Translating Fernando Pessoa

Language Hat alerted me to an interesting article and exercise on the translating of Fernando Pessoa. I’m no translator, and I’m certainly no poet, but I thought I might as well give the exercise a more thorough go by translating the entire passage instead of just a few words. Below is the original, my translation and a link to the three other translations done by real translators:

Pasmo sempre quando acabo qualquer coisa. Pasmo e desolo-me. O meu instinto de perfeição deveria inhibir-me de acabar; deveria inhibir-me de dar começo. Mas distraio-me e faço. O que consigo é um produto, em mim, não de uma aplicação da vontade, mas de uma cedência dela. Começo porque não tenho força para pensar; acabo porque não tenho alma para suspender. Este livro é a minha cobardia.

I always astonish myself when I finish anything. Astonish and distress. My perfectionism should prevent me from finishing; it should prevent me from even beginning. But I am distracted and I begin. What I make is a product not of an application of will in me, but of a surrendering to it. I begin because I have not the focus to think; I finish because I have not the courage to stop. This book is my cowardice.

And of course, the three professional translations.

Note: the extract should read alma para suspender as I have it above, not alma oara suspender as the linked-to website has it.

The Lottery in Babylon, La Lotería en Babilonia

Yes, yet another of my translations of a Borges story, this time The Lottery in Babylon, or as it was originally titled, La Lotería en Babilonia.

The original in Spanish can be found at http://www.literatura.us/borges/loteria.html.

The Lottery in Babylon (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

Like all men of Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all of them, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, incarceration. Look: missing on my right hand is an index finger. Look: visible on my stomach through this rent cape is a ruddy tattoo — it is the second symbol, Beth. On nights when the moon is full, this symbol confers unto me power over the men whose mark is Ghimel while rendering me subject to the men of Aleph, who on moonless nights must obey the men of Ghimel. In a cellar in the half-light of dawn, I have slit the throats of sacred bulls before a black altar. For an entire lunar year, I have been declared invisible: I would cry out and no one would respond, I would steal bread and I was not beheaded. I have known what the Greeks knew not: uncertainty. In a brass chamber, before the strangler’s silencing scarf, hope has remained faithful; in the river of delights, panic stood steadfast. Heraclides Ponticus relates with admiration that Pythagoras recalled having been Pyrrhus, before him Euphorbus, and before him some other mortal; to recall analogous vicissitudes I need not find recourse in death, nor even imposture.

I owe this almost monstrous variety to an institution that other republics have not conceived of or which works imperfectly or secretly in them: the lottery. I have not delved into its history; I know that the sages cannot manage to agree; I know of its powerful aims what a man unversed in astrology can know of the moon. I am of a vertiginous country where the lottery is a principal part of reality: until this very day, I have thought as little of it as I have the conduct of the inscrutable gods or of my own heart. Now, far from Babylon and its beloved customs, I think with some bewilderment of the lottery and of the blasphemous conjectures that the shrouded men murmur at twilight.

My father would recount that in ancient times — a question of centuries, of years? — the lottery in Babylon was a game with a plebeian character. He would relate (truthfully or not I cannot say) that barbers gave out rectangles made of bone or parchment and adorned with symbols in exchange for copper coins. In the full light of day, a drawing of lots would be held: the fortunate few would receive, without further corroboration by chance, money coined in silver. The procedure, as you can see, was simple.

Naturally, these ‘lotteries’ failed. Their moral virtue was nil. They did not appeal to all of man’s faculties, only to his hope. In the face of the public’s indifference, the merchants who founded these venal lotteries began to lose money. Someone tried something new: the interpolation of a few adverse fortunes amongst the many favourable. With this reform, the buyers of numbered rectangles ran the double chance of winning a sum of money or of paying a fine, sometimes considerable. This slight danger (for every thirty favourable numbers there was one adverse) awoke, as is natural, the interest of the public. The Babylonians flocked to the game. He who did not purchase fortunes was considered pusillanimous, a yellow-belly. With time, this justified contempt found a further target: along with he who did not play, he who had lost out and did not pay his fine was also disdained. The Company (as it had begun to be called by then) had to protect the interests of the winners, who could not collect their winnings if there was lacking in the coffers the almost entire sum of the fines. Lawsuits were filed against the losers: the judge sentenced them to pay the original fine, plus court costs, or be put in jail for a time. So as to defraud the Company, they all opted for jail. From the daring of these few was born the source of the Company’s almightiness: its ecclesiastical and metaphysical significance.

