Affliction and joy of living in a world that is no longer: An aside with Jacqueline Loss on “Summer, like Summer” by Ernesto René Rodríguez
Jacqueline Loss, whose English translation of Ernesto René Rodriguez's short story "Summer, like Summer" was published by Kenyon Review (July-August 2019 issue), the original in Spanish of which (until then unpublished) appeared later, in a version revised by the author himself, on Patrias. Actos y Letras, talks with Rolando Prats, editor of Patrias, about "Summer, like Summer," some of the author's experiences to which the story alludes, as well as her own experience as a translator of Ernesto René Rodríguez's text. / Jacqueline Loss, cuya traducción al inglés del cuento de Ernesto René Rodríguez "Summer, como el verano" se publicó en Kenyon Review en su número de julio-agosto de 2019, y cuyo original en español (hasta entonces inédito) apareció después, en versión revisada por el propio autor, en Patrias. Actos y Letras, conversa con Rolando Prats, editor de Patrias, sobre "Summer, como el verano", las experiencias del autor a las que el cuento alude y su propia experiencia como traductora del texto de Ernesto René Rodríguez. Read here the translation into Spanish of this conversation.
ROLANDO PRATS: I see such a degree of unintended interplay between “Summer, como el verano” and its translation into English as “Summer, like Summer”, that the said interplay places these two texts in a particularly dialogical relation, by which the boundaries and even the hierarchical lines between the original in Spanish and its English version would seem to ease into a single text, read, if not even written, in an echo chamber. Let’s take, for instance, the very title of the story. One would be tempted to say that the redundancy implicit in the title is enhanced, or rendered even more striking, in the English text, which at the same time introduces an element of virtual counterpoint during the rereading of the original in Spanish. On the other hand, the tense bilinguality of the original in Spanish recedes to such an extent into the background in its English translation, that in “Summer, like Summer” there does not seem to be any trace of untranslatability. Was this in your mind as a translator, and if so, how did you deal with it?
JACQUELINE LOSS: More than the actual troubled relationship to bilinguality expressed in “Summer, como el verano,” I ultimately wanted to convey the sense of confusion to English-language readers that a newly arrived adult immigrant might feel. It seemed that the use of two languages might get in the way of readers connecting to his own experience of confusion. I think that in earlier versions of my translation of which there were many, I included more words in Spanish, but ultimately it was the experience of trying to translate a new world as an adult that I wanted to come through, and the language, the question of how to name things, was only one aspect of that foreignness for this narrator. What was Tennessee? What lens could be used to interpret it? What codes from his past did he draw on to interpret his new surroundings? These were all questions that I believed were essential to the narrator. I was so pleased when Kenyon Review accepted the story, which for me is both classic and so timely. I will add that my sense of content with their decision contrasted with my disillusionment with another journal whose editor is brilliant and yet, didn’t understand what the narrator was trying to do. I just went back over an email to him in which I tried to frame this process. Since it also addresses your question, I thought I’d share a little with you: “The story is largely autobiographical and was meant to portray something of the author’s experience as a recent Cuban immigrant to America’s South. I wanted to maintain this feeling of misunderstanding, excitement, and nostalgia that perplex the narrator with regard to the content and linguistic expression of this new experience. Originally written in Spanish with numerous English words, some of which were actually spelled incorrectly in the original version, and which later I corrected with the author’s permission, I needed to evoke the narrator’s very slowly developing knowledge of English conveyed in his original. However, I ultimately decided to only use English in the translation and to try to convey the narrator’s linguistic and geographic gains and losses through my use of English diction, which I have purposely tried to not always sound natural.”
The takeaway is that even a domination of the English language would not cure this narrator of his ailments, because they are also his triumphant imaginary. His affective affiliation with a world that is no longer
(the Soviet Bloc) is part of what brings him joy and what does not allow him an outlet.
