El error de Jhumpa

Jueves, 22 de marzo de 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri defendiendo la importancia de las oraciones en la ficción en The New York Times:

In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

Para ilustrar su argumento Lahiri cita a Joyce:

I remember reading a sentence…in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.

Lahiri luego hace una observación donde aclara y especifica su posición:

The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil.

Saber construir una oración como la que cita Lahiri de Joyce, que casi parece un verso, puede ser un tremendo activo para un escritor. Pero un párrafo con oraciones poco memorables puede ser más rico que una oración perfecta o una sucesión de oraciones perfectas.

Poco después de toparme con el artículo de Lahiri leí casualmente un ensayo de James Wood comentando una escena de La casa de Mr. Biswas, la novela de V.S. Naipaul:

It is Christmas, and Mr. Biswas, on a whim, decides to buy a hideously expensive doll’s house for his daughter. He can’t possibly afford it. He blows a month’s wages on the gift. It is an episode of madness and bravado, of aspiration and longing and humiliation:

He got off his bicycle and leaned it against the kerb. Before he had taken off his bicycle clips he was accosted by a heavy-lidded shopman who repeatedly sucked his teeth. The shopman offered Mr. Biswas a cigarette and lit it for him. Words were exchanged. Then, with the shopman’s arm around his shoulders, Mr Biswas disappeared into the shop. Not many minutes later Mr Biswas and the shopman reappeared. They were both smoking and excited. A boy came out of the shop partly hidden by the large doll’s house he was carrying. The doll’s house was placed on the handle-bar of Mr Biswas’s cycle and, with Mr Biswas on one side and the boy on the other, wheeled down the High Street.

Not a word of dialogue -indeed the opposite, the report of a dialogue we do not witness: “Words were exchanged.” Again, this is both funny and terribly painful, because of the way Naipaul writes it up. He resolutely refuses to describe the purchase itself. Instead, he describes the scene as if the author has set up a camera outside the shop. We watch the men smoke, we watch them go in, and a minute later we watch them come out, “smoking and excited.” The scene is thus like something out of the silent movies, and almost begs to be run at double speed, as farce. Passive verbs are used, precisely because Biswas is a weak, comically gentle man who thinks he is asserting himself while he is in fact generally being acted upon: “was accosted by…the doll’s house was placed on the handlebar…[was] wheeled down the High Street.” Naipaul deliberately describes this event as if Mr. Biswas has nothing much to do with it, which is probably how Mr Biswas self-forgivingly thinks of this moment. Most subtle is the decision not to represent the scene of purchase itself, the moment where money changes hands. This is the epicenter of shame for Mr. Biswas, and it is as if the narrative, knowing this, is too embarrassed to represent this shame. Naipaul is superbly aware of this, superbly in control. He knows that the sentence “Word were exchanged” is the pivot of the paragraph -because, of course, it is not words that are importantly exchanged but money that is crucially exchanged. And this is what cannot, must not, be described.

No hay una sola oración memorable en el párrafo citado por Wood. Lo memorable es la riqueza de la escena. Naipaul no pasa horas tallando y puliendo oraciones, sino viendo el tablero desde arriba; pensando en la situación y luego ideando una manera de narrarla. Más que su talento para construir oraciones, lo que nos impresiona es su poder de observación, la agudeza de su análisis, su talento para la caracterización, su habilidad para iluminar dinámicas sutiles que todos conocemos pero pocos somos capaces de transponer a la página. Miles de escritores son capaces de escribir oraciones perfectas. Pocos son capaces de escribir como Naipaul.

Por supuesto, Naipaul ha podido deslizar en la escena varias oraciones como las que le gustan a Lahiri. Las virtudes del autor no son incompatibles con las oraciones memorables. Pero el fondo del asunto es que la riqueza de esta página no depende de este tipo de oraciones.

¿Por qué todo esto importa? Porque pensar que escribir bien es fundamentalmente esculpir oraciones memorables es un error. Lo más importante es la riqueza que yace debajo de las oraciones. Y a veces las oraciones grises y rutinarias (“invisibles de lo habituales,” diría Borges) esconden un universo mucho más rico que las oraciones hermosas que a Lahiri le gusta subrayar.