Chilean Popular Poetry and Biblical Psalms (II)


Central Valley of Chile

by Fernanda Martinez Varela, MA scholar at MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish. 




a) Context of use

Some psalms and a particular type of the Cantus to the divine have its use in ceremonies and community celebrations. The Cantus to the divine based on the “Angel’s farewell” refers to those songs that are performed after the death of a baby during his wake in order to alleviate the sadness of the parents through singing. It is a celebration because is assumed that the boy or girl will go directly to heaven since he or she is free from sin. On the other hand, in biblical psalms we can find some texts that have their use in ceremonies and feasts. Psalms 114, 115, 116, 117, 135 have their use during Easter; psalm 118 during the Pentecost; psalm 47 during the New Year… This resemblance may be due to the fact that both songs are connected by their ritual nature, which, according to the RAE, is related to ceremonies by custom that are performed with a sacred character. In the case of “Angel’s farewell”, the passage from life to death; in the psalms, in general, the festivities highlighted by Christianity.

b) Past and present

The tradition that is updated in those who pray or sing is important in both discourses. In the Cantus to the divine is the tradition that contributes to knowledge, since the songs are transmitted from generation to generation, but is also the tradition updated in the singers according to the situation where the enunciation takes place. For example, in the “Angel’s farewell” the song is updated to comfort the mother who suffers because the death of her son/daughter; the mother is named, the guests are greeted, etc. On the other hand, in the biblical psalms, is the man´s experience with god what is transmitted to the next generation but it is also updated because is the prayer who shares from his present the experience transmitted by the text. Thus, both come together in a common religious feeling. Regarding the above, Collin (1997) writes: “El salmo es un poema bíblico, es decir, un instrumento para recordar la tradición de un pueblo; es un instrumento que todo usuario recibe y que debe tomar en la mano y agarrarlo con fuerza” (p.7).


Map and territory: LIFE TRANSLATED FOR OTHERS (2)

by Santiago Barcaza S.

Without wanting to dwell too much on certain aspects proposed by the academy, I am surprised that there are two currents of thought: one that regards self-translation as an unusual phenomenon, a marginal activity and another one that supports the opposite. I will not use this space to delve into one or the other. I agree with the outstanding researcher of translation studies Julio César Santoyo, when he says: “Seen the seen, one can not help but wonder: can we continue talking about the self-translation as a phenomenon ‘rather weird’ or ´exceptional´? We are not faced with rare exceptions but before an immense corpus, increasingly of texts translated by their own creators. Far from being a ‘marginal case’, the author’s translation has a long history and is today one of the most frequent and important cultural, linguistic and literary phenomena in our global village, and certainly deserves much more attention from which has been borrowed so far“.

In fact, the first known self-translator is the jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus, who in 75 AD wrote in Aramaic, his mother tongue, the seven books of his first work, The War of the Jews, to later revise it and translate it to the Greek. From then until today, self-translation is a common practice. They form a group so broad and so diverse that it is impossible to list them all. However, as a sample, I quote a short selection: Fray Luis de León, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Stéphane Mallarmé, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Brodsky, Vladimir Nabokov, José María Arguedas, Milan Kundera, et cetera. However, addressing the self-translation in one of these authors runs the risk of falling into exceptional particularities and the preparation of a rather monographic study. Nobody doubts the fact that these authors are interesting, but that some are paradigmatic, as to help understand or illuminate the act of self-translation – for example, of poets of indigenous origin in southern America- is perhaps another issue. So, I wonder what is really the self-translation? why? And for what?

In an article published in 2011, the researcher of the University of the Cape in South Africa, Maria Recuenco, explains that in countries or multilingual societies, the step of self-translation, from a language called “regional” to the official language of State or dominant language, is as logical as it is complicated. A clear example of this is Belgium, a traditionally fertile territory for linguistic contact between Flemish and French, and which has a significant number of bilingual authors.

