Mario Bellatin, Or, The Traps of (Literary) Faith
The images of St. Jerome repeat themselves, identically, on a small altar. A lamp that must remain lit illuminates them. The devoted one, Antonio, is ill and the woman who assists him sees to it that the air currents do not leave the place in darkness. Antonio is the protagonist of Efecto invernadero, the second novel by Mario Bellatin (Mexico, 1960) that returns, like his other books, in the unpublished manuscript that this dossier presents.
Unlike other arts, literature seems to endure variations badly, and this resistance can be due the cult of Antonio —the writer, the hermit, the translator of the Holy Scriptures who spent half of his life confined in a cave with a dog and a lion. As a method, St. Jerome used none other than that of Origen. His complete works, the compendium of all the Greek translations of the Old Testament, has been lost—it could have hardly been otherwise—but it still survives in scattered fragments. The original is no longer what it was, and that is exactly what the narrator of “My New Scriptures. The New Scriptures," the unpublished manuscript by Mario Bellatin, insistently tries to explain to his beloved fellow in the militia, who nevertheless cannot hear, abstracted as he is with his young disciple. Meanwhile, in the place the soldiers use to fight and share —a place which was once destined to beauty— a war has just broken out which uses as its main weapon the very faith in the Literary Republic.
What do the unbelievers like Bellatin believe in, then? Who do they light the lamps for? The answer is manifest: for the images of St. Jerome, the identical ones, the translated. Once the faith in the Word has been lost, writing and translation celebrate profane rites: in David Shook’s essay, each tasbih bead is a fine dog in Allah's hands; the saluki, a sacred dog omnipresent in Bellatin’s fiction, is a miniature Pharaoh Hound and also a horse, a greyhound, a clandestine Maltese. Once the faith in Equivalence has been lost, all translations are bad. For is there anything else than bad translations? Or any devoid of malevolence? Without it, without some form of profanation, there would be no translation possible. Once the faith in the Original has been lost, we are left with fragments and, as an offering, the pleasure of service.
Translation theories that grieve fidelity and lament loss forget that the past that feeds nostalgia emerges in the process of translating, as if it was necessary to create a fixed reference, an antidote for the unpredictable effects of the passage. Today, biographies and back covers alike point out that Bellatin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, but it is less well known that Bellatin made translations without novels (to which genre could possibly texts like El jardín de la señora Murakami o Shiki Nagaoka: una nariz de ficción belong to?). “Skopos, the Inexistence of Coherence and the Impossibility of Defining Fidelity: A Theory of Translation of the Work of Mario Bellatin” takes the writer’s gesture even further by performing a translation from a film, Barú, produced by Shook and Bellatin in 2016. Nostalgia is left behind and through poetry we sense that the task of the translator is not to repair what has been broken but rather to fragment it further.
In “The Seed of Uncertainty: On Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose For Fiction” João Paulo Cuenca analyzes this other crucial aspect to Bellatin’s world: the crossing with other arts, especially film and photography. Cuenca asks: is Bellatin’s, as it has been claimed by many critics, an “expanded” literature or a writing in constant movement through different surfaces? What matters, in any case, is that reading should not be stopped, or rather, that readers come to wish to be forced to continue. Like the turn of the whirling dervishes, writing is always in motion, and hence it becomes impossible to determine what is new. The images try to resemble each other. What, then, is the surprise?
Graciela Goldchluk proposes a theorem, Dostoyevsky’s, to explain the commotion caused by reading Bellatin. Even in the most miserable states, such as those endured by the fellow soldiers or by Antonio in his agony, readers are unable to identify with the characters or with the situation. In Bellatin’s world, nothing is immediate. His syntax inserts suspension where today’s streaming series demand zero time and empathy. Bellatin’s writing is made out of that suspended time.
In his last published texts (“Carta sobre los ciegos para uso de los que pueden ver”, the unpublished manuscript presented in this dossier), one perceives a state of permanent war in which someone, in spite of everything, must write. Desolation reigns: there are no more Sacred Books, no more Torahs, no more Bibles, no more Korans, no more Popol Vuh. But when it seems that there is no way out, that there is no language left that could express what is happening, someone bows down before Santa Marosa di Giorgio, San Rodolfo Fogwill, San Felisberto Hernández, San Juan Manuel Puig, San Juan Rulfo, San José María Arguedas, San Juan Carlos Onetti and asks for what should be asked: her own writing, replicated, disguised, stolen; the only true miracle.
Delfina Cabrera is a literary critic currently working at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, where she curates and studies the photographical archive of Mexican writer Mario Bellatin. In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles, she is an active literary translator and the author of Las lenguas vivas. Zonas de exilio y traducción en Manuel Puig.
In our thirteenth issue, we feature two innovative, hard-to-define figures of Latin American letters: from the present, Mexican writer Mario Bellatin, and from the past, Chilean writer Juan Emar. Together with these authors, we highlight Latin American theatre for the first time with a script by Ramón Griffero, Nahuatl-language poetry by Martín Tonalmeyotl, plus interviews, book reviews, exclusive previews, and more from writers including Rosario Castellanos, César Aira, and Salgado Maranhão.