In the introduction to their fantastic (and huge) anthology The Weird: A Compedium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer talk about “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational” as components of the Weird. With respect to modern (twentieth and twenty-first century) fiction, they write:
The Weird, in a modern vernacular, has also come to mean fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark recognition of the unknown and the visionary.
There is a particular feeling, they go on to say, that a certain piece of fiction gives to aficionados of the Weird, a feeling that makes us go “yes, that piece, it’s Weird.” When I read “Las rayas,” by Horacio Quiroga, I definitely got that feeling.
Quiroga isn’t represented in The Weird anthology, but perhaps he ought to have been. He wasn’t in Jorge Luis Borges’ anthology The Book of Fantasy, either, and Borges must certainly have been familiar with his work. Though obviously the fantastic and the weird aren’t (always) the same thing. Quiroga’s work is mostly non-supernatural–also true of Poe, who Quiroga greatly admired–but much of it (like Poe) is extremely unsettling, with illness or madness, or the brutality of jungle life contributing to that sense that here, in this story, you have indeed relinquished the rational.
“Las rayas” struck me as particularly weird. It’s a story about an inexplicable graphomania and its tragic outcome. So of course, I wanted to translate and share it. It seemed straighforward enough, but turned out to be challenging for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.
The noun raya can be translated, depending on context, as stripe, line, scratch, mark (and a few other things). The verb rayar means (surprise!) “to make rayas“: to line, to scratch, to deface, etc. It also means—and this is the part I hadn’t realized—to drive crazy, or to go crazy, to go out of one’s head, in the reflexive form.
In the prologue to the main narrative, Quiroga sets up the events of “Las rayas” as the tragic outcome of “two different things having the same name,” a sentence that I glossed right over when I read the story the first time. But it puzzled me when I read the story more deeply, while translating: which two things have the same name? Ah, to make lines and to go insane (graphomania, indeed!): a play on words that doesn’t carry over into English. What to do?
I could just translate the story, ignoring the play on words; after all, that’s how I read and appreciated the story in the first place. Or I could try to adapt the story into some related notion that does work in English. So I tried both. Both versions are up on Ephemera:
- Lines: A straightforward translation.
- Dotty: Where I tried adapting the story to the play on words between dotty meaning covered in dots/spots, and dotty meaning mentally unbalanced, slightly crazy.
The two versions are similar; I shortened and rearranged the prologue in “Lines” to remove the reference to “two different things having the same name.” Turning all the lines and scratches into dots and spots for “Dotty” actually makes the story seem more surreal to me, but I’m not sure the play on words is as successful in English as it is in Spanish. At any rate, you can try both versions and decide which you like better.
Featured image: Lines of Movement and Dynamic Succession, Giacomo Balla (1913). Source: WikiArt