Archive for the ‘Sin categoría’ Category

ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE (Luxembourg), EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2022

I am pleased to inform the world that Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), where I live, has been designated European Capital of Culture for 2022. It will share this honour, bestowed by the European Union, with Kaunas, the former capital of Lithuania.

Esch (population: 34 000) is Luxembourg’s second city after the capital, with an industrial past (steelworks are still operative), and is the seat of the country’s university. It has a vibrant cultural activity, with venues including the municipal Theatre and Conservatorium, the Rockhal concert venue, and the Kulturfabrik arts centre (photo below), as well as an established annual Flamenco Festival. 30% of the population is international, the most numerous communities being Portuguese, Italian and African. Esch will be spearheading a consortium of municipalities in southern Luxembourg and across the border in France, which will share the hosting of activities.

A campaign ‘I Support Esch 2022’ is already under way and I will surely be backing it!

For more details, see:

 https://wwwen.uni.lu/universite/actualites/a_la_une/esch_sur_alzette_wins_bid_to_become_european_capital_of_culture_2022  and

https://www.esch2022.lu/en

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‘FROM THE BIBLE HE’D QUOTE’: REFLECTIONS ON BOB DYLAN’S ‘TROUBLE NO MORE’

‘Somebody said from the Bible he’d quote’ – Bob Dylan, 1989

Bob Dylan, Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13, 1979-1981, Columbia 2017

Part I

Trouble No More, the thirteenth and latest volume in Bob Dylan’s long-running sequence of archive releases, The Bootleg Series, covers the years 1979 to 1981. In its full deluxe edition, in 8 CDs, one DVD, a booklet with liner notes by Rob Bowman replete with biblical  pointers, essays by Penn Jillette and Amanda Petrusich and a book of souvenir photographs, the set documents what has often been seen as the most controversial of all the singer-songwriter’s many avatars, namely his ‘religious period’.

The world of music drew its breath in 1979 at the announcement of Bob Dylan’s conversion to evangelical Christianity, accompanied by the release of ‘Slow Train Coming’, an album consisting exclusively of new compositions in a religious idiom. The album reached No 2 in the US charts and featured Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler on guitar, as if to sweeten the pill. However, it was rejected out of hand by many of Dylan’s long-time admirers. It was followed by two other Christian-themed albums, ‘Saved’ in 1980 and ‘Shot of Love’ in 1981, which were less commercially successful. ‘Slow Train Coming’ also opened a period in which Dylan performed nothing but religious material in concert, though eventually he softened his stance to restore some older songs to the setlists. ‘Shot of Love’ contained a number of non-religious songs, and palpable was the relief in Dylan circles when his album of 1983, ‘Infidels’, proved to be free of overtly Christian material and finally marked the errant idol’s return to the fold. In later years and indeed until fairly recent times, Dylan continued to perform some of the songs from this period in concert, but treating them as elements from his back catalogue without privileged ideological significance.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 enriches the official Dylan canon with copious servings of material,  mostly live (also studio outtakes), complementing the three studio albums from this period. The live material is selected from different dates and venues, except for discs 7 and 8, which enshrine an entire concert (London, 27 June 1981, with some non-religious material); discs 5 and 6 are a compilation from different concerts in Toronto in 1980. The title ‘Trouble No More’ appears to be not from Dylan but from a blues number with that title by Muddy Waters. There are some previously unreleased compositions, and many of the songs appear in multiple versions. For some, this set will mark total saturation with the ‘religious Dylan’; for others, it will be infinitely fascinating.

As the authors of the set’s two essays admit, for a whole host of Dylan devotees ‘Slow Train Coming’ and its successors marked a crisis point. I remember myself the reactions of numerous friends and acquaintances, ranging from desperate disillusion to angry rejection. There were those who now saw Dylan’s earlier work as retrospectively tainted and started to divest themselves of their Dylan collections; those hitherto Dylan completists who conspicuously refused to buy ‘Saved’ and ‘Shot of Love’; those who defiantly declared ‘I just ignore the words and listen to the music’, or responded ‘He always did quote the Bible anyway’;  and even those who spoke openly of ‘the death of Bob Dylan’. Equally, these were others who, influenced by the then still uncontested hegemony of Marxism in left-wing circles, rejected the new Dylan for being religious tout court, while others objected specifically to the conservative political connotations of the particular form of religion Dylan had embraced. I myself published a highly critical article in a Portuguese journal:

–           ‘Bob Dylan: Do Radicalismo à Reacção’, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, No. 13 (Feb 1984), pp. 45-75 (only available in Portuguese) – on-line at: www.ces.uc.pt/rccs/index.php?id=202&id_lingua=1

berating Dylan for what seemed an inexplicable conversion to values he had once opposed – but in which I made the mistake of supposing the conversion to be final and irreversible. That article was written in 1983 but published in 1984, by which time the unpredictable Bob had disabused me of my error with the release of ‘Infidels’.

It might be added that if one looks objectively today at the lyrics to the three albums, if those to ‘Slow Train Coming’ do indeed at certain points reflect a conservative evangelical ideology (though laced with social protest that would to some paradoxically recall Dylan’s early 60s work), those to ‘Saved’ are far more emotionally focused on the sensations of salvation, while ‘Shot of Love’ can be read as a dramatic monologue, the product of an internal struggle within someone not entirely sure if they are a Christian or not. All in all, the three-album sequence is very far from constituting a homogeneous propaganda tract. Many, even if not all, of the songs on the three albums read as decent pieces of writing acceptably up to Bob Dylan’s usual standards. The recurrent biblical references constitute the songs as intertextual by default. From this period, ‘Every Grain of Sand’, much returned to live in later years, is generally recognised as a major Dylan song, and in that register I would add, at least, ‘In the Garden’, and, in its multiple versions, ‘Caribbean Wind’.

Now, we may ask what the cultural significance might be of the release of this set at this particular point in time, almost four decades on. Many of the live performances are of the highest quality, with Dylan, his band and his back-up singers creatively on edge, emotionally vibrant and musically and vocally concentrated. Today, the Marxian ‘opium of the people’ dismissal of religion has been largely supplanted in Western liberal circles by its polar opposite, the ideology of ‘respect for religion’, which taken to extremes can mean placing anything religiously motivated beyond all criticism whatever. Between one extreme and another, ‘Trouble No More’ raises in acute form the issue of the reception of religious art by those who are non-believers. The world is invited, after all this time, to focus on the religious Dylan at a time when the issue of ‘how to react to art that one disapproves of’ has perhaps never been so charged.