RP: You recently translated into English and prefaced Indagación del choteo (Jorge Mañach, An Inquiry into Choteo. Translated and with an Introduction by Jacqueline Loss, Red ediciones, Barcelona, 2018), and both your translation and your introduction merit a whole separate conversation. However, for now I would like to refer to what you write about intelligibility and estrangement, and your “less than perfect attachment to English idiomatic expressions,” in the introduction to your translation of Mañach: “I can be delayed to notice when foreign constructions are not entirely intelligible in English. However (…) I appreciate the discomfort inspired by unusual constructions, taking grammar and style to be a mirror into individuals and the context in which they reside and express themselves. There is much to be said about the value of estrangement. Theorist Lawrence Venuti posed a challenge about fluency, bringing attention to ‘domestic values’ that the translator inscribes within the texts through the decision she makes.” In my multiple readings of Ernesto’s short story, and in my conversations with him during the preparation of his text for publication on Patrias. Actos y Letras, I came across several instances in which it took me some time (that is, I was delayed) to see the “idiosyncratic” through the apparently misconstrued or broken (whether intentional or not), to relax back into, and enjoy, Ernesto’s own fine tapestry of the colloquial and the literary, the patent and the elliptical. In this light, to what extent did you approach this translation as either an exercise in intelligibility (that is, re-writing, I am inclined to say re-wiring) or in estrangement?
JL: I’ve translated a number of Ernesto’s stories (I’ve known him for nearly 25 years; he influenced my book Dreaming in Russian [University of Texas Press, 2014]), and I was pleasantly relieved by “Summer, como el verano”’s lack of idiomatic expressions, because, while Ernesto has a superb command of them in Spanish, I’m not as good at them in English; they’re far from the tip of my tongue. I took many liberties with the story, because on one hand, I thought the content was sufficiently bewildering to an English speaker, and two, because I felt as if I could sometimes hear what I believed Ernesto would want to say if only he could do so in English. This estrangement that you speak of though is not just in language and space, but also in time. You see that the narrator struggles to locate his place within the second decade of the 21st century. His affinity with the drugstore clerk that either comes to possess a Russian name or whom he decides to baptize with one is a strategy of comfort that he employs to counter his own alienation. There is also a question of genres, and theories, for me, do not get “applied” universally. Your comparison with Mañach is interesting. But Mañach’s essay An Inquiry into Choteo possesses a tone that is somewhat authoritative (and also awkward and bewildered), but it’s non-fiction, and I felt as if, in part, it is the obligation of us readers to sort through the historical and individual circumstances that might have made him see things the way he did, see Cubans the way he did. The reading pleasure could emerge from that. I wanted to make sure that with “Summer, like Summer,” we, readers, could also just enjoy Ernesto’s unusual plot.
RP: Is “Summer, como el verano” a tale of identity and language conflicts that makes implode (I think it does) its own terms, in this case those set by the encounter between a Cuban immigrant struggling with his new linguistic and cultural environment and another immigrant whose liquid or fluid identity, so to speak, distorts and re-defines the very image and perception of what is American, and that transcends those terms, and thus places the conflict in a new space where the dynamics shifts back from language boundaries to existential no-outlets?
JL: “Summer, como el verano” is, for me, a tale of immigration to the United States, and that is why, I repeat, it is so classic and timely. Furthermore, it focuses on a moment of time that is depleted of all that one would customarily associate with triumph or assimilation. With its rice and beans to be purchased admittedly on food stamps, it is hardly the narrative with which Cubans of a much earlier wave of immigration would necessarily want to be associated. This immigrant has many characteristics in common with recently arrived immigrants from other parts of the world and to a large extent, he sees himself this way; yet, he is still privileged as a Cuban, able to get the support of the U.S. government in ways that make him distinct from other newcomers—one upon whom he sets his gaze. (I should add that in more recent years, with thousands of Cubans in detainment camps, this story also reads like one of good fortune.) That other female newcomer would likely not have access to the food stamps he possesses, and even in that assessment of his, we can hear confusion. This “existential no-outlet” about which you speak is also crucial. The takeaway is that even a domination of the English language would not cure this narrator of his ailments, because they are also his triumphant imaginary. His affective affiliation with a world that is no longer (the Soviet Bloc) is part of what brings him joy and what does not allow him an outlet.
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