Category Archives: your face this spring

YFTS: The Perils of Dancing

So a few more comments about last week’s section, pp. 122 – 201. I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to page 194, which I think contains a rather pivotal moment.

To set the scene, here Deza is watching his neighbor dance, a pastime he has been indulging in all throughout Your Face Tomorrow. This is the first time, however, that he joins in on the dance, and I think all of the details in this scene are quite meaningful. Leading up to page 194, Marias goes to much trouble to make it clear that although Deza can see his neighbor (and his two female companions of ambiguous relationships–which mirrors Deza with Luisa and Perez Nuix), he cannot hear the music that they dance to. So instead he starts playing the music he thinks they’re dancing to, in effect taking creative control of his–and their–environment.

And then Deza begins dancing a dance that is his simulacrum of theirs. Continue Reading

YFTS: And Now We Venture Into the Ladies' Room, and Into the Mind of a Vengeful God

Currently we’re reading pp. 122 – 201 of vol 2, Dance and Dream, and these comments are going to pertain to both last week’s section and this week’s. As always, you can check the full schedule right here.

To start, a very general observation: I don’t know about you all, but I’m at the point where things are really starting to pile up. More and more I’m seeing stuff referring to stuff, referring to stuff, referring to stuff, and so on; basically I’m annotating lines all the time now with little cross-reference marks and jotting down ideas as to how what I’m currently reading relates back to what occurred in the preceding 500 pages. The work is really starting to feel cohesive for me. I guess you can say I feel like we’re at the point that Marias has dealt all the hands, and now he’s starting to play them out.

Now them, I’m sure everyone was very tickled by the restroom scene–I know I was. In a very broad sort of way, this scene made the book feel very real to me in a way that all the talk of the Spanish Civil War, 9/11, Bill Clinton (yes, he was in there), government surveillance, James Bond, and all that other “real world” stuff just didn’t. The restroom felt so prosaic: if Marias was going to take Deza into a public restroom there’s nowhere he wouldn’t take him. It just opened the book’s world up for me in a way it hadn’t been previously.

I found it interesting that Deza spends about 1 page describing the men’s room, whereas he spends about 15 pages in the ladies’ room, although there does seem to be far more in the latter to sustain his (and our) attention. Continue Reading

YFTS: What About the Bosses?

Daniel Hartley has a highly worthwhile post on vol 1 of Your Face Tomorrow. Therein he brings up an excellent point that, I must admit, I had ignored until he mentioned it:

In Kafka’s The Trial K. is ensnared in a dark, deeply oppressive legal system of which he compulsively seeks the centre and means of escape. If Javier Marías’s Jacobo is anything to go by, then today we are just as ensnared as K. was, but without the desire to disentangle ourselves. He has no idea who he is working for, what they do, or why they do it, and yet nonetheless he goes to work, does his job, and goes home. When I read this passage I was instantly reminded of Mark Fisher’s description (in Capitalist Realism) of our current Weberian ‘iron cage’ nightmare – from which we are not even struggling to wake up. Do not all multinational corporations have the structure of this anonymous intelligence agency? We all go to work, give our best, and go home, ignorant of the vast networks of hidden tentacles along which my well-intended actions transform into acts of viciousness I could never have dreamed of in my little office, with the Monet reprint on the wall, the photo of my wife and daughter on the desk, and my favourite Hay Festival mug on the lever arch file.

And now for what I really really think the novel is ‘about’. These two previous points are important but accidental. Their essence lies in that they presented Marías with what I can only think to call a ‘framework-machine’ for producing those notorious sentences and mini-narratives. Everything points to this conclusion: the impersonal aura of the characters, the over-intellectualised nature of the whole text, the vague omnipresence of the intelligence agency, which means that literally anyone anywhere can become the trigger for a barrage of Javier’s finest phrases, the acts of interpretation which the narrator is called upon to perform: all of this is what the Russian formalists would have called the ‘motivation of the device’, the structure which gives Marías the excuse to produce those potentially limitless sentences (limitless because trying to mimic exactly the movements of consciousness in language is like trying to capture the whole of one’s head when stood between two mirrors – impossible and infinite).

