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Sunday, December 18

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey or how we lose ourselves in translation

Literature is born out of discomfort and uprootedness and Idra Novey, as a translator and a writer, knows how to capture the exile and the journey of the nomad, both physical and literary. Her book, "Ways To Disappear", is an invitation to reflect on the mission and pitfalls of translation, and the way the translator has to emerge and lose herself in the work and life of the author.  



Imagini pentru ways to disappear review


The novel begins in an amazing, unexpected manner with the author, Beatriz Yagoda, climbing into an almond tree with her suitcase and a cigar. It is her way of disappearing from the world. Emma Neufeld, her Portuguese-to-English translator from Pittsburgh -an alter-ego of Idra Novey, who is herself translating the work of the fabulous Clarice Lispector- leaves her fiance and flies to Rio de Janeiro to find her beloved author, Beatriz. 

Rio is flavored and unexpected, inhabited by strange characters like the loan shark, Flamenguinho, the pedant, careful, Roberto Rocha, Beatriz's publisher and editor, and her very different children -Raquel and Marcus. All of them are looking for the author but at the same time, they are on a search of their own. 

Raquel resents Emma's infatuation with her mother and though she has never read any of her books, she is looking for answers, whereas Marcus, unaware of this, finds love in the translator. But every search means shaking or shedding the very essence or skins that they inhabit. In order to understand and connect to the humanity of the author, all characters -Emma, Raquel, Marcus, Roberto- give up their own definitions of themselves and reshape not only relationships, but their very future. 

Where the structure of the novel is concerned, the dictionary entries that blend real word definitions with fictional explanations, the emails inserted on page, the translation notes and the broadcasts from Radio Globo on the author's disappearance and the unfolding of the events, are amazing techniques that work perfectly in the book. Of all the definition that fills its pages, the one for "promise" is intriguing : 2. A verb used to assure a certain outcome, as in, With time, a translator gets used to promising the impossible the way a loan shark gets used to promising carnage."  

The novel reads like an investigation and all these craft elements build up on the mystery around Beatriz's disappearance. The way the images are juxtaposed and infused with a shred of magic realism make the novel incredibly balanced between the real story and the search for meaning behind words: "In translation, this kind of dilemma was known as domestication. A translator could justify moving around the objects in a sentence if it made it easier for her audience to grasp what was going on ...The problem with domesticating was the possible misplacement of truth." 

The novel is concerned with such concepts as misplacement and misunderstanding, as well as with shifting identities and how the translating process relies on an initial state of uneasiness that results into an inhabitation of the very text if essence is meant to be captured. Even so, despite of the translator's devotion to the text and the familiarity with the author, the process is about seeking the truth in the details of the language. In the transmission of art -the work of Beatriz, in this situation- the reader witnesses moral dilemmas, violence, remorse, romance, comedy- an entire array of human emotions that make the book irresistible. In the end, the reader is left wondering about how we gain agency of our work and life equally, by staying true to ourselves and accepting that there are things we are not bound to change.



Saturday, November 19

Evanghelia dupa Pilat de Eric Emmanuel Schmitt by NICO



"CE ESTE ADEVARUL? ADEVARUL MEU, AL TAU, AL ALTORA. … Exista tot atatea adevaruri, cati oameni. Numai forta impune cu armele sale adevarul …Adevarul este o victorie a ta, este o infrangere a altora, mai bine zis un armistitiu. Dar adevarul nu este niciodata singur, de aceea el nu exista."

Crezi sau nu? Esti credincios? A existat Fiul Lui Dumnezeu sau nu?

Intrebari si iar intrebari…si iar intrebari. Indoieli peste indoieli.
E normal sa ai indoieli, este normal sa te intrebi, este normal sa te abati din drum si sa te intrebi daca faci sau nu bine… Evanghelia dupa Pilat este cartea celor cu intrebari, a celor ce se indoiesc de tot ceea ce fac, dar destul de puternici sa mearga inainte.  


Imagini pentru Evanghelia dupa Pilat images


Ma intrebam daca ceea ce fac din punct de vedere religios este corect sau normal? Daca faptul ca ma rog doar cand sunt singura sau merg la biserica doar cand simt deschiderea de a o face...Daca am dezamagit pe Dumnezeu, daca trebuie sa fiu mai habotnica sau mai retinuta sau oare, cum ar trebui sa fiu? Exista oare o norma sau o regula pentru a te prezenta in fata lui Dumnezeu? Este normal sa crezi fara a-ti pune intrebari? Este normal sa nu crezi? Ce este normal? ….am aflat citind.

