On the perils of literary freedom: Pablo Katchadjian and The Fattened Aleph

In a lawsuit filed by María Kodama, heir of Jorge Luis Borges’ literary estate, the writer Pablo Katchadjian has been indicted by Argentine courts for publishing a book based on the short story “The Aleph”. This unprecedented ruling seeks to repress artistic creation by legal means and to control how classic literary works are read, interpreted and rewritten. Hardly anyone in the world of letters would attribute a criminal intention to Katchadjian’s intervention; in Argentina support for Katchadjian has been almost unanimous. On the other hand estate executors are hardly ever motivated by literary concerns.

Pablo Katchadjian is an Argentine novelist and poet born in Buenos Aires in 1977. He is the author of ten books, including the novels Gracias, La libertad total and Qué hacer (English translation forthcoming with Dalkey Archive, USA). His work has been translated into English, French and Hebrew and his books have attracted the attention of literary critics in the media and academic circles. La libertad total was adapted into an opera and premiered in Buenos Aires in 2014. Katchadjian is also a lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires.

In 2009 Katchadjian published a short 50-page book entitled The Fattened Aleph (El aleph engordado) in a small independent press, Imprenta Argentina de Poesía. Two hundred copies were printed and distributed mostly among friends. The book was a remake of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Aleph” through a procedure that was explained in a post-script: Katchadjian added 5,600 words to the original 4,000 of Borges’ “The Aleph”. The result was a new text: the characters were transformed, the scenes differed and the prose’s rhythm was altered. This is a new book that should be read in the context of contemporary literature and in the context of Katchadjian’s work.

At the end of his post-script, Katchadjian writes: “With regard to my own writing, although I did not try to hide under Borges’ style, I also did not write with the idea of making myself too visible: the best moments, I think, are those in which you cannot be certain of what belongs to whom.”

In 2011, María Kodama, heir of Jorge Luis Borges’ literary estate, filed a criminal lawsuit accusing Pablo Katchadjian of plagiarism  –– clearly without reading the book’s post-script. According to Argentine legislation, this charge contemplates a prison sentence of up to six years. The case was dismissed by a lower court judge and Kodama’s lawyers appealed the ruling, which was confirmed by the Appeals Court.

Kodama’s lawyers appealed yet again and the case was heard by the Appellate Court, which overturned the lower court and the Appeals Court’s ruling, and ordered the first instance judge to review his decision. On 18 June, 2015, Katchadjian was indicted by the same lower court judge who had dismissed the case in the first place and his assets were frozen, causing great distress to his young family. Katchadjian’s lawyer. Ricardo Strafacce, himself a well-known writer, has now appealed the ruling.

World famous Argentine writers and intellectuals, including César Aira and Beatriz Sarlo, were proposed by the defence as expert witnesses, but at present none of them have been summoned to court. An open letter condemning Katchadjian’s trial has at the time of writing gathered the support of thousand of Argentines, with many renowned writers –– such as Martín Rejtman, Ricardo Piglia, Carlos Garmerro, Alan Pauls, and Damián Tabarovsky –– among the signatories. The case has also gathered international coverage, in the British, Brazilian and Spanish press, highlighting the ridicule of the whole process. A demonstration will take place on July 3, in Buenos Aires’ National Library (where Borges was director from 1955 until 1973).

Minor Literature[s] stands by Katchadjian through his Kafkaesque trial. Far from protecting Borges’ legacy this unfair lawsuit only contributes to constraining art and artistic freedom. This is not only a trial against Katchadjian and the Imprenta Argentina de Poesía –– it is a process on Borges himself.

(Adapted and fattened version of the author’s official press release.)