And one begins to wonder why Wheeler and Deza are so sanguine about working for faceless government overlords . . . (though this is a question Deza explores to a certain, less-than-satisfying degree in his interview with Perez Nuix at the beginning of vol 2)

Fingerprinting Everyone

I particularly liked this rant of Wheeler’s:

It was at this time that they first brought in an official identity card, against our tradition and our preference. . . . But people weren’t used to carrying such a document and kept losing it, and were was such generalised hostility to it that, around 1951 or 1952, the card in question was suppressed. . . . According to Tupra, there is talk in government circles of imposing something similar, along with other inquisitorial measures, these mediocrities who rule over us in such a totalitarian spirit and who have more or less been given carte blanche to do so by the Twin Towers massacre. I hope they don’t get their way. . . . It’s insulting, an out-and-out mockery, what these pusillanimous, authoritarian fools want to do and impose on us in the name of security, that prehistoric pretext. We didn’t fight those who wanted to control each and every aspect of our lives only to see our grandchildren come along and slyly but very precisely fulfill the crazed fantasies of the very enemies we vanquished.

And politicians are doing their best to prove him right:

Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft of the measure.

The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.

It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization databases.

“The cardholder’s identity will be verified by matching the biometric identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner used by the employer,” states the Democratic legislative proposal.

YFTS: Favors, and The Return of the Socks (!)

For those of you who remain with me, we are now just beginning “Dance,” the first section of volume 2 of Javier Marias’ long book (schedule here). As was probably not a surprise to most people, we discover that the young woman following Deza into his apartment at the end of vol. 1 was in fact Perez Nuix, who has an intriguing request to make of him.

I was struck here at how Marias sets up this request with the whole story of the Gypsy woman that Deza’s wife, Luisa, tells to begin “Dance.” Essentially, there’s a heavy kind of synchrony between the two of them, even a sort of doubling. Luisa’s story is one about how performing a favor for another person (in this case, buying a cake for the young boy of a destitute mother) puts you into a relationship with that person, whether you want to be or not. Of course it was nothing for a woman like Luisa to buy a small cake from a bakery–this was never the issue with the favor. Rather, the thing about this story that makes it worth telling is how Luisa navigates the space between a request and its granting. She has to see the Gypsy woman as a fellow human, to sympathize with why she wants the cake for just a moment, in order to be able to grant the request. The fact that Luisa has entered into a relationship that can’t be so easily broken is seen in this exchange with Deza:

“And now that you’ve done what she asked, won’t she always be asking you for more things?” I said.

“No, I don’t think she’s the sort to take advantage. I’ve seen her several times since I bought her baby wipes, and this was the first time that she’s expressly asked me for something else . . .” [15]

And then, roughly 10 pages later, Deza begins a beautiful discussion of the process by which Perez Nuix comes to ask his favor; that is, the way she forms the question, the power relations inherent in the act, what it all means for them.

If I let her continue, I will already be involved; afterwards, possibly caught and even entangled. It’s always the same, even if I refuse her the favour and do nothing, there is always some bond. How does she know that it’s less of a favour for me? That is something no one can know, neither she nor I, until the favour has been granted and time has passed and accounts have been drawn up or time has ended. But with that one phrase she has involved me . . . [29]

Also noteworthy in this discussion is the state of Perez Nuix’s stockings (which are covering legs that Deza makes no secret of his admiration for throughout the conversation). Recall that earlier I noted how peculiar it was that Deza kept noticing Wheeler’s socks during a similar conversation at the end of vol 1. And now it is women’s stockings.

This is one of the ephemeral powers of the person doing the granting or refusing, the most immediate compensation for finding oneself involved, but one pays the price for this too, later on. And this is why, often in order to make that power last, the reply or decision are delayed, and sometimes never even arrive at all. She uncrossed her legs and crossed them again the other way, I saw the run in her stockings begin on one thigh, she would not discover it for quite some time, I thought (she was not looking where I was looking), and by then the size of the run might make her blush. [35]

And the, finally, we find ourselves in a disco, with Deza, Tupra, a couple of their work associates, some big-time Italian they’re interpreting for a client, and his wife. Frankly, I found hilarious Deza’s somewhat mean-spirited thoughts on the wife’s refurbished breasts, and I thought she was a brilliantly evoked minor character. (And I’ll add that so many minor characters in this book seem a well-built as the major ones.)

