“I’d need only close my eyes, even today. It wouldn’t take any effort—on the contrary, the slightest distraction of a memory brimful of trifles, of petty joys, would be enough to summon that ghost. Distraction from the shimmering opacity of life’s offerings. Only a moment would suffice, at any moment. Distraction from oneself, from the existence that inhabits and possesses us, stubbornly, obtusely: the obscure desire to go on living, to persevere in this obstinacy for whatever reason, or unreason. It would take only a single instant of distraction from oneself, from others, from the world, an instant of non desire, of quietude this side of life, an instant when the truth of that long-ago, primal event would rise to the surface, and the strange smell would drift over the hillside of the Ettersberg, that foreign homeland to which I always return.
It would take only a moment, any moment, unguarded, at random, out of the blue, at point-blank-range. Or just the opposite: a carefully considered decision.
The strange smell would immediately invade the reality of memory. I would be reborn there; I would die if returned to life there. I would embrace and inhale the muddy, heady odour of that estuary of death.”
Jorge Semprún, Literature or Life. (trans. Linda Coverdale)
This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing
I read Literature or Life a few years ago.
The French title is L’écriture ou la vie, which is not the same as Literature or Life. Is there a foreword that explains why it was translated like this?
Not a foreword but within the text, page 194 of this edition: “In Ascona, in Ticino, on a sunny winter’s day in December 1945, I had to choose between literature or life. I’m the one who forced myself to make this decision, of course. I was the one who had to. House, I alone.” He writes of this belief that he could not survive the writing of his time in Buchenwald, his return from death.
Wonderful extract – I love the poetic feeling to this
Linda Coverdale’s translation into English is accomplished.
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