Translate the unattainable, by José Torralba
Talk about Jerusalem It is such a complex task as translating it, so we better start at the beginning. Novel. A lifetime to think about it and ten years to write it. Three years to translate it. Three volumes. 1,266 pages and 615,192 words in its original edition. Twenty-second most extensive novel ever written. Eleventh if we stick only to the English language. For the simple sake of useless comparison, suffice it to say that the Bible (KJV) has 783,137 words in English, and that it is the epitome of long and arduous book. From an endless book. From a book bigger than life.
Structurally, the work is divided into three distinct parts of eleven chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue. The first, titled Boroughs, it is a very accessible social social choral novel. Throughout its chapters, we jump through different eras and points of view without ever abandoning (except for a chilling exception) the humble neighborhood of Northampton in which Alan Moore was born and grew up, the same in which he still lives, the same as Someday you will see him die. With a pronounced self-functional component and not a few political digressions, reading these pages is pleasant, not even demanding. The greatest complexity is in the back room, in the necessary documentation to adequately reflect periods, contexts, particularities, historical figures, urban planning and idiomatic turns. If the reader wanted to, he could take this volume, travel to Northampton and travel its streets as if he were a participant of the Dublin Bloomsday; stop in each corner, follow the itineraries, check the color of each tile or take a pint in the pubs referred to. In the comfort of a winter wing chair the work behind this part will not be noticed, but the writer's words, hopefully, if we have done well, will penetrate deeply.
There is a strong identity feeling here, an elegy for local culture, for respect for the places that were and are no longer, for the neighborhood haberdashery that has been replaced by the last headquarters of a hotel chain, for knowledge and recognition of a story that is despised because it is ignored, or that perhaps is ignored because it is despised. Moore tells us about his life, his family and his city, but also about the dissolution of idiosyncrasy in the homogeneity of a global mass culture, the depredation of the working class and an anti-globalization sentiment that evolves from that same ontological anarchism that will germinate in v for Vendetta. There will be those who hurry to enthrone him with a spirit brexiterBut it would be a gross misrepresentation of someone who conceives Brexit as the nth deception of a corrupt political class towards an uninformed working class, disoriented in its more than just protest. What is here, simply and simply, is darling. Appreciation. An identification of one's being with its surroundings and its past that extends to the family and historical environment, a bit in the manner of the creature that Alec Holland believed himself with the trees of his swamp. Moore the cold, Moore the calculator, the same one who sometimes seems to treat the cartoons with the intellectual dispassion of a mathematical matrix, offers here an emotional and genuinely emotional narrative. When asked to define the gender to which it belongs Jerusalem, he usually responds that it is a "genetic mythology", but it could also be seen as a family rescue, a historical rescue, as an attempt to save the memory of loved ones, places and situations from the blackness of oblivion. And, except for some flirting with the horror genre and some stylistic filigree (there are a couple of passages in free indirect style and more than one game with the verbal tenses of the third-person narrator, omniscient but not necessarily extradiegetic), that emotion is It expresses how it can only be done when it is authentic: with simplicity.
The second volume of the novel, titled Humble (Free translation of the fabulous city of John Bunyan, usually referred to in Castilian with the name of "Human Soul", but which required a more concise and sound neologism here) imposes an almost total plot, dramatic and aesthetic rupture. The fragmented narrative of the first part is replaced by a rigorously linear one (although with some other trap in terms of historical contexts, yes). There are different points of view, but there is an undisputed hero surrounded by co-stars. And social realism fades to give way to a vibrant youth adventure, a wild fantasy mix of Enid Blyton, Terry Gilliam and Lewis Carroll. Here, translation difficulties are shifted from documentation to the description of dream landscapes, the management of invented terms, the adaptation of puns and the effective translation of constructed languages. Moore creates new conjugations that express past, present and future at the same time, but the ease of English to achieve it through modal verbs irretrievably clashes with the grammatical complexities of Spanish.
Likewise, the determined commitment to the fantastic surrealist, with descriptions that jump between the historical script and the fictional narrative, requires an effort to adapt to renewed codes that, nevertheless, participate in that emotional nostalgia displayed in Boroughs. Highlights here the most adventurous Moore, the most playful and gender, that of Promethea and the first volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And yet, we still see something radically different. As in all his work, psychogeography and eternalism play a crucial role, but the mythological substratum that shapes them is not the author's usual Neoplatonic syncretism, but a direct commitment to Christianity. Because this is an intimate, personal, self-fiction novel. And Moore was not raised in an airtight neighborhood, but in an Anglican one, with Sunday catechesis, pious neighbors and joyful hymns. At least, in the twentieth century. Because, as if it were the missing link between the youthful piety and the adult Gnosticism of the author, between his childhood carelessness and the political ferocity of his maturity, the history of the neighborhood explains who Moore is. Nest of rebellions and hipster sects, the chronicle of the Boroughs – full of ranters, Muggletonians and virulent pamphlets, of antitrust, republican and libertarian proclamations — and their progressive trajectory toward political, religious and cultural docility are, to some extent, opposed to that of the author of the novel. If the Boroughs have been subjected to blood and fire until they fit, Moore has freed himself from that denaturalization by going back to the origins and vicissitudes of the area that made him who he is, but always without abstaining from his baggage.
Immersed in these reflections, we reach the third volume, Vernall's research, and here the narrative pact flies through the air. The chapters jump between points of view, styles, genres, tributes … One is written in the first person, another in unusual metric verses, another in current consciousness, another in the manner of Michael Moorcock, another in a language subjoyceano unintelligible, another theatrical mode of the best Beckett, etc., and so on. It is a complex, arduous, demanding volume. He is the free and experimental Moore of Watchmen, the same one that applied Mandelbrot fractals in the great unfinished project that was Big numbers, that of the surgical and thorough dissection of that historical microcosm that composes From hell. Readers who arrive will want to tear off their skin, just like mine lies lying like an office shirt in a corner of the room, already moved, already replaced, and tanned by the effort to translate it. However, Moore does not renounce his essence, his nature, his spirit. In one way or another, the authors referred to were inspired by the neighborhood and relate to their spaces on a very personal level. The neighborhood inspired them, they later inspired him, and I gathered that experience to try to convey it to the reader.
Jerusalem, like the Bible with which it rivals in extension, it is a book of books, a history of stories. Throughout its pages, it displays a cultural artifact that participates in unclassifiable eclecticism, realistic mimesis and heterotopic spaces of postmodernism while denying its irony and hedonism. Sometimes it is cruel, sometimes it is warm, but it is never insensitive, nor distant, because that familiar and historical rescue we were talking about is intimate, and everything intimate is loved even when it is hated. No work in Moore's career allows such a holistic understanding of his life, his family, his concerns and his obsessions. Translating it has been a dream and a nightmare. I hope reading it is, at least, an interesting experience. And also intense.