And speaking of minor characters, was I the only one to not be terribly disappointed to see the return of Rafita, the idiot, Bushesque son of a Spanish politician destined for greatness? There’s something endearing in how bothered Deza gets when he’s around, and Deza’s rather insulting description of his club get-up (think of a real douchy guy trying to look like a rapper) was fantastic. (I particularly enjoyed the scorn he lavished on his hair-net.)

To close here, I want to bring up this passage toward the end of our first segment that brings together a couple of central metaphors from vol 1:

All of you and all of us are just like snow on somebody’s shoulders, slippery and docile, and the snow always stops. Neither you nor we are like a drop of blood or a bloodstain, with its resistant rim that sticks so obstinately to the porcelain or to the floor . . . [59]

I can’t find precisely where Deza first mentions the snow (perhaps someone will help me track it down), but I recall that it’s something of a metaphor for the way the weight of words slowly slides off our shoulders as they are forgotten. The bloodstain, I’m sure, everyone will remember from Deza’s night in Wheeler’s house, and is something along the lines of the opposite: that one persistent memory that will not fade. Interesting to see him evoking them together here (I believe this is the first time he does it). And it makes me wonder, will Marias ever return to what that blood was doing there in the first place?

YFTS: Some Thoughts After Finishing the First Volume of Your Face Tomorrow

One starts Your Face Tomorrow filled with foreboding. How else to read the opening segment, a section that lets us know that everything we will read in this book has all been said and done, that it has all already happened to our protagonist, one Jacobo Deza (or Jacques, or Jaime, or . . . like Deza, so many characters in this book have multiple names). Moreover, the book begins with Deza telling us that, knowing what he knows now, he rues the act of opening one’s mouth. And then, were that not enough, the opening section ends on a particularly melancholy note: the narrator evokes the experience of the elderly, who feel their remaining time like “slippery” snow “sliding from their shoulders.” It is an image evoked by a man who has witnessed a catastrophe that has left him old before his time and feeling helpless.

This opening section warns about the dire consequences of loose talk, and volume one goes on to talk about two of the most significant examples in 20th-century European history where loose talk had the potential for mayhem. Those would be the Spanish Civil War, where we are told a word in the wrong direction would lead to an execution, and World War II in Britain, where we witness a nationwide campaign to instill into citizens the fear that loose lips could lead to battlefield deaths.

There is also the great personal risk one runs by talking: one’s words can be appropriated and used to any end so desired by other people. At more than one point Deza tells us that the great ambition of all people is to efface themselves from this earth, but this is impossible, as we all speak and we all leave traces. Yet in volume 1 we also hear the sentiment–powerfully expressed–that most talk is a complete waste of time. How to square these two views?

Volume one also casts Deza in a curious job for a man so aware of the consequences of speaking: listener, and then, creator of realities through the simple act of speech. First Deza listens to people say things, and then he is given the privilege of determining who they are, that is, he gets to give reports to a powerful mysterious employer who will se them for who knows what ends.

It is an immense power granted to Deza, and what makes it even more immense is that Deza is not just listening to anybody; he is listening to the wealthy, the powerful, and the potentially dangerous. He is rendering verdicts on these people–in effect, he is creating interpretations of their personality that have the weight of truth–though he is not permitted to know why he is giving these verdicts, nor what use, if any, they will be put to. This seems like the setup to a great tragedy, something almost Faustian: a man with the great power to know other people intimately just through a single conversation, yet also a man who will never be able to confirm if this great power that he is told he has is actually real, or if he is just spinning stories that have no basis in actual fact. Powerful or weak, wise or pompous? I suspect we will begin to find out in volume two.

