by Dr Catriona McAllister (Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies, University of Reading)
Ariana Harwicz’s novel Matate, amor is rebellious, energetic, and almost impossible to summarise. It inhabits a space between poetry and prose, offering an unpredictable fusion of terror, complicity and desire. Its protagonist now also speaks in a new tongue through its English translation: Die, My Love (Charco Press, 2017). Harwicz and Carolina Orloff, co-translator of the novel and founder of Charco press, joined Emily Baker (Birkbeck College), Niall Geraghty (ILAS), and Catriona McAllister (University of Reading) to discuss the text and the significance of making this novel available to an English-speaking public.
Charco press is a new publishing venture, and Carolina Orloff described her vision to bring a greater range of contemporary Latin American literature to UK audiences. Orloff discussed her growing awareness that much high-quality, cutting-edge Latin American fiction was not reaching English-speaking publics, and her hope that Charco press will help to “shake up” the range of texts that arrive in the UK from Latin America. She described Ariana Harwicz as a “radical and extraordinary voice” who has received acclaim across the Spanish-speaking world and whose debut novel is now available in English for the first time.
We tasked Harwicz with introducing the text to the audience, who evoked its atmosphere with reference to an image (the cover of the first Spanish edition) rather than through the plot: an indication of the way she perceives her artistic process. For Harwicz, this text was not conceived as a plot-driven novel, but rather as poetry. She challenged the audience to reconsider the assumed role of both forms, declaring “no sé por qué se piensa que la novela está más cerca de la realidad que la poesía” (I don’t know why we think the novel is closer to reality than poetry is). Arguing that style is central to the definition of art, she quotes Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s assertion that it is not Cézanne’s apple or the women in Picasso’s paintings themselves that matter, but the form given to them by the artist. For Harwicz, in true art, the object itself disappears.
This focus on form and aesthetics presents a challenge to some of our most familiar frameworks for interpreting Latin American literature, which often produce highly contextualised, politicised readings (and frequently understand literary production in national terms). Emily Baker asked whether Harwicz, born in Argentina but resident in France for over a decade, identifies with any particular national, regional or transnational framework. Harwicz explained that she sees the novel as neither Argentine nor French, but that the experience of living her life in multiple languages has had a profound influence on the cadence of her prose. She described her feeling of being almost a foreigner within her own mother tongue, explaining that she writes “como si hubiera cambiado de idioma” (as though in another language), and that she feels this has enriched her writing. This feeling of “extrañamiento” (both in the sense of “exile” and of the familiar being rendered strange) is intrinsic to the reader’s experience also: while the language is drawn from Harwicz’s county of birth, she explains that the landscape is closer to her adoptive home. For almost every reader, therefore, there is a strangeness in either the land or language, meaning we must necessarily approach it through a degree of distance, or as a “foreigner” to the text.
The landscape is one of the most striking features of the novel, and Niall Geraghty highlighted its significance, identifying a fluidity between natural and human that presents almost “an anthropomorphism in everything animal and a reciprocal zoomorphism in everything that’s human”. Harwicz described the text’s inversion of the assumption that animals represent the wild and man equals reason, but explained that this emerged in an unconscious rather than conscious form as she wrote. Similarly, when Catriona McAllister noted the shadow of other female characters suffocated by the confines of domestic life, particularly Emma Bovary, Harwicz acknowledged the resonance of these influences but insisted that this was not a conscious “updating” of Bovary for the 21st century. If it had been conscious, Harwicz states, then her protagonist could have ended up becoming a “caricature”. Instead, we share in the protagonist’s internal intellectual world, witnessing its deep disconnect with the definitions and expectations of those that surround her, and Harwicz sees this as key to the drama the novel presents.
Harwicz and Orloff also discussed the process of translation, an endeavour Harwicz confesses to finding fascinating due to its creation of new textual realties that can sometimes be “more real” than the original. Geraghty praised the way that the English version of Die, My Love captures the poetry of the original prose, and Orloff explained the particular challenges posed by this text. It was not the communication of meaning that proved difficult, but capturing the emotional state of the character, the humour, poetry and loaded nuances of each line – the “style and craft” of Ariana’s language. It seems apt that a novel that already embodies multiple experiences of distancing and foreignness should undergo this process of translation, of transfer to another tongue, to new forms of language and exposure to audiences with different understandings of landscape. It is hard to imagine what could be more faithful to this particular original than the act of translation itself.
You can listen to Ariana Harwicz reading the first chapter of Matáte amor here:
And you can hear Carolina Orloff reading the same excerpt from Die, my love here:
@charcopress; @ILAS_SAS; @Arianahar; @caroorloff; @catrionamca; @EmilyM_Baker
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of ILAS or the School of Advanced Study, University of London
Dr Catriona Mcallister is a lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Reading. Her research focuses on Argentine literature and culture, with a particular emphasis on ideas of nationhood and relationships between history and literature. She is currently working on the representation of historical narratives in Argentine museums.