TWO FLASH PIECES by Fabio Morábito  translated from the Italian by Curtis Bauer

TWO FLASH PIECES
by Fabio Morábito 
translated from the Spanish
by Curtis Bauer

1.
In Honor Of Dictation

My friend BR gives me the manuscript of his novel because he wants to know what I think. I read it and we make plans to meet in a café to talk. The novel is mediocre, like almost everything BR writes. I give him my critique, which essentially rests on one problem: he tries to maintain too much control. As if he were afraid that the story he’s telling wasn’t enough for a novel, he stretches out his descriptions and rambles on. While the reader gets bored, he accumulates pages. So much digression soaks up what little juice there is in the story and, when something finally happens, it’s hardly noticeable. I say all this to BR politely and with as much tact as possible, citing the parts of the book where I find this defect most obvious. He writes down everything I say and barely raises his eyes to look at me. His diligence is touching, but soon enough I’m annoyed. Because he doesn’t look at me, I feel like I’m talking to myself, as if BR were my secretary and I his boss dictating some business letter to him. “Stop taking notes,” I say so he’ll look me in the eyes, but after a pause, he starts taking notes again, like a student. Then I realize that his punctilious method of jotting down my critiques is his way of circumventing them. By putting them in writing he can stop listening to me. He doesn’t hear me, he doesn’t want to hear me, and there’s no better way to disguise his disinterest than by transcribing what I say. As soon as he realized I hadn’t liked his novel he ceased paying attention and hid behind his notes. Come to think of it, he does the same thing with me that he does with his novels: he flees by means of some feverish annotation. It’s not that he is controlling anything, but that he’s simply not writing. When he has a story at its most critical stage, it’s as much his fear of not being able to write it, by which he subtly moves away from it through digressions, as it is that he moves away from me, making my words into some cold dictation. Because he only knows how to write from dictation, his head lowered, accumulating phrases that become pure words, words that become pure signs, signs that become strokes, strokes that become nothing. He only cares about pages.

Al dictado

Mi amigo BR me entrega el manuscrito de su novela porque desea saber mi opinión. Lo leo y nos citamos en un café para hablar. La novela es mediocre, como casi todo lo que escribe BR. Le hago mi crítica, que estriba esencialmente en un problema: se administra demasiado. Como si temiera que la historia que está contando no le alcanzará para una novela, alarga las descripciones y divaga. Mientras el lector se aburre, él acumula páginas. Tanta digresión se come el poco jugo que hay en la historia y, cuando por fin sucede algo, apenas se nota. Le digo todo esto a BR con los debidos modales y la menor crudeza posible, citando las partes del libro donde encuentro este defecto más patente. Él apunta todo lo que digo y apenas levanta los ojos para mirarme. Su aplicación me conmueve, pero muy pronto me exaspera. Al faltarme su mirada siento que estoy hablando solo, como si BR fuera mi secretaria y yo su jefe, que le dicta una carta de negocios. «Deja de apuntar», le digo para que me mire a los ojos, pero él después de una pausa vuelve a tomar nota como un alumno. Entonces me doy cuenta de que su forma de anotar puntillosamente mis críticas es una manera de eludirlas. Al ponerlas por escrito puede dejar de oírme. No me oye, no me quiere oír, y nada mejor para disimular su desinterés que transcribir lo que digo. Tan pronto como comprendió que su novela no me había gustado, dejó de prestarme atención y se escondió detrás de sus apuntes. Pensándolo bien, hace conmigo lo mismo que hace con sus novelas: se da a la fuga por medio de una anotación febril. No es que se administre, sino que de plano no escribe. Cuando tiene una historia en puño, es tanto su miedo a no poder escribirla, que la aparta sutilmente a base de digresiones, como me aparta a mí, convirtiendo mis palabras en un frío dictado. Porque él sólo sabe escribir bajo dictado, la cabeza gacha, acumulando frases que se vuelven puras palabras, palabras que se vuelven puros signos, signos que se vuelven trazos, trazos que se vuelven nada. Sólo le importan las páginas.

