Borges and I, Borges Y Yo

I wanted to re-read online Jorge Luis Borges’ brilliant short piece, Borges and I, but all I found were very ordinary translations of his Spanish into English. I then hunted down my own English translation of the work in book form to get my fix of the master storyteller and discovered, to my horror, what a terrible job Andrew Hurley did of it.

So to rectify the situation in my own hubristic way, I figured I should translate the piece into English and then have someone else in a blog far, far away criticise my own translation of the work.

Anyway, both versions are below, my own in English and the original in Spanish.

Update: Now I’ve gone and done an almost line-by-line exegesis of Hurley’s translation of Borges and I.

Borges and I (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

It’s to that other one, to Borges, that things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause, one could say mechanically, to gaze at a vestibule’s arch and its inner door; of Borges I receive news in the mail and I see his name in a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; the other shares these preferences, but in a vain kind of way that turns them into an actor’s attributes. It would be an exaggeration to claim that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live so that Borges may write his literature, and this literature justifies me. It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I am destined to lose all that I am, definitively, and only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other. Little by little, I continue ceding to him everything, even though I am aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.

Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger. I will endure in Borges, not in myself (if it is that I am someone), but I recognise myself less in his books than in those of many others, or in the well-worn strum of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him by moving on from the mythologies of the slums to games with time and infinity, but those games are now Borges’ and I will have to conceive of other things. Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.

I do not know which of the two is writing this piece.


Borges y Yo por Jorge Luis Borges

Al otro, a Borges, es a quien le ocurren las cosas. Yo camino por Buenos Aires y me demoro, acaso ya mecánicamente, para mirar el arco de un zaguán y la puerta cancel; de Borges tengo noticias por el correo y veo su nombre en una terna de profesores o en un diccionario biográfico. Me gustan los relojes de arena, los mapas, la tipografía del siglo XVII, las etimologías, el sabor del café y la prosa de Stevenson; el otro comparte esas preferencias, pero de un modo vanidoso que las convierte en atributos de un actor. Sería exagerado afirmar que nuestra relación es hostil; yo vivo, yo me dejo vivir para que Borges pueda tramar su literatura y esa literatura me justifica. Nada me cuesta confesar que ha logrado ciertas páginas válidas, pero esas páginas no me pueden salvar, quizá porque lo bueno ya no es de nadie, ni siquiera del otro, sino del lenguaje o la tradición. Por lo demás, yo estoy destinado a perderme, definitivamente, y sólo algún instante de mí podrá sobrevivir en el otro. Poco a poco voy cediéndole todo, aunque me consta su perversa costumbre de falsear y magnificar. Spinoza entendió que todas las cosas quieren perseverar en su ser; la piedra eternamente quiere ser piedra y el tigre un tigre. Yo he de quedar en Borges, no en mí (si es que alguien soy), pero me reconozco menos en sus libros que en muchos otros o que en el laborioso rasgueo de una guitarra. Hace años yo traté de librarme de él y pasé de las mitologías del arrabal a los juegos con el tiempo y con lo infinito, pero esos juegos son de Borges ahora y tendré que idear otras cosas. Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.

No sé cuál de los dos escribe esta página.

The Spanish was found at http://www.patriagrande.net/argentina/jorge.luis.borges/.

28 thoughts on “Borges and I, Borges Y Yo

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  2. Joe

    As an Argentine, and one who is often unhappy with Borges translations, I commend you for your translation. In my opinion, you kept the spirit and gave a good semantic semblance to what Borges could have done had he written this in English as well. With his mastery of English, one wonders how he would have translated the story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Antonios Post author

    Thanks for the commendation.

    And I think Borges actually wrote some pieces in English first with the help of Norman di Giovanni and then translated those into Spanish for one of his later collections, Brodie’s Report or El Informe de Brodie if my memory serves me well.

    The di Giovanni versions, however, aren’t readily available anymore because Hurley became the translator of choice for the Borges estate that Kodama, his wife, inherited.