Normalul nu exista sau altfel spus, normalul este subiectiv, ca adevarul. Ceea ce este normal pentru mine, nu este neaparat normal si pentru altcineva. Felul in care eu imi arat credinta nu este asemanatoare cu a altcuiva…poate in anumite puncte, poate in anumite momente este …dar atat. Adevarul si normalul sunt subiective. Un lucru exista daca vrei sa existe, credinta exista daca vrei. O primesti daca o lasi sa intre, nu trebuie impusa sau fortata de dogme. Am citit si am aflat ceea ce cautam; am aflat ca Iisus se indoia, s-a indoit inclusiv pe cruce : "M-ai uitat Tata?" Este normal sa fii interogativ si ganditor, sa te retragi cand consideri ca nu mai poti face fata si sa nu te multumesti cu ceea ce iti este impus de altii. Evanghelia dupa Pilat ne arata un Ieshua (lisus in aceasta carte) om, nesigur, dar deschis ...un Ieshua interogativ si meditativ, care nu era constient de puterea sa, era modest, era deschis si increzator, era nepriceput in meseria sa umana de dulgher, era om . Iisus era nepriceput. Mi-a placut, am iubit aceasta idee. El, Atotputernicul era nepriceput, dadea gres si cu toate acestea continua, era ghidat de faprele bune si de ajutorul pe are il dadea oamenilor din jur. In timp ce dadea gres in unele, excela in altele, era imperfect… era uman, era ca mine, ca tine si ca toti cei care isi recunosc imperfectiunile….dar care incearca sa fie mai buni sau sa compenseze prin altele…era om.

Imi place idea unii ca exista oameni puternici care isi ararata slabiciunile, interogarile si dezamagirile, uneori, dar care nu se lasa doborati de ele. Ma gandeam ca trebuie sa mergi la biserica, sa fii acolo zi de zi, ca trebuie sa dai bisericii, ca trebuie sa fii trup si suflet acolo …dar nu, am aflat ca biserica nu este o institutie, o doctrina, o lege. Biserica este peste tot, ea reprezinta cunoastere si deschidere catre bine, bun si oameni, este alcatuita sau ar trebui alcatuita din exemplul unui OM care a facut bine, care asculta si dadea sfaturi, care facea bine- care a dat surplusul sau, care dormea in aer liber sau adapostit de ceilalti, care nu dorea maretie, nu dorea averi. Nu era preot cu cerinte si chitante…era o stare de bine, era iubire fata de toti oamenii, era speranta si liniste sufleteasca.

Evanghelia dupa Pilat este un punct de vedere frumos povestit, este o cautare de multi ani. Aceasta carte este pentru adultul cerebral si perfectionist in cautare de raspunsuri, este pentru toti oamenii care la un moment dat s-au intrebat daca sunt sau nu pe drumul cel bun, sau daca trebuie sa fii intr-un fel sau altul, sau daca trebuie sau nu sa fie precum cei multi, daca este normal sa fii diferit. Ce crezi? E normal ceea ce crezi tu ca este normal si ceea ce ai puterea sa sustii...adevarul tau. Acum ma simt normala din punctul acesta de vedere. Credinta mea si felul in care eu o manifest tine de mine si atat, este momentul meu cu divinitatea, este intima si unica. Este ca fiecare. Credinta este unica si personala. Iisus este unic. 

Cartile si studiul nu exclud magia, cuvintele sunt magice, discutiile sunt magice. Degeaba vorbesti multe, daca nu spui nimic concret. Degeaba te lauzi daca nu faci ceea ce spui, degeaba arati doar pentru a bifa un lucru facut de dragul audientei, degeaba te arati daca nu te si descoperi… ramai gol si in cautare de atentie. Poti face multe, poti bifa multe, degeaba…conteaza ce faci pentru tine, cu tine, prin tine. Iisus este peste tot, tot timpul…nu ai nevoie de o confirmare sau dovada, dovada este in tine. Exista daca vrei sa existe, este fiecare fapta buna pe care o faci, fiecare vorba buna pe care o adresezi, fiecare indoiala pe care o ai, fiecare moment de reflectie pe care il ai, fiecare retregare in tine.

Wednesday, October 12

3 Bellezas or how we mirror our own beauty

My Chinese roommate tells me she has to finish her graduate degree by the end of summer and marry while still in her ''golden years''. I know she is twenty-three but I do not know what time span this specific syntagm refers to. I am told it is her early twenties and that her social clock is ticking. She spends a great deal of time and effort on looking impeccable every single day. Beauty is her main asset and the best way to lure the perfect man into her arms. She puts on make up slowly around the eyes on a satisfied smile. She does not have double eyelids. She is safe from painful, expensive plastic surgery and she won't get blind in old age. She shudders when she is reminded of decrepitude. I follow her tiny, alabaster wrist as she gracefully brushes off invisible layers of sparkling powder. She looks back at me in the tall mirror and a little crease insinuates itself between her almond, contact-lensed eyes. 'You still look good for a white woman your age.' The age factor fails me and with no wise reply on my part, I just smile, check my watch and run for the shuttle.

Once I get on campus, I head straight for the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. There is a Spanish Film Club Festival running for two months and I am bent on doing whatever it takes to watch the movies. It turns out it only takes an exchange of polite emails with the head of the department, a very responsive person I am bound to meet eventually. She leaves the DVD with the Administrative Assistant, a smiling, dark-faced woman that has a desk full of miniature elephants, all trunks up and facing east for good fortune. I watch the movie in a cubicle on the first floor of the campus library. The air in the little room is stuffed and somehow I get claustrophobic tingles down my spine. It keeps me away though from the rather noisy entrance area. From behind the glass, people seem to come and go with catlike tread.

