Constanza del Río-Álvaro
University of Zaragoza, Spain | Published: 15 March, 2014
ISSUE 9 | Pages: 154-177 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2014-4569

Creative Commons 4.0 2014 by Constanza del Río-Álvaro. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

The scene opens with a long shot of Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, addressing an audience of EU delegates from a platform. The camera tracks slowly to a close-up of Rajoy’s face beaming with self-satisfaction while he recites the exceptional macroeconomic data in Spain. Cut to a crane shot of a busy commercial street in the centre of any Spanish city. The camera descends and focuses on a young man, kneeling on the floor, hands crossed in prayer, begging for money and food. Then it pans to another beggar, then another, then another, then another…. All the while, Rajoy’s voice-over is heard, now spelling out the wonders of the Spanish government’s economic measures: labour market reforms, cuts on education, health, social services, funds for culture, etc… Cut to extreme close-up of newspaper headline: “The breach between the rich and the poor has widened enormously from 2007 to 2012: 13 million people are neighbouring the poverty line in Spain”. Cut to medium close-up of a woman working at her computer, absorbed in her keyboard and screen while she writes a paper on the use of the definite article in San Juan de la Cruz’s poetry or on a deconstructive reading of Harry Potter novels, for that matter. Fade out.

As every year since its foundation (2001), in 2013 the Spanish Association for Irish Studies (AEDEI) celebrated its International Conference (University of Cáceres, 30 May-1 June) under the heading “Voice and Discourse in the Irish Context”. Scholars from European and American Universities participated in this successful academic and social event, very effectively organised by Carolina Amador and her team. Three are the conference happenings that I would like to highlight here. First, Nuala NíChonchúir’s talk on her first novel, You (2010). As suggested by its title, the novel opts for second person narration, a rare choice that may sound awkward to the reader and is difficult to sustain convincingly for a whole narrative (authors like Edna O’Brien – A Pagan Place (1970) – and Joseph O’Connor – Ghost Light (2010) ­– have tried this narrative option as well, with better results, in my view, in the case of O’Connor). NíConchúir’s “experiment” seems to have connected with readers, as proved by the excellent reviews of the novel. In the second place, His and Hers (2009), a film by director Ken Wardrop, inspired in his mother’s life which explores how we share life’s journey with the opposite sex; after watching the film the conference participants and attendants had the opportunity of discussing it with the director in a public interview. Finally, famous Irish actor Denis Rafter performed his new one-man show based on the miserable last days of Oscar Wilde’s life, entitled “Beloved Sinner”. As part of the social programme of the Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies (AEDEAN) 37th International Conference, Rafter performed as well the play The Irish Bululú in the University of Oviedo, 13 November 2013. In this piece, Rafter traces Irish cultural and literary influences on his work as actor by interpreting Shakespeare’s songs, soliloquies and sonnets interspersed with Irish songs, stories and dance. In November as well, the University of Granada hosted a two-hour seminar, “Women and Literature in Ireland: Two Irish Poets in Conversation”, where poets Gerry Murphy and Liz O’Donoghue read some of their most representative poems and discussed their work: main themes and literary influences, relationship between nationalism and gender, and the surfacing of female writes on the Irish literary scene.

