- The Interrogation1
Heralded as groundbreaking in Greece when first published in 2008, Elias Maglinis’s ανάκριση (The Interrogation) boldly focuses on the fractious intersection of the personal and the political, the combined, interwoven legacies of historical and familial traumas. Kostis, a retired journalist-translator, refuses to talk about his past: a former dissident during the junta era in Greece, he was arrested and severely tortured by the military police (the notorious ESA). These experiences continue to shape his most intimate relationships. His artist daughter, Marina—an acolyte of the “grandmother” of performance art, Marina Abramović—believes in the transformative power of confrontation: “Let it all out, dad,” she admonishes him. She uses self-mutilation as a form of expression and a means of getting her father to lay this past to rest. In these characters’ struggles to find a common ground and a resolution to their family’s pain, the novel charts the decades of violence unleashed by the polarized struggle between the right and left in Greece, as well as related culture wars.
The novel thereby directly engages with a number of important debates in current culture: the legacy of the protest movements and leftist politics of the twentieth century, trauma as both an individual and collective phenomenon, generational and gender perspectives on aesthetics and politics, and the political potentialities of art. Most particularly, the novel focuses on the body as the grounding trope for these debates: a medium of performance and communication that is used to explore the limits of language. This idea is reinforced by the unique style of the novel: spare, controlled and fragmentary, it speaks in its silences and omissions, while at the same time unabashedly plumbing the messiest and most taboo depths of characters’ thoughts and relationships through particularly rich and complex imagery, narrative forms, and the very rhythms of its prose. Like a number of recent novels (including, notably, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) the novel uses the tortured body as a figure for the scarring of the body politic and a disruption of the conventions of narrative and narrative forms.
The novel’s experimentations with form, most apparent in its use of performance as both trope and stylistic underpinning, were what most interested and [End Page 281] challenged me as a translator. Like its protagonist, Marina, the novel references a dizzying range of genres and art forms (including, notably, music and the musical references that drive each chapter), and conceptually gestures towards the limits of its own “body” by drawing our attention to the dis/connections among text, image, sound, and touch. My translation emphasizes both the aural/oral qualities/rhythms of Maglinis’s prose, as well as its striking visual imagery, in which the body is used as a type of canvas, tactile, textured, and exposed: “her body, stark naked in the mirror. Slight, frail; a wintry white of washed out melanin with a whisper of ochre embossed on the mirror’s shining surface and stippled with cuts, reddish furrows crisscrossing the slender arms, the stalk-like wrists and ankles, the hollow belly with sparse down surrounding the minute belly button.”
Maglinis’s novel is dominated by dialogue, by the diverse registers (ranging from the poetic to the colloquial) and resonances of conversations shaped by gendered and generational differences. My translation is attentive to these differences and faithful to the charged rhythms—stops and starts of conversation—that build to a climax in certain chapters, such as the crucial one (Chapter VIII) in which Marina finally confronts Kostis about his past, Indeed, the whole novel, like the dynamic of interrogation itself, is structured by the tension between the withholding and prohibition of language (silence/fragmentation) and its (sometimes hysterical or tortured) release: meandering, page-long sentences that blur point of view and state of mind. I replicated this tension by experimenting with rhythm and syntax in English, juxtaposing fragment to run-on, the clipped closed tones of certainty with the rippling echoes of silence.
Her body, stark naked in the mirror. Slight, frail; a wintry white of washed out melanin with a whisper...