And then there is the odd historical angle to volume 1. The relationship between Britain and Spain is perhaps not a relationship that many of the great 20th-century writers have paid much regard, but it is inscribed everywhere in volume one. Deza’s good friend Wheeler, the man who gets him mixed up in this business of telling lives, was a British operative in Spain during the Civil War, and his work there seems to have left a great impact on him. He is a devoted Hispanist, he speaks Spanish fluently and breaks into colloquialisms that only a speaker who is very familiar with the language would know. Likewise, Deza’s new employer in this business, Tupra, seems to have one foot in Britain and one foot somewhere else on the European continent. We witness firsthand a budding member of Spain’s kleptocracy making an ass of himself at a British party, Deza’s coworker, the beautiful Perez Nuix (whom it seems we will almost certainly hear more about), is half Spanish, half British.

Beyond characters, volume one is scarred by the memories of Britain’s and Spain’s mixed past; it has the feel of a book that is reckoning with the legacy that the great political strife of Europe in the 20th century has left on each nation, as well as the cultural sediment left behind by the things the populations of each were forced to accept because of politics. To no small extent Deza’s job–the wellspring, it seems, of the whole series of events that makes this story worth telling–is built on institutions that were built during the wars against fascism in Europe.

How does Deza’s work relate to this legacy, why does his friend Wheeler seem so intent on having him take it up? Marias is invoking matters of huge moral weight, historical questions of great responsibilities that have guided the destiny of nations; he is invoking them and insinuating Deza’s job with their gravity, yet he never quite tells us that Deza’s work is in fact this weighty, in a geo-political sense. However, it is completely clear that Deza’s work will be hugely important for his personal sense of morality, his personal destiny. Yet in volume 1, to take on Marias’ parlance, the point of the spear has pierced, and Deza is beginning to make his own fever.

And lastly, how does Deza’s work relate to Deza? Will this man ever attain self-knowledge, or can he, believing what he believes? I keep coming back to two quotes, the first: “How can I not know your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it?” It is perhaps a question Deza asks himself. And then from a report Deza happens to find about himself: “He knows he doesn’t understand himself and that he never will. And so he doesn’t waste his time trying to do so. I don’t think he’s dangerous. But he is to be feared.”

Perhaps, as we move into volume 2, these words will begin to sound more prophetic.

YFTS: Magaret Jull Costa Responds

Here are the responses to the questions posed earlier this week to Margaret Jull Costa:

Neil: One of the many pleasures of reading the novel was how there seemed to be a constant translation taking place in Deza’s head between English and Spanish and back to English. How did translating a character who already is constantly translating and playing with both languages affect your work on the novel? Did it add another layer to your translation? How was it different translating this than other books that may not have been as concerned with the differences and respective peculiarities of English and Spanish?

MJC: I think I took a pretty pragmatic approach, sometimes leaving a Spanish expression in Spanish and then giving an English translation or else leaving it unexplained–as I do occasionally when Wheeler is pondering various unfathomable Spanish idioms–because there the meaning wasn’t important. The narrator does occasionally comment that there is no English equivalent for a particular Spanish expression, but I have to find a translation anyway! Javier is the only one of my writers who does this kind of thing, but it’s obviously most marked in those of his novels set in England or America and where the narrator himself is a translator or interpreter. It does add another layer of difficulty in a way, but then again I do spend my working life moving between languages, so it’s not such a leap.

Jeremy Hatch: My question is kind of a more technical one and less about the book per se, but since I do so much copyediting in my professional life, it keeps striking me as I’m reading that the usage and spelling throughout is British–“realise” as opposed to “realize,” “colour” rather than “color,” decisions are “taken,” not “made,” double l’s in certain words, and so forth. Given that New Directions is an American publishing house, I was curious whether this usage choice was a conscious decision and therefore an integral part of the translation, given that what action there is takes place in London amongst Europeans, or if the choice was more of a circumstantial thing–you know, the first publication in English was a British edition and that’s the text ND used, or maybe you are British and those choices are just the choices that are most natural to you, or whatever. Thanks!

