The OF Blog: A quote from Carlos Fuentes in memory of his passing today at the age of 83

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A quote from Carlos Fuentes in memory of his passing today at the age of 83

For the past decade, I have been a fan of Mexican (or as he preferred, "transopolitan") writer Carlos Fuentes, beginning when I read The Years With Laura Díaz in 2002 (in English; I did not start reading novels in Spanish until 2004) and continuing to the present day.  Therefore, I was sad to hear that he passed away today in a Mexico City hospital; apparently he had been suffering from heart ailments recently.  I dropped my current reading plans and began reading a 2011 non-fiction work of his, La gran novela latinoamericana (The Great Latin American Novel) when early on, in the first chapter, I discovered a passage that I think goes near to the heart of what I loved about his writing and those of his fellow writers of the Boom Generation:

Recordar el futuro. Imaginar el pasado.

Éste es un modo de decir que, ya que el pasado es irreversible y el futuro incierto, los hombres y mujeres se quedan sólo con el escenario del ahora si quieren representar el pasado y el futuro.

El pasado humano se llama Memoria. El futuro humano se llama Deseo. Ambos confluyen en el presente, donde recordamos, donde anhelamos.

William Faulkner, uno de los creadores de la memoria colectiva de las Américas, hace decir a uno de sus personajes: "Todo es presente, ¿entiendes? El ayer sólo terminará mañana y el mañana comenzó hace diez mil años." Y en Cien años de soledad, los habitantes de Macando inventan el mundo, aprenden cosas y las olvidan, y son forzados a volver a nombrar, a volver a escribir, a volver a evocar: para Gabriel García Márquez la memoria no es espontánea o gratuita o legitimadora; es un acto de supervivencia creativa. Debemos imaginar el pasado para que el futuro, cuando llegue, también pueda ser recordado, evitando así la muerte de los eternamente olvidados.

Remembering the future. Imagining the past.

This is a way of saying that, now that the past is irreversible and the future uncertain, men and women remain alone with the scenery of today if they want to represent the past and the future.

The human past is called Memory. The human future is called Desire. Both come together in the present, where we remember, where we yearn.

William Faulkner, one of the creators of the collective memory of the Americas, had one of his characters say: "It's all now, you see? Yesterday won't be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago." And in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the inhabitants of Macondo invent the world, they learn things and forget them, and they are forced to return to name, to return to write, to return to evoke: for Gabriel García Márquez memory is not spontaneous nor free nor legitimate; it is an act of creative survival. We ought to imagine the past so the future, when it arrives, also can be remembered, preventing thus the death of eternal oblivion.
There is something so achingly simple, so profoundly true in this, that perhaps it is fitting to imagine the pasts we have enjoyed reading Fuentes and remember the futures we will spend processing what it was he said in his fictions that affect us so.  Only then will that frightful death of eternal forgetfulness, of eternal oblivion, will be staved off.


Jan Rider Newman said...

"The human past is called Memory. The human future is called Desire. Both come together in the present, where we remember, where we yearn." I shivered when I read that. And, of course, it's quite true.

Larry said...

The entire first chapter of this book returns to this theme. So far, it's a really good work, making his death even sadder, knowing that there might not be any unpublished/unfinished works to be released posthumously.

Anonymous said...

una nota sobre la traducción: "preventing thus the death of eternal oblivion" tiene un significado opuesto al original: "evitando así la muerte de los eternamente olvidados" (literalmente, supongo, "thus preventing the death of those eternally forgotten").

aprovecho para compartir otra frase de Fuentes, a propósito del poder mismo de la imaginación: "Sólo dañamos a los demás cuando somos incapaces de imaginarlos".


Larry said...

That was a tricky situation for me, because I did recognize that Fuentes puts the phrase in the plural, yet it is the article "los" that signified to me something substantive instead of demonstrative in nature. I at first wrote "the death of the eternally forgotten"(the echo of which is preserved in my closing line of "that frightful death of eternal forgetfulness, of eternal oblivion"), then I thought of altering it slightly to make it the slightly more abstract "eternal forgetfulness," before deciding that in English, it might sound better as "the death of eternal oblivion."

Yes, the meaning shifts between languages, yet based on the syntax and semantics of the sentences prior (which appear in a singular, more abstract case than the literal "eternally forgotten"), I felt it would resonate a bit more with the passage above to place it in the more abstract "death of eternal oblivion," since Memory, Past, and Future are not directly referencing the countless dead that have perished, but rather the ideas which those dead might have had.

Hope this apologia makes some sense. Love the quote as well, as it is very applicable here :D

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