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Avenues of Translation: The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing

Avenues of Translation: The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing

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Avenues of Translation: The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing

318 pages
4 heures
Apr 15, 2019


Winner of the 2020 SAMLA Studies Book Award — Edited Collection

Cities both near and far communicate in a variety of ways. Travel between, through, and among urban centers initiates contact, and cities themselves are sites of ever-changing cultural and historical encounters. Predictable and surprising challenges and opportunities arise when city borders are crossed, voices meet, and artistic traditions find their counterparts. Using the Latin word for “translation,” translatio, or “to carry across,” as a point of departure, Avenues of Translation explores how translation perpetuates, diversifies, deepens, and expands the literary production of cities in their greater cultural context, and how translation shapes an understanding of and access to a city's past and present literary and cultural practices. Thinking about translation and the city is a way to tell the backstories of the cities, texts, and authors that are united by acts of translation.

Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
Apr 15, 2019

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Avenues of Translation - Suzanne Jill Levine

Avenues of Translation

Avenues of Translation

The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing

Edited by

Regina Galasso and Evelyn Scaramella

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Control Number: 2018049876

A British Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the British Library.

This collection copyright © 2019 by Bucknell University Press. Individual chapters copyright © 2019 in the names of their authors.

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Please contact Bucknell University Press, Hildreth-Mirza Hall, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837-2005. The only exception to this prohibition is fair use as defined by U.S. copyright law.


Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press

Print ISBN: 978-1-68448-055-5

ePub ISBN: 978-1-68448-057-9

Mobi ISBN: 978-1-68448-058-6


Prologue: The City and the Translator

Suzanne Jill Levine

Introduction: Translation and the City

Regina Galasso and Evelyn Scaramella

Chapter 1. Un Walker en Nuyol: Coming to Terms with a Babel of Words

Ilan Stavans

Chapter 2. Translation as a Native Language: The Layered Languages of Tango

Alicia Borinsky

Chapter 3. Lorca, From Country to City: Three Versions of Poet in New York

Christopher Maurer

Chapter 4. Here Is My Monument: Martín Luis Guzmán and Pancho Villa in the Mexico City Landscape

Nicholas Cifuentes-Goodbody

Chapter 5. On Languages and Cities: Rethinking the Politics of Calvert Casey’s El regreso

Charles Hatfield

Chapter 6. A Palimpsestuous Adaptation: Translating Barcelona in Benet i Jornet’s La Plaça del Diamant

Jennifer Duprey

Chapter 7. Montreal’s New Latinité: Spanish-French Connections in a Trilingual City

Hugh Hazelton

Chapter 8. Translating the Local: New York’s Micro-Cosmopolitan Media, from José Martí to the Hyperlocal Hub

Esther Allen

Chapter 9. litoral translation traducción litoral

Urayoán Noel

Chapter 10. Coda: The City of a Translator’s Mind

Peter Bush



Notes on Contributors



The City and the Translator

Suzanne Jill Levine

This scholarly outlook might be sustainable in certain great cities, in which curiosity could lead one to exercise any geographical, cultural, linguistic, or historical vocation. In my world, cultural space was too small and fragile, and the idea of pursuing poetry, dance, art, or anything not connected to business and dreams of financial fortune, seemed laughable.

—Eduardo Lalo, Uselessness¹

Would I have become a translator if I hadn’t been a native New Yorker, if I hadn’t spent my first thirty-five years in this city, this melting pot of people from all nations, religions, and ethnicities? Having lived in California for more than thirty years now—decades that seem to have gone by at breakneck speed—I would answer the question posed with the same answer I have often given to students when they ask, How did you become a translator?

That is: I cannot imagine having translated, as I did in my early twenties, a writer like Guillermo Cabrera Infante, from Havana, or Manuel Puig, from Buenos Aires, had I not grown up in Saul Steinberg’s center of the universe—New York, city of salvation and rebirth for exiles. Here I was immersed in cultural and literary discoveries high and low as a student attending the High School of Music and Art from ages 13–16 and, starting at age twelve, as a young pianist on scholar–ship at the Prep Division on Saturdays at the famous Juilliard School of Music. Where but in the city could one be so intensely exposed to books and libraries, theaters, museums, pulsing street life, and the amazing people I was to meet in those post–Cuban Revolution 1960s?

While I went to college up the Hudson at Vassar, I spent my junior year in 1966 in Madrid—when Spain was (to my good fortune) not yet a destination for global tourism—and there is no doubt that learning to speak Castilian like a native was essential to my adventure into translating Spanish writing into English. Madrid, the traditional center of the Hispanic world then, was a city I explored as a girl, discovering not only romance with boys but a romance language, all part and parcel of immersion in its street life, its bookstores, and its rich history.