We are living a historical moment at which Western civilisation’s historic commitment (if Western civilisation still exists) to free expression and artistic freedom is under unprecedented attack – in multiple spheres, from universities to the theatre, visual arts and music – and in which certain ideological blocs appear to have thrown all notions of aesthetic value out of the window. The conversion of a certain Californian educational institution, which I shall not name, from free-speech redoubt to hotbed of censorship (as exemplified in recent events there) serves to remind us that today those who consider themselves liberals, be they students or academics – the kind of people whose equivalents 40 or 50 years ago would have been Dylan acolytes – are now more often than not in the forefront of the new puritanism. The ever more frequent reasoning, in more than one ideological camp, is: I disagree with this artwork, so I eliminate it; I disagree with this person, so I shut them up. In extreme cases the two positions are conflated, and the result is: I disagree with you, so I eliminate you (it may not be that difficult to find examples).

I am not aware that anyone at the time actually wanted Dylan’s religious work banned or destroyed. However, in the times we live in, to reposition that religious work on the world stage may prove a salutary act, suggesting to those of us who rejected it back then that perhaps we were not setting such a good example when we said no to a part of an artist’s work that was aesthetically substantial and gave rise to unforgettable performances, simply because we did not approve of its ideological connotations. Had we been more tolerant then, perhaps the world might be a more tolerant place today.

**

PART II

I continue with some more detailed comments, targeted on harder-core Dylan loyalists.

The packaging of this set is – like the music – mostly excellent, though the quality of some of the photos in the booklet (‘Bob Dylan – Pressing On: Photographs and More 1979-1981’). leaves something to be desired. The nine discs have been designed with a suitably retro look and sport various combinations of just three appropriate colours, red, black and gold, suggesting solemnity and passion. Rob Bowman’s notes are detailed, enthusiastic and helpful, with Dylan’s multifarious references to the King James Bible admirably pinpointed, but for some unknown reason stop at Disc 4 – so there is no guidance for the last 4 discs or the DVD, an unfortunate omission surely.

The number of tracks on the 8 CDs is officially 92, but becomes 89 if one excludes a radio check and two band introductions. All the tracks are previously unreleased with the one exception of ‘Ye Shall Be Changed’, taken from The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3. There are, if I have counted right, 13 songs never before officially released, some of them in more than one version. Of these, ten are Dylan compositions and three are cover versions. There is also ‘Trouble in Mind’, left off ‘Slow Train Coming’ but released as the B-side of the ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ single in the US (as Rob Bowman points out) and also (as he does not point out) as the B-side to ‘Precious Angel’ in the UK. Some of the previously unreleased numbers are not totally unfamiliar thanks to cover versions (‘City of Gold’, ‘Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One’) or Dylan lore (‘Yonder Comes Sin’); others (‘Stand By Faith’, ‘I Will Love Him’) were new certainly to me, and I imagine to most.

Of the three cover versions, ‘Help Me Understand’ is a Hank Williams song, while ‘Rise Again’ is a gospel number also covered by Elvis. The most intriguing cover, however, appears on CD 8 (second disc of the London concert), in the shape of ‘Let’s Begin’, a Jim Webb song. To my knowledge this is Dylan’s only known cover of Webb, who as author of compositions like ‘Wichita Lineman’ has certainly staked a decent claim to being a major twentieth-century songwriter. Unfortunately, as the notes stop at disc 4, no further light is shed on the matter.

There are so many good performances, studio and above all live, on this set that to single out individual tracks might seem almost invidious. However, a list of standout tracks might include ‘Covenant Woman’ on disc 1, ‘Pressing On’ on disc 2, and ‘When You Gonna Wake Up?’ and ‘In the Garden’ (disc 8, London); or both versions, live (disc 2) and studio (disc 4), of ‘Caribbean Wind’, with lyrics varying both between each other and from the version that appeared on Biograph (for Dylan geographers, they respectively cite Curacao and Trinidad where the earlier release namecheck Nassau); or, again, the two passionate versions of the hitherto unknown ‘Cover Down, Pray Through’ (disc 4 studio, disc 5 live). On a less perfect note, there are lyric errors on the live versions on disc 2 of ‘In the Summertime’ and ‘Every Grain of Sand’, and would it really not have been possible to choose word-perfect performances of both? (the studio take of ‘Every Grain of Sand’ on disc 4 is error-free). As for the non-religious songs on discs 7 and 8, doubters may note that these are excellent versions, with, notably and thanks also to Dylan’s back-up singers, especially harmonious translations into the gospel idiom of two classic songs that are particularly suited to such a transformation.

The DVD consists of a video entitled ‘Trouble No More: A Musical Film’, directed by Jennifer LeBeau and made up of concert footage interspersed with sermons from a preacher played by US actor Michael Shannon, plus ‘extras” material in the form of further concert material. Dylan’s performances – not identified – come over as intent and moving, both on Bob’s own part and that of his musicians and backup singers. Outstanding numbers include ‘Precious Angel’, ‘Saved’ and, with an epic harmonica solo, ‘What Can I Do For You?’ The DVD also includes two songs that to my knowledge have never appeared as official Dylan audio releases: the traditional ‘Jesus Met the Woman at the Well’, in two versions (incomplete in the film, complete in the extras), and, in a powerful duet rendition that marks the film’s closure,  the oft-recorded standard ‘Abraham, Martin and John’.

All in all, the material of this set appears as a revelation and a challenge, a clarion call at a difficult moment in history for Dylan’s admirers to engage in critical dialogue with a corpus of work from a period in his songwriting career that is not the easiest to handle, but which, approached with an open mind, may prove surprisingly rewarding – another phase in the creative life of one of the greatest artists, in any medium, of modern times.

WOODY GUTHRIE’S ‘DEPORTEE (PLANE WRECK AT LOS GATOS)’ AND THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG / LAS VIDAS DETRÁS DE UNA CANCIÓN: ‘DEPORTEE (PLANE WRECK AT LOS GATOS)’ DE WOODY GUTHRIE Y SU TRASFONDO HISTÓRICO

Review of: Tim Z. Hernandez, All They Will Call You: The Telling of the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2017

‘Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,

Adiós mis amigos, Jesús y María,

You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,

All they will call you will be “deportees”’

Woody Guthrie, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)’

**

Almost 70 years ago as I write, on 28 January 1948, a Douglas DC-3 plane transporting – or, more accurately, deporting – a contingent of Mexican migrant workers from the US back to Mexico caught fire and crashed at Los Gatos Canyon, outside the town of Coalinga in Fresno county, California, killing all on board. That disaster gave rise to a song composed by folk icon Woody Guthrie, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)’, which has been covered over the years by numerous artists. However, only in the second decade of the twenty-first century did someone carry out the project of researching the incident and of endeavouring to properly identify the deceased and trace their histories. That person is the California-born Hispanic-American writer and academic Tim Z. Hernandez, his labours part-financed by the University of Texas at El Paso. The result is a moving and richly detailed setting to rights of the collective memory surrounding that plane wreck.

