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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OMG, you read Mark in Greek? I agree with you (and the gauchos), this is THE way to hear that account, with all those "immediately's" and without a lot of theological and poetic overlays. It's just blunt, urgent language, as if somebody came stumbling into town after running many miles in order to pass along this story. Gets me every time.