Saturday, October 11, 2014
A Heart So White
Javier Marías published Corazón tan blanco in 1992. The English translation by Margaret Jull Costa came out in 1995 as A Heart So White.
The participant-narrator of this story knows several European languages well enough to make a living as an interpreter for large political bodies and powers. Themes of translating – of listening and repeating – dominate this novel. Marías has himself translated numerous books of English literature into Spanish. Perhaps for this reason, the interpreter's fictional voice never sounds very fictional.
"Despite the fact that I translated all the speeches and texts I spoke of before, I can barely remember a single word, not that I ever did and not because there's a limit to how much information the memory can retain, but because, even at the moment I was translating I could remember nothing, that is, even then I had no idea what the speaker was saying nor what I said subsequently or, as one imagines happens, simultaneously. He or she said it and I said or repeated it, but in a mechanical way that has nothing whatsoever to do with intellection (more than that, the two activities are completely at odds), for you can only repeat more or less accurately what you hear if you neither understand nor assimilate any of it (especially if you're receiving and transmitting without pause) and the same thing happens with written texts of this type, which have no literary merit whatsoever and which you never get the chance to correct or ponder over or go back to. So all the valuable information to which people might imagine we translators and interpreters working in international organizations are privy, in fact, escapes us completely, from beginning to end, from top to bottom, we haven't a clue about what's brewing or being plotted and planned in the world, not the slightest glimmer. And even if, sometimes, in our rest periods, we stay behind to listen to the great men without translating them, the identical terminology used by all of them is utterly incomprehensible to anyone in his or her right mind, so that if occasionally, for some inexplicable reason, we do manage to retain a few phrases, the fact is that we then deliberately forget them as quickly as possible, because keeping that inhuman jargon in your head for any longer than the time it takes to translate it into the second language or second jargon is an unnecessary torment, positively harmful to our battered equilibrium."
As one reviewer observes, "The flawed, truncated nature of all human contact and efforts to reach it has rarely been given such remorseless stress."
(Photo of the author with bookshelves by Gianfranco Tripodo)