 

Woody Guthrie composed the words of ‘Deportee’, but the tune, based on a Mexican ranchera melody, is by an otherwise little-known musician and friend of Guthrie’s, Martin Hoffmann. Guthrie himself never performed or recorded the song: in 1948 he was already ravaged by the Huntington’s chorea that would end his life in 1967. ‘Deportee’ was first popularised by Pete Seeger, and over the years notable versions have included those by Judy Collins, Joan Baez, the Byrds, Nanci Griffith and (in a Spanish-language adaptation) Tish Hinojosa. The song has also been performed live by Bob Dylan alongside Baez. It is universally recognised as a folk standard, but only now, with Hernandez’s book, has the story behind the song been told in a form in keeping with what it has always more than merited.

The victims of the crash were 32 in all: 28 Mexican migrants (27 men and one woman), plus four Americans (the pilot, his co-pilot and his wife acting as stewardess, and the security guard). The migrants were braceros, seasonal agricultural labourers who had toiled picking Californian fruit. They were not necessarily illegals, but if not they were workers with no settled status or residency rights (as the song puts it, ‘Some of us are illegal and others not wanted’). They were being deported back to Mexico in accordance with the cyclical back-and-forth system imposed by the US authorities: short-term seasonal contract, return to Mexico, new seasonal contract and so on. The deportation by plane was unusual, the means of transport commonly used being bus or train. The nature of the system is summed up by a US Agricultural Labour Bureau employee, whom Hernandez quotes without comment: ‘We are asking for labour only at certain times of the year, at the peak of our harvest, and the class of labour we want is the kind we can send home when we get through with them’.

Guthrie’s song affirms that the Mexican victims were nameless (‘You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane’, ‘The radio says they are just deportees’). Hernandez’s book shows that this is not exactly the case: the newspaper and radio reports did in fact name some (not all) of the passengers (not always correctly). This does not detract from the fact that the Mexican crash victims were treated as effectively nameless, their remains consigned to a mass grave with a marker reducing them to ‘28 Mexican citizens’, their families never officially informed, and their lineage and histories untraced.

Tim Z. Hernandez’s book is the product of a five-year labour. He did not manage to trace all of the deceased, succeeding with a total of six (four braceros, all men, and the American pilot and his wife). The project thus remains unfinished, but what emerges is an impressive cross between testimony and oral history. For the braceros, through interviews with the surviving relatives and neighbours of those located, conducted using a handheld audio recorder, he builds a picture of their working and family lives and personalities – in detail ranging from the courtship of Luis Miranda Cuevas from Jocotepec in Jalisco state, with his plans to engage a mariachi at his wedding, to the love for baseball of José Sánchez Valdivia from La Estancia in Zacatecas state – as well as imaginatively reconstructing the course of the fatal events, from the boarding of the plane to the aftermath of the wreck. The tale concludes with a first-hand account of the consecration, on 2 September 2013 at the Holy Cross cemetery in Fresno, of a collective headstone, finally naming all 28 deceased Mexicans and thus mitigating the anonymity of the mass grave. Their story, however, remains incomplete, the bare bones of the facts still needing to be fleshed out by imaginative empathy: as Hernandez says in his preface, ‘To stumble upon a plane crash is to stumble upon the broken and fragmented shards of stories, and to have faith that from these clues our own glaring humanity offers enough light to fill in the unknown’.

**

All They Will Call You is both a carefully researched, sensitively written collective homage and an act of historical reclamation of events till now remembered almost entirely through one single song. It is a book that deserves a wide circulation; and in view of the subject-matter and the author’s origins, and in the interests of its wider accessibility, if a translation into Spanish is being considered that would be an indubitable plus. Its tale from almost 70 years ago is also disturbingly pertinent to our own times – to today’s conflictive politics, as expressed in the US in the presidential plans for a border wall, and in its sibling nation the UK in the newly precarious future awaiting migrant workers, with European fruit-pickers in particular now risking a draconian seasonal permit regime. For both Anglosphere states, today’s readers of Hernandez’s book may, for 2017 as for 1948, more than legitimately echo Woody Guthrie’s question in ‘Deportee’ (italics mine), ‘Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?’

**

Note:

Hernandez’s book is also reviewed at: Sasha Khokha, KQED News, 13 July 2017,

‘Immortalized by Woody Guthrie, “Deportees” Who Died in Plane Crash Are Nameless No Longer’,

https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/07/14/immortalized-by-woody-guthrie-deportees-who-died-in-plane-crash-are-nameless-no-longer/

**

See also: *(in Spanish) David Brooks, ‘Deportee/Deportados’, La Jornada sin Fronteras, 15 May 2017,

http://ciencias.jornada.com.mx/sin-fronteras/2017/05/15/ruta-sonora-sin-fronteras-7061.html

*Diana Marcum, ‘Names emerge from shadows of 1948 crash’, LA Times, 9 July 2013,

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-deportees-guthrie-20130710-dto-htmlstory.html

*Malia Wollan, ‘65 Years Later, a Memorial Gives Names to Crash Victims’, New York Times, 3 September 2013,

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/us/california-memorial-names-crashs-forgotten-victims.html?mcubz=0

**

It is also interesting to note that an article published this year traces a recently discovered further  instance of Woody Guthrie’s solidarity with the Hispanophone world, namely the series of anti-Franco songs which he wrote (but did not record) in 1952:

Will Kaufman, ‘Woody Guthrie’s Songs Against Franco’, Atlantis (Spain), XXXIX, 1 (June 2017), pp. 91-111,

https://www.atlantisjournal.org/index.php?journal=atlantis&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=349

**

LAS VIDAS DETRÁS DE UNA CANCIÓN: ‘DEPORTEE (PLANE WRECK AT LOS GATOS)’ DE WOODY GUTHRIE Y SU TRASFONDO HISTÓRICO

Reseña: Tim Z. Hernandez, All They Will Call You: The Telling of the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2017

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,

Adiós mis amigos, Jesús y María,

You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,

All they will call you will be “deportees”’

Woody Guthrie, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)’

**

Hace casi 70 años, el 28 de enero de 1948, un avión Douglas DC-3 que transportaba – o más bien deportaba – a un contingente de trabajadores migrantes mexicanos desde Estados Unidos de regreso a México prendió fuego y se estrelló en el Cañón de Los Gatos, en las afueras del pueblo de Coalinga en el condado de Fresno, California, provocando la muerte de toda la gente a bordo. Ese desastre dio origen a una canción escrita por Woody Guthrie, ícono  de la música folk, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)’ [‘Deportado: Desastre de avión en Los Gatos’], que ha sido interpretada a través de los años por numerosos artistas. No obstante, fue sólo en la segunda década del siglo XXI que alguien emprendió el proyecto de investigar el incidente y de intentar la correcta identificación de los fallecidos y trazar sus historias. Le cupo esa tarea a Tim Z. Hernandez, escritor y universitario norteamericano de origen hispánico, nacido en California, beneficiando en la última fase del proyecto del apoyo de la Universidad de Texas en El Paso. El resultado es una rectificación conmovedora y detallada de la memoria colectiva que rodea el desastre.