The recent vitality of Irish theatre and performance arts reached Spain last year with the staging of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan (1997) (El cojo de Inishmaan), the first play in McDonagh’s The Aran Islands Trilogy. The Spanish production was directed by Gerardo Vera, a prestigious figure on the Spanish scene. The play ran first for six weeks (18 Dec. – 26 Jan.) in the Teatro Español (Madrid) and is now being shown in the Teatro Infanta Isabel (Madrid, 12 March – 20 April, 2014) to both audience and critical acclaim. When asked about possible connections between the world of the play and Spanish society, Vera mentioned that certain characters and stereotypes could be linked to rural areas in the North of Spain and to Valle Inclan’s poetic world (El Cultural, 13 Dec. 2013). José Luis Collado, author of the Spanish version and translation, elaborates on these connections referring to a similar vital and optimistic attitude to life which he links to the classical carpe diem. Collado has made a great effort to remain faithful to the play’s Hiberno-English, impossible to translate literally, by trying to find likely equivalences for every phrase or paragraph while preserving the formal richness that such a celebrated author as McDonagh deserves. A cast of first-rate Spanish actors and actresses, an excellent text and a spare mise-en-scene guarantee the play’s success. A production of Samuel Backett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) (Esperando a Godot), by now a classical play if there is one, was staged in the Centro Dramático Nacional (Madrid) in April 2013 by actor and director Alfredo Sanzol. He has always vindicated the common sense and coherence of Beckett’s theatre and affirms that “there is nothing more absurd than to say that this play is absurd” (El País, 18 April 2013, my translation). Sanzol also condemns the common-place vision of Waiting for Godot as a static work where nothing happens, and refers to the constant physical activity that the actors have to display. For him, Beckett’s play is particularly meaningful in our present juncture since, in it, Beckett laughs at people who would rather wait than live, and reminds us that life is what is going on and not what we are waiting for. Sanzol’s version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) (La importancia de llamarse Ernesto) was running at the same time in the Teatro Fernán Gómez (Madrid). On the 29th of January 2014 a production of Brian Friel’s Translations, translated into Catalan, opened at the Biblioteca de Catalunya (Barcelona); though scheduled to run until the 9th of March, its relative boxoffice success led to its being extended for another week. Next years’ section on Irish Studies in Spain will carry a review of this interesting production.

Somewhere in between literature and the plastic arts, the work of Oliver Jeffers, a transnational artist who was born in Australia, then lived in Belfast (he graduated from the University of Ulster in 2001) and now lives and works in Brooklyn, was shown in the Valladolid IlustraTour festival with a workshop entitled “Mostrar y contar: palabras e imágenes con diferentes sabores” (“Showing and Telling: multi-flavoured words and images”, my translation). Jeffers is well-known for his illustrated children’s stories, most of them translated into Spanish (Cómo atrapar una estrellaPerdido y encontrado [Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2006], El corazón y la botella [Fondo de Cultura Económica de México, 2010] o Este alce es mío [Fondo de Cultura Económica de México, 2013]). Jeffers refers to the Irish tradition of storytelling and comments on the role of humour and stories in Irish society: “Ireland has had a terrible history and we have always told stories so as to remember and to forget. We cannot boast about our cuisine, but we delight in recounting how awful our grandmothers’ stews were” (El País, 6 July 2013, my translation). Dora García, a Spanish multidisciplinary visual artist, presented a complex exhibition in the Centro José Guerrero (Granada, October 2013) entitled “Continuarración: sobre sueños y crímenes” (“Continuarration: on dreams and murders”). “Continuarration” is a portmanteau word combining “continuation” and “narration” (“continual narration”) that appears in Finnegans Wake (London: Faber and Faber, 1939, 205:14) and plays on the reading experience of the book in one’s hands.1 One of the three chapters of the exhibition, “The Joycean Society”, is related to one of the three works shown and one of the three films projected. In the video, a group of people read and reread the same book together (continuarración). It has taken them eleven years to finish it, yet when they reach the last word, a cryptic “the”, they start again from the first word, “riverrun”. Like Finnegans Wake, the book seems to be inexhaustible, open to countless interpretations and infinite in nature, to the point that the world appears to exist just so that the reading-room can materialise.

Joyce is also behind Lo desorden (Madrid: Alfaguara 2013), a title difficult to translate – maybe “The Intractably” could be an equivalent. This is a collection of short stories written by the members of La Orden del Finnegans (The Order of Finnegans Pub), founded in 2008 by a group of Spanish writers – Eduardo Lago, Jordi Soler and Enrique Vila-Matas among others – all of them worshippers of Ulysses (1922) and heterodox Bloomsday practitioners (not following rules is part of their creed), who always finish their Dublin pilgrimage in the Martello Tower and then proceed to Finnegans Pub to drink Guinness. These writers share what they call the “Finnegans way” of writing: that is, the challenging and demanding writing followed by Joyce, of course, but also by other writers such as Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace.

