City" and "the zone") that are organized more by systems of affinities than by geography. This is Cortázar's strangest novel, and it took me a couple of tries to penetrate its mysteries. The first thirty pages or so are slow going the first time out, but once you get past that it's a book like no other, aptly described by Carlos Fuentes as "an ironic, sentimental journey through a city plan drawn up by the Marx Brothers with an assist from Bela Lugosi." The reference to Lugosi isn't gratuitous; there's vampirism in the book, among many other things. The title alludes to Chapter Sixty-Two of Hopscotch, in which a prospectus for a novel -- or rather an approach to the writing of a novel -- is set forth. Almost everyone in the book is in love with someone, usually someone who's interested in another person entirely, who in turn... It all ends, sweetly and sadly, with dead leaves (actually a character named Feuille Morte, who has a pet snail) and insects circling a streetlight. The American edition, from 1972, is jointly dedicated by Cortázar and translator Gregory Rabassa to "Cronopio Paul Blackburn," who had died the year before, and bears these lines from Jorge Manrique's "Coplas por la muerte de su padre":
y aunque la vida murio, nos dexo harto consuelo su memoria

Cortázar: Cronopios and Famas

Paul Blackburn and Cortázar were exchanging correspondence about the translation of this book of whimsical stories and fables as early as 1959, three years before the book appeared in Spanish.
Paul, your translation is formidable. I've read it twice, making note in passing of the observations that I have to make to you, and they're minor details. You've managed the spirit of the thing, that way of writing that I used with the cronopios and that comes out beautifully in English (at times it makes me think a little of Damon Runyon, whom I've always admired a great deal). I congratulate you, and I give you a big hug (with one arm only, because the other one is still all messed up).
A subsequent letter refers to a reading Blackburn gave in New York City that included several of the pieces, apparently with great success.
You don't know how happy this makes me. Did you make a tape recording? How I would have liked to hear your voice reading your translations, it would be fabulous. Many thanks for scattering my cronopios in the cafés of 9th Avenue. They must have eaten all the hamburgers, I imagine, and then left without paying. Deplorable conduct of the cronopios in New York.
Blackburn did eventually send Cortázar a tape, whether from that reading or another. As it turned out, the cronopios, famas, and esperanzas had to wait their turn until 1969, after Pantheon's publication of two novels and one book of short stories. Dave Holzman did the artwork for this jacket. My copy is a paperback reprint. A Journey Round My Skull has the hardcover version.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cortázar: End of the Game

The idea of translating selections from Cortázar's work must have been in Paul Blackburn's mind at least from April 1958, when the Argentinian wrote him a friendly letter, in the course of which he outlined the books he had published to date and mentioned that he had just completed a long story, "El perseguidor" ("The Pursuer") based on Charlie Parker. Blackburn seems to have turned his hand first to Cronopios and Famas, although that book wouldn't appear in its entirety until 1969. By 1962, Cortázar was writing to Sara Blackburn (Paul's wife, and Cortázar's US editor) about a translation of "Las armas secretas" (apparently just the title story, not the entire volume) by Hardie St. Martin:
It seems formidable to me. It's very faithful, very precise, and it has all of the atmosphere of the original. I marked two or three little things that can be corrected without great effort... I would be delighted if someone would be moved to translate "The Pursuer" and the other stories in the book, but above all "The Pursuer."
I'm not sure what became of St. Martin's translation, but in 1967, after Pantheon had already published The Winners and Hopscotch, End of the Game appeared, containing Blackburn's translations of most of the contents of Bestiario, Las Armas Secretas, and Final del Juego, including the Parker story, "Axolotl," "The Idol of the Cyclades," and twelve other pieces. By then Antonioni's film Blow-Up, which is loosely based on Cortázar's "Las babas del diablo," was about to appear, and so the story was retitled "Blow-Up," a felicitous change as the original title translates to something like "the devil's spittle." When the Collier Books edition appeared a year later the title of the entire volume was changed and a still from the movie became the cover art. In the late '70s or early '80s a Harper paperback edition restored the original title, but the subsequent Vintage edition that remains in print is once again Blow-Up. The original surrealist-derived cover art from the hardcover edition is credited to one Hoot von Zitzewitz, whose identity appears to be a bit mysterious. In a letter to Paul Blackburn and his wife Sara (who was his editor at Pantheon), Cortázar wrote:
Dear Sarita, many thanks for the copy of End of the Game, which is very nice. I have the impression that we have chosen the sequence of stories well, and that some critics will say some interesting things about them.
The same letter also alludes with regret to Sara's decision to leave Pantheon. By 1969 she and Paul Blackburn had divorced and Paul had married for a third time. (Translations are mine, from the three-volume Alfaguara edition of Cortázar's Cartas.)

Cortázar: Hopscotch

In the final paragraph of a letter to Paul Blackburn written from Vienna in September 1961, Cortázar shared a bit of news with his agent and friend. "Last week I finished La Rayuela (Hopscotch, you know). It is, I humbly believe, a very beautiful thing." Blackburn must have expressed puzzlement, because two weeks later the author explained: "La Rayuela is a novel, Mr. Agent. Of about 650 pages." And so it was. It was published in Buenos Aires in June 1963, although the American edition would not appear for another three years. During that time Pantheon's chosen translator, Gregory Rabassa, then a novice at the craft, worked closely with the author, struggling to devise creative solutions to the sometimes nightmarish obstacles the book posed. Years later, Rabassa recalled:
Hopscotch was for me what the hydrographic cliché calls a watershed moment as my life took the direction it was to follow from then on. I hadn't read the book but I skimmed some pages and did two sample chapters, the first and one further along, I can't remember which. Editor Sara Blackburn and Julio both liked my version and I was off and away.
When not busy translating One Hundred Years of Solitude, Paradiso, Conversation in the Cathedral, and dozens of other books, Rabassa went on translate five more of Cortázar's, the last being A Certain Lucas in 1984. His memoir, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, was published by New Directions in 2005.

Cortázar, who was himself an experienced multilingual translator, was delighted with everything about the American edition -- except for this colorful jacket by George Salter, which he claimed to have removed and thrown in the wastebasket as soon as his author's copy arrived.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Cortázar: The Winners

The first of Cortázar's books to appear in English, The Winners (Los premios) was published by Pantheon in 1965 in a translation by Elaine Kerrigan. The jacket is by Muriel Nasser.
I really like the JACKET, Sara. Say so to Muriel Nasser, who I hope is not related to that other Nasser. Or is it the same Nasser who works for you under a feminine pseudonym? You never can tell.
I put the jacket on another book, and it looked wonderful. I like it very much, you know. I've never seen such a large photo of me. How young I was when it was taken! In this last three years I've aged a lot; now I can't read for more than two hours in one sitting, and at times I have rheumatism. But the heart is still young, as the bishop said to the actress.
Excerpts from a letter to Sara and Paul Blackburn, December 17, 1964, from Cartas 2: 1964-1968, published in 2000 by Alfaguara. Sara Blackburn was Cortázar's editor at Pantheon; her husband, the poet Paul Blackburn, translated several of his works as well as being his American agent and good friend. The translation of the excerpts is my own, but the portions in italics are in English in the original.