14 July 2016

Francisco Pérez Navarro: Galería de moribundos: introducción a las novelas y al teatro de Samuel Becket (1976)

I was unaware of the existence of this book until a few months ago: ah, the endless power of the internet! I was a friend of Francisco Pérez Navarro's eldest son for some years, although his joke that he thought his father was writing the complete works of Samuel Beckett in Latin now (a little at least) makes more sense: the back cover of this book states that Pérez Navarro had (by 1976 anyway) also (among other things) written a translation of Beckett's Comment c'est (or How It Is in the English edition) into Castilian. (The book also describes him as preparing a work on Peter Weiss called 'Carlota Corday compra un cuchillo' ('Charlotte Corday Buys a Knife'): unfortunately I can discover no reference to this book, or indeed any references to later works by Francisco Pérez Navarro).

Interestingly, the book I own not only has the author's signature but his address in Mapperley, Nottingham: I remember visiting that home as an intellectually naive working-class teenager, terrified yet thrilled to be surrounded by books in French and Spanish in the television-free living-room-cum-library. The back cover of this book also tells me that he moved to England in 1955. It doesn't state that, after living in Great Malvern and marrying the Franco-Swiss teacher Françoise, he moved permanently to Nottingham some time in the 1960s.

For a relatively short time in the eighties the author taught me Spanish at Clarendon College, and his lessons were far removed from the norm. He used to come in, take a large number of books and papers from his bag and line them on his desk, and on one occasion gave me a news item (or fait divers) in French for me to translate aloud (slowly) into English for the class (including myself) to translate back into Spanish. This was, of course, long before Ofsted was created to dumb down the level of education and manufacture robotic students through teachers' lesson plans and exam targets, etc. No, these were the days when education was still fun, not a careers-oriented conveyor belt designed to produce uniform government-worshipping, economically-minded zombies whatever the interchangeable political party.   I don't remember the name of the magazine, but I treasure the moment when, other students out for a break, Francisco quietly slipped me (as if it were an illicit drug) a Spanish anarchist paper and just whispered that I should throw it away if I didn't like it. I'm sorry to say I never kept it through the years.

This is a venerable work now in the fortieth year of its life, and in its day it was ground-breaking not only in that it introduced the Spanish-speaking peoples to works which hadn't been translated, but also addressed issues of poor translation: how about Watt being translated into Spanish with its four parts in chronological order, but not in the order in which they were originally written and published? That's quite a howler.

The translated half-title of Pérez Navarro's work – Galería de moribundos – takes us some way into understanding Beckett, and the French galerie de moribonds, from Beckett's original French Molloy, is the book in which Beckett uses this expression that translates literally into English as 'gallery of moribunds', which Malone uses of Murphy, Watt, Yerk, Mercier et al.

So what are the themes throughout Beckett's work? Pérez Navarro uses the lovely expression 'podredumbre ontologíca',  or 'ontological putrefaction', which certainly serves as a general catch-all term, but then within this of course there's meaninglessness, thoughts of suicide, death, the loss or non-existence of God but the ever-clinging religious vocabulary, tramps, clowns, even bicycles (which makes me think of Alfred Jarry). Pérez Navarro reckons that the early More Pricks than Kicks (which he can't seem to decide is a novel or a collection of short stories) contains most of the themes of Beckett's future work.

And although Pérez Navarro's book was written some time before Beckett had finished his publications – the final work mentioned being Not I (1976) certainly  he'd long since achieved his greatest works, most of them written (although not actually published) from 1947 to 1950: the novel trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and of course the play Waiting for Godot.

Galería de moribundos is essentially a book describing the skeleton of the 'plots' followed by an interpretation of them, and I loved it. My only quibbles are that there isn't a conclusion (although I wonder at the same time how there could be one), but most of all that the author sees Beckett's work as a dramatization of Sartre's L'Étre et le néant. No, I just don't see it: Sartre's work is much more optimistic: there's much more being beyond the nothingness.

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