Today I am watching 3 Bellezas (3 Beauties), a satire on Venezuela's obsession with beauty and pageants and the way they are a symbol of class and social status. I know this is the country of telenovelas, filled with amazing female bodies and passionate love affairs. Back home, all the women in my family would not lift a finger or dream to do anything on the evening their favorite telenovela runs. If you are not part of the intrinsic conversation related to the twisted narrative, you are not allowed to say a word. This is a world for connoisseurs. However, this is hardly some artificial studio-shot modern Cinderella story. It is rather a slap into the heavily cosmeticized face of the international beauty industry that causes pain and self-doubt. 



Imagini pentru 3 bellezas


A former beauty queen, Perla, mother of two girls and a boy, uses her talent as a seamstress and her income to turn her daughters into future beauty pageant stars. Nothing stays in the way of success: the ten-year-olds are given valuable advice on how to throw up after a good meal, wear heels and shake their behinds, allow older men to get their hands on them for the sake of glory and surround themselves only by other useful human beings. In this world, men - the brother Salvador included - are mere accessories, either absent or later on, cold bastards looking for sexual favors. An accident nearly kills the elder daughter and throws the mother on the way of redemption and religious practises. A different god, much greedier than the one of the flesh takes charge of their lives. It is another manipulative, money-oriented petty world where the body as the vessel of the Lord is a source of exploitation. 

The mother has a change of heart and starts dreaming about beauty competitions once again. Her daughter, Carolina, is bound to become Miss Republica. The other daughter, Estefania, and the son are neglected and left to beg for the mother's attention. Love and desire pull Carolina from the anticipated path and one sister replaces the other. In their pursue for fame, sibling rivalry blossoms and reaches unexpected heights. The movie turns into a dark comedy with horror accents that sharpen the satire and cast a gloomy light over an industry thriving on female body exploitation. 

In a broader sense, the mother is a symbol for dictatorship whereas the children stand for the oppressed and manipulated masses. Power over others and the prospect of glory and admiration lead to desperate actions. Behind the mother's desire to control the lives of her children lies a mountain of frustration and unfulfilment. It is a more comical, more flavored, noisier reminder of Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In and the pursuit of eternal beauty. The extent we are willing to go to be able to like our mirrored versions is incredible. The pleasure we take in having endless pairs of eyes swathe our bodies gives the highest boost to our vanity and goose bumps to the skin. It has ceased to be a personal choice, a reflection of low self-esteem only, it is a cultural thing that defines not only beauty but the female body as well. The movie ends in a spectacular manner, reiterating the vicious circle of vanity and obsession where the mother stands dehumanized, a mere tool of fabricating glamorous outfits for the future Miss Republica. Indeed, princes do not exist but they are pale imitations of genderless crippled princesses.

Outside the cinematic frames, in real world Romania, young women spend time, money and energy on a pair of full lips or a busty figure. They waste their time in the tanning salons and at the hairdresser's, constantly looking for ways to embellish, improve and reinvent their bodies and confidence. It is hardly a matter of choice, it is the exposure to the mediatic abuse that keeps distorting the standard of beauty. Raised in a communist time, when television was only two hours in the evening and some extra more at the weekends, having no access to glossy magazines and the industry of stardom, I grew up unaware of such struggle in a time when social connections meant spending time in the library or in the park rather than twitting on the computer. 

On the contrary, my younger Chinese roommate would hardly ever consider taking a photo without an Adobe Photo shop touch. The multitude of her social devices enlarges her human experience to the point of annihilating any shred of self-consciousness. Inside this virtual world of perfect skin and well-shaped eyelids, she stands a mutant version of a prefabricated concept aimed at commercializing human needs. Throughout cultures, the concept of beauty raises questions about personhood, specific conceptions of the body and power, with little focus on its humanistic approach. To me and her, this is but another thing that sets us apart. I am at ease with the way I look and take little interest in the matter, whereas I feel she is using such artifice to get social recognition. I am curious on how she would feel about 3 Bellezas and the characters' extreme pursuit after a beauty ideal. In the movie, the mother's struggle did not point to her desire to be assimilated to a group or get a collective identity. It rather showed her own insecurity and idolatry for the female body in the cultural context of beauty pageants. 

To me, physical appearance is culturally minimized though I am aware of the current trends in beauty standards in my own society. Such intense preoccupation is substituted for other more or less personal meanings. What I find fascinating about my Chinese roommate is not her seeking after a degree meant to define her social status and reflect on her marriage pursuance; it is this interplay of technology and appearance and the conviction that modernization can also alter her body to perfection. 

Back to the apartment, I find her standing in a perfect piano-playing pose, nibbling on a perfect bowl of immaculate rice. Her thin fingers carefully play the chopsticks with the same deftness she sweeps primer on her delicate jawline. She turns around and smiles a twenty-three year old smile that mirrors back on her innocent freshness. I feel a sudden urge to smudge her finished make-up and at the same time, give her a close embrace. Instead, I am left to wonder about the choices behind my pursuing this graduate degree and how beauty was never one of them. On second thought, I am after a certain kind of beauty that lies under the skin of fleeting human encounters.