I clearly recall the day I first became truly aware of myself, I mean of myself as something that everything else was not. As a boy I liked best those dead intervals of the year when one season had ended and the next had not yet begun, and all was grey and hushed and still, and out of the stillness and the hush something would seem to approach me, some small, soft, tentative thing, and offer itself to my attention. This day of which I speak I was walking along the main street of the town. It was November, or March, not cold, but neutral. From a lowering sky fine rain was falling, so fine as to be hardly felt. It was morning, and the housewives were out, with their shopping bags and headscarves. A questing dog trotted busily past me looking neither to right nor left, following a straight line drawn invisibly on the pavement. There was a smell of smoke and butcher’s meat, and a brackish smell of the sea, and, as always in the town in those days, the faint sweet stench of pig-swill. The open doorway of a hardware shop breathed brownly at me as I went past. Taking in all this, I experienced something to which the only name I could give was happiness, although it was not happiness, it was more and less than happiness. What had occurred? What in that commonplace scene before me, the ordinary sights and sounds and smells of the town, had made this unexpected thing, whatever it was, burgeon suddenly inside me like the possibility of an answer to all the nameless yearnings of my life? Everything was the same now as it had been before, the housewives, that busy dog, the same, and yet in some way transfigured. Along with the happiness went a feeling of anxiety. It was as if I were carrying some frail vessel that it was my task to protect, like the boy in the story told to us in religious class who carried the Host through the licentious streets of ancient Rome hidden inside his tunic; in my case, however, it seemed I was myself the precious vessel. Yes, that was it, it was I that was happening here. I did not know exactly what this meant, but surely, I told myself, surely it must mean something. And so I went on, in happy puzzlement, under the small rain, bearing the mystery of myself in my heart.
Was it that same phial of precious ichor, still inside me, that spilled in the cinema that afternoon, and that I carry in me yet, and that yet will overflow at the slightest movement, the slightest misbeat of my heart?
Recuerdo muy bien el día que cobré conciencia plena de mí mismo, quiero decir de mí mismo como algo que todo lo demás no era. De niño me gustaban los intervalos muertos del año, cuando había terminado una estación, y la siguiente no había empezado todavía, y todo estaba gris y callado y quieto y desde la quietud y el silencio algo parecía acercarse, algo diminuto, tenue, tentativo, y llamar mi atención. Este día del cual hablo yo estaba caminando en la calle principal de la ciudad. Era noviembre o marzo; no frío, neutro. Del cielo encapotado caía una lluvia fina, tan fina que apenas se sentía. Era la mañana y las amas de casa, con bolsas de compra en mano y pañuelos atados a la cabeza, estaban afuera. Un perro en expedición me pasó a trote con prisa, siguiendo la línea invisible trazada en el pavimento. Había un olor a humo y carnicería, un olor salobre del mar, y, típico de la ciudad en ese entonces, un sutil hedor adulzado de bazofia para los cerdos. Mientras caminaba por ahí, la puerta abierta de una ferretería espiró un vaho pardo. Al inhalarlo, y el resto de los olores, sentí algo que sólo podía llamar felicidad. ¿Qué había pasado? ¿Qué en esa escena común frente a mis ojos, las vistas y sonidos y olores cotidianos de la ciudad, había hecho que esta cosa inesperada germinara en mí, como la posibilidad de una respuesta a todo anhelo innombrado de mi vida? Todo permanecía igual: las amas de casa, el perro, iguales pero de alguna manera transfigurados. La felicidad venía acompañada por un sentimiento de ansiedad. Era como si estuviera cargando una vasija frágil que era mi misión proteger, como el niño de la historia que nos contaron en la clase de religión, quien cargó la hostia escondida en su túnica por las licenciosas calles de Roma; pero en mi caso, parecía, yo mismo era esa preciosa vasija. Sí, eso era, era yo lo que estaba pasando en ese momento. No supe de manera exacta lo que esto significaba, pero seguro, me dije a mí mismo, seguro que esto significaba algo. Y así seguí con mi camino, en feliz desconcierto, bajo la lluvia fina cargando el misterio de mí mismo en mi corazón.