MJC: I worked as a copy-editor myself for a few years, and it’s such a useful skill for the translator to have as well. As for the British spellings, the novels are co-published in the UK by Chatto & Windus, and I myself am British. So the translation starts off in British spelling and, in this case, remains so. My wonderful editor at New Directions, Barbara Epler, does change certain excessively British turns of phrase into a more U.S. idiom, but I think it was felt that British spelling would not trouble American readers too much–apart from those who do a lot of copy-editing!

YFTS: Margaret Jull Costa Interview

Here are the questions I posed to Costa for our reading group for Your Face Tomorrow. Please add your own questions in the comments, and hopefully Costa will be able to drop by later in the week and offer some responses.

Scott Esposito: Marias has a great knowledge of English–in fact, he’s translated many of the great English-language writers into Spanish. So two questions: can you give us some idea of how Marias’s translations are regarded in Spain, and if he’s thought of simply as an author, or as more of an author/translator. And second, knowing how much he’s been influenced by some of the great English-language writers, did you use this knowledge at all while working on Your Face Tomorrow?

Margaret Jull Costa: His translations are obviously held in high regard in Spain, but he hasn’t really done much translating in the last twenty years. After he published his second novel, when he was 21, he devoted himself to translating some of the great names in British and American literature, partly, he says, as an essential training in becoming a writer. Then he resumed novel-writing. I would say that now, in Spain, he is thought of simply as a novelist and a columnist (he publishes a weekly column in the Sunday edition of El País).

As for the second part of your question, yes, Javier’s work and language is full of literary references, particularly to English-language writers, notably Shakespeare, Conrad, Nabokov and Eliot. He has also translated that most Baroque of writers, Sir Thomas Browne, and one can clearly see the influence of the latter’s long, looping sentences in Javier’s novels. Another of his most notable translations is of Tristram Shandy, and I think Sterne’s gleefully digressive style and love of absurdity had a huge impact on Javier’s way of writing, and he does take (a possibly very English) delight in choosing words for comic effect. I love many of the same writers that Javier loves, and in a way, I suppose, I do use my knowledge of their work when translating his books, but it’s very much an unconscious thing. I think probably anything that writers and translators read inevitably feeds into their own work.

SE: Marias has been writing since the 1970s, and his style has evolved considerably in the 30+ years he’s been writing. How would you characterize Marias’s style in Your Face Tomorrow with regard to the rest of his career?

MJC: The long sentence that is so characteristic of Javier’s style first occurs in The Man of Feeling. The sentences and the novels have grown longer and longer since then, mainly, I suspect, because his novels have moved away from plot (although there always is a plot) towards the dissection of ideas, feelings, words, motivations. His sentences have the shape of a thought, full of buts and perhapses and then agains. The style in Your Face Tomorrow is the latest stage in that development–less plot and more thought.

SE: As we’ve been reading, we’ve noted how much Marias likes to make use of lengthy sentences. We’ve also discussed how this changes the reading experience of this book, and, in fact, Andrew Seal did a very nice post for the group on how the syntactical unit of Marias’s sentences compares to that of Thomas Bernhard, and what this means for each man’s objectives as a writer. As a translator, how did you deal with these long sentences? Did you try to preserve the order and cadence and length of each? Did you feel the need to break some up, or join others?

MJC: I’ve never read Thomas Bernhard and so can’t comment on his style versus Javier’s, and I’ve probably dealt in my previous answer with the significance of Javier’s style as regards his objectives as a writer. As to how I deal with those long sentences, I very rarely, if ever, break them up into shorter sentences, that would be a complete betrayal of his style. I keep pretty much to the same word order and, insofar as it’s possible, given the differences in the two languages, the same cadence too. I translate the books one sentence at a time and go back over that sentence again and again until it makes syntactic sense and has the right, convincing rhythm, then I move on to the next one. The moment when all the parts of a sentence click into place is very pleasurable–and a relief! Students of English tend to be taught that short sentences equal good style, but English is such a wonderfully flexible language, it seems to me a shame not to use every sinuous inch of it.

