Traducciones / Milagros Socorro


“How is it possible that, at my age and coming from where I come from, I don’t know Venezuelan literature?” This complaint, which is crowned by the urgency of promoting translations of our literature so it won’t be disregarded, was formulated by the poet Derek Walcott in a gathering of writers, organized during the few days he was in Caracas to participate in the third edition of the event “Palabras para Venezuela,” sponsored by Banesco.

Walcott, the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, born on the Antillean island of St. Lucia on the 23rd of January 1930, is the second writer to come to Venezuela to participate in this initiative sponsored by the banking institution. The first was Ernesto Sábato, who shared the stage with Lech Walesa, the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner. But unlike Sábato, who is Argentine, Walcott doesn’t speak a single word of Spanish (with the exception of the word “mamagalla,” which circulates in Trinidad with the same meaning it has among us), so that during that encounter with intellectuals, Walcott was surrounded, without realizing it, by Venezuela’s best writers; many of them authors with international reputations (Eugenio Montejo, Rafael Cadenas, Victoria de Stefano, Ana Teresa Torres, Ibsen Martínez, Michaelle Ascensio, Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Igor Barreto...). All of them, by the way, know his work and speak, with more or less proficiency, English, French and other languages.

Why is it that a wise man such as Walcott, profoundly rooted in the Caribbean imaginary, which includes the populous and potent Spanish-speaking contingent, doesn’t speak our language? He himself attributes it to “the drama of a British education,” which excluded that content from its subjects. But that doesn’t seem to be a plausible explanation. The cause, I’m afraid, is not to be found in an incomplete curriculum – which our intellectual elites have also suffered – but rather in the surprising lack of interest for anything that might not belong to, shall we say, the central cultures. The elites of the Third World, on the other hand, feel obliged to know all the literatures and cinemas, regardless of their provenance and language.

Any young writer from Venezuela, or any other place in Latin America, is up to date on the work and stances of Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature just last year. Of course, we already had translations of his work but the point is that we start from an interest and an ecumenical spirit. When we venture forth from our countries we get the impression that in most of the developed centers there’s no interest in the rest of the world. There are always exceptions, of course.

Walcott had no idea of the caliber of poets and novelists present in his audience but it turns out that he had been translated in Venezuela, even before he obtained the highest literary distinction in the world. Lulú Jiménez and Gabriel Araujo began to bring Walcott’s verse into Spanish in 1988 (the book, titled, El mar es historia, would finally be published in 1996).

The Antillean’s complaint, however, is perfectly justified. We translate foreigners but we feign almost complete ignorance when it comes to transporting local writers to other languages, and we thus condemn them to a circulation that’s limited to Spanish-speaking nations; and that’s if their books actually transit throughout the linguistic region, which isn’t always the case. And nowadays it happens less than ever.

In the past, the Monte Ávila Editores publishing house made solid efforts to sponsor great authors from other cultures in Venezuela, while also providing a path and visibility for local writers.

With that orientation, the State-sponsored publishing house was able to have an impressive catalog and an efficient continental distribution system. Today, those achievements have been diluted in the machinery of destruction that has been fueled in the country, its infrastructure and its symbolic patrimony. The Monte Ávila catalogs are pathetic, from their opening lines, where it’s established that the information comes from the Ministry of Popular Power… and what follows is pompous rhetoric, which annuls Monte Ávila.

But later on, when we finally get to the news item, we find out that the publishing house’s novelties consist of Marxist bricks, which we imagine won’t find a single reader anywhere. Wasted paper and a ruined publishing house.

The closing of the Monte Ávila bookstore, at the Teresa Carreño arts complex in Caracas, and its diminution into a branch of the Librerías del Sur bookstores, is merely nourishment for the garbage disposal. And the most painful thing about it is that it’s all done under the consent of the novelist Carlos Noguera, the director of the publishing house, who claims the action “is merely an element of a restructuring process.” Merely. How is it possible that, at his age and coming from where he comes from, Nogueras is unaware of the overwhelming force of the pyre upon which he’s tossed his little piece of firewood?

(Photo: Sandra Bracho)

{ Milagros Socorro, El Nacional, 20 May 2007 }

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