issue 26: September - October 2001 

 spanish original | author bio

Gregor! Quit bugging me!!!The Conference
Daniel Gascón
translated from the Spanish by
Don Bartlett, Evelina Guzauskyte
& Anne McLean

he conference on Kafka’s Metamorphosis opened in the Great Hall of the University. The participants hadn’t got their nametags yet; the canapés were still being prepared in the bar. The Chairman presented the themes of the conference in some detail and thanked the Cultural Attaché for all his support. The Cultural Attaché spoke about the conference themes and thanked the Chair for all his efforts. The Dean of the Faculty thanked the Attaché and the Chair for their enthusiasm. By the time they’d finished, the canapés were just perfect.
      The first day Luigi Francescoli read a paper on Kafka’s work and how it had suffered at the hands of traduttori and tradittori. Thus, he said, it was a metamorphosized metamorphosis, and looked very pleased with himself. He read out several paragraphs and misinterpretations in several languages, including Chukoto. After the coffee break, a professor from the local university —head of the Department of Literature and Zoology, whose treatise The Role of the Hummingbird in the Spanish Realist Novel was currently being translated into Chukoto— spoke about insects and arachnids. She quoted Vladimir Nabokov and Javier Tomeo and mentioned that the kind of insect Gregor Samsa turned into was frightfully common in temperate climates and German Expressionism.
      The Conference Chair had chosen to close the first day by inviting three writers to a round-table discussion. The first described how he’d discovered Kafka in the marvellous library belonging to his uncle, a republican persecuted after the Civil War; the second told how he’d first read Kafka in the house of a kindly, short-sighted neighbour, married to a much younger woman. It was her beauty, he maintained, which first gave him a taste for literature. The third, for his part, said he’d never read Kafka but planned to do so right away, and as for the dispute between Kafka and his father, he took the father’s side.
      The dinner was a somewhat chilly affair, and there were only a couple of academics with bags under their eyes the following day, which promised to be very exciting. Gender and Psychoanalytic Studies were on the agenda. Professor Lola Granado spoke on the function of female characters in Metamorphosis and the passive role women are allotted in the work of Kafka, a man who clearly never knew how to handle them. The audience applauded enthusiastically. The presentation had been brilliant; and also, the professor’s father was said to be seriously ill.
      They then showed slides of Prague, and some professor no one had ever heard of, or, the K Factor, as he himself preferred to be called, drew the exact layout of Gregor Samsa’s room on the blackboard, complete with bed and window, without a single judgmental comment.
      Raul Schwerstein took an interesting psychoanalytic approach (Freudian school, mainstream tendency) to Metamorphosis and Letter to My Father. Straight after lunch, he spoke about the uterine regression to the room and about the connection between monsters and what quivers chaotically deep within us, and used K’s drawing to point out the similarity between the womb and Gregor’s room. He also remarked that the newspaper Kafka’s father used to read —printed on rhythmical rollers recalling the primal scene of parental coitus— would turn into a phallic object when rolled up. Raul Schwerstein didn’t say much more. His wife kept flashing smiles at Dr. Francescoli, who spoke twelve languages and suffered from priapism.
      A round-table discussion with three writers began as it was getting dark. Laura Moreno told how —in a bookshop run by a defeated Civil War veteran, who’d spent two decades in prison— she’d bought an Argentinian edition of Metamorphosis translated by Borges in his own inimitable style. Ruben Altaba —latest winner of the Lechago Prize and proud owner of a brand-new Peugeot 406— said he’d read Metamorphosis in a prison cell in the early 70s, in those gloomy years, and that a girlfriend with short hair had given him a copy of the book with a file hidden inside. Finally, Alicia Gimeno confessed, somewhat shamefaced, that she’d read the book in the town library. A gentleman in the audience called her a reactionary.
      To conclude the day’s events they showed two films. One of them was a new take on Kafka’s story against the backdrop of a nuclear apocalypse. The other presented it as a metaphor for AIDS, and the Conference Chair advised everyone present to take suitable precautions.
      Perhaps because they didn’t pay him much attention, there were few witnesses to the opening session of the third day and even the speaker, Marcos Römerbräu, confessed to feeling somewhat absent during the presentation of his paper, entitled Metamorphosis: Taxonomy and Confusions. Since hardly anyone was there, his parting shot was a burningly topical Kafkaesque question: had Max Brod destroyed his friend’s work, how would the lack of Kafka have been experienced in later literature?
      The closing session was to be a round-table with an artist, a professor from the University of Hawaii (of dubious distinction, but everyone wanted to go there as visiting lecturers) and a philosopher of some standing. It was summer; the sun filtered through the blinds. The windows were open and people were fanning themselves with their conference programmes. Everybody was eagerly anticipating the contribution from the thinker Adolfo Aligustre. Nobody, however, was prepared for what happened next.
      When the time came, Adolfo Aligustre smiled sadly and flew out through the window, transformed into a butterfly.

© Daniel Gascón 2001
© translation:  Don Bartlett, Evelina Guzauskyte and Anne McLean 2001
spanish original

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author bio

Daniel: Photo Cristina GrandeDaniel Gascón was born in 1981 in Zaragoza. He is currently studying English language and literature at the University of Zaragoza and the University of East Anglia. In 1999 he co-wrote and edited Parábolas y monstruos de Javier Tomeo [Javier Tomeo’s Parables and Monsters] with Antón Castro. He has also co-written screenplays for two short films, La senda del perdedor [The Loser’s Path](1998) and Cero en conciencia [Zero in Consciousness](2000), directed by Jonás Groucho. He was one of the winners of the Alfaguara New Writers Prize in 2000 and won the Aragonese Young Literature Prize in 2001. His first collection of short stories La edad del pavo [An Awkward Age] was published in May 2001. In June 2001 Daniel worked closely with his Anglo-Lithuanian-Canadian team of translators (Don Bartlett, Evelina Guzauskyte and Anne McLean), during the Talleres Internacionales de Traducción Literaria organized by the Casa de Traductores in Tarazona, on the translation of ‘The Conference’.


tbr 26               September - October  2001


Des Dillon - The Blue Hen
John Aber - City of Sperm
Jim Ruland - Kessler Has No Lucky Pants
Daniel Gascón - The Conference
Steve Lattimore - Seperate States
Alden Jones - Shelter


Virginia Woolf Quiz
Answers to last issue's James Baldwin Quiz

-Book Reviews Joyce Carol Oates, Yann Martel, Mark Winegardner, etc
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