Woody Guthrie compuso la letra de ‘Deportee’, pero la melodía, basada en una ranchera mexicana, es la obra de un músico y amigo de Guthrie, por lo demás poco conocido, llamado Martin Hoffmann. El propio Guthrie nunca grabó o interpretó la canción: en 1948 ya se encontraba muy debilitado por la corea de Huntington, enfermedad que acabaría con su vida en 1967. El primero en popularizar la canción fue Pete Seeger, y entre las múltiples grabaciones realizadas desde entonces se pueden destacar las de Judy Collins, Joan Baez, los Byrds, Nanci Griffith y (en una adaptación al español) Tish Hinojosa. También ha sido interpretada en vivo por Bob Dylan, al lado de Baez. ‘Deportee’ se ha ganado un reconocimiento universal como tema clásico del género folk, pero sólo ahora, con el libro de Hernandez, ha sido posible contar la historia que subyace esta canción de la manera que se merece.

Las víctimas de la catástrofe fueron en total 32: 28 migrantes mexicanos (27 varones y una mujer), más 4 norteamericanos (el piloto, su copiloto y su esposa actuando de auxiliar, y el guardia de seguridad). Los migrantes eran braceros, trabajadores agrícolas estacionales que habían faenado recogiendo frutos californianos. No eran forzosamente ilegales, pero aun así eran al máximo trabajadores sin estatuto permanente o derechos de residencia. Como declara la canción, ‘Some of us are illegal and others not wanted’ [‘Algunos somos ilegales y a otros ya no nos quieren’]. Estaban siendo deportados de regreso a México según el sistema cíclico de ir-y-venir impuesto por las autoridades estadounidenses: contrato de temporada, regreso a México, otro contrato de temporada, etc. Que la deportación se realizara en avión era insólito, pues los medios de transporte más usuales eran el tren y el autobús. La naturaleza del sistema puede resumirse en las palabras de un funcionario del US Agricultural Labour Bureau, citadas por Hernandez sin comentario: ‘We are asking for labour only at certain times of the year, at the peak of our harvest, and the class of labour we want is the kind we can send home when we get through with them’ [‘Buscamos mano de obra sólo en determinadas temporadas del año, en el punto alto de nuestra cosecha, y la clase de mano de obra que queremos es aquella que podemos mandar regresar a casa cuando ya no la necesitamos’].

La canción de Guthrie afirma que las víctimas mexicanas fueron tratadas como gente sin nombre: ‘You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane’, ‘The radio says they are just deportees’ [‘Ustedes no tendrán nombre cuando viajen en el gran avión’, ‘Dice la radio que sólo son deportados’]. El libro de Hernandez demuestra que eso no fue exactamente el caso: en realidad algunos de los reportes de periódico o radio nombraron a ciertos pasajeros (no todos, y no siempre con ortografía correcta). Esto no altera el hecho de que los mexicanos víctimas del desplome fueron tratados como efectivamente sin nombre: sus restos fueron consignados a una fosa común con una única piedra reduciéndolos a ‘28 ciudadanos mexicanos’, sus familias nunca fueron oficialmente informadas, y sus historias y antecedentes se quedaron sin identificar.

El libro de Tim Z. Hernandez es el producto de una labor de cinco años. No logró rastrear a todos los difuntos, teniendo éxito con un total de seis (cuatro braceros, todos de sexo masculino, y el piloto estadounidense y su esposa). El proyecto queda así incompleto, pero surge sin embargo como una impresionante síntesis entre testimonio e historia oral. Para los braceros, a través de entrevistas con los sobrevivientes parientes y vecinos de los fallecidos localizados, realizadas usando un grabador audio de bolsillo, restablece el retrato de su vida familiar y laboral y sus personalidades – desde el cortejo de Luis Miranda Cuevas, de Jocotepec en Jalisco, con sus planes de contratar mariachi para su boda, hasta la afición al béisbol de José Sánchez Valdivia, de La Estancia en Zacatecas -, además de reconstruir el decurso de los últimos sucesos fatales, del momento del embarque a las primeras secuelas del desplome. La historia concluye con un reportaje de primera mano de la consagración, el 2 de septiembre de 2013, en el panteón de la Sagrada Cruz (Holy Cross Cemetery) en Fresno, de una piedra tumular colectiva, finalmente nombrando a todos los 28 mexicanos fenecidos y así atenuando la anonimidad de la fosa común. Su historia, no obstante, siempre tiene que completarse, pues hace falta dar vitalidad a los hechos usando empatía e imaginación. Como resalta Hernandez en su prefacio, ‘To stumble upon a plane crash is to stumble upon the broken and fragmented shards of stories, and to have faith that from these clues our own glaring humanity offers enough light to fill in the unknown’ (‘Toparse con un desastre de avión es toparse con fragmentos de historias, y tener fe que a partir de esas pistas nuestra flagrante humanidad ofrezca luz suficiente para rellenar lo desconocido’).

**

El libro All They Will Call You es, por un lado, un homenaje a una colectividad, fundamentado en una investigación rigorosa y redactado con sensibilidad, y, por otro, un acto de reclamación histórica de eventos que hasta ahora se conocían casi enteramente a través de una única canción. Es merecedor de una amplia circulación, y en ese marco, llevando en cuenta su temática y en aras de maximizar su accesibilidad, se puede afirmar que en caso de que haya una traducción al español bajo consideración, eso constituiría innegable ventaja. A la vez, la historia que cuenta de hace casi 70 años ahora surge como, de forma perturbadora, altamente pertinente para nuestros tiempos. Piénsese en la conflictividad al nivel político que caracteriza nuestra actualidad, reflejada en Estados Unidos en el proyecto presidencial de muro fronterizo, y en su país hermano Reino Unido, en la amenaza de futura precariedad que se cierne sobre los trabajadores migrantes, y muy en particular los recogedores de frutos que ahora arriesgan vivir bajo un régimen draconiano de permisos de temporada. Para ambas tierras de la anglosfera, quien hoy lee el libro de Hernandez bien puede, tanto para 2017 como para 1948, hacer legítimo eco de la pregunta de Woody Guthrie en ‘Deportee’ (cursiva mía): ‘Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?’ – ‘¿Sería ésta la mejor manera de cultivar nuestros frutos tan ricos’?