A short while later, the lottery reports omitted the listing of fines and limited themselves to publishing the days of prison that each adverse number was worth. This laconicism, almost unnoticed at the time, was of capital importance. It was the first appearance of non-pecuniary elements in the lottery. Success was grand. Urged on by the lottery’s players, the Company was forced to increase the number of adverse fortunes.

It is widely known that the people of Babylon are devout followers of logic, and even of symmetry. To them, it was incoherent that the favourable numbers should result in rounded coins and the unfavourable in days and nights of incarceration. Some moralists reasoned that the possession of money did not always bring about happiness and that other forms of fortune are perhaps more immediate.

Another source of restlessness abounded in the down-at-heel neighbourhoods. The members of the sacerdotal college multiplied the stakes and rejoiced in the full range of hope and terror’s vicissitudes; the poor, with an understandable or inevitable envy, knew themselves to be excluded from these notoriously delightful ups and downs. Everyone, rich and poor alike, had a justified yearning to participate equally in the lottery, which inspired an indignant agitation whose memory the years have not erased. Certain obstinate souls did not comprehend, or pretended not to comprehend, that they were dealing with a new order, a necessary historical stage… A slave stole a crimson ticket, a ticket that in the next drawing merited his having his tongue burnt to a crisp. The criminal code fixed the same penalty for a ticket’s theft. A number of Babylonians argued that he deserved the red-hot iron for his thieving; others, more magnanimous, that the public executioner should apply the lottery’s penalty as chance had determined…

There were disturbances, there were lamentable effusions of blood; but the Babylonian people finally imposed their will and they achieved their generous ends against the opposition of the rich. Firstly, they forced the Company to assume full public power. (This unification was necessary given the vastness and complexity of the new operations.) Secondly, they made the lottery secret, general and free of charge. The mercenary sale of lots was abolished. Once initiated into the mysteries of Bel, all free men automatically took part in the sacred drawings of lots, all of which were held in the labyrinths of the god every sixty nights and determined each man’s destiny until the subsequent drawing. The consequences were incalculable. A happy drawing could instigate one’s elevation to the council of magi or the imprisonment of an enemy (well-known or private) or, in the peaceful dark of one’s room, one’s meeting the woman who has begun to make one fluster or who one was never expecting to see again; an adverse drawing: mutilation, a variety of infamies, death. Sometimes a single event — C’s assassination in a tavern, B’s mysterious apotheosis — was the brilliant result of thirty or forty drawings. Combining bets was difficult; we must remember, though, that the individuals of the Company were (and are) all-powerful and astute. In many cases, the knowledge that certain joys were simple fabrications of chance would have diminished their moral worth; to avoid this inconvenience, agents of the Company made use of suggestion and magic. Their moves, their manipulations, were secret. To get at everybody’s innermost hopes and fears, astrologers and spies were employed. There were certain stone lions, there was a sacred latrine called Qaphqa, there were fissures in a dusty aqueduct, all of which, according to general opinion, led to the Company; persons malign or benevolent deposited exposés in these sites. An alphabetical archive collected these reports of varying veracity.

Incredibly, grumbling abounded. The Company, with its habitual discretion, did not reply directly. It preferred to scribble in the rubble of a mask factory a short line of reasoning which now forms part of the sacred scriptures. This doctrinal piece observed that the lottery is an interpolation of chance into the order of the world and that the acceptance of errors is not the contradiction of chance, but its corroboration. It observed also that those lions and the sacred squatting place, although not disclaimed by the Company (which did not renounce the right to consult them), functioned without official guarantee.