After college I returned to the city Manuel Puig called Gotham. At age twenty, I was a graduate student in 1967 at Columbia University and attended a course on the Latin American novel taught by Gregory Rabassa. In those agitated late 1960s in New York, before the funky 1970s and in an atmosphere that was both stimulating and competitive, I picked up a research job at the newly founded Center of Inter-American Relations on Sixty-Eighth and Park Avenue, where I began to meet major figures of Latin American culture. Learning, living, and working in a major city were indispensable to the birth of my life as a translator, scholar, and writer.


Maurice Blanchot once wrote about the translator as a nostalgic person, experiencing her language as missing something that can exist only in the original work. This is an interesting way to look at the translator, both as a general statement relevant to translators everywhere (especially in the Americas, lands of immigrants) as well as to myself as a native-born New Yorker and grandchild of Eastern European immigrants. Like many from a similar background, I knew relatively little about my roots. (Cabrera Infante would quip that only teeth and trees had roots.) Those persecuted people fleeing pogroms didn’t have the luxury of sentimentalism, I’m guessing, and they knew that upon settling in America, they had to assimilate—therefore, they did not pass down that invaluable data, those traditions now lost to my generation.

Translation is historically colored with loss (of the original), a tired cliché but nonetheless always waiting in the wings to pounce. More interestingly it also connects with nostalgia: for those in the literal state of exile and for others who are not totally at home in the city of their own language yet somehow missing their original place of origin—in my case, probably a mixture of Central and Eastern European languages or maybe just Yiddish. With the ghosts of these languages in the background, the impulse in the midsixties to absorb or immerse myself in another European language and culture made sense even though English is where I live and write. Having a deep sense of the foreignness of language can turn words into an escape from pain and loss, a place to play, as they were for a James Joyce or a Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Some translators are as subversive as the authors they interpret.

My affinity for Latin American writers had been, it now seems, an affinity for a certain rootless urban spirit. Writers like Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Manuel Puig, and Severo Severo were displaced or exiled; all three of these writers were from the provinces (two of them from Cuba, one from Argentina), yet with cosmopolitan spirits, they ended up as citizens of big cities: Buenos Aires and Havana and, later on, Paris, London, New York, and Mexico City. Their books and novels that I translated are imbued with the street wisdom of the city dweller, and after having visited Buenos Aires and Havana, I realized, particularly in the case of Buenos Aires, how much these places and their people were reminiscent of New York.

Manuel Puig and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, like many writers of the twentieth century, shared a grand passion for the movies, especially Hollywood movies. Those movies were capable of giving the multitudes from different corners a kind of home away from home that all people could share. Cinephiles such as Henri Langlois, founder of the Paris Cinematèque, have often observed that their love for film is motivated by nostalgia. Like Infante and Puig, I was a movie fan at an early age. These writers associated the movies with their respective childhoods, seeing the movie house almost as a safe haven, a place to recapture, momentarily, the dreamworlds of childhood and early adolescence. Puig spoke of his early failed career as a filmmaker in Rome as the place he discovered writing and as a way to return to the paradise of his childhood adventures at the movies; Cabrera Infante’s principal books feed off the nostalgia for the city of his past as well as those afternoon childhood idylls in the darkened theater where life danced on the screen. The cinema for many spectators, myself included, translates us momentarily into a desired past or a longed-for present or even future, and let us not forget that the cinema, at least back then, was mainly an urban site of adventure.

A city-born translator, I celebrate this volume that takes us on a journey to explore the rich dialogue between translation and the city.

Santa Barbara, California, June 2018


1. Eduardo Lalo, Uselessness: A Novel, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 88.


Translation and the City

Regina Galasso and Evelyn Scaramella

This volume of scholarly essays and creative writing is a significant and pioneering contribution to Iberian and Latin American studies. It is not only the collection’s content that makes it unique but also its range of participating authors, scholars, and translators. Avenues of Translation: The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing is not just about the representation of the city in literary texts. Rather, this volume proposes that thinking about translation and the city is by and large a way of telling the backstories of the cities, texts, and authors that are united by acts of translation. This particular approach slows down experiences that are often taken for granted in the cultural and literary spheres of the city. At the same time, Avenues of Translation does not attempt to offer a definitive map of the translation paths of Iberian and Latin American cities. The essays gathered here are by literary scholars for whom translation as a critical lens and creative activity is an integral part of their work.