 


2.
Underline Books

Books are made of phrases, obviously, they are like bricks in construction, and just as it’s difficult to notice the beauty of a brick, sentences, when we read, pass by relatively unnoticed, washed away by the flow of speech, as they should. To dwell too long on a sentence shows a lack of experience; what matters in a book is the assemblage, the verbal edifice, not its components. And yet there is a rather vague habit of underlining books. The underlined belies the edifice and enhances the brick, the humble block compressed between a thousand identical blocks; it is a sort of rescue operation, as if each underlining were saying: save this phrase from the clutches of the book, release this jewel from the swamp that surrounds it. It is widely acknowledged that whoever begins to underline cannot stop; underlinings multiply, a plague takes over the book, another book appears in its interior, an autonomous republic. The underliner thinks: if I underlined that phrase, how I am not going to underline this one, and this other one, and also that one? The underliner becomes a second author of the book, extracting from this one the book he would have wanted to write, he becomes involved in an open argument with the book he’s reading, submitting it to a relentless poaching of underlineable phrases. One day I had to ask for one of my books in a university library to verify some information. I discovered that the copy was liberally underlined. The thing pleased me, of course, since underlinings are evidence of diligent and passionate reading. Very soon, however, I was overcome with an ambiguous feeling that became frankly annoying. I didn’t agree with what was underlined. My anonymous reader had overlooked passages that seemed to me quite remarkable and highlighted instead lines that were merely functional, inert. I found myself in conflict with my own book, mentally tracing my own underlinings, pulling from my own book another book, one that I would have liked to write and that, I only then realized, I had half-finished.

Subrayar libros

Los libros están hechos de frases, obvio, que son como los ladrillos de la construcción, y del mismo modo que es difícil reparar en la hermosura de un ladrillo, las frases, cuando leemos, pasan relativamente inadvertidas, arrastradas por el flujo del discurso, como debe ser. El detenerse demasiado en una frase es signo de inmadurez; lo que importa en un libro es el conjunto, el edificio verbal, no sus componentes. Y sin embargo es costumbre bastante difusa subrayar libros. El subrayado desmiente el edificio y realza el ladrillo, el humilde tabique comprimido entre mil tabiques idénticos; es una suerte de operación de rescate, como si cada subrayado dijera: salven esta frase de las garras del libro, liberen esta joya del pantano que la rodea. Es bien sabido que, quien empieza a subrayar, no puede detenerse; los subrayados se multiplican, una plaga se apodera del libro, surge otro libro en su interior, una república autónoma. El subrayador piensa: si subrayé aquella frase, ¿cómo no voy a subrayar ésta, y esta otra, y también aquélla? El subrayador se vuelve un segundo autor del libro, extrae de éste el libro que él hubiera querido escribir, entra en franca controversia con el libro que lee, al que somete a una implacable cacería de frases subrayables. Un día tuve que pedir un libro mío en una biblioteca universitaria para verificar un dato. Descubrí que el ejemplar estaba profusamente subrayado. La cosa me halagó, por supuesto, pues los subrayados son la evidencia de una lectura acuciosa y apasionada. Muy pronto, sin embargo, me invadió una sensación ambigua que se tornó francamente fastidiosa. No estaba de acuerdo con los subrayados. Mi anónimo lector había pasado por alto pasajes que me parecían muy remarcables y resaltado en cambio líneas meramente operativas, inertes. Me hallé en pugna con mi propio libro, trazando mentalmente mis propios subrayados, sacándole a mi libro otro libro, aquel que hubiera querido escribir y que, sólo ahora me daba cuenta, había escrito a medias.


Fabio Morábito was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1955 to Italian parents. He moved to Milan when he was five, and when he was fifteen moved to Mexico City, where he currently lives and works at the Autonomous University of Mexico. Morábito is the author of four poetry collections; two novels, including Caja de herramientas (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989), which was translated into English by Geoff Hargreaves and published by Xenox Books in 1996; five books of short stories; and three books of essays, including El idioma materno (Sexto Piso, 2014). He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes, the Premio White Raven, and the Premio Antonin Artaud. Morábito is also a prolific translator, and has translated the complete works of Eugenio Montale and Aminto de Torquato Tasso into Spanish. Though much of Morábito’s work has been translated into French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, relatively little has been translated into English.

Curtis Bauer is the author of two poetry collections, most recently The Real Cause for Your Absence. He is also a translator of poetry and prose from the Spanish. His publications include the full-length poetry collections Image of Absence, by Jeannette Clariond, by Jeannette L. Clariond, Eros Is More, by Juan Antonio González Iglesias, and From Behind What Landscape, by Luis Muñoz. He is the publisher and editor of Q Avenue Press Chapbooks, and the Translations Editor for From the Fishouse and Waxwing Journal. He teaches Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

 

Image credit: Public Domain Pictures

 

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