The OF Blog: This might be a challenging passage to translate

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

This might be a challenging passage to translate

Here's part of the first paragraph from Roberto Bolaño's 2011 posthumous novel, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía:

Para Padilla, recordaba Amalfitano, existía literatura heterosexual, homosexual y bisexual.  Las novelas, generalmente, eran heterosexuales.  La poesía, en cambio, era absolutamente homosexual.  Dentro del inmenso océano de ésta distinguía varias corrientes:  maricones, maricas, mariquitas, locas, bujarrones, mariposas, ninfos y filenos.  Las dos corrientes mayores, sin embargo, eran la de los maricones y la de los maricas.  Walt Whitman, por ejemplo, era un poeta maricón.  Pablo Neruda, un poeta marica.  William Blake era maricón, sin asomo de duda, y Octavio Paz marica.  Borges era fileno, es decir de improviso podía ser maricón y de improviso simplemente asexual.  Rubén Darío era una loca, de hecho la reina y el paradigma de las locas (en nuestra lengua, claro está; en el mundo ancho y ajeno el paradigma seguía siendo Verlaine el Generoso).  Una loca, según Padilla, estaba más cerca del manicomio florido y de las alucinanciones en carne viva mientras que los maricones y los maricas vagaban sincopadamente de la Ética a la Estética y viceversa.  Cernuda, el querido Cernuda, era un ninfo y en ocasiones de gran amargura un poeta maricón, mientras que Guillén, Aleixandre y Alberti podían ser considerados mariquita, bujarrón y marica respectivamente...

What struck me as I was reading this a few minutes ago is the variations in grade? and quality? of terms for homosexuals.  Although I am familiar with most of the terms that Bolaño employs above, it would be a challenge to find le mot juste, to borrow Flaubert's term, to label all of these.  Perhaps one might say that a "marica" is to gay as "maricón" is to faggot, but that is not really the case.  Although "fileno" seems to be more obvious in its borrowing from the Greek for "brotherly love," the asexualness of this term for a vague, quasi-homoerotic yearning depends here more on one's awareness of Borges' almost non-existent sexual life than it does on the term being something that could be translated precisely into English.  "Mariquita" and "bujarrón" are the hardest for me; I have not heard them used much, if at all, in Latin American dialects.  "Mariposa," which chastely translates as "butterfly," intuitively is associated with flittering about, almost like a male coquette, but "mariquita" puzzles me.  One just can't use "gay," "queer," "invert," "faggot," or "bent" as substitutes, because later on in this introductory section, there is a word play on "marica" and "maricón" that is similar to a joke I heard about the tomatito wanting to become a tomatón while the huevito cried.

Will be very curious to see what choices whoever (Wimmer, perhaps?) assigned to translate this unfinished 1990s novel into English will make in rendering these slang expressions.


André said...

Actually, in portuguese, the word "mariquinha", or in truth, "mariquinhas", is very common in this context. There are some other words that seem to be connected to it somehow, such as "maricota" and "maricotinha", but I guarantee that in the brazilian dialects I'm familiar with, there is nothing related to "maricón", so I couldn't be of any help there...

Lsrry said...

Interesting bit about the Brazilian Portuguese, as I'm much less knowledgeable about its slang profanities as I am with Caribbean Spanish ones. As for "maricón," that was the easiest one for me, as for several words, "-ón" roughly means "a great big..." It is, among other things, a much stronger form of "marica," which is why I told in English the joke:

Un tomatito dijo al huevito, "Un día, cuando sea grande, ¡seré un tomatón!" Entonces, el huevito empezo a llorar.

Sadly, there is no real equivalent for this joke (or for the profanities) in English, although I do know of an old wordplay joke involving two deaf army veterans:

"Do you remember when I saved your life in the war?"

"You called my wife a WHAT?"

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