‘Infinity in a reed’: The planetary phenomenon Irene Vallejo or how Ovidio called pleasure by its name | Culture


The success of Irene Vallejo not only continues unstoppable in Spain with more than 400,000 copies sold, but also begins to multiply in dozens of countries on several continents in a phenomenon that is already comparable to that of the former. Sofia’s world, a review of philosophy from the point of view of a teenage girl who placed the Norwegian Jostein Gaarder at the top of the world best seller quality. With that warm and luminous prose that has connected her with the public and the ambitious journey through literary narration as a nutrient that is Infinity in a reed (Siruela), the 42-year-old from Zaragoza faces astonished – she says – an escalation that she never imagined for an essay that she aspired simply to publish.

“It is not even a dream come true,” he says, “because I would never have dared to go so far in my fantasies. When I wrote it, without any contact with any publisher, in the open, I thought that an essay on the classical world and the vindication of the humanities had ballots to interest few in the best of cases ”. But in a short time it adds up to nine editions in Holland, several in Italy, Portugal, and France; recently released in Serbia, in Poland, in Taiwan and in full circulation in Latin America, there are already more than 35 countries that have welcomed it and accumulates lots of positive reviews and infinite invitations. The experience is not only a reason for amazement and applause at an event that Siruela, its publisher had never experienced, but it opens a lively and enriched debate every day about the limits of translations to carry a work so loaded with classic citations and references to the languages ​​and idiosyncrasies of so many countries. The translators have not stopped contacting her with interesting challenges.

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“We have fought a small battle so that the translation of the classics that I am citing is faithful to mine and not to those established translations, some from the 19th century, loaded with a correction and elegance that does not include the atrocities and bad words used by the classics. . I did my own translations from Latin and Greek, free and literary, and in some countries they are not used to it, but we have managed to get them to assume it as part of the content of the book ”, says Vallejo.

Irene Vallejo, in March in Zaragoza.
Irene Vallejo, in March in Zaragoza.Carlos Gil-Roig

For example: Monica R. Bedana, the translator for the Italian edition, recounts how her first version “set the publisher’s alarms off”. “The register used in the Latin and Greek quotations was especially shocking and they asked me to change them, to remove them from the most recognized Italian editions, as is usually done in the usual essays.” Bedana did the test by inserting the quotes they proposed in some chapters of a new version. “The result was a monstrosity. It was another book, it was no longer Infinity in a reed, but a useless book, something seen a thousand times. We laughed after the scare and they went back to my first installment, ”he says.

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Archilochus, a wayward poet who prided himself on running off into battle – a taboo for an ancient Greek soldier like himself, of course – or who spoke explicitly of desire and sex, has always been sweetened by conventional translation, somewhat that Vallejo has skipped in his work. As Bedana details, for the Italian publishing world “Arquíloco cannot say ‘ass’, although in reality he does say it: his will always be ‘buttocks’; It will not say ‘armpit’ either, but ‘armpit’; not to mention Ovid’s ‘cunts’ in the Ars amandi, which will become, rigorously, ‘private parts’. Marcial will not ‘shit on everything’; at most, ‘he will complain loudly’.

But if Vallejo had chosen to reflect the true will of Ovidio when he spoke of the need to wait for the orgasm of women or of Safo when he mentioned erotic relationships instead of the “boarding school for young ladies” with which a German philologist had sweetened him, This is how her translators have generally respected her and she appreciates it. “It is a very demanding translation because it is a book that opens the door to many books,” she says. “How we approach the classics, if we see them as they were and without so many layers of interpretation and on a pedestal, without accepting that they said certain things, is one of the important dimensions of my book.”

Accessible and oral tone

One of the two Portuguese translators, Àlex Tarradellas, acknowledges that the debate was also opened on the translation of the classic quotations used by Vallejo, but the difficulty of consulting so many books with the libraries closed due to the pandemic and the very logic of the work they helped them make the decision. “The accessible and oral tone that Irene gives to her translations did not match many of these versions and the change in tone could have shocked the reader. We chose to translate everything ”. For him it was some false friends of Portuguese and Spanish who represented “a constant danger.” The Spanish “flow”, for example, ended in “fertility”.

The French translator Anne Plantagenet sometimes opted to resort to official translations of classics and on others to keep Vallejo’s voice, but she highlights above all the reasons why she has connected with French readers: “The French public is very accustomed to a literature that mixes research, serious or scholarly issues, or society, with the intimate ”, he relates. And there are Annie Ernaux or Emmanuel Carrère as great bastions of the genre. “And when the intimate voice is very beautiful, evident, immediately recognizable and familiar, it can take the reader anywhere. Irene’s voice is the charming voice of the mother who tells stories at night before sleeping. That and the modernity of the structure explain its success to me ”. Annakarin Thoburn, who has translated it into Swedish, has needed to get more than a hundred books out of the library to undertake the project that has taken the longest to work, and not because of the number of pages. “It has been a long, exciting, captivating, challenging journey …”, he says. “I have discovered many books that I have continued to read later. Irene describes in a very beautiful way this love for books, as magical objects, and that I have also been able to experience during work ”.

Without translations, but with equal expectation, the junco it has jumped to Latin America, which has welcomed it, says Vallejo, with the connection of those who have shared the love for narration that beats in the work and that is also lived on the continent. Literature is full of metaphors related to textiles, such as “embroidering a speech, knot, ending, thread of a story or of Ariadna, the fabric that Penelope makes and unravels …”, and in indigenous communities the fabrics and knots They have been used historically as a form of expression and identity, even to send messages to each other. “If in my book I propose that women who knitted were fundamental for storytelling and made their metaphors jump into the literary world, in these communities I have found concrete and beautiful stories in this same sense that give me a lot of material.”

Infinity in a reed, titled in other versions as Papirus, Infinity in a papyrus, Eternity in a reed …, In this way, he throws the author into a universe that sometimes burns, as Gaarder confessed. She, for the moment, advances without fear: “I assume that there are risks, but I have never felt more pressure than when I wrote without knowing if I could publish, when I doubted whether this dream was too big and around me they asked me why I was not looking for a real work. I will try to translate this into creative freedom ”. Today, in short, he enjoys it.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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