Mercè Ibarz [Spain: Catalan]
Interview translated by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Author Photograph © MT
Do you see your work as fitting into the traditions of European fiction--or indeed any national or regional tradition?
Literary tradition is, for me, a wide-ranging field that both cultivates and crosses borders thanks to translation. The writing and narrative styles of other backgrounds have been crucial for me, especially given how important translation has been, and continues to be, for modern Catalan literature. Moreover, the hybridizations caused by the mass exile of 1939 were essential for our best writers, including those authors who worked in internal exile. Looking beyond borders was a rich resource for young writers during the dictatorships. For today's young writers, the mix of sources is even denser; it's a sign of the times. So it's somewhat useless to talk of tradition along exclusively national lines. That’s why European literature is of such extraordinary interest to me: it is a crossroads of writing. The Catalan authors I admire most, Mercè Rodoreda for example, are very European, not only by vocation but also by will. What Europe is today cannot quite be known, but if there is something that can be discussed, it is the literature, as fiction is never far from history. No matter the literary tradition that sustains it, a story always speaks from its context . . . I work from this perspective.
Are there any exciting trends, movement, or schools in contemporary Catalan fiction? Who do you feel are the overlooked contemporary authors writing in Catalan who should be more widely read and translated?
There exist a great variety of proposals and books to choose from in contemporary Catalan fiction, but I do not believe we can talk about tendencies, schools, or movements. This is a country of book lovers, of people who write; of many individuals. I would single out Maria-Mercè Marçal, an extraordinary poet, and Imma Monsó, an imaginative and audacious storyteller.
Who are the contemporary European writers from other countries that are writing compelling fiction?
I attentively follow Jordi Bonells. He writes in French and Spanish. He is an extraterritorial, very European but with Argentina deeply rooted within him. For the paths their fiction open up, the prose of Yuri Andrukhovych and Adam Zagajewski are also of interest to me.
Are there enough publishing outlets in Catalonia for contemporary fiction? Is there a market for literary fiction in Catalonia?
The publishing scene knows the conditions it finds itself in: a concentration of companies and a few (brave) literary houses. The market, being so small, is oversaturated due to the intensive publication of just about anything in recent years, and now due to the economic crisis. The literary book has to battle hard; and, fortunately, it succeeds.
Do you want your work to be translated? Why or why not?
This is a strange question, I believe. Is there an author who does not want to be translated? Yes, I want my work to be translated. In translation there exists the possibility of finding the heart of a book, the more intimate substance beyond the more readily apparent rationales of the original version, which at times not even the author is as familiar with as he believes himself to be. This is what happens to me with my books that have been translated. And with the story published in these pages.
Given a choice, would you prefer a faithful, literal translation of your work or an interpretive re-imagining of it? Why?
This is a complex question. Each idiom is a form of expression and to transfer this expression over to another idiom is an art. I would always want to grasp from a text how the original language expresses itself, and in this sense I am a maximum proponent of literal translation. But the final result has to sound fresh in the language in which it arrives, as if we were translating the concepts and the images, and therefore sometimes it must be reinterpreted or re-imagined. But with care, because reinterpreting and re-imagining it can cause a book to say things that it does not say. The most desirable outcome is a precise translation of the sounds and rhythms of the book.