To talk about this, I met with the Chilean poet, academic and researcher Rodrigo Rojas (Lima, 1971), MFA from the New York University, and author of the book La Lengua Escorada(2009, Pehuen Editores), where he discusses the literature produced by four authors of Mapuche descent, and recognizes the complexity of its bilengual nature not so much because of its fluency in the use of mapudungun or spanish, but rather because of the cosmopolitan and multicultural scene in which they develop their literary work.

A paradigmatic example for Rodrigo, which will help us approach the subject of this essay with determination, is that of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (Calcutta, 1861 – 1941). In fact, Tagore is excellent at exemplifying how the use of another language (English), a culturally dominant language since those years, earned him many benefits.

  • “He gets to win the Nobel Prize –he says– very soon after he has translated his own poems. And he does this by putting them in tune with the cultural expectations of the England of his time, which even leads him to transform his own poetry. However, after the First World War, the political landscape changes completely in Europe. The thought and the european imagination isfaced with the fact that its own idea of ​​civilization was able to generate such level of death that drastically changes its sensitivity and also changes aesthetics. There begins the advent of the vanguards, with which the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore in English is quickly forgotten because it is identified with the previous Victorian aesthetic. So, it’s interesting to stop there: how fruit of the self-translation, he could earn a lot and at the same time, lose so much. However, many theorists of India today speak about the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore and show how his poetry is still valid, beyond the world wars, accompanying the Hindu literary canon as a result of a series of changes that go beyond the independence of India or the advent of the communist party. This is a sign that we are facing a poetry much less attached to fashion than can perceive in your self-translations into English.

But Tagore in Chile is also known for being whom Neruda would have stolen some verses …

  • That is interesting because being Tagore the author of the texts that Neruda plagiarized is valid to ask how did Tagore come to the hands of Neruda? What versions and what translations? It is true, he was a Nobel, but how many spanish versions were there? It is known that the wife of the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, Zenobia Camprubí, had translated and published Tagore in Spain. But in Chile, another person had also done translations of Tagore and they were translations in prose, not verse. This is Gabriela Mistral, who had also translated the French symbolists, and so on. It is much more likely that Neruda had met Tagore in those interviews he had in Temuco with the director of the Girls’ Lyceum, which at that time was Gabriela Mistral. She must have taught him these world poets to open his head. So it seems very interesting to me how this Tagore, who betrays himself to be accepted in the English literary medium, in a sort of self-exoticise by the Victorian sensibility and who gets the Nobel for that, then falls into oblivion. But it turns out that here, in Latin America, once translated, again, but from its own self-translated translation of little value in the Anglo-Saxon world, it comes alive again, but in an underground way, because of the accusation of plagiarism with which Pablo Neruda is accused.

In the next installment, we will continue talking with Rodrigo Rojas, we will confront his theory with that of other researchers and we will review some case studies of poets of indigenous Latin American origin and other recognized poets in the western world.

The Heart of the Andes, Landscape and Art in Bogotá Before and After Alexander von Humboldt

Posted by Natalia Aguilar Vasquez – PhD Student at NYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literature

Aguilar Vasquez_Colombia_WorkshopFLORA

Art gallery and cultural space FLORA ars+natura in Bogota, Colombia. First day of the curatorial workshop by Miguel A. Lopez, July 30th 2018.

My research interests were, initially, the intersections between contemporary art and recent literature in Colombia, specially focused on ways of representing violence, memory, and trauma in the Colombian society and the bodies. That research shifted, and instead of dealing only with bodies and Biopolitics as critical lenses to understand such aesthetics, I noticed a “return” or, as many would say, an always latent concern with “the land”, the politics of creating landscapes and, most importantly, the spatial dimension of the Colombian internal war and conflict.

I started a journey visiting art galleries in Bogotá, new spaces for art and culture in the city. The “return” and reincorporation of landscape was visible in several exhibitions coming from young artists, but also in the creation of new spaces for culture in the city. Hybrid locations, a mix of gallery, research centers, and incubators for artistic projects. The question of physical boundaries, personal and public/political space, as well as the ambivalent relation between the urban and the rural, are crucial to imagine and live, in the so-called “post-conflict” Colombia.