**

Nota:

Para otra reseña del libro de Hernandez, véase: Sasha Khokha, KQED News, 13 julio 2017,

‘Immortalized by Woody Guthrie, “Deportees” Who Died in Plane Crash Are Nameless No Longer’,

https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/07/14/immortalized-by-woody-guthrie-deportees-who-died-in-plane-crash-are-nameless-no-longer/

**

También de interés:

*(en español) David Brooks, ‘Deportee/Deportados’, La Jornada sin Fronteras, 15 mayo 2017,

http://ciencias.jornada.com.mx/sin-fronteras/2017/05/15/ruta-sonora-sin-fronteras-7061.html

*Diana Marcum, ‘Names emerge from shadows of 1948 crash’, LA Times, 9 julio 2013,

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-deportees-guthrie-20130710-dto-htmlstory.html

*Malia Wollan, ‘65 Years Later, a Memorial Gives Names to Crash Victims’, New York Times, 3 septiembre 2013,

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/us/california-memorial-names-crashs-forgotten-victims.html?mcubz=0

**

Notemos igualmente que un artículo de este año retrata otra faceta, hasta ahora desconocida, de la solidaridad de Woody Guthrie con el mundo hispano, concretamente la serie de canciones antifranquistas que escribió (aunque sin grabarlos) en 1952:

Will Kaufman, ‘Woody Guthrie’s Songs Against Franco’, Atlantis (España), XXXIX, 1 (junio 2017), pp. 91-111,

https://www.atlantisjournal.org/index.php?journal=atlantis&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=349

 

FREUD REDIVIVUS: ÉLISABETH ROUDINESCO’S LIFE OF THE FOUNDER OF PYSCHOANALYSIS

Élisabeth Roudinesco, Sigmund Freud: en son temps et dans le nôtre, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2014; translated as Freud In His Time and Ours by Catherine Porter, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2017

**

Élisabeth Roudinesco’s prize-winning biography of Sigmund Freud is nothing if not monumental, the summation of a life’s work devoted to the study of the past and present of Freudianism and psychoanalysis. The book is long – 582 pages in the original including ample notes and bibliography. It is the first biograhy of Freud ever to have been produced from within the psychoanalytic milieu in France. Inevitably, it may also be considered one of the more controversial biographies of recent times, though it was awarded the Prix Décembre and the Prix des Prix Littéraires (both in 2014).  In 2017 the book gained a new lease of life by being translated into English (it had earlier appeared in Spanish). The comments that follow refer to Roudinesco’s French original.

Roudinesco’s work on psychoanalysis has long been the subject of ferocious criticism in France from her arch-nemesis, the anti-Freudian philosopher-at-large Michel Onfray. The English version of her biography was greeted favourably by some but, in the New York Review of Books (‘Freud: What’s Left?’, NYRB LXIV, 3, 23 Feb-8 Mar 2017, pp. 6-10), hyper-cacophonously by the critic Frederick Crews, once upon a time himself a Freudian and author of a psychoanalytic study of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but who today sees about as much merit in psychoanalysis as a UK Brexiteer does in the European Union.

It is not my intention to enter here into the details of the never-ending polemic between defenders and detractors of Freud and psychoanalysis. Roudinesco herself is and always has been a committed Freudian, within the French school and thus, inevitably, the orbit of Jacques Lacan (who is nonetheless all but off-stage in the book); she is by training both a psychoanalyst and a historian, and thus uniquely qualified to write such a life. Her encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary psychoanalysis, in France but also internationally, has borne fruit in a vast body of work, ranging from the state-of-the-art vindication ‘Pourquoi la Psychanalyse?’ (1999) to the remarkable ‘Dictionnaire de la Psychoanalyse’ (1997, compiled jointly with Michel Plon; soon to be republished in its fifth edition), which couples in-depth analyses of the key concepts with historical cameos of the fortunes of psychoanalysis around the world. For the biography of Freud, she has consulted an immense range of sources (as copiously listed in the bibliography), including, notably, the Freud archive at the Library of Congress. If anyone is capable of successfully marshalling the evidence in favour of Freud against the familiar charges of ‘charlatan’, ‘falsifier’, ‘megalomaniac’, etc, it is she. Meanwhile and pace Crews, the author shows herself throughout to be fully aware of the arguments of the anti-Freud camp as signified repeatedly in the notes, even as she makes every effort to refute them on an informed basis.

Roudinesco pays the necessary attention to all the different sides of Freud’s writings – the clinical and therapeutic (‘Studies in Hysteria’ or ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality’), the metapsychological (‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ or ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’), and the cultural (she is particularly strong on ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ and ‘Moses and Monotheism’). At the same time, she does not limit her inquiries to Freud himself, and throughout underlines his (vexed or otherwise) relations with his disciples and fellow psychoanalysts, in a way that makes clear that psychoanalysis is also a collective phenomenon, a movement that exists to fulfil a cultural need and cannot be reduced to the idiosyncrasies of one individual. Indeed, in its later sections the book reads as much as a history of the early psychoanalytic movement as a life of Freud. Within the movement, she especially points up Princess Marie Bonaparte, psychoanalyst, great grand-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte himself and preserver of Freud from the Nazis, whose major stabilising and cohering contribution to the movement seems still not to have been fully studied or acknowledged. Within the movement, she especially points up Princess Marie Bonaparte (the major stabilising and cohering contribution to the movement of this psychoanalyst, great grand-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte himself and preserver of Freud from the Nazis, seems still not to have been fully studied or acknowledged).

While Freud’s role as cultural critic is strongly underscored, there is arguably a relative absence of attention to the literary dimension and impact of psychoanalysis: if ‘Oedipus Rex’ and ‘Hamlet’ receive their due, Freud’s seminal exploration of the fantastic genre in ‘The “Uncanny”’ gets only a footnote, while Marie Bonaparte’s pioneering psychobiographical study of Edgar Allan Poe, which Freud himself prefaced, is not mentioned at all (albeit Roudinesco has examined that book elsewhere).

