To coincide with the launch of Granta 122: Betrayal, we asked contributors from the issue to define the word. Following this piece we asked our Best of Young Brazilian Novelists for their definitions.
Betrayal. For me, the word comes from Betrayal at Krondor. The first time I heard this word in its English form was when I had to install the many floppy disks that contained the RPG (role playing game) Betrayal at Krondor on my 386 PC. The year was 1994, and I was ten years old. I had to check an English/Portuguese dictionary: ‘Betrayal’ meant traição. So that was betrayal: in a magical realm, assassins and elves were involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the king. Or something like that. With my poor knowledge of English at the time, I had to forge a story in my mind. Betrayal had nothing to do with being cheated by your girlfriend or deceived by your best friend. It had nothing to do with finding yourself utterly alone for a moment. Nothing to do with living in a country where, not so long ago, the military took over and trampled over the freedom of citizens. No. Betrayal had to do with pixels. Pixels and kings. Oh, and goblins too. Yeah, definitely goblins.
I got the feeling, quack, that we’ve seized the castle, quack-quack, that the banging of pans is ours, that we’re in more than we’ve ever been, that this one at the kitchen, knife in his hand, quack, he’s gonna help us, yes, that these onions and tomatoes, quack-quack, all of that, is our plan working out.
Betrayal, you say, and I immediately conceive a precise ensemble of damned acts – the impeccable wife disappearing into the night, the stout pocket of the politician, the soldier deserting his country, the mother abandoning her child. It’s not my fault, I tell myself. That’s what the world taught me in its eloquent pedagogy, made of rules and rites, illustrated with news and fictions. Thereby I exempt myself for a while, I breathe quietly, and allow myself to forget the minor or grander betrayals the world doesn’t damn – the husband misplacing his caress, the honest guy minimizing his taxes, the country that condemns its citizens to exile, the stubborn and incessant cry of a baby.
And there’s no other treason worse, said the old man, than not to meet at the other side of your own lengthy struggle the face your dream promised you that you would have, and you should have, as you recall, almost daily, the path chosen, and it keeps coming, the treason, the broken promise, each time your own face stares at you from the other side of the mirror. And you live your life as if from the other riverbed, said the old man, every step misleading, and reinforcing, until there’s an end and you’re old because the end is being old, and you can cherish conversations with young lads, who listen because thanks to the arrogance of being young, they assure themselves they will make it all right, so they listen to avoid ending their life as the old man, they proclaim while listening respectfully, as if they care. But you will fail too, said the old man, you will fail. Not because of me or any other person you know or you will ever meet, said the old man. You will fail as while being so sure you deserve better, you are your own snake, my dear boy, like everyone else. You will fail.
Betrayal is not when your husband spends a few nights with a girl you know, nor when he returns home and you ask happily if it was fun (‘yes’, he said, ‘very much’). Betrayal is when he talks about it to a bunch of his friends, including some of your closest, and everyone knows the details while you spend forty-two days trying so hard to find out what the hell is going on. Betrayal is when the one who is supposed to protect you decides to hurt you and there’s no one left to speak in your defence. It’s when men are brave enough to brag about their acts to one another, but no boldness is left to speak frankly to their wives. Even when we beg. Betrayal is when you left home to live on your own and within two weeks he’s sleeping with other women in the bed you bought together – your picture still hanging on the wall, smiling blankly at your substitute.
A fly betrays nothing and nobody, neither a frog nor a hippopotamus. Its happiness and consolation are different. But we who are animals that talk and are full of confusion and false promises betray day after day as soon as we say ‘I’. This is such a daily betrayal that it isn’t even noticed. Who cares? But nothing is as inconstant and unreliable as pronouns. And if to err is human and if it’s wrong to betray, then betraying our own inconstancy is the most tortuous path towards our daily madness. That’s more or less what Wittgenstein meant when he said that the language of each day is in itself true madness.
Miguel Del Castillo
There is an acceptable kind of betrayal, one that people crave (mostly in the subconscious): architectural betrayal. In a faithful marriage, partners often have confidence to show each other even the undesirable parts of themselves (which theoretically the other is willing to deal with). In good architecture, though, there is betrayal. You don’t want to know what buildings really are like underneath. You don’t want to participate in their conspiracies. Some architects are still worried about the so-called ‘structural truth’ (buildings should show how they stand: pillars, beams etc.). But nobody wants to live inside a Pompidou. It is nice to go there once in a while and see how it all works, but it may be tough to go to Pompidou-like bathrooms every day. Picture yourself seeing your flush going down through transparent tubes, or imagining if electricity is really making its way through the pipes above. No, what you need is to know that everything is clean, beautiful, working. This is not merely a domestic issue: to be ‘truthful’ in architecture proves most of the times to be uninventive and plain, creating lifeless constructions. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor says buildings are like violins: you don’t see their inside structures, you might not even have a clue on how they were made, but the sound they make touches you deep inside. In architecture, this sound, he says, is called atmosphere. Architecture’s greatest betrayal.
Photograph by Markles55