SE: We’ve already been noticing how the two words used in the title of volume 1–fever (fiebre) and spear (lanza)–have been popping up in various ways throughout this first book. I assume that the case will be the same for the two words that grace the cover of each of the two remaining volumes. Knowing how crucial these words were to each book, as well as how they have to function in a varieties of capacities throughout each book, did they present any particular translation difficulties to you?

MJC: Obviously, with the title of the first volume, I had to decide whether it should be spear or lance and then stick with my final choice throughout the novel. The title of the next volume–Baile y sueño/Dance and Dream–proved more problematic because sueño means both sleep and dream, and within the novel, I do tend to move between those two translations depending on context. As regards the title, though, Dance and Dream simply sounded better than Dance and Sleep! And, of course, Deza is living a kind of dream existence from which he only wakes at the end of the final volume. With Veneno y sombra y adiós/Poison, Shadow and Farewell, there were similar problems. sombre can mean shade or shadow, but shadow like sombre has some usefully dark connotations, which shade lacks. adios can, of course, be translated as goodbye and farewell, but farewell seemed to me to strike the more appropriate note, especially as that is the word I used when translating Cervantes’ wonderful lines: “Farewell, wit; farewell, charm; farewell, dear, delightful friends,” which occur and reoccur throughout all three volumes.

SE: In your translation, Marias comes across as a very careful wielder of adjectives, and a very subtle hand with word order. For instance, this description of Tupra, the first time Deza sees him: “In the first instance and at a party, Tupra turned out to be a cordial man, smiling and openly friendly, despite being a native of the British Isles, a man whose bland, ingenuous form of vanity not only proved inoffensive, but caused one to view him slightly ironically and with an almost instinctive fondness.” [45] Several aspects of this sentence strike me as noteworthy, perhaps most so the passage “a man whose bland, ingenuous form of vanity not only proved inoffensive . . .” Do you find it significantly more difficult to translate Marias than other authors, and can you compare Marias’s use of word choice and word order to some other Spanish-language authors you’ve translated?

MJC: I’ve just checked my translation against the original sentence, and it does follow Javier’s word order, except that I’ve placed ‘In the first instance and at the party’ at the beginning of the sentence, whereas in the Spanish, those words come after the verb resultó ser [turned out to be]. I think (it’s several years since I translated the book) that I did this to avoid additional breaks and commas in the opening sentence of the chapter. Otherwise, as I said earlier, I do try to keep as close to his word order as I can. And, yes, Javier does like adjectives and uses them, I feel, as ways of getting closer to the meaning that he wants, often using apparent synonyms, as if each additional word might have just the nuance he needs. As for difficulty, his books are, of course, difficult to translate and certainly more difficult than any of my other Spanish-language authors, but he’s such a precise writer I know I can trust his choice of word and sentence shape. Translating a poor stylist is much harder than translating a very good one.

SE: Lastly, I remember hearing that after Marias had finished the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow, he declared the book complete, and then later caused a bit of a surprise when he wrote a third volume. Is this correct? And if so, did that choice surprise you, and do you consider the work complete now?

MJC: It was always clear that volume 2 could not be the end of the story, because it closes on a “cliffhanger,” as does volume 1. And there are all those loose ends waiting to be tied up!

My understanding is that Javier intended the “trilogy” to appear as one volume (it has recently come out in Spain in the one-volume format he originally wanted). He published it in segments so that the dedicatees–his father, Julián Marías, and Peter Russell (the model for Peter Wheeler)–both in their late eighties at the time, would be able to read the novel as it evolved. Both, alas, died before volume 3 was published. Javier has commented that volume 3 was much longer than he expected it to be, and that the deaths of his father and Peter Russell influenced the way he wrote about them in the final volume (i.e. he wasn’t sure he could have written of their deaths in the novel if they had still been alive in reality).

When I had completed the final version of my translation of volume 3, I wrote to Javier, saying that it was finished and added “always assuming a translation can ever be said to be truly finished,” and he replied–most consolingly–that it was the same with novels. There always comes a point where you simply have to stop. But, yes, I do consider the work to be complete now, and will be most intrigued to see what he writes next. Something quite different I suspect.

