Image credit: Sufyan Jalal, from Withering Exhibition

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Of all the creators tasked with weaving together the maps of reality, they were only one of hundreds. There was nothing remarkable about them except for the things they wrote.

 

The first thing you should know is that, in fact, they were neither she nor he. Nevertheless, as a forgotten creator, perhaps she would be more appropriate.

 

They have never been given a name. One human being imagined them as wu wei, a name that could be translated as “the one who does by not doing.” Someone else spent years speaking to them in solitude as Ectica. But this ineffable dance of words is of no concern for our story, as you will soon see.

 

In truth, nothing set them apart from the rest except for what they wrote. While the other wise creators busied themselves with “What Is”—the seas and mountains, music and animals—they and only they worked tirelessly on everything else.

 

Like a composer resting an interval of silence onto the staff, so they proceeded with each and every moment of absence that occurred in the great opus of all things. They introduced their spaces between the unseeing noise, often gaining ground. Their language was that of ice and stars, peace and death: the language of flowers and voiceless things.

 

The ink used to inscribe those words had the softness of wind. The paper, like the whitest silk, embraced them on its surface with the sweetness of ocean waves on a calm night. Such was the deity’s lightness and delicacy that sometimes, when the slightest agitation disturbed the peace of their workshop, the words seemed to slip between the lines out of fear, spilling behind them and flowing to the lagoon of emptiness where the lost ideas of all creators lie sleeping.

 

It did not please them that this should happen, so they jealously protected their workplace from the fluctuations of worldly life. An eternal, circular garden, as wide as the curiosity of the most intrepid explorer, and a labyrinth, as deep as the most primal fear, defended their sanctuary. In its center a marble tower stood upon a set of nebulous stairs arranged at impossible angles.

 

They did not remember what company was, nor whether they had ever been obliged to endure it. Few esteemed their work, but that did not concern them much. Their destiny unfolded in parallel, or perhaps in gentle opposition to the rest. “The universe is a strange and absurd dance,” they thought. “Strange and noisy, like a ludicrous, eternal earthquake.”

 

The other creator gods looked upon them with the blind, obdurate scorn of those who do not understand. They were referred to as “the banished one.” They thought their solitary fate was the result of some past wrong or shortcoming. One even contrived a legend saying that the “creator of creators” had punished them for defying his power. Moved by their tales, he decided to spare their life, cutting off their right hand and confining them to an inaccessible abode.



Original ↓

De entre todos los creadores encargados de tejer los mapas de la realidad, no era más que uno de cientos. Nada tenía de particular, salvo por las cosas que escribía.

 

Lo primero que han de saber es que no era en realidad “él” ni “ella”. Sin embargo, como creadora olvidada, quizás “ella” sería más adecuado.

 

Nunca le dieron un nombre. Un ser humano le imaginó como wu wei, algo que puede traducirse como “el que hace no haciendo”. Otro le habló en soledad durante años, como Ectica. Pero esta inefable danza de vocablos no tiene ninguna relevancia en nuestra historia, como pronto podrán apreciar.

 

En efecto, nada le diferenciaba a ella del resto, salvo por aquello que escribía. En tanto que los otros sabios creadores se ocupaban de “lo que Es” - como los mares y las montañas, la música y los animales-, ella y solo ella se empleaba sin descanso en todo lo demás.

 

De la misma manera en que un compositor coloca un silencio en la partitura, así procedía con todos y cada uno de los momentos de ausencia que acontecían en la gran obra de todas las cosas. Insertaba sus espacios entre el ruido ciego, y a menudo le ganaba terreno. Su lenguaje era el del hielo y las estrellas, el de la paz y la muerte, el lenguaje de las flores y las cosas mudas.

 

La tinta con que esas palabras estaban marcadas tenía la suavidad del viento. El papel, como las sedas más blancas, las acogía en su superficie con la dulzura de las olas en una noche calmada. Tal era su ligereza y fragilidad que, en ocasiones, cuando la más mínima oscilación perturbaba la paz de su taller, parecían escabullirse asustadas entre las líneas, derramándose por detrás de ellas y fluyendo hacia la laguna donde duermen las ideas perdidas de todos los creadores.

 

No era de su agrado que esto sucediera, y por eso protegía celosamente su lugar de trabajo de los vaivenes de la vida mundana. Un eterno jardín circular, tan ancho como la curiosidad del más intrépido explorador, y un laberinto, tan profundo como el miedo más primitivo, guardaban su santuario. En su centro, una torre de mármol se erguía sobre un juego de escaleras de neblina, situadas en planos imposibles.

 

No recordaba lo que era la compañía, ni si alguna vez la había sufrido. No muchos apreciaban su labor, pero eso poco le importaba. Su destino discurría en paralelo, o quizá en quieta oposición al resto. “El universo, esa extraña y absurda danza”, pensaba. “Extraña y ruidosa, como un cómico terremoto eterno”.

 

Los demás dioses creadores le miraban con el desdén ciego y adamantino de los que no comprenden. Se referían a ella como “el desterrado”. Pensaban que su suerte solitaria se debía a alguna falta pasada, o alguna carencia. Alguno incluso inventó una leyenda, que decía que “el creador de creadores” le había castigado por desafiar su poder. Conmovido por sus historias, decidió mantenerle con vida, cortándole la mano derecha y confinándole en su inaccesible morada.

Translator's Note

This story originally appeared in the Madrid-based literary zine Pájaro Azul, started by a collective of young writers and artists who belong to a new “Lost Generation” of Spanish youth. With few job prospects following the 2008 financial crisis, they are destined remain in a sort of limbo, which Antonio Martínez describes allegorically in the story The Eternal Recess: “The newspapers, always so original, called us Spain’s ‘lost generation.’ We are in no way lost. Another adult once said if there is a place somewhere with air, grass, and sun, we have the obligation to regret that we are not there, especially if we are young.” Excluded from the adult world of work, the Pájaro Azul artists have chosen a regression into near-pure aestheticism: literature as a place to play. This explains why their work has many echoes of 20th century belletrists like Borges and Cortázar. This metaliterary meditation in particular seems to pay tribute to the former.

The main challenge that this short prose-poem presents is rendering the clear, high tone of the original into a convincing English equivalent, a voice befitting what is in essence an ersatz religious text. I hope lines like “An eternal circular garden, as wide as the curiosity of the most intrepid explorer …” are read with no trace of Borgesian irony. My aim was something closer to the wise clarity of Ursula Le Guin.

One of the trickiest words to translate was laguna, which can mean lagoon and lacuna, Latin for gap, referring to a space between words on a page. The double meaning works beautifully in the original text, as the deity of the story creates nothingness by writing lines of text that sometimes “pour into” the lacunae on the page, the liquid metaphor also suggesting a physical lagoon. The image of a calm pool evokes the depths that can be reached by “reading between the lines” in contemplative, zen-like tranquility. There was no way I was going to pull off a double meaning like this in English, but I tried to evoke a bit of the lost sense with “lagoon of emptiness.”

I had originally decided to dispense with the gender-neutrality that Antonio achieves to refer to his god/goddess, keenly employing the genderless indirect pronoun le as a direct pronoun and taking advantage of the natural omission of the subject that Spanish allows. Since early in the piece we learn that, if forced to choose, the pronoun she is more appropriate, and that Antonio chose to title the story Madre, I felt that employing the feminine was an acceptable sacrifice, however in the end I decided to go with the neutral “they” pronoun, perhaps a bit more marked than the original, but, I think, totally acceptable.


Alex Halatsis

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