In the field of non-fiction translations, I would like to start with a volume on Joyce that gathers interesting texts by V. B. Carleton and Catherine Turner – together with a Prologue by Simone de Beauvoir and French photographer Gisèle Freund’s portraits of Joyce – under the general title Joyce en París o el arte de vender el Ulises (Madrid: Gallo Nero, 2013. Trad. Regina López Muñoz). This is an attractive book, excellently edited, which includes the first Spanish translation of Carleton’s James Joyce in Paris: His Final Years (1965) and de Beauvoir’s original prologue for that book. Turner’s piece is a translation of the sixth chapter of her work Marketing Modernism between the Two World Wars (Amherst and Boston: U of Massachusetts P, 2003). I strongly recommend Joyce en París to anyone interested in Joyce, literature in general and strategies on how to market “difficult” literary works. The recent English edition of George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism (Richmond: Alma Classics, 2012) – originally published in 1928 without the last two chapters (on Sovietism and Fascism) which were added in a 1937 re-edition – has probably been the reason for its Spanish translation. Manual de socialismo y capitalismo para mujeres inteligentes (Barcelona: RBA, 2013. Trad. Dolors Udina) makes use of a convincing rhetoric through which the Irish writer launches his attack against capitalism. Yet, since he never was a radical socialist – he was a member of The Fabian Society – he advocates for a kind of socialism that has much to learn from the technicalities of capitalist industrial production and discipline. Shaw wants particularly to convince moneyed and cultivated women, lately given the franchise, to vote for a progressive candidate. Finally, another non-fiction work published in Spain in 2013 is Colm Tóibín’s New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families (2012) (Nuevas maneras de matar a tu madre, Barcelona: Lumen, 2013. Trad. Patricia Antón de Vez). This is a collection of pieces combining features of the essay genre and the narrative text in which Tóibín discusses the stormy family relationships of some sacrosanct names in world literature, together with how these relationships affected their work and careers. Writers such as Jane Austen, Tóibín’s much admired Henry James, his own compatriots Yeats, Synge and Beckett, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Tennessee Williams or V. S. Naipaul fill Tóibín’s pages. Tóibín is one of the few contemporary Irish writers most of whose books have been published in Spanish, perhaps due to his connections with Spain: he lived in Barcelona in the mid-nineteen seventies and owns a house in the Catalan Pyrenees.

Irish poetry is represented by a translation of Thomas MacGreevy’s meagre poetic production: Poesía Completa (Madrid: Bartleby, 2013. Trad. y ed. Luis Ingelmo). MacGreevy had the misfortune – and the courage – of writing experimental modernist poetry in the Ireland of the 1920s and 30s, with the result that his value as a poet was only acknowledged in the 1970s, after the edition of his Poems (1971). Luis Ingelmo has made a comprehensive editorial effort to decipher and clarify the often abusive intertextual apparatus used by MacGreevy, a follower of T. S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s poetic practice. To end, there are three Irish novels that I would like to mention briefly here. First, La muerte del corazón (Elizabeth Bowen, Madrid: Impedimenta, 2012. Trad. Eduardo Berti), a translation of Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The Death of the Heart (1938), set in London in the interwar years. Second, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instrucciones para una ola de calor (Barcelona: Salamandra, 2013. Trad. Sonia Tapia). The original, Instructions for a Heatwave, came out in 1972. And, lastly, John Boyne’s El pacifista (Barcelona: Salamandra, 2013. Trad. Patricia Antón de Vez), perhaps not a very appropriate title for The Absolutist (Boyne, 2011). Boyne is a popular and very prolific novelist whose work is also regularly published in Spain.

Two other novels, Edna O’Brien’s Las chicas de campo (2013) and Samuel Beckett’s Mercier y Camier (2013) are more extensively reviewed below, since these two important Irish narratives were translated into Spanish for the very first time in 2013. The section includes as well a review on a scholarly monograph on Walter Starkie, written by Jacqueline Hurtley, an academic affiliated to the University of Barcelona, and another review on a collection of essays – Literary Visions of Multicultural Ireland – edited by Pilar Villar-Argáiz. To cap it all, this year’s section ends with a monographic study on Irish noir written by Bill Phillips, where he pays particular attention to writers whose work seems to have attracted Spanish readers: Benjamin Black, Tana French, John Connolly and Ken Bruen.

  1. I would like to thank David Pierce for informing me on the original location and meaning of the word. []