The Name of the Dead by Fabio Morábito, translated by Curtis Bauer


Children should learn how to read and write not by means of nouns (home, mother, tree, mountain), but through names: Luis, Susana, Juan, Filiberto. If I say mountain, the whole world knows what I am talking about, will imagine a mountain and could even draw one, but if I say Patricia, people will ask: What Patricia? Patricia is as much a word as mountain, Patricias exist as much as mountains do, but while all mountains seem to be similar to each other, and therefore can be drawn, not one Patricia looks the same as another. Learning how to write with terms that lack a precise reference, which do not refer to any specific object or idea, and that, like river stones, have lost their meaning due to the force of so much rubbing, will teach children to value the senselessness of words, to repeat them and nothing more, with bewilderment or joy, which will tune their conjectural capacity, language and, incidentally, their ear. And in order not to fall into abstractionism and provide names with a seriousness beyond any reasonable doubt we have the names of the dead. Writing classes would be moved to cemeteries where the children would wander among the graves spelling out and memorizing the names of the deceased. Nothing like those names engraved on the tombstones (the purest there are, because they’re not used to name anyone now) to become intimate with the sound of words, that sound that current writing pedagogy, based entirely on the equivalence of the written sign with the thing it represents, subordinates too soon through the tyranny of the concept. Nothing proves this better than those words, shining autonomously while the memory of the deceased begins to fade, to confirm the arbitrariness of language and remind us that, despite the word mountain, no mountain looks the same as another, that everything is different from everything, and that life is made up of proper names. Only those names, by not falling for the lie of equivalence and likeness, provide us through language, a way out of language, an inkling of reality in the world.

Fabio Morábito lives in Mexico City and teaches in the Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a celebrated translator from the Italian and the author of more than fifteen books of poetry, short stories, novels and essays, including El idioma materno, from which this sample is drawn.

Curtis Bauer is a poet and a translator of poetry and prose from the Spanish. He teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Texas Tech University.