YFTS: I am Myself My Own Fever and Pain, and Dogs Have 18 Toes

Before we get started on this week’s discussion, a few housekeeping items.

  • First off, remember that on Monday we’ll be joined by Margaret Jull Costa, translator of Your Face Tomorrow. She’s graciously agreed to answer questions in the comments, so think up some good questions over the weekend and be ready with them on Monday.
  • This week we read pp. 234 – 316, and next week we’re going to be finishing Vol 1. Congrats to everyone who has made it this far! I hope everyone is enjoying the book. I am. Remember, you can see the full schedule right here.
  • Big thanks to Andrew Seal for filling in last week with an excellent post while I was traveling. If anyone else wants to take a shot at doing a post, be in touch with me.

So, some thoughts on this week’s reading:

  • First off, how do people feel about the pace? I generally don’t read a book this slowly, but I’m kind of liking the ability to truly savor YFT, and the necessary re-reading created by such a slow path through the book. How do other people feel? is this enhancing the experience for you?
  • On page 236 Wheeler muses, “Who knows, maybe that’s partly why we die: because everything we’ve experienced is reduced to nothing, and then even our memories languish and fade. First it’s our personal experiences, then its our memories.” This, to me, is a huge argument in favor of books, and even in favor of photos and videos. Essentially, other than oral traditions these are the only ways to pass down human memory through the generation, and so they seem hugely important, and to strike a huge argument for communication, contra Deza in the book’s opening pages.
  • If anyone out there is a native speaker of Spanish, I wonder what you make of Deza claiming that he “mentally uses” usted when addressing Wheeler in English. [239] Is this something bilingual Spanish-speakers do when conversing in a language that doesn’t distinguish between intimate and formal forms of you? I bring it up since Deza’s remarks imply that language has a substantial capacity to influence how we think, something that’s crucial to this story, as well as a particular theme of George Orwell, whom we’ve seen in these pages already, and who seems to hover over YFT in certain ways. I also think that this business is interesting in conjunction with another thing Deza says: “in other languages one always remembers erms that are no longer in use or are unknown to native speakers.” [241]
  • What did people make of Wheeler’s long speech [240-5] about the necios, that is, the people who purposely know nothing, as well as his whole business about contemporary Western humanity’s fury over not being able to manipulate the past and it’s disbelief that anything could have been better in a prior era? (And his whole thing about the futility of reparations.) I admit being a little conflicted about it. Some of this strikes me as very true, but other parts strike me as interesting–and perhaps even accurate to Wheeler’s character–but ultimately not things I can agree are accurate.
  • I’m going to point out Deza’s remark: “I am myself my own fever and pain. . . . I must be.” [257] This seems like a rather crucial remark to keep in mind.
  • In the second half of this section, we get a very lengthy set of scenes that disclose the nature of Deza’s work, which I view as very much the same as a fiction writer. I base this mostly in Deza’s remark that “there comes a point when it doesn’t much matter whether you get things right, especially since in my work this was rarely verifiable.” [259] Essentially, Deza and his coworkers are inventing reality and using it as the basis for very serious decisions in the world. This strikes me as incredible hubris, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t eventually catch up with them. Though I also think there is a certain implication that most of us try to create these realities as well, albeit on a smaller scale; nonetheless, this would imply that we’re exhibiting a certain amount of hubris in thinking we can define reality in our own small ways.
  • Lets talk for a second about dog toes. Was I the only one who was sure that Marias had his math wrong when he claimed that dogs have 18 toes, but that the three-legged dog would have lost 4 toes? Wouldn’t that by 16 toes total (4 toes x 4 legs = 16). Well, I looked it up, an dogs have 5 toes on their hing paws, and 4 on their fore paws.
  • Did anyone else notice how toward the end of this section, as Deza maps back to his encounter with Wheeler after the party, Wheeler’s voice starts to get swallowed up by Deza’s consciousness? That is, Deza starts to report Wheeler’s speech again toward the end of this section, but he does it without quotation marks or much other sign that this is what he’s doing. This is incredibly Bernhardian.
  • What did I miss? What other quotes should I be looking at here?