Roudinesco is visibly no adept of such contemporary phenomena as postmodernism, identity politics or censorship in the name of diversity: she is an older type of intellectual, committed to notions such as universalism, rationality and the Enlightenment values of which she clearly sees Freud as prime exponent. Obsolescent though some might consider such values, their continuing validity – and that of Freudianism – might nonetheless be argued for if one considers the institutions that have validated both Roudinesco’s work in general and this book in particular: the translator of this life of Freud into English, Catherine Porter, is a former president of the Modern Language Association, and that English version appeared under the imprint of Harvard University Press; and Roudinesco herself has lectured under the aegis of the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2013.

Onfray has before now linked Roudinesco with ‘Stalinist’ attitudes, seeing her as one of the last of a dying breed. Those who view Marxist philosophy more generously than Onfray might wish to suggest that there are in fact positive analogies between Freudian and Marxist methods: both propose rationalist, Enlightenment-grounded models, both are atheist, and both are rooted in hermeneutics as against empiricism: if Marx aimed to ‘lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society’, Freud saw the interpretation of dreams as the ‘royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind’. Both Marxism and Freudianism transcend the individual work of their founders, as collective movements with multiple branches and variants; and both are out of fashion today.

Élisabeth Roudinesco concludes her book with an evocation of Sigmund Freud’s resting-place in the Golders Green crematorium in London, and with the affirmation that her master remains ‘le grand penseur de son temps et du nôtre’ (p. 531 – ‘the great thinker of his time and of ours’). This her latest work firmly aligns Roudinesco within the ranks of those who may be called ‘last-ditch’ intellectuals, those who refuse to recant on the material of their life’s work and affirm their beliefs to the end, resisting pressure to conform and the vagaries of present-day ideology. Such a pantheon of arch-survivors or true believers, defenders of universalist rationality against the subjectivist pyrotechnics of postmodernism, would include, for Marxism, the late Eric Hobsbawm; for canonic literature, Harold Bloom; for secularism, the late Christopher Hitchens; for free speech, Salman Rushdie; and, yes, for psychoanalysis and with this life of Freud behind her, Élisabeth Roudinesco.

SALMAN RUSHDIE AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS – ON CHILDHOOD READING, CINEMA AND TECHNOLOGY

When Salman Rushdie’s name is evoked, it is all too often forgotten that he is not only a polemical figure in the areas of politics and religion, but also – and first and foremost – a practising writer with, by now, a large back catalogue of fiction and non-fiction behind him which extends far beyond ‘The Satanic Verses’ and the oft-repeated controversies around that book.

Two recent texts featuring Rushdie have appeared on the US Library of Congress site, and as they do not appear to be particularly well-known, I now give them an airing on this blog.

1) The Library of Congress Magazine for July/August 2017 features an article, ‘Salman Rushdie tells the story of how he fell in love with reading’ (pp. 26-27) in which the author speaks of his childhood passion for reading and names some of the books and writers he read and enjoyed as a boy:

http://www.loc.gov/lcm/pdf/LCM_2017_0708.pdf.

He tells how when he was growing up in Bombay (today Mumbai), his home was fortunately near both a bookshop (called ‘Reader’s Paradise’) and a lending library, both replete with books in English, and between the two he was able to devour works by Lewis Carroll, Arthur Ransome, and, later, Erle Stanley Gardner (the ‘Perry Mason’ books) and ‘the writers so beloved by Indian readers – P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and John Masters’ – as well as piles of comic books.

We may note that the adult books mentioned fall under different kinds of genre fiction – detective fiction, thrillers, humour, adventure: Rushdie’s more literary reading came later, but on this point he astutely remarks: ‘I’ve always thought my parents were smart not to force me to read only “good” books. As long as I was reading, they were content, and they were right. The habit of reading, once formed, will last a lifetime, and the good books get their turn in the end. What matters is to be seduced.’ Indeed, Rushdie’s reading is characterised by an eclecticism that has left its mark on his writing: books in all genres can be grist to the writer’s insatiably grinding mill.

2) The Library of Congress website also features a transcript, from the Library of Congress Book Festival held in Washington, D.C., of a dialogue that took place on 24 September 2016 between Rushdie and Bilal Qureshi:

http://stream-media.loc.gov/webcasts/captions/2016nbf/16_main_srushdie.txt

In this dialogue, Rushdie raises a multitude of themes, and among those of particular interest for his activity as a writer we may note the following:

– ‘The Thousand and One Nights’: Rushdie avows the influence on his own writing of the world-famous Arabic story collection (often believed to be of Indian origin), and especially its presence in his most recent novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” (the title is another way of saying ‘1001 Nights’). He also recalls that there are other similar agglomerations of stories in classical Indian literature, such as the “Panchatantra” and the “Ocean of the Streams of Story”. Rushdie thus places his own work within a very ancient Eastern tradition of storytelling.

– cinema: Rushdie also admits the influence of cinema on his work. He recollects how as an undergraduate in the late 60s he frequented the Cambridge Arts Cinema and how that venue introduced him to the work of the art-house directors who were so revered at the time: ‘I think I learnt at least as much in the movie theatres as I did in the library. There was this little theatre in Cambridge called the Arts Cinema, which like everything else no longer exists and now it’s a coffee shop. But I feel I got my education in that little room, … watching, you know, Godard’s “Alphaville” and Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim”, and Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and Luis Buñuel’s “[The] Exterminating Angel”, and so on. And I think (…) this book [his latest novel] is incredibly influenced by those films’.

– social media: Rushdie admits he has given up on Twitter – he has abandoned his onetime Twitter feed habit altogether, though he has felt obliged to keep his account open: ‘I think it’s very well-named, Twitter. It is this kind of twittering noise in your ear. And there was just a moment [when] I thought, I don’t want this noise in my ear any more. And I just stopped. And I haven’t missed it for a second, let’s say. And I mean I’ve had to leave the account alive, because if I delete the account, somebody will cybersquat my name within five seconds and will then be tweeting as if they’re me and I don’t want that.’

– e-books versus printed books: Rushdie also expresses scepticism regarding e-books and the Kindle. He declares: ‘So, they arrived, eBooks, and they went like a rocket (…) And everybody, including everybody in the publishing industry, panicked. And they got to about 17 or 18% of the market and they completely plateaued. And now, they’re actually dropping whereas the sales of this dinosaur of an object, the hardcover novel, sales are going up (…) Our bookstores were getting out of business, now bookstores are beginning to open rather than close.’