This declaration pacified the public’s unease. It also had other effects, perhaps not foreseen by its author: it profoundly modified the spirit and the operations of the Company. There remains little time — we have been told that the ship is about to set sail — but I will try to explain.

As improbable as it may seem, nobody until then had attempted to produce a general theory of games. The Babylonian is not speculative. He reveres the dictates of chance, surrendering his life, his hopes, his panicked terror to them, but it never occurs to him to delve into their labyrinthine laws, nor the giratory spheres from which they are revealed. Nonetheless, the officious declaration that I have mentioned inspired many discussions of a juridico-mathematical nature. From one of them was born the following conjecture: if the lottery is an intensification of chance, its periodic infusion into the cosmos, would it not be desirable then for chance to intervene in all stages of the drawing and not only in one? Is it not ridiculous that chance should dictate that a person die while the circumstances of that death — its confidentiality, its publicity, its timing an hour or a century into the future — are not subject to chance? These eminently reasonable scruples prompted in the end a considerable reform whose complexities (aggravated by centuries of practice) are understood only by a handful of specialists; I will attempt to summarise them regardless, even though I do so only symbolically.

Let us imagine a first drawing, one which condemns a man to death. In order for the sentence to be realised, another drawing is held that proposes, say, nine possible executioners. Of these nine, four might initiate a third drawing that will give the name of the eventual executioner, two might replace the drawing’s adverse result with a fortunate one (say, a treasure’s discovery), another might exacerbate the sentence of death (that is, a sentence made more infamous or embellished with torture), still others might refuse to carry it out…

Such is the lottery’s symbolic scheme. In reality, the number of drawings is infinite. No decision is final, each branch out into others. The ignorant suppose that infinite drawings require an infinite time; in reality, it is enough that time be infinitely divisible, as the famous parable of Achilles and the Tortoise demonstrates. This infinitude harmonises admirably with the sinuous numbers of Chance and the Celestial Archetype of the Lottery adored by Platonists…

A certain deformed echo of our ritual seems to have resounded along the Tiber: Aelius Lampridius, in his Life of Antoninus Heliogabalus, tells of how this emperor would write out on seashells the fortunes fated for his guests so that one would receive ten pounds of gold and another ten flies, ten dormice, ten bears. It is only right to recall that Heliogabalus was educated in Asia Minor, amongst the priests of his eponymous god.

There are also impersonal drawings without definite purposes: one will decree that a sapphire from Taprobana be thrown into the waters of the Euphrates; another, that a bird be released from atop a tower; another, that each century a grain of sand be removed (or added) to the innumerable found on the beach. Sometimes, the consequences are terrifying.

Under the beneficent influence of the Company, our customs are steeped in chance. The buyer of a dozen amphorae of Damascene wine would not be surprised if one were to contain a talisman or a viper; the scribe who draws up a contract very rarely fails to introduce some erroneous point; in this hasty declaration, I myself have embroidered a certain splendour, a certain atrocity; perhaps, too, a certain mysterious monotony…

Our historians, the orb’s most perspicacious, have invented a method for correcting chance. It is well known that the operations of this method are (in general) trustworthy; although, naturally, they are not divulged without a measure of deceit. In any case, there is nothing so contaminated with fiction as the history of the Company…

A paleographic document, exhumed in a temple, could well be the result of a drawing from the previous day or the previous century. No book is published without some variation between copies. Scribes take a secret oath to omit, interpolate, vary. Indirect falsehood is also practiced.

The Company, with divine modesty, eludes all publicity. Its agents, as is only natural, are secret; the orders it continually (perhaps incessantly) issues out are no different to those lavishly spread by impostors. Besides, who would boast of being a mere impostor? The inebriate who improvises an absurd mandate, the dreamer who suddenly awakes and with his own bare hands strangles to death the woman who sleeps by his side — are they not, perhaps, carrying out a secret decision of the Company’s? This silent working, comparable to God’s, inspires all manner of conjecture. One such example abominably insinuates that the Company ceased to exist centuries ago and that the sacred disorder in our lives is purely hereditary, traditional; another considers the Company to be eternal and teaches that it will endure until the last night, when the last god will annihilate the world. Another declares that the Company is omnipotent but that it exerts its influence only in the most trifling of matters: the cry of a bird, the shades of rust and dust, the half-asleep dreaming of the dawn. Another, from the mouths of masked heresiarchs, claims that the Company has never existed and never will. Another, no less vile, reasons that to affirm or deny the reality of the Company is inconsequential, as Babylon is nothing but an infinite game of chance.


