Friday, July 17, 2009
Mark in Riverside
On my run this morning I listened to an older New Yorker fiction podcast of Paul Theroux reading a Borges story called The Gospel According to Mark. The story, as fiction editor Deborah Triesman (sp?) points out, is something of a horror story with the Gospel of Mark at its core. The protagonist, an upper clas Argentine, reads Mark after dinner to a family of gauchos with whom he's isolated on a ranch by a flood. The story -- and if you've never read it I can't recommend it enough-- is just amazing but my own little personal connection to it is it reminded me of when I read Mark for the first time as a graduate student. I'd never read it before and I had to translate its version of the Passion for my Greek class and can I tell you? I was at the edge of my seat. I mean, it's not like I didn't know what was coming, but Mark, the oldest gospel, gives a simple version of the story and, to me, at least, laboring away with my dictionary and notebook, it was riveting. I really found myself thinking, "What's going to happen? Nooooo!!!" That task of translation was one of my favorite in my three years of graduate school; it felt like I was discovering some secret and precious jewel. (I had had a similar experience when I read the first few pages of Swann's Way. The next day I met my friend Amy and told her, "I just read the most amazing thing about this guy who was having tea and eating a cookie -- it was unebelievable." To which Amy said, impossibly gently, "I think that's really famous.") Which is to say it didn't surprise me when, listening to the Borges story, I heard the family of illiterate guachos didn't want to hear any of the other gospels. If you're looking for a gospel to read for the first time, I say, go with Mark. But, unlike the Guachos in the Borges story, better not to read it too literally.