Kafka in Spain

por | Jun 14, 2024 | English | 0 Comentarios

Literature is a mystery, just like art or music, and in the early 20th century, Kafka stands at the very heart of that mystery. Last Monday marked the hundredth anniversary of his premature death in Kierling, Austria. Today, we interpret him as one of the seismographs of secular or, rather, post-secular modernity. Enrique Krauze reminded us in the latest issue of Letras Libres that Kafka should be read like a theologian or a mystic: straddling the psychological and the metaphysical. Literature is also this, and it rarely speaks to us in unequivocal language. Not even the author himself, surely, can account for what he writes or glimpse all the implications of his words. «I did not believe anything at all, I was only asking,» Kafka noted during his retreat in the Bohemian village of Zürau, appealing to a world that has run out of answers but accepts doubt as its creed. The images he employs in his notebook of aphorisms are haunting—they end up pursuing us in dreams—yet also illuminating. «This village belongs to the castle, and whoever lives or stays here, lives or stays, so to speak, in the castle,» we read. It is indeed a rare truth. The voice of the wise elder, reminiscent of the spirit of monasticism, is also present: «There are two main human sins from which all others derive: impatience and indolence. It was through impatience that they were expelled from Paradise, it is through indolence that they do not return. Yet, perhaps, there is only one cardinal sin: impatience.» Learning to believe and to love is the key to parenthood, as I wrote in Florecer, and this speaks to us of patience as the great virtue of parents and also—why not?—of children. The following scene evoked in his notes is, however, disturbing: «Many shadows of the dead only concern themselves with licking the waters of the river of the dead, because it comes from us and still has the salty taste of our seas. Then the river bristles with disgust, changes the course of its current, and sends the floating dead back to life. But they are content, they sing songs of gratitude and caress the indignant river.»

Less known is the relationship of the Prague writer with Spain. It plays a key role, thanks to the early edition of The Metamorphosis in Revista de Occidente. The 1925 Spanish translation, still shrouded in the enigma of who its author was (whether Borges, now fully discarded; the formidable Margarita Nelken; or the Galician Ramón María Tenreiro, as José María Paz Gago claims in the June issue of Revista de Occidente), was key to the text’s international diffusion. But it holds another small secret unraveled by the Italian writer Adriano Sofri in his essay Una variazione di Kafka (Ed. Sellerio), published in 2018. It concerns a typo in the Spanish translation, indicating that a light coming from the street illuminates the room. The Spanish translator, instead of specifying that the light was from a lamp or a streetlight—as the original German implies—speaks of the moving light—one might say a cinematic effect—of an electric tram crossing the room for a few seconds. Isn’t the Spanish solution, by introducing a moving light, perhaps better than the original? Maybe. But the significant point Sofri tells us is not this, but that the typo would be reproduced in many other translations of the time—including the mythical French version by Alexandre Vialatte, who also confuses the streetlight with the tram—preferring the Spanish text to the German. It was a different era, of course, but literature also arises from errors because, as Kafka reminded us, the village—or rather the translation—belongs to the castle. And the typo is as Kafkaesque as the original.

Daniel Capó

Daniel Capó

Casado y padre de dos hijos, vivo en Mallorca, aunque he residido en muchos otros lugares. Estudié la carrera de Derecho y pensé en ser diplomático, pero me he terminado dedicando al mundo de los libros y del periodismo.

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