The original in Spanish can be found at http://www.literatura.us/borges/loteria.html.

 

Borges’ Gospel according to Mark according to Me!

This translating business is becoming less and less a healthy habit and more and more an oddball obsession. Not content with just complaining about Hurley’s translations of Borges’ works, I’ve already gone ahead and translated The House of Asterion (or La Casa de Asterión) as well as Borges and I (or Borges y Yo) myself.

And now, below, we have the original text and another of my own translations of a Borges work, this time The Gospel according to Mark, or El Evangelio según Marcos.

The Gospel according to Mark (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

These events took place on the Los Álamos cattle ranch, towards the south of the township of Junín, during the final days of March, 1928. The protagonist was a medical student, Baltasar Espinosa. We may describe him for now as no different to any of the many young men of Buenos Aires, with no particular traits worthy of note other than an almost unlimited kindness and an oratorical faculty that had earned him several prizes from the English school in Ramos Mejía. He did not like to argue; he preferred it when his interlocutor was right and not he himself. Although the vagaries of chance in any game fascinated him, he played them poorly because it did not please him to win. His wide intelligence was undirected; at thirty-three years of age, the completion of one last subject stood in the way of his graduation, despite its being his favourite. His father, who was, like all gentlemen of his day, a freethinker, had instructed him in the doctrines of Herbert Spencer, but his mother, before setting out on a trip to Montevideo, requested of him that every night he say the Lord’s Prayer and make the sign of the cross. Over the years, not once had he broken this promise.

He did not lack in courage; one morning he had traded, more out of indifference rather than wrath, two or three blows with a group of fellow students who were trying to force him into taking part in a university demonstration. He abounded in questionable opinions, or habits of mind, from a spirit of acquiescence: his country mattered less to him than the risk that in other parts they might believe that we continue to wear feathers like the Indians; he venerated France but despised the French; he had little respect for Americans, but he approved of there being skyscrapers in Buenos Aires; he thought that the gauchos of the plains were better horsemen than those of the hills or mountain ranges. When his cousin Daniel invited him to summer in Los Álamos, he accepted immediately, not so much because he liked the country, but more out of his natural geniality and his not having found a valid reason for saying no.

The ranch’s main house was large and somewhat run-down; the foreman, who was known as Gutre, had his quarters close by. The Gutres were three: the father, the son (who was particularly uncouth) and a girl of uncertain paternity. They were tall, strong and bony, with Indian features about the face and hair that tinged red. They hardly spoke. The foreman’s wife had died years ago.

In the country, Espinosa was learning things that he had not known, nor suspected. For example, one need not gallop when approaching a house, and no one goes out riding a horse unless there is a job to be done. In time, he would come to distinguish the birds by their calls.

Early on, Daniel had to absent himself and leave for the capital in order to close a deal involving some livestock. In all, the business would take him about a week. Espinosa, who was already a little tired of hearing about his cousin’s good fortune with women and his tireless interest in the variations of men’s fashion, preferred to remain on the ranch with his textbooks. The heat was suffocating and not even the night brought relief. One morning at daybreak, thunder woke him. The wind was rocking the casuarinas. Espinosa heard the first drops of rain and gave thanks to God. All of a sudden, the cold air rolled in. That afternoon, the Salado overflowed.

