Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Juan Goytisolo's Marks of Identity

Works in translation often present acute reviewer-with-pants-down syndrome because that blind and deaf soul can’t rely on the middlepersonhood as a faithful conduit due to the reviewer’s unrefulgent ability in understanding the source work. That problem popped up as often as moles in a whack- ‘em arcade game throughout Gregory Rabassa’s Spanish translation of Juan Goytisolo’s 1966 Marks of Identity, the novelist’s first entry (and first-ever avant work) in his lauded trilogy. Repetitively clunky syntax shifts the reader’s focus from content and image to its unrhythmic means, a dire flaw in an ambitious, multi-modal, complex work where rhetoric registers from passionate denunciation to cool irony. The reader remains tentative on an evaluation since the blunder could emanate as much, or more, from the author, in this instance. Certainly, Goytisolo doesn’t make the interpreter’s job easy. One of the main approaches – the second-person autobiographical punctuationless highly-charged run-on sentence block-paragraphs – creates a heavy slog no matter the translator’s talents, as evidenced by the circling back, the lost referents, the cloudy tones, the mysterious pronouns, the sketchy characterizations. Perhaps and again, this is Goytisolo’s intent – the destruction of bourgeois expectations – because a giant ‘fuck you’ to the reader wouldn’t come as a surprise next to the giant ‘fuck you’ to Franco, Franco’s supporters and minions, communists, fat women, dull workers of state whether in bureaucratic office or on production line, ridiculous Don Juans, haughty and decadent forebears of the aristocracy, the Catholic church, the myth of the honourable virgin, the myth of the heroic knight, Spanish stoicism, tourists, Catalonian complacency, counter-revolutionary simple-Simons, familial imbecility, sexual repression, deceptive ‘friends’, literary log rolling, pop culture, romanticizing traditional Spanish culture, technological ‘progress’, sexual duplicity, sentimentality, the police, democrats, the self, and – above all – the pimping-out of language as moral directive. That doesn’t leave a lot of space for an opposing, positive vision in Goytisolo’s personal revolution other than (in the vaguest of terms) freedom, and (ironically) a romantic call-to-arms for Moorish re-engagement and takeover of moribund Castilian society. If I give this book a plug, it’s more to do with Goytisolo’s audaciousness than a realized (structurally, aesthetically) fictional journey.

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