    It’s been quite a controversy. More details here: http://www.publicpoems.com/2008/04/greatest-literary-crime-of-century.html

    And even more details here:
    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/07/12/1057783281684.html

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  5. bN

    Actually, I have studies many translations of this text and my least favorite is the one Borges did with Di Giovanni. I think this only makes Borges’s claim he makes elsewhere stronger that what is written no longer belongs to the author. I don’t think Hurley does a bad translation, just a different perspective. Borges’s work is not about capturing an essence anyway, he completely deconstructed that notion. Maybe a translation doesn’t live up to your reading, but rember that it is just YOUR reading. You should really look for Borges’s own translation of this story. Talk about awkward (no wonder he was fired from the project eventually)

  6. Antonios Post author

    I would be interested in reading Borges’ own translation of the story; I had no idea it was published or is available.

    Do you know where I could find it?

    My favourite Borges quote is: “The original is not faithful to the translation.”

    While I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding different perspectives on texts, I actually think Hurley’s translation is very poor, even incorrect. But then again, that’s just my perspective on the original text!

  7. Chawn A. Whitsitt

    Hello. I facilitate Spanish 4 regular in the public school system. Finding You Tube and this site that deals with and explains Borges to my students gives them a deeper appreciation than they previously had by translating and trying to understand and figure out, ” what in the world was going on?” in their words.

  8. MARCELO HOLOT

    porque no aparece mi comentario? Caminando por la calle FLORIDA alla por le 1960, lo vi de repente era ni ma ni menos QUE JORGE LUIS BORGES, Me presente, me permitio acompanarlo y charlmos animadamnte mientras nos dirijiamos hacia PLAZA SAN MARTIN EN EL RETIRO, De guapos de historia de mi secundario de politica geografia la felicidad los hombres las mujeres y hasta de BORGES MISMO.
    Seguimos nuestro coloquio hasta la ultima vez en aquel reportaje que aun conservo en la feria del libro en 1985 donde nos dedico a mi esposa SYLVIA MINSKY que ya no esta entre nos. y a mi un poema de SPINOZA, QUE SE LLAMABA LAS MANOS DEL JUDIO.
    QUISO el destino que esta halla sido la ultima vez en contacto con un periodista Argentino y poco tiempo despues caminaria ya hacia la inmortalidad de su TALENTO.
    MARCELO HOLOT PERIODISTA CALIFORNIA

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  10. marcelo holot

    Han transcurrido 23 anos de la desaparicion fisica de JORGE LUIS BORGES, es de gran regocijo para mi un ARGENTINO viviendo en California, cuando me identifican sobre todo en los ambitos universitarios y culturales con la figura de BORGES solo por mi origen.
    Desde talentos universales como JACK HIRSHMAN DOREEN STOCK hasta el mundo del show bussiness como ROBERT DUVALL.
    En el mundo del TANGO que tanto escribio y describio con sus relatos como EL HOMBRE DE LA ESQINA ROSADA.
    Que orgullo que JL BORGES sea ARGENTINO.
    MARCELO HOLOT
    CAlifornia

  11. marcelo holot

    Pasaran mas de mil anos y cuando ya ni el polvo de nuestros huesos quede en la tierra. Aun alli se seguira recordando leyendo y estudiando a
    JORGE LUIS BORGES.
    MARCELO HOLOT
    CALIFORNIA

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  16. marcelo holot

    Daniel Mc Fadden Premio Nobel de Economia 2000.
    En el marco del congreso internacional ECON realizado en la Facultad de Ciencias Economicas de Buenos Aires.
    Tuve el honor de asistir a su clase magistral sobre el tema.
    Lo que me llamo la atencion fue su humildad sencillez y don de gente, ademas claro esta su claridad en la exposicion sobre la economia del crecimiento.
    Tema que desarrollare en otro comentario.
    Marcelo Holot
    CAIFORNIA

  17. Antonios Post author

    I took a little license on that one. I thought it was a natural break in the story, a break that in English literature is likely to take a paragraph break.

    Spanish literature tends to contain fewer paragraphs for a given chuck of text than English literature, although Borges tends to break up his text into paragraphs more than most other Spanish writers.

    It was a touch-and-go decision, really.

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  22. David Auerbach

    Your version is very nice, but both you and Hurley have committed the same oversight: “eighteenth-century typefaces.”

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