The next day, as he was looking over the flooded fields from his porch, Baltasar Espinosa thought that the standard metaphor which compared the pampas with the sea was not, at least that morning, completely false, even though Hudson had noted that the sea appears to us much wider because we see it from a ship’s deck and not from horseback or eye level. The rain did not let up; the Gutres, helped or hindered by the city dweller, saved a good part of the livestock, though many animals drowned. The paths that led to the station were four: all were covered in water. On the third day, a leaking roof threatened the foreman’s house and Espinosa gave them a room out back by the toolshed. The move had brought them closer; they ate together in the large dining room. Conversation was difficult; the Gutres, who knew so much about the country, did not know how to explain any of it. One night, Espinosa asked them if people still retained some memory of the Indian raids from when the frontier’s military command was in Junín. They told him that they did, but they would have answered in a similar fashion had the question been about Charles the First’s beheading. Espinosa recalled his father’s saying that almost all the cases of longevity cited from the country are a result of poor memory or a vague notion of dates. The gauchos tended to forget in equal measure the year of their birth and the name of who fathered them.

No reading material was to be found in the entire house other than some issues of the magazine The Farm, a veterinary manual, a deluxe edition of the Uruguayan epic Tabaré, a History of Shorthorn Cattle in Argentina, the odd erotic or detective story and a recent novel, Don Segundo Sombra. In order to liven up in some way the inevitable after-dinner conversation, Espinosa read a couple of the novel’s chapters to the Gutres, who were all illiterate. Unfortunately the foreman, like the book’s hero, had been a cattle drover himself and was not interested in the happenings of another. He said the work was easy, that they took with them a pack mule which carried all that they needed, and that if he had not been a cattle drover, he would never have seen Lake Gómez, nor would he have gotten to the town of Bragado, nor would he have visited the Núñez ranch in Chacabuco. In the kitchen was a guitar; before the events I am narrating happened, the labourers would sit in a circle and someone would tune the instrument without ever getting around to playing it. This they called a guitar jam.

Espinosa, who had let his beard grow, had begun to pause before the mirror to study his changed face, and he smiled at the thought of boring the boys in Buenos Aires with his tale of the Salado’s overflowing. Curiously, he was missing places to which he had never been and would never go: a street corner on Cabrera where a mailbox stood; some cement lions on a porch a few blocks from the Plaza del Once on Jujuy; a barroom with a tiled floor whose exact whereabouts he was not sure of. As for his brothers and his father, through Daniel they would have learnt already that he was isolated — the word, etymologically, was accurate — by the floodwaters.

Looking through the house whilst still hemmed in by the waters, he came across a Bible in English. In its final pages, the Guthries — their original name — had left a record of their family history. They were originally from Inverness, had come to the New World, no doubt as labourers, in the early days of the nineteenth century and had intermarried with Indians. The chronicle broke off sometime during the eighteen-seventies when they no longer knew how to write. Within only a few generations, they had forgotten their English; by the time Espinosa met them, even Spanish was troubling them. They had no faith, but in their blood there endured, like a dim current, the harsh fanaticism of the Calvinists and the superstitions of the pampas. Espinosa told them of his find and they barely acknowledged it.

Leafing through the volume, his fingers opened it at the start of the Gospel according to Mark. As an exercise in translation and perhaps to see if the Gutres would understand any of it, he decided to read to them the text after dinner. Their attentive listening and their mute interest surprised him. Maybe the gold letters on the the cover lent the book more authority. ‘It’s in their blood,’ Espinosa thought. It also occurred to him that man has throughout history told and retold two stories: that of a lost ship that searches the seas of the Mediterranean for a dearly loved island, and that of a god who allows himself to be crucified in Golgotha. Remembering his elocution classes in Ramos Mejía, Espinosa rose to his feet to preach the parables.

In the days that followed, the Gutres wolfed down the barbecued meat and sardines so as to arrive sooner at the Gospel.

A little pet lamb that the girl had adorned with a sky-blue ribbon had injured itself on some barbed wire. To staunch the bleeding, the Gutres were wanting to apply cobwebs; Espinosa treated it with some pills instead. The gratitude that this treatment inspired took him aback. At first, he distrusted the Gutres and had hidden in one of his books the two hundred and forty pesos that he had with him; now, with the owner away, he had taken on Daniel’s role and was giving timid orders that were being followed immediately. The Gutres would trail him through the rooms and along the porch as if they were lost without him. Whilst reading to them, he noticed that they would take away with them the crumbs that he had left on the table. One evening, he caught them unawares as they were, in few words, speaking of him respectfully.