¿Era ese el mismo frasco de icor precioso, todavía en mi interior, que se derramó en el cine esa tarde, que todavía cargo conmigo, que se desborda con el más minúsculo movimiento, con la más mínima arritmia cardiaca?
An epiphany is a lightning bolt, a feeling that tears us internally and can only be put into language once time has elapsed. Translating is seldom epiphanic; it involves repetition and working through, much like the process of mourning. Translation means loss: epiphany means birth. Such opposing ends made of the same material, which is language.
Translating fragments of John Banville’s Eclipse and Copernicus proved to be problematic not only because of the peculiarities of the English language and the author’s portrayal of a specific setting through particular objects but because of the philosophical density of both texts. In the fragment corresponding to Copernicus, it was difficult, for example to delay the gender specificity that the word “it” can offer. Conveying the simple language that flows through a child’s mind, when the narrator’s focal point is on Nicolas, was problematic. Repetition and alliteration was one of the guiding principles I used to translate the fragment not only for their musical qualities (impossible to replicate when it comes to Banville) but because, I believe, they serve the purpose of conveying the protagonist’s baby steps towards reaching a logical argument that can make him convince himself not to question things too much. Certain grammatical structures are repeated time and again. Sentences beginning with “That was”/ “They were” + predicate nominative/adjective), I tried to mimic through the repetition of sentences beginning with either “era” or “eso” because in Spanish the excessive use of subjects is rare. This childlike structural reinforcement contrasts with the very articulate thoughts that Nicolas is having and, at times, with his elaborate diction (“frantic,” “steadfast,” etcetera). I believe this is meant to cause an estrangement effect on the reader, much like the one Nicolas is having towards the existing world and the language we use to denominate things. The fragment is supposed to defamiliarize the reader to her language, so at times I chose to use phrases that are not all common in Spanish. At first I had chosen “Qué raro.” to substitute “That was strange.” but it was difficult when in transition to the second “That was very strange.” Thus, I chose “Eso era raro” which is somewhat off in Spanish, but perhaps that is even better if it succeeds at presenting language as something strange. I could have chosen “Eso era extraño” and that would have mirrored the alien tree outside (as a stranger, something that lies outside, etcetera) but “raro,” is, in my opinion, cacophonic and awkward. “Raro” is onomatopoeically uncanny as well as appropriate for the diction of a boy. Sometimes I chose unconventional words even when the text did not call for them (such as “silente”) because I sensed an increasing amount of complexity in the text. As Nicolas, the reader is meant to “stumble on the hard words” only to feel “relieved” by the closing nursery rhyme. I chose to prioritize the jingle-jingle quality to it and even added a word that, upon a first reading could seem fortuitous and present only for rhyme’s sake (“taja”). But “daw” means fool and “taja” means to cut or sever so that “Margarita taja” could suggest (if remotely) psychic dissociation, lack of imagination, etc. In any case, it was meant to be nonsensical and to rhyme, to move to the rhythm of a mother’s rocking arms. Language should be rhythmically reassuring, but, on a deeper level, what remains is that language is slippery and untrustworthy—even in the middle of the nursery rhyme there is an uncanny appearance of loss, suggesting the loss of communication, of saying what we mean effectively. Every utterance is a sort of translation. Interestingly, in Spanish we say that language that does not mean anything is straw (“paja”): the place where a vulnerable chicken (a symbol of meanings, referents, things in themselves?) gets lost.
I found the fragment corresponding to Eclipse much less difficult to translate. At times it may seem that I translated word by word but this is only insofar as the weight of the words placed in the sentences in English called for the same structure in Spanish, out of sheer geniality in the original composition. I struggled with the last four words, where I perhaps strayed off from the original and offered a more clinically laden “arritmia cardiaca”. It is a personal preference that sought to avert the somewhat cloying “corazón” in Spanish. In turn, I believe, it perforates the text with a hygienic distance that could, again, estrange the reader from the text while it mimics the frailty of the phial—in a broader sense of the self, or of the narratability of experience—. I hope my translation can somehow break the text and glue it together with gold (as the Japanese mend ceramic vessels), seeking to highlight the frailty of language and the impossibility of translation, making it something broken yet graceful.