YFTS: Margaret Jull Costa Now Joining Us

Legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa, who of course translated Your Face Tomorrow, as well as books by Jose Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz, Bernardo Atxaga, and a ton more, has graciously agreed to join in on our discussion next week. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’ll have her answer a few questions about the book and the translation of it, and then everyone can pose some questions to her in the comments. So please make sure to drop by next week and get her insight on these books.

I also wanted to pull a few comments that you might have missed from the past couple weeks of discussion. Here we go:

Ginny on the use of fever throughout volume 1:

Also, I’m reminded that when one is in the process of getting sick, a fever is usually the first symptom. It feels to me in this section as if Deza is developing a fever for Tupra and his work, being drawn in and pulled under for the first time. Much like an illness, I suspect this fascination for Tupra’s work will turn in time and Deza will become less excited and enamored by the secrecy and idea of the and more appalled at what he’s gotten himself into. (By the nature of the work as it’s been described to us thus far, I sense him becoming more like the betrayer of his father than like his father.) The progression, “spear, fever, my pain, words, sleep & dreams”, reminds me of the entire progression of an illness when said in that order, as on p. 4.

Maylin on some thematic resonances with the Bond film From Russia to Love:

For those who haven’t seen the film, the opening sequence involves a man stalking Bond in a garden at night. He kills him and then just before the opening credits, it turns out that the man killed wasn’t Bond of course, but wearing a face mask to look like Bond (it’s been a training exercise). Which eeriely ties in with the title of novel and that quote on page 159 – I don’t think it’s at all unintentional that Marias chose this particular Bond film to reference.

The chronology of the narration is interesting – one step forward in real time, then back in memory. This has echoes of Proust but also Woolf (and she too was often obsessed with feet – see the many references to shoes in Jacob’s Room for example). It’s not the same style as Woolf of course, but I do think there are similarities in themes of time and memory.

Stephen on links to contemporary Spanish politics:

It’s that persistent blood stain, and the recurring image of the languid murmuring river, which connects like a thread to the past, as well as what I’ve come to learn about the context in which the novel was written. I believe the work is overshadowed, and influenced by what has come to be referred to in Spain as the pact of forgetting, wherebye Franco’s friends and foes agreed to a mutually benificial amnesty law, in effect putting the past to one side during the transition to democracy. Yet, despite these efforts to bury the past in the interest of reconciliation, many victims of Franco’s purges continue to be unearthed in mass graves.

Also, make sure to check out Andrew Seal’s post on Marias’s idiosyncratic use of language, particularly how the form of his sentences resonates with the theme of spying:

Yet he is also caught up in a world that puts unusual pressure on this skill set, a world that is, if you’ve read John Le Carré or really any spy novel other than James Bond, also about redundancy, about creating repetitions that overlap and embed themselves within one another—games within games, wheels within wheels. Spymasters in these novels always have multiple plans in place—not just contingency plans, but ancillary plans, schemes that are deployed within other schemes to ensure that if one fails, something will still be gained. (James Bond is very different; if James Bond fails, everything fails, buttons are pushed, continents die.) In the game of espionage, everyone is being watched twice or thrice over, not just by opposing sides, but twice or thrice by the same side. Wheels within wheels—this is what Marías’s writing does. It says things “just in case” you missed or didn’t quite grasp what was said before, much as, in the anecdote Deza tells about the U.S. customs officials asking the question “have you any intention of making an attempt on the life of the President” to any traveler (187-188), bureaucracy (and particularly intelligence bureaus) do many things “just in case.”

This “just in case-ness” also, I think, makes the prose frequently more pedestrian-sounding; the aim is not condensation but actual tautology. Marías says something twice not to pull the sentence in tighter to itself but to say something twice. (Marías discusses tautologies on page 176-177.) For instance, the sentence “Sleep with one eye open when you slumber” (158) which may be an actual proverb, I don’t know, is absurdly repetitive, a pleonasm, more words than necessary. Sleep and slumber are not both needed, but Marías says it this way, and I’m not sure that Bernhard, or Beckett even, or Proust or Sebald, would.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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