Upon finishing the Gospel according to Mark, he wanted to read one of the three remaining gospels; the father, though, asked him to repeat the one he had already read to them so that they could understand it better. Espinosa felt that they were like children, who prefer repetition over variety or novelty. That night he dreamt, not altogether surprisingly, of the Flood and was awoken by the hammering that went into the Ark’s construction, which he supposed he had confused with the thunder. In fact, the rain, after having abated, was getting heavier. The cold was bitter. The Gutres had told him that the storm had damaged the toolshed’s roof and that, once they had repaired the beams, they would show him where. No longer a stranger, they treated him with special attention, almost spoiling him. Not one of them liked coffee, but they always had a little cup for him that they heaped with sugar.

The storm hit on a Tuesday. Thursday night he was awoken by a light knock on the door, which, because of his misgivings, he always kept locked. He got up and opened it: it was the girl. In the darkness he could not make her out, but he could tell from her footsteps that she was barefoot, and later in bed, that she had come naked from the back of the house. She did not embrace him, nor did she speak a single word; she lay beside him and shivered. It was the first time she had lain with a man. When she left, she did not kiss him; Espinosa realised he did not even know her name. For some sentimental reason that he did not attempt to understand, he swore never to tell anyone in Buenos Aires about the incident.

The next day began like the others before, except for the father’s speaking to Espinosa and asking him if Christ had allowed Himself to be killed in order to save all mankind. Espinosa, who was a freethinker but felt obliged to justify what he had read to them, replied, “Yes. To save us all from hell.”

Gutre then asked, “What’s hell?”

“A place underground where souls burn and burn.”

“And those that drove in the nails were also saved?”

“Yes,” replied Espinosa, whose theology was a little shaky.

He had feared that the foreman would demand an account of what had happened the night before with his daughter. After lunch, they asked him to read the last chapters again.

Espinosa took a long siesta, though his light sleep was interrupted by persistent hammering and vague premonitions. Toward evening he got up and went out to the porch. He said, as if thinking out loud, “The waters are low. It won’t be long now.”

“It won’t be long now,” repeated Gutre like an echo.

The three Gutres had been following him. Kneeling on the floor, they asked for his blessing. Then they cursed him, spat on him and shoved him to the back of the house. The girl was crying. Espinosa knew what to expect on the other side of the door. When they opened it, he saw the heavens. A bird shrieked. ‘A goldfinch,’ he thought. The shed was without a roof; they had torn out the beams to build the cross.


El Evangelio según Marcos por Jorge Luis Borges

El hecho sucedió en la estancia Los Álamos, en el partido de Junín, hacia el sur, en los últimos días del mes de marzo de 1928. Su protagonista fue un estudiante de medicina, Baltasar Espinosa. Podemos definirlo por ahora como uno de tantos muchachos porteños, sin otros rasgos dignos de nota que esa facultad oratoria que le había hecho merecer más de un premio en el colegio inglés de Ramos Mejía y que una casi ilimitada bondad. No le gustaba discutir; prefería que el interlocutor tuviera razón y no él. Aunque los azares del juego le interesaban, era un mal jugador, porque le desagradaba ganar. Su abierta inteligencia era perezosa; a los treinta y tres años le faltaba rendir una materia para graduarse, la que más lo atraía. Su padre, que era librepensador, como todos los señores de su época, lo había instruido en la doctrina de Herbert Spencer, pero su madre, antes de un viaje a Montevideo, le pidió que todas las noches rezara el Padrenuestro e hiciera la señal de la cruz. A lo largo de los años no había quebrado nunca esa promesa. No carecía de coraje; una mañana había cambiado, con más indiferencia que ira, dos o tres puñetazos con un grupo de compañeros que querían forzarlo a participar en una huelga universitaria. Abundaba, por espíritu de aquiescencia, en opiniones o hábitos discutibles: el país le importaba menos que el riesgo de que en otras partes creyeran que usamos plumas; veneraba a Francia pero menospreciaba a los franceses; tenía en