Continue reading

Sergio Mondragón and Collaborative Translation

Koss - Mexico - Mondragon

Zane Koss and Sergio Mondragón on June 11, 2018.


Posted by Zane Koss – PhD Candidate in English Literature at NYU

On June 11th, I had the pleasure of meeting with Sergio Mondragón in the Coyoacán neighbourhood of Mexico City. My dissertation focuses on Mexican and Canadian poetry in the 1960s and 1970s, searching for meaningful connections between poets and means of reading comparatively that are able to situate these poets both within their own complex national contexts and within broader transnational poetic movements. From 1962 to 1969, Mondragón co-edited and co-published El corno emplumado / The Plumed Horn, a bilingual magazine of poetry and the arts in Mexico City with Margaret Randall, a young poet who had recently arrived in Mexico from New York. The magazine was a flashpoint of transnational literary and cultural exchange, publishing young and established poets from across the Americas, translated into both Spanish and English whenever possible. Our conversation that day covered a wide array of subjects, but – as the sprightly 82-year-old warned me beforehand – his memories of the 1960s were “borrosos o entremezclados.”

The day after our meeting, I received an unexpected phone call from Sergio. At his request, I had sent him a couple of my own poems, and he wanted to return his compliments by inviting me for a meal at his home in the hills west of Coyoacán and San Ángel. When I had asked Sergio about the work he performed translating the Canadian poet George Bowering’s 1964 book of poems, The Man in the Yellow Boots / El hombre de las botas amarillas – published as the sixteenth issue of El corno – he had quickly pointed out that Margaret Randall, who edited magazine’s English-language portions, had likely done most of the work in selecting poems and corresponding with Bowering. He insisted further that she had probably helped extensively with the translations. I failed to register the full importance of this comment at the time, considering it more of a polite nudge from Sergio to redirect my inquiries to Randall. But visiting Sergio in his home revealed the deeper truth of his statement.

Continue reading

Map and territory: LIFE TRANSLATED FOR OTHERS (1)

by Santiago Barcaza S.

A map is a graphic and metric representation of a portion of territory. This means that, created with the purpose of knowing and showing the world to others, maps constitute a sort of translation that, not only do we see or read, but that we live to comprehend the territory that we inhabit.

In Latinamerica and in Chile in particular, map and territory, look like two concepts dissuaded and confronted since centuries, not only by authorities in place, but also by an important part of the civil society in what refers to (1) accept and include the indigenous communities that inhabit their same territory, and (2) understand and value their “maps” and all the effort they make to translate the transcendental attributes of their culture, their very life. In other words, the defense or recovery of lands, involves, for the indigenous communities, not only a matter of economic survival, but it also connects with the dream of revitalizing their culture.

In this essay -and in the successive ones that I will publish in this blog- I will deepen on the political and sociological role that indigenous movements and communities in Chile give to literature, which is generated mainly by bicultural and bilingual creators, who seek through their creations -translated by themselves to Spanish- to put in doubt the dominant / subordinate binarism; and on the other hand, I will try to explain how, through literature, It is possible to create a strategy that allows creators of indigenous origin to reverse the reduction of their cultures, languages and policies.

Under a post colonial perspective, the space / inhabitant or space / community relationship leads to a particularly rich and highly complex point: the border. This is where the roads open up to clarify the relationship between the State and the territory, the nation and territoriality, as well as the impact that the border, as a material construction, symbolic device, legal reality and literary element, has on the notions of identity and roots. The place that the border occupies as a symbol in the bilingual poetry of authors of indigenous origin in Chile and the scope that the symbol includes, helps to understand the metaphorical-conceptual character that the idea of territory can have to explain the practice of self-translation as place of transit from one cultural space to another.

