Hurley’s Inelegant Borges: An Exegesis (Part II of II)

And so now I hereby finalise my complaining about Hurley’s translation of Borges’ Borges and I. Here’s my translation of the Borges original in full, here’s part I of my complaining about Hurley’s translation while part II of my complaining is below:

Eighth sentence

Borges: Spinoza entendió que todas las cosas quieren perseverar en su ser; la piedra eternamente quiere ser piedra y el tigre un tigre.

Hurley: Spinoza believed that all things wish to go on being what they are — stone wishes eternally to be stone, and tiger, to be tiger.

This is quite a tricky passage to translate because it semi-quotes Spinoza.  In the original Latin, the quote Borges referred to is:

PROPOSITIO VI. Unaquaeque res, quantum in se est, in suo esse perseverare conatur.

In English, the translation, at least in this Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy article on Spinoza, is:

IIIP6: Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in being.

In Spanish, the translation, at least in this Miguel de Unamuno essay, is:

Cada cosa, en cuanto es en sí, se esfuerza por perseverar en su ser

Given all that, it’s clear that Hurley’s all things wish to go on being what they are is just too flimsy, too much lacking in gravitas and too far removed from what Borges is saying to be in any way decent a translation.

The translation of entendió as believed is also a mystery: clearly Borges agrees with the sentiment, and understood or knew would have been much more appropriate and direct a translation from the Spanish original, as well as providing a subtle indication that the views of the piece’s author are aligned with Spinoza’s.

The singular stone and tiger without an article is also non-standard English for what is standard Spanish.

Then there’s the howler with stone wishes eternally to be stone. In the original, the stone is not wishing eternally, rather the stone is wishing to be eternally. The adverb applies to the being, not the wishing!

My attempt: Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger.

I introduced a paragraph break here because I felt there was enough of a break in the story to warrant one in English even if this is not the case in Spanish, which generally has fewer paragraphs in any given piece of text.

All things strive to persevere being is what I came up with to do justice to Spinoza, the various translations of Spinoza in Spanish and English, Borges, the philosophy, Borges’ Spanish original and the natural flow of English; but one could start a thousand arguments as to how this one phrase should be translated. Persevere in being is perhaps closer to Spinoza if not natural or particularly clear in English, so in the end I went for the simpler persevere being, which is further from Spinoza but closer to standard English.

Eleventh sentence

Borges: Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.

Hurley: So my life is a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away — and everything winds up being lost to me, and everything falls into oblivion, or into the hands of the other man.

This is especially bad. Hurley here decided that he was the author, not Borges. This is a short, simple, effective and rhythmic line that Hurley turns into a dog’s breakfast.

I start off pedantically: I feel I need to point out that así is not so here. Así is more demonstrative, more like an in this way and a clarification of what has been said before rather than a conclusion based on what has been said before, which is what the so implies.

The translation of the word fuga is the primary cause of the translation’s mess. Fuga in Spanish is both a flight, as in a running away, and a fugue. Here, though, it takes the sense of a flight and is most definitely not a fugue. In the previous sentence, it states explicitly that Borges is involved in the process of moving on or running away:

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.

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.  (my translation)

The mistake is remarkable, although fugue perhaps explains why he thought the relationship between this sentence and the previous one required so as a translation of así rather than thus or in this way. Regrettably, though, Hurley then makes the further mistake of assuming that this fugue business requires further explication, so instead of just translating mi vida es una fuga as my life is a fugue, he inserts my life is a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away. How did that get past the editors?

Everything winds up being lost to me is again Hurley inserting himself into the translation. The original, todo lo pierdo, is a simple phrase that should have been translated equally simply as something akin to I lose everything.

More unnecessary extrapolation: into the hands of the other man for del otro. Del otro directly translated is the other’s. Anything much longer than that is superfluous. (Not to mention my other bugbear: Hurley’s continual reference to man even though Borges is not referring to another embodied person.)

My attempt: Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.

Twelfth (the last) sentence

Borges: No sé cuál de los dos escribe esta página.

Hurley: I am not sure which of us it is that’s writing this page.

No sé is just I do not know, not I am not sure.

Which of us it is that’s is a clunky version cuál de los dos, and the contraction is just not Borges. Furthermore, Borges does not use which of us but rather which of the two, which implies there are many versions of Borges beyond the two that are described in the piece. At the very least, which of the two implies a third Borges, a further fracture of the standard singular I, which is completely lost in Hurley’s translation.

And page for página is the correct direct translation, but I consider it unnatural to say I wrote a page.

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

8 thoughts on “Hurley’s Inelegant Borges: An Exegesis (Part II of II)

  1. Hurley is a hateful man for what he did to the ´´ depths of the corridor ´´ and ´´ Funes ´´ and so much else…

  2. Very interesting blog! Just wanted to propose a suggestion for this line:

    Borges: Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.

    My attempt: My life then is a flight, everything is lost to me, everything is consigned to oblivion, or to the other.

  3. I do like your “consigned”, Anders.

    Nice choice.

    But I do think the repeated use of “and” in the original should be replicated in the translation. I think the double “and” adds a nice effect of evoking haste and a lack of control, and, given how rare a double “and” like that is, something that Borges deliberately inserted whether or not the intended effect is how I perceive it.

  4. I agree that “page” does not work as a translation of “página” in this context, but I’m not sure I like “piece” either. Borges uses “página” to mean something like “piece” or “essay” or “article” quite often, and, as far as I know, it’s a fairly unusual and probably archaic use. In any case, it’s not an easy word to translate. My solution–which does not satisfy me–would be to simply ignore the word and put the period after “this.”
    I haven’t read Hurley’s translations, but, at least based on these few examples, I completely agree with you.

  5. Yep, piece isn’t quite right either. I think I’ll stick with it anyway, though.

    I do not know which of us is writing this doesn’t seem to me specific enough. The this could refer to the sentence, for instance, but clearly Borges meant the entire story/piece/page/essay/article or just página.

    Thanks for your comments.

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