"Eavesdropping": Snippets of a Conversation between Jazmina Barrera and Christina MacSweeney
… I’ve always associated freedom with essays. Essays are a way for me to explore, to try things out, to create without restrictions or even expectations (an essay is by definition unfinished, imperfect, preliminary).
… That's just what I like about essays: they don't feel constrained by plot, or the need to actually arrive somewhere: you set out on a journey, unsure of where (or if) it might end or what places you might visit en route.
[…] When I first read the Cuaderno de faros I experienced a great sense of isolation. There's the isolation of the lighthouses, but also your own as you wrote the text in New York. Do you think it was that feeling of isolation that led you to work on the theme of the lighthouse, or maybe that the writing made you more aware of your own sense of apartness?
… I actually started working on the subject of lighthouses before moving to New York, but my early experiences there did feel somewhat like lighthouse keeping. It was a time of isolation, of constant struggle with the weather. I also lived at the top of a very tall building and sensed for the first time what it was like to live on an island, surrounded by water. All of that ended up defining the writing of Cuaderno de faros. But you’re right, it also worked the other way around: the constant reading and writing about the lighthouse’s isolation made me more aware of my own. I think it even made me more prone to solitude: I was in love with it.
… I have a passion for travel, and reading has always been a vicarious form of journeying for me: I've never really quite grasped the concept of "fiction"; what I read feels as real as what happens outside the pages of the book.
… I also have a passion for travel, and many times I’ve managed to turn a travel experience into a pretext for writing and the other way around. […] Especially with Cuaderno de faros, being in many ways a book about journeys, I felt a great excitement in sending the book to friends abroad, knowing that the object itself was about to cross the oceans. I consider translations as travels in language. A way for texts to arrive at new destinations and readers.
… It seems like travel, as a metaphor for reading, writing and translation is something we share in some deep place. I guess all those 'trans' words are deeply embedded in the Western psyche. But I recently learned that if you analyze the Japanese character for translation, the elements involved are throwing seeds into the air and seeing where they land. I quite like that idea of scattering language and then watching grows from it…
Translated by Christina MacSweeney
Jazmina Barrera was born in Mexico City in 1988. She earned her degree in Modern English Literature at UNAM. She was a member of the academic committee of the department of Modern Letters of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of UNAM, and she has worked as a translator and editor for various print and digital media, including Ediciones Era, La Tempestad, El Nuevo Mexicano, Tierra Adentro, and Letras Libres. She won the Latin American Voices prize from Literal Publishing in 2013 for her essay "Cuerpo extraño."
The fourth issue of LALT highlights underrepresented but deserving voices from across Latin America, with a focus on women writers as well as special sections dedicated to genre-bending science fiction, indigenous-language poetry and prose, and the essential relationship between author and translator.