But what is self-translation? By self-translation we understand the “translation of a work by its own author”; In this practice, two phenomena occur: on the one hand, author and translator skills are merged and, on the other, the “original-version” logic is challenged, since these texts elude the temporality in which they were conceived as they constitute the product of an author that interpellates two cultural spaces in simultaneity. In the territory where the poet lives, embedded in a larger territory subject to the dominant culture, translation gives and takes shape within the asymmetric power relations of colonialism. In order to critically reverse or challenge such asymmetries, there are scholars who propose a use of translation as an “outburst” to destabilize the coherence of the original and the idea of invariable identity, of unique identity.

Several philosophers agree that every human being has the need to have roots, and that almost the totality of the moral, intellectual and spiritual life of a person is reached through the environments that he has felt part of along the life. This sense of belonging, far beyond the mere fact of integrating a group, implies a personal identification, the generation of affective bonds, the adoption of shared norms and habits, and a feeling of solidarity with the rest of the members. But what happens when you live between two or more groups. Precisely in this intermediate space, the indigenous self-translation accounts for this “outburst” since the concept of the original text -as we saw previously- linked to the prerogative of temporality, is challenged in the self-translation, by the fusion of roles of author and translator who appeals to two (or more) cultural spaces at the same time. And, finally, the identity linked to the assessment of the “unique” is questioned in paragraphs and other antagonistic signs that can be found in any comparative study of versions of bilingual texts.

In the next installment, we will approach two poets of Chilean indigenous origin and we will hold a dialogue with the researcher and academic from the Universidad Diego Portales, Dr. Rodrigo Rojas.

Challenges of linguistic data collection in Uruguay

Posted by Madeline Gilbert – PhD student in Linguistics at NYU


Tile street art in Rivera (yes, this is right-side up!)

I have now been in Uruguay for a bit over a month.  On one hand, it feels like I’ve accomplished quite a bit; on the other hand, there is a lifetime of research to be done here.  In the last blog post I talked a bit about the project itself, which involves looking at the language contact situation on the border between Uruguay and Brazil, site of the famous portuñol, which, in the popular conception, is neither Spanish nor Portuguese but a broken mixture of the two.  In this post, I want to talk a bit about the process of data collection, which is both full of challenges and very rewarding.

First: what kind of data am I collecting?  Because I’m interested in peoples’ use of language in daily life, I’m conducting (and recording) sociolinguistic interviews, asking people to read a word list, and fill out some demographic and language use questionnaires.  The process typically takes about 90 minutes.  Sociolinguistic interviews consist of talking with people about topics like childhood, family, school, hobbies, work, travels, and the like.  The goal is to elicit the most natural speech possible within the context of a recorded conversation.  The word list reflects a more careful speech style and was designed around some linguistic variables. I have reason to think might be interesting to compare between speakers from Rivera and Montevideo.  The demographic forms ask more explicitly about peoples’ linguistic history, places of residence, use of Spanish/Portuguese/other languages, and a little about their attitudes towards these languages.

Continue reading

Chilean Popular Poetry and Biblical Psalms

Martinez, Chile, Santiago Figueroa

Santiago Figueroa. Folklorist, researcher and expert in popular music.

by Fernanda Martinez Varela, MA scholar at MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish. 

Shortly after arriving in Chile, I went to the public library of Doñihue in order to search for bibliographic material and, fortunately, there I met Santiago Figueroa Torres; a folklorist, researcher and expert in popular music. Talking informally while drinking coffee, I explained to him my thoughts about this investigation and he gave me his vision as an expert on the subject. Consequently, aided by this chance, his insights have served me as a guide for reading the bibliographic material found and redefining my research question.

What similarities exist between the Cantus to the divine cultivated in Chile and the Christian psalms in the Latin American version of the Catholic Bible? This is the question the present research will try to answer. For this purpose, in addition to ponder on some similarities, I will analyze and contrast two songs by the Chilean musician Violeta Parra (Maldigo del alto cielo and Volver a los 17) with the psalms 143 and 148.

Continue reading