‘Sometimes I had to go and give a talk at Google, you know, in Mountain View, California .. [an] audience entirely composed of 21-year-old techies .. And I said to them,  … this is a very remarkable piece of sophisticated hardware.  (…) What happens if you drop your laptop in the bath?   (…) So, if you drop that [a printed book] in the bath, it does not lose its data, you know?  You just have to dry it out.’

‘20 years ago, you could have a book, and now it’s 20 years old and you’ve still got it and you can still read it perfectly easily. It doesn’t need to be translated into some other technology that will be obsolete in five years’ time (…) So, you see, this, the book, this is most sophisticated. And that’s why it survives.’

Rushdie, then, returns to the tried and tested print medium – to reading books and, of course, writing them:

– ‘I’m just going to do this old-fashioned thing’

– ‘Write novels?’

– ‘Writing books. Yeah’.

 

FROM ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE TO EDGAR ALLAN POE: THE ELLERGRONN NATURE PARK

 Just outside Esch-sur-Alzette, in southern Luxembourg’s resurgent rustbelt, on the border with France lies the Ellergronn nature park, established on the site of the former Cockerill coalmine, closed in 1967:

www.esch.lu/tourisme/nature_sport/Pages//reserve_naturelle_ellergronn.aspx

Today the park includes a welcome centre, a museum of mining, a restaurant (An der Schmëdd), and a glorious stretch of beautifully preserved woodland, including the alders which give Ellergronn its name.

Our visit to Ellergronn took place on a special ‘nature day’, with the park opening its doors to a wider public and proposing various activities and events.

From the moment we entered the precincts, the rusting remains of a mining rail line surrounded by greenery invited us to step back in time and enter an older, slower world. Then along the road leading to the main complex, there came into view a horse-drawn carriage – which would return several times, be it passengerless or carrying a contingent of wide-eyed children. Driver and passengers alike looked as if they had stepped out of a photograph from the 1950s. Moments later, we found ourselves in the entrance to the complex, where a jazz quintet was proudly performing vintage New Orleans material.

 

 

The main purpose of our visit was to sample the breathtaking woodland walks around the site, and there we could appreciate both the tallest of beeches, ashes and alders and the smallest details of nature, from wild strawberries to ochre-winged fritillary butterflies. Yet the visit also offered up an unexpected centrepiece, in the restaurant where we had lunch before embarking on the walk.

The restaurant offered traditional fare – suckling pig and cordon bleu with mushroom sauce, both served with a fresh crispy salad – and, like the rest of the site, felt like a veritable time-warp. The decor included an enormous candle tree in white wax. A polished wood radio straight out of the 50s, its dial listing the stations of the time, competed with a collection of ageing vinyl records.

Positioned next to the table where we ate, there reposed a strange object: a phrenological bust, with a map of the supposed different divisions of the human brain, signed with the name L.N. Fowler.

For an admirer like myself of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), this was a beacon into the past. Phrenology, a physio-psychological system devised by a German called Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832), held that the key to an individual’s character lay in the structure of their brain, divided up (as in the map on Fowler’s bust) into different organs corresponding to particular qualities. It was all the rage in Europe and the US in the 1830s and 1840s, and, if today dismissed as a pseudo-science, then enjoyed considerable scientific respectability (one can argue today that it did in a broad sense anticipate contemporary neurological notions of localisation of function in the brain). It also stimulated the literary creativity of writers such as Walt Whitman and, crucially, Edgar Allan Poe, who incorporated phrenological notions in his work – in stories such as ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ and ‘Some Words with a Mummy’ (both published in 1845) – with an attitude poised somewhere between ambivalence and fascination.

The bust in the Ellergronn restaurant is an example of the articles marketed by the brothers Orson and Lorenzo Fowler. The latter is the L.N. Fowler of the bust: together they  ran the Phrenological Cabinet, an establishment in New York which promoted the new discipline and dealt in phrenological paraphernalia. In an essay of 1845 on the poems of his famed contemporary Longfellow, Poe not only discusses phrenology and its claims but also refers directly to ‘the marvels and inconsistencies of the Fowlers’ (Poe, ‘Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’, published in ‘The Aristidean’ (New York) 1845; repr. in Poe, ‘Essays and Reviews’, ed. G.R. Thompson, New York: Library of America, 1984, 759-777 (760)).

The person behind this bust was, then, known to Edgar Allan Poe. To find a Poe-related object in a restaurant in a nature park on the border between Luxembourg and France might appear unlikely indeed. Yet surprising though the discovery may be, it also testifies to the universality of the nineteenth-century American writer, to the multiplicity of connections between his prescient literary work and our world of today. For those with the knowledge and with eyes to see, sooner or later all roads can lead back in time to Edgar Allan Poe!

 

Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan – debate en la Feria del Libro de Madrid, 3 de junio de 2017 / The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs – debate at the Madrid Book Fair, 3 June 2017

Tras la polémica atribución del Premio Nobel de Literatura para 2016 al famoso cantautor estadounidense Bob Dylan, se celebró, el sábado, 3 de junio de 2017 y en el ámbito de la programación de Portugal como país invitado en la Feria del Libro de Madrid, un debate, patrocinado por la Embajada de Portugal en Madrid, que reunió a algunos de los principales traductores de la obra cantada de Dylan al castellano y al portugués, bajo el título ‘Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan’.

El evento tuvo lugar en el Pabellón de Portugal, dentro del recinto de la Feria en el Parque del Retiro, siendo la Embajada portuguesa representada por el Consejero de Cultura, Pedro Berhan da Costa.

 

El debate tuvo como participantes a los traductores Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa  (para el portugués) y José Moreno (para el castellano) y fue moderado por el Dr Christopher Rollason, experto en tema dylaniano (en las fotos que siguen aparecen en la secuencia: José Moreno, Christopher Rollason, Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa).

Las ediciones oficiales en inglés de las letras de Bob Dylan han sido cuatro hasta la fecha, conforme a una lógica cumulativa, cada nueva edición agregando las composiciones más recientes. Ha habido ediciones en 1975, 1985 y 2004, siendo la más actual ‘Lyrics 1961-2012’, Nueva York: Simon & Schuster, 2016, existiendo también una edición variorum publicado en 2014.

La primera, tercera y cuarta de esas ediciones han sido traducidas al español, respectivamente en 1975, 2007 y 2016. Esta última edición es: ‘Letras completas 1962-2012’ – traductores: Miguel Izquierdo, José Moreno, y Bernardo Domínguez Reyes, Barcelona: Malpaso, 2016.

En lengua portuguesa, también en base de las ediciones oficiales de Simon & Schuster, han salido hasta la fecha los dos volúmenes ‘Canções 1’ (2006) e ‘Canções 2’ (2008) – traducidos por Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa, Lisboa: Relógio d’Água, encontrándose prevista la salida de un tercer volumen, ‘Canções 3’, con los mismos traductores y en la misma editorial, para actualizar el acervo.

El debate del 3 de junio de 2017 fue la concreción de una excelente idea, la de juntar a los respectivos traductores portugueses (equipo completo) y españoles (representados por José Moreno) para expresarse sobre los desafíos que plantea la traducción de las letras de Dylan y de la canción en general, pues si Bob Dylan ha conseguido la fama mundial que le ha valido el galardón del Nobel, esto en cierta medida se debe también al hecho de la traducción de su obra en múltiples lenguas.

Entre los muy variados aspectos evocados en un debate que resultó ser tan profundo como estimulante, podemos destacar los aspectos siguientes:

*la diferenciación entre adaptación (versiones en otro idioma para ser cantadas) y traducción (versiones que pretenden comunicar el significado del texto, para ser leídas);

*la literariedad de la letra traducida (se destina en primer lugar a ser leída y así se puede sostener que es un fenómeno incluso *más* literario que la letra original);

*la situación de la canción como ‘género bajo’ relativamente a otros géneros, notablemente el muy nobelizado género del teatro, también de tipo multimedia pero de mayor prestigio;

*la naturaleza híbrida de la obra de Dylan, que abarca elementos tanto de la ‘cultura alta’ como de la ‘cultura baja’;

*la multiplicidad de citas en las canciones de Dylan, que pueden ser literarias, musicales, cinemáticas y sobre todo bíblicas;

*la dificultad inherente en traducir elementos de estas canciones como la ambigüedad y los juegos de palabras;

*el hecho de que las traducciones de la obra dylaniana en lenguas ibéricas hayan salido casi exclusivamente en España y Portugal y no en Iberoamérica, fenómeno que según los presentes puede explicarse por el protagonismo iberoeuropeo que caracteriza la edición en español y portugués en general.

No cabe duda de que este evento habrá servido para potenciar y desarrollar el interés, de parte del público lusófono e hispanófono, en temas tan apasionantes como la naturaleza de lo literario y las posibilidades e imposibilidades de la traducción. E incluso un sólo día después de ese debate, el 4 de junio de 2017, salió al mundo, finalmente, la tan esperada Conferencia del Nobel de Bob Dylan: http://www.svenskaakademien.se/en/nobel-lecture

en el cual el cantante evocó la presencia de la literatura en su obra, desde Homero al ‘Moby Dick’ de Herman Melville, sin olvidarse, en un hermoso toque ibérico, de su lectura de una obra a la vez tan español y tan universal como … nada menos que el ‘Quijote’ …

Y así sigue el debate sobre la naturaleza y los límites de la literatura, al cual el evento de la Feria del Libro de Madrid no dejó de representar valiosa aportación.

**

The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs – debate at the Madrid Book Fair, 3 June 2017

Following the controversial award of the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016 to the celebrated US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, on Saturday, 3 June 2017 a debate was held, under the auspices of the Madrid Book Fair (with Portugal as this year’s invited country) and the Portuguese Embassy in Madrid, bringing together Dylan translators into Spanish and Portuguese, under the title ‘Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan’ (‘The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs’).

The event was held in the Pavilion of Portugal, in the precincts of the Fair in the Parque del Retiro. The Portuguese Embassy was represented by the cultural attaché, Pedro Berhan da Costa.

The participants in the debate were the translators Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa  (Portuguese) and José Moreno (Spanish). The debate was moderated by Dr Christopher Rollason, author of numerous publications on the work of Dylan (the photo below shows, in order, José Moreno, Christopher Rollason, Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa).

To date there have been four official editions in English of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, following a cumulative logic with each new edition adding the most recent compositions. Editions appeared in 1975, 1985 and 2004, the latest  being ‘Lyrics 1961-2012’, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016 (there is also a variorum edition published in 2014).

The first, third and fourth of those editions have been translated into Spanish, respectively in 1975, 2007 y 2016. The most recent is: ‘Letras completas 1962-2012’ – translated by Miguel Izquierdo, José Moreno and Bernardo Domínguez Reyes, Barcelona: Malpaso, 2016.

In Portuguese, also on the basis of the official Simon & Schuster editions, two volumes have appeared so far, ‘Canções 1’ (2006) e ‘Canções 2’ (2008) – both translated by Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa, Lisbon: Relógio d’Água. A third volume, ‘Canções 3’, is under way, with the same translators and publisher, thus bringing the lyrics in Portuguese up to date.

The debate of 3 June 2017 was the outcome of an excellent idea, namely to bring together the respective Portuguese and Spanish translators (for the former the full team, the latter represented by José Moreno) to speak on the challenges raised by the translation of Dylan’s lyrics and of song lyrics in general.

The worldwide fame which Bob Dylan has achieved and which has led to his Nobel is, after all, to some extent also due to the translation of his work into numerous languages.Among the varied aspects discussed in a debate which proved to be both exhaustive and stimulating, we may mention the following:

*the differentiation between adaptation (versions in another language intended to be sung) and translation (versions aimed at communicating the sense of the text and intended to be read);

*the literariness of the translated text (intended primarily to be read and thus arguably a *more* literary phenomenon than the original lyric);

*the position of songwriting as a ‘low genre’ vis-à-vis other genres, notably the theatre, also a multimedia genre but many times rewarded with the Nobel;

*the hybrid nature of the work of Dylan, which comprises elements from both ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’;

*the multiplicity of quotations and allusions in Dylan’s songs – literary, musical, cinematic and, above all, biblical;

*the difficulty inherent in translating elements in the songs such as ambiguity and wordplay;

*the fact that the translation of Dylan’s work into Iberian languages has been carried out almost exclusively in Spain and Portugal and not in Latin America, a circumstance explained by those present as related to the position of predominance enjoyed in general by Europe-based publishers in their respective language markets.

There is no doubt that this event has served to stimulate and develop interest, on the part of the Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking public, in topics of major significance such as the nature of the literary and the possibilities and impossibilities of translation. Just one day after the Madrid debate, 4 June 2017 saw the publication, at last, of Bob Dylan’s eagerly awaited Nobel lecture: http://www.svenskaakademien.se/en/nobel-lecture – in which the singer evoked the presence of literature in his work, from Homer to ‘Moby Dick’, while not forgetting, in an attractively Iberian touch, his reading of a work at once as Spanish and as universal as … ‘Don Quijote’!

And so the debate continues on the nature and limits of literature, a dialogue to which this recent event at the Madrid Book Fair has constituted a more than valuable contribution.