Saturday, June 29, 2019

Svetislav Bsara, The Cyclist Conspiracy (1987)

Here's a Serbian novel published by Open Letter Books, also responsible for The Museum of Eterna's Novel and The Island of Point Nemo. I really like this press in theory--let's introduce some foreign novels of note to the English-speaking world--and yet the first of those was a mild disappointment to me and the latter just fucking awful. Is the third time the charm?

This is a story--if that's what you want to call it--told through found documents about--well, see title. There's this sect that heretical sect that centers around bicycles, that has a rather abstruse theology, that believes that future events can effect the past, and the power of doing things through dreams. You have alleged ancient manuscripts, an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story (sort of), a Sigmund Freud casefile, a biography and the collected works of a poet involved in the sect, an ideolgical analysis, sundry illustrationg, that.

I'll say that I did definitely enjoy this more than I did those other two books. It's pretty obscure stuff; I wouldn't say I grasped it all, and it does have the typical problem you run into, which is that there's really not much story and there's no way to get emotionally involved or anything like that. But hey, it's a fairly quick read, and not long enough to wear out its welcome. It's not unlike Foucault's Pendulum in some ways--though certainly less ambitous--but I probably liked it more. Okay.

I want to say one more thing however. Imagine, dear reader, that you are going to publish an English translation of a novel from an obscure language that is considered important in its homeland but totally unknown outside of it. You're a non-profit, you're not trying to make money here; you're basically doing this out of love. probably want your readers to get the most out of this book that they can. You want people to understand why this is an important book, which is especially important given that there's going to be little or no material about it already available in English. Does that not seem like a reasonable assumption? So why--WHY WHY WHY--would you publish it with absolutely NO critical apparati or anything that would provide readers with any kind of context that they might need to fully appreciate the book? This isn't the first time I've come across a situation like this, but it just seems perverse whenever it happens. I strongly suspect that there is indeed cultural context here that a Serbian reader would get but that I don't. But if you think Open Letter is going to give you any help with that? Tough shit, you are wrong. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

I'm also not sure about the translation; at the end there's a list of people who are members of this group, and it includes, along with a bunch of Serbian names that may or may not mean something to Serbians, people who wouldn't have been known in 1987 (George W Bush, Michael Moore) and at least one (Homer Simpson) who didn't exist. I don't know! Maybe fucking around with the original text like this is justifiable. But, again, if there's no justification included, how am I not going to assume the worst?


Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

I suspect that the American names are "localization" of the sort familiar to us due to certain long-running American comics — the references were probably to a Serbian president or a Serbian cartoon-character, and since their names would mean nothing to the English-speaking reader, the translator substituted them for the names of figures who have broadly the same status in American culture. (e.g. this is just Pier Donaldo Caponi again and you're kinda calling the kettle black.)

Of course, footnotes could have fixed that, but since it was apparently decided the book wouldn't have any, what's a poor translator to do? Translate a letter that would have been unintelligible, or try to carry over the spirit of the joke?

9:33 AM  

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