Dr. Ellen C. Jones, Queen Mary University, London
Thesis: ‘Spanglishes’ on the move: reading and translating bilingualism in the work of four contemporary prose writers.
Comments on “Zero Negative – Cero Negativo”, a collection of short stories on the subject of bloodshed, by Isabel del Rio (Araña Editorial, Valencia, 2012)
Zero Negative/Cero Negativo accommodates ambivalence and contradiction in abundance. It advocates translation for the way it helps us to see from other perspectives, but also cautions against its limitations; it demonstrates our common humanity by representing situations that resonate with people all around the world, but also depicts the way globalisation strips us of our individuality; it insists on an equal relationship between English and Spanish while actually giving subtle precedence to the latter; it attempts to use neutral, ‘global’ language, and yet its stories are haunted by the ghosts of locality. I argue that this book sees value in the rich transnational connectivity of twenty-first century life but also warns against its risks.
Zero Negative/Cero Negativo does not restrict itself merely to two versions of each text, however; each story itself contains multiple, often proliferating layers. Many of the stories are about telling stories and retelling them, about the value of doubling and parallel versions. They thematise all manner of different narratives: written narratives such as short stories, newspaper articles, biographies, detective novels, film scripts, and transcripts, and performed narratives such as magic shows, performance art, staged executions, and role play. Characters are constantly writing and re-writing their own stories, which are then doubled again by their inclusion in two languages, and they often express a sense of having done things before, or of repeating themselves.
Like ghosts with unfinished business, the circularity, repetition, and openness of the stories in Zero Negative/Cero Negativo give the impression that it remains both unfinalised and unfinalisable. The stories’ prevailing sense of ‘toujours déjà vu’ is reiterated at a formal level, whereby the second version in each pair takes us back to the ‘beginning’. (...) The collection illustrates the way translation renders a given story perpetually unfinished and therefore always capable of being told differently. There is something fundamentally ‘out of joint’ about its textual organisation, in which each version is haunted by its previous and future alternatives.
In the context of this increased appetite for limiting global mobility and connectivity by closing down borders against migrants and refugees, when inward-looking visions of the nation as a defined and bordered entity are resurfacing, Zero Negative/Cero Negativo reads as an urgent call for us to perceive our common humanity and to tolerate difference. Del Río... rejects reader insularity and complacency, and instead proposes multiplicity (textual as well as linguistic) as a means of achieving critical rigour, committed, open-minded engagement with cultural others, and the cross-lingual sharing of ideas.