Overall, the goal of this volume is to highlight avenues of research that, on the one hand, prioritize the space of the city—as seen in the recent works of James Scorer, Edgar Illas, Enric Bou, and Susan Larsen, to name but a few.¹ At the same time, we look to translation as a theoretical frame to further explore transnational, multilingual, and interlingual networks of literary circulation—building upon the works of Jonathan Mayhew, Vera Kutzinski, and Gayle Rogers, among others.² James Clifford, in his book Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (1997), speaks of location as an itinerary rather than a bounded site—a series of encounters and translations.³ Borrowing from Clifford, the conceptual location that shapes this book is the avenue. Sharing the kind of restless movement within a given site, avenues can, at times, seem endless to the sight of pedestrians and other travelers within the city, contributing to the imaginative possibilities that cities present to individuals. Yet their limited width also creates boundaries in which creativity must develop. It is on these avenues of literary and artistic activity that translation inspires movement, interaction, and creative confluence.

Avenues of Translation highlights several possibilities for literary studies in both Iberian and Latin American spheres. First, together the essays showcase the contemporary period, spanning the turn of the twentieth century to contemporary media trends. This inclusive chronological approach highlights an understudied area—that of translation studies—and how translators fit in to the literary history and culture in the Iberian and Latin American world. Translation is the ideal idiom for studying the city because of the rich interpretive space of cultural and historical diversity that it generates. Next, because this volume spans more than one region and multiple historical circumstances, it illuminates how translation expands and diversifies the literary production of cities. This volume examines how translation shapes an understanding of a city’s recent past and present literary and cultural practices via acts of travel. All the contributions discuss travel to and within various cities during the contemporary period and highlight the importance of travel to translation practices. Finally, beyond the emerging theme of travel as a unifying factor, instead of adhering to a specific type of theoretical analysis or framework, the individual authors of the following essays analyze the specific historical circumstances that surround their authors and texts, thus allowing this volume to offer a range of theoretical and analytical possibilities that will hopefully inspire more to come.

Translators of the City

The Galician-born writer Julio Camba (1884–1962) authored over fourteen books, which contain many of the pieces he wrote during his years as a foreign correspondent for Iberian Spanish newspapers. His writing was published almost regularly over the course of forty years in at least ten different newspapers. Camba left the small town of his birth at the young age of sixteen, traveled to Buenos Aires, got himself deported, returned to Spain, and then went on to travel to numerous cities, from Istanbul and Paris to Berlin and New York. He initially wrote about all these cities and more for a Spanish-language, newspaper-reading audience back in Spain. Travelers are seldom recognized for the amount of translating that they must do—be it interlingual or intralingual translation—when they write about their experiences in literature.⁴ Camba never referred to himself as a translator, although translation is a major aspect of his writing. But as a traveler, Camba participates in the translation process, undertaking a translation act each time the city’s sights and sounds are interwoven into his literary landscape. These translation acts of a traveler in his work have not received the attention they deserve from critics of Hispanic literature. What has widely been omitted from criticism of his work or from most discussions of travel writing is the way travelers to cities often act as translators. Camba does not yearn for the tranquility of the countryside in order to write—en plena Naturaleza soy hombre muerto (in the middle of Nature, I am a still man).⁵ Instead, Camba noted that he was at complete ease while writing in the company of the noise produced by all that the city is made of.⁶

In addition to Camba, a host of examples arise when we think about travel and translation within cities in Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean and from those sites to other major cities across the world. Several writers from Spain, such as Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and José Moreno Villa, visited New York City during the twentieth century and, as a result, wrote their most notable works, which ultimately altered the literature of their homeland and created a distinctive cultural sisterhood between the two places. These dialogues have also led to rivalries between cities. For example, in the first half of the twentieth century, Lorca opted for New York at a time when Paris was in vogue, and Manuel Puig’s writings from the 1970s find London’s theater scene second-rate as compared to what was happening on New York stages. These connections and disconnections between cities have often been established as the result of acts of translation.

For African American modernist writer Langston Hughes, travel from New York to Havana, Mexico City, and Madrid in the 1930s not only caused important political and artistic collaborations among the Hispanic writers he met along the way but also inspired his own translations of writers such as Gabriela Mistral, Nicolás Guillén, Nellie Campobello, and Lorca. Hughes’s interaction with Hispanic writers within the space of the cities in the Hispanic world even brought the Spanish language into his own poetry and prose via bilingual wordplays and multiple narrative voices. When Hughes arrived in Spain in July of 1937, one year after the start of the Spanish Civil War, he joined writers and intellectuals from across the Hispanic world and internationally who had come to the aid of the struggling Spanish Republic. Soon after arriving in Spain, Hughes set up camp with some of the world’s foremost modernist writers at the Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas (Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals), where he was given a gift from Rafael Alberti—a copy of Lorca’s Romancero gitano. Just one year had passed since Lorca was assassinated at the hands of nationalist troops. The gift from Alberti, which the poet had recently reissued with a new prologue that served as an homage to his slain friend Lorca, allowed for Hughes to undertake a translation of Lorca’s text. During his time in Madrid, Hughes completed his translation of Romancero gitano as Gypsy Ballads, with Alberti and Manuel Altolaguirre assisting him with the project along the way. Hughes also translated Lorca’s Bodas de sangre and several of the Generation of 1927’s Spanish Civil War ballads in 1937 while traveling among Madrid, Valencia, and Paris.

The bustling translation activity that Hughes accomplished in Madrid at the Alliance was a strategy to align American and Spanish literary traditions across linguistic and cultural boundaries for the purpose of Republican political propaganda. During the war, many Republican writers viewed translation as a key method of international political mobilization and organization. Not surprisingly, Hughes’s life-writing in English became increasingly interlingual as a result of his translation work within the city of Madrid. In his second autobiography, I Wonder as I Wander (1956), as Hughes described his time in Spain during the civil war, he frequently interwove new Spanish expressions he learned in Madrid into his English prose. These heteroglossic moments offer glimpses of his efforts to translate aspects of the culture he experienced during his travels to Madrid. As songs about the defense of Madrid resounded in the streets, the Spanish words and phrases of these lyrics filled his head and heart and soon became incorporated into his writing: "‘Madrid, you wondrous city!’ were words the Brigade boys had put to an old Spanish folk song, ‘Mamita Mia.’ The Madrileños had previously put wartime Spanish words to it, too, about the way their city was holding out under siege: ‘Madrid, que bien resistes! / Madrid, que bien resistes, / Mamita, mia, los bombardeos!’ The will to live and laugh in this city of over a million people under fire, each person in constant danger, was to me a source of amazement. [ . . . ] City without heroics, Madrid, que bien resistes!⁷" Hughes was just one of many bilingual Spanish, American, and British writers who worked in Madrid and passed through the Alliance of Antifascist Intellectuals during the Spanish Civil War who used the translation of literary texts in Spanish and English to foster international awareness of the Republican cause.

Translators, in this way, can become special mediators in the material circulation of cultural ideas in urban communities. Langston Hughes’s translations of Romancero gitano put Lorca’s work on the literary map in the United States, allowing for the wide circulation of Lorca’s work to an Anglophone audience at an important political moment when Republican Spain desperately needed support. As in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, the city can mark encounters with modernity through translation during times of intense political and cultural change.⁸ In other words, translators can place the authors and their texts that they translate into the circulation of political and cultural ideas, acting as liaisons facilitating interaction, circulation, assimilation, and exchange. Sherry Simon has discussed that some cities are connected by a common structure and spirit and that as travelers, we are always translating the values of our home city and mapping them onto another city when we visit (Cities xix). Likewise, when a writer travels to a new city and embraces its cultural and political history, the author and traveler begins to translate aspects of that city into his own life and work. Expanding upon Doris Sommer’s notion that bilingualism benefits and enriches the civic life of a city, Simon explores how the accents, code-switching, and translation of multiple languages within cities become a crucial element of that city’s identity (Cities xix). Simon urges us to understand a city’s history beyond the visual and spatial markers of its monuments and urban design. Just as it did for Hughes and Camba, for Simon, translation encourages the traveler to listen to the distinct soundscapes of cities and their diverse languages.

Edith Grossman, the celebrated translator of Hispanic letters (1936–), shared a similar sentiment about the relationship a writer has with the city. In a 2010 lecture at Manhattan’s Yale Club, Grossman, one of today’s foremost translators of some of the monumental works of Spanish-language literatures, shared with the audience that the city was central to her role as translator. She explained that the close contact of individuals in New York City was preferable to their isolation in the countryside. She remarked how city sounds, songs, and voices heard on the streets, subways, buses, cafés, and restaurants are resources for her work. When she is searching for a word or a phrase for a literary translation, she at times finds it rolls off the tongue of an individual moving through the city alongside her. The city gives words, and gives life, to her translations, helping her to locate the colloquial expressions of the city space that her characters need to say.

Her story is intriguing because it speaks to how well successful translators listen to what is being said around them. This careful listening to the soundscape of the city undercuts and challenges the notion that translation can simply be done with access to dictionaries and a basic knowledge of two languages. By revealing that the sources that a translator relies on to do his work are to be found outside heavy hardcover books and beyond computer screens, Grossman takes the translator out of the solitary environment where he or she is often thought to be and into a dynamic urban space.

What is more, the scene Edith Grossman described to a New York audience in her lecture places the translator in the city, waiting for an individual to utter the words of an existing character who speaks another language, thus adding a playful level of fictionality to the city’s occupants. The translator considers the city just as we might imagine any other writer would: as a well of inspiration from which the language of stories emerges. Surveying the city and its audible surface thus becomes one possible strategy available to translators, and the city is revealed as an infinite and unpredictable creative resource. Sherry Simon elaborates, "Translation is the key to citizenship, to the incorporation of languages into the public sphere. This

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