Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Translations: Carlos Skliar

Carlos Skliar (© Copyright Fasinarm 2009)
I'd thought that a large shipment of materials was wending its way east, but a snafu meant that it instead was sitting patiently in Evanston for me to discover it and call upon the good people of United Parcel Service to discharge...and so, now, it is on its way, and there is one less thing to think about on this end. I still am not able to blog as I'd like, but in lieu of a full post, here is a translation of four of the poems in Carlos Skliar's book, No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras (The Words Are In No Hurry), published by Candaya Abierta earlier this year, which I mentioned the other day. I found it in a bookstore in Barcelona and after browsing a few of the pieces, which range from sentence-long aphorisms and aperçus to paragraph length prose pieces shot through with observation and cogitation, I grabbed it. It helped that Spanish was playful but not beyond me ken.

Reading the book on the plane, I found Skliar's poems full of wry wit and keen perspective, offering a clear sense of a mind always moving, turning images or ideas or moments around to see every facet and angle, but also utilizing the resources of Spanish to successful effect.  To put it another way, David Roas writes in his introduction that Skliar, like his mind, is a "a viajero," or traveler, a "un extranjero perpetuo que, como tal, contempla la realidad con ojos nuevos, que mira (verbo esencial en la poética del autor) y nos revela lo que ve y siente" ("A perpetual stranger who, as such, contemplates reality with new eyes, who looks (an essential verb in this author's poetry) and reveals to us what he sees and feels.") (Skliar, 5, my translation). Also noteworthy is his concision and subsequent condensation of meaning, allowing him to do a great deal with very little. Some of his playfulness is hard to capture in English. To give one example, he uses the verb "despedir," which means to "say goodbye to, see off," but also to "discharge, discard, emit, fling," and so forth, the two valences fused in the word. Had he written "Me despedi para siempre de tu vida," that would have been a relatively straightforward "I said goodbye forever to your life," but he retains that rhythmic second-person singular preterite ending "-iste" (which becomes almost incantatory, as "you" in English prose and poetry often does), saying "Me despediste para siempre de tu vida," which turns the address and tone in a different direction. The random person is bidding him farewell--far too formal phrasing for here--forever from his life after basically bothering him relentlessly, so what English verb would suffice. I thought about "discharge," and of course the more benign "say goodbye," but "discard," like that burnt-out "cigarillo" felt appropriate. Perhaps it isn't, but for now it seems to work.

According to the book jacket's brief biography of Skliar, he was born in 1960 in Buenos Aires, he works as a researcher at Argentina's National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, and in the program in Education at the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty.  Since 2005, with Diego Skliar (who may be his brother? Son?), he hosts a radio program in Buenos Aires entitled Preferiría no hacerlo (I would prefer not to do it). I said he was witty.  He is the author of of the collections Primera Conjunción (First Conjunction, 1981), Hilos después (Threads After, 2009), and Voz apenas (Voice Only, 2011), and of the book of aphorisms and essays La intimidad y la alteridad (Intimacy and Otherness, 2006). He has written a number of important essays, published in his own critical volumes such as The Education of the Deaf: A Historical, Cognitive and Pedagogical History (1997), and Intimacy and Alterity: Experiences with the Word (2005), or ones he's edited, among them Derrida and Education (2005), Between Pedagogy and Literature (with Jorge Larrosa, 2007), Experience and Alterity in Education (with Jorge Larrosa, 2009); and The Said, The Written, The Ignored (2011). [Title translations are mine.]

What his brief bio doesn't say--and why should it?--is whether despite the differences in the spelling of their last name he is any relation to the late, brilliant Brazilian writer, Moacyr Scliar (1937-2011), who was born and grew up in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in that country, which direct abuts Argentina and Buenos Aires Province. Perhaps they share common roots in Bessarabia, where Scliar parents were from, or closer ones still, depending, with Moacyr his uncle. This online biography, which points out that he received a doctorate in Phonology, with a specialization in Human Communication and has been served as an adjunct professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, thus suggests close ties to the Gaúcho state, so perhaps the familial links are clear enough.

Here then are several pieces from the book. These are first passes at translation, so the faults are mine; you can read his Spanish directly to gauge the full effect of his work. Also, Mr. Skliar did write a comment on my earlier post, so perhaps he will see and offer corrections--and anyone else should feel free to do so--with this one. Enjoy!

Four from No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras

Me pediste que me detuviera en medio de la calle. Me pediste que te diera un cigarillo, que te lo encendiera. Me pediste que te dijera la hora, que te orientara acerca de un sitio que yo desconocía. Me pediste que olvidara la pregunta. Me pediste otra vez la hora. Me dijiste qué frío hace. Me preguntaste si yo era de aquí. Me pediste otra vez fuego porque el cigarillo se había apagado. Te fuiste. Me despediste para siempre de tu vida.

You asked me to hold up in the middle of the street. You asked me to give you a cigarette, to light it for you. You asked me for the time, to direct you around a place I was unfamiliar with. You asked me to forget the question. You asked me the time again. You told me how cold it was. You asked me if I was from here. You asked me once again for a light because the cigarette had gone out. You left. You discarded me from your life forever.


Detrás de un ventana entreabierta, un niño castigado mira incansablemente el juego de otros niños. Acompaña con su cuerpo los movimentos de cada uno, goza y padece cada una de las vicisitudes ajenas, aunque nadie lo vea. Será un buen hombre. Si lo dejan salir al mundo.

Behind a partially-opened window, a little boy on punishment tirelessly watches other children playing. With his body he shadows the movements of every one of them, enjoys and suffers every one of the others' vicissitudes, even though none of them sees him. He will turn out to be a good man. If they allow him to go out into the world.


El sonido de un idioma extranjero que te abre los oídos, pero no te deja abrir la boca.

The sound of a foreign language that opens your ears, but doesn't let you open your mouth.


La vida es la diferencia entre el tiempo que pasa y lo que pasa en el tiempo. O, quizá, la diferencia que hay en el interior del tiempo que pasa. La diferencia como intensidad. El tiempo que hondura. Tiempo anciano y tiempo niño, a la vez. Podríamos llamar "de travesía" a esos segundos que no quieren pasar, aun pasado. La percepción los detiene, los retiene, los recuerda. El pensamiento podría dedicar sus mejores horas a esos segundos que ni se van ni se quedan.  A esa serpiente enroscado, verde y negra, que al morderse la cola parece que siempre retorna.

Life is the difference between the time that passes and what passes in time. Or perhaps, the difference that exists within passing time. Difference as intensity. Time's depth. Ancient time and youthful time, at the same time. We could call "crossing" those seconds that do not want to pass, even as they're passing. Perception detains them, retains them, recalls them. Thought could dedicate its best hours to those seconds which neither leave nor stay. To this coiled serpent, green and black, which, in biting its tail, always seems to return.

Copyright © Carlos Skliar, all poems from No Tienen Prisa Las Palabras, Prologue by David Roas, Barcelona: Candaya Abierta, 2012. All rights reserved. Copyright © John Keene, translation, 2012. All rights reserved.

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