Martin Kohan and Jorge Luis Borges.
[”Emma Zunz”, de Jorge Luis Borges, leído por Martín Kohan, se escucha en el podcast “La oreja que lee”, clickeando acá.]
“There is a very strong image of Borges’s literature that is not that it is not true, but it is in any case incomplete, which is the idea of a metaphysical, abstract, cold, cerebral literature,” says Martín Kohan minutes before read Emma Zunz, an iconic story by the Argentine writer, for the podcast La oreja que lee. “There may be a whole area of the ‘Borges world’ that responds to these characteristics, but there is a whole other area in which, on the contrary, there are passions”.
Emma Zunz was published in 1948 in the magazine Sur and came out a year later in the book El Aleph. It takes place in 1922 and, to put it too briefly, it tells the story of a worker who finds out by letter about the death of her father, who is in Brazil, and sets up a complicated plan to take revenge on the man she believes responsible for that death and which is your pattern. That plan includes sex and a sailor is involved.
Passions, revenge. Is Borges, who is Borges, talking about other realities behind this tale of action, blood, sex?
[”El Aleph” se puede adquirir, en formato digital, en Bajalibros, clickeando acá.]
“Here there is intensity of experiences, there are bodies put into play. And under the version of metaphysical abstraction, that other area of Borges’s literature remains hidden or postponed. Emma Zunz seems to me a perfect example of a story that has to do with passion, with the body, with sexuality and with violence”.
Martín Kohan was born in Buenos Aires in 1967. He teaches literature and is the author of novels such as Twice June, Out of Place, Bahía Blanca and Ciencias Morales, with which he won the Herralde Prize.
He also wrote Erik Grieg, a short story that’s sort of an Emma Zunz spin-off.
He has studied, thought, rewritten Borges and from there he insists: sometimes we “translate” Borges “to the metaphysician”. Even in stories like this where “there are two very strong scenes of putting the body at stake, sexually and in violence, in the act of killing.” And it may be that you don’t have to read it that way.
It may interest you: Why Borges went blind
Kohan reads passionately and at the end we chatted for a while.
-In each reading other things appear. Now I perceived the amount of details that anticipate what is going to happen, not only in the concrete, but a psychological preparation for the ending to be triggered: the necessary state of mind.
-Effectively each reading new things appear. I teach different courses throughout the year in different places, different universities, so I not only read it and reread it, but I work on it in class, 3, 4, 5 times a year if possible and new things appear every time.
There is a moment when everything is revenge for the death of the father and another, oh, when Emma Zunz is actually avenging the mother. But why? Kohan tells it on the podcast, in a delightful analysis of the tale.
But, in addition, the writer gave life to Erik Grieg, the sailor who in Borges’ story goes on the ship and in his own he falls in love with Emma, turns around, goes looking for her. And he could, with that love, destroy her alibi.
“The idea of the sailor popped up for me,” says Kohan. “To what extent could Emma’s body truly have been passed off as the body of a prostitute? The sailor there may have suspected that something was not working, that something did not fit there. Erik Grieg -I recommend it, one thinks that at every step he will make Emma fall- is part of the book An Extraordinary Sorrow, published in 1998.
Emma Zunz and the delicate analysis of Martín Kohan must be heard on the podcast. Which is accessed by clicking here.
More from “The Ear That Reads”
By The Ear That Reads Cristian Alarcón, Marcos Lopez, Alexandra Kohan, Florence Canale, Augustina Bazterrica, Maria Kodama, Claudia Piñeiro, Luciano Lutereau, Lorraine Vega, Eduardo Mileo, Rafael Spregelburd, Selva Almada, Enzo Maqueira, Sylvia Iparraguirre, Franco Torchia, Ezequiel Martinez, Guillermo Martinez, Gabriela Cabezon Camera, Martin Caparros, Mariela Gal, Gabriela Saidon, Pedro Medina Leon, Walter Lezcano, Laura Restrepo, Eduardo Sacheri, Santiago Roncagliolo, Jorge Consiglio, Patricia Suarez, Maria Fernanda Ampuero and Sergio Olguin.
It may interest you: Roald Dahl beyond cancellation: a shocking tale for adults that can be heard here
They read texts by Jorge Luis Borges, Mariana Enríquez, Horacio Quiroga, Juan José Saer, Fleur Jaeggy, Chica Unigwe, Samanta Schweblin, Ignacio Molina, Flor Monfort, Julio Cortázar, Roque Larraquy, Diego Angelino, Liliana Heker, Sara Gallardo, Néstor Perlongher , Gabriel García Márquez, Daniel Moyano, Sylvia Molloy, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Goldberg, Abelardo Castillo, Santiago Roncagliolo, Fabián Casas, Mircea Cartarescu, Juan Carlos Onetti, Alejandra Kamiya, Roald Dahl, Alberto Vanasco and Amparo Dávila.
Any episode of the podcast can be heard by clicking here. You don’t need any special device: a computer, a phone, a tablet will do.
More literature in Infobae and in your mail
I talk about books in the Leer por leer newsletter, which is distributed every Thursday around noon. Of the new ones, of the old ones, of those that make my heart beat, of those that make me think about some specific event that happens or happens to me. In short, of the books that accompany me in life.
I don’t particularly deal with news, but this Thursday I’m going to tell you about one that’s still warm on the shelves: The Stranger, a police novel by Rosa Montero and Olivier Truc that literally didn’t let me sleep.
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“Everyone adore Argentines”: how Santiago Roncagliolo’s story about immigrants is understood in Miami
There is a monster in the house and my husband brought it: María Fernanda Ampuero reads Amparo Dávila and can be heard here
Eduardo Sacheri reads the story by Julio Cortázar that taught him something fundamental: listen to it here
The man who played Russian roulette over and over again and those who enjoyed watching: the terrible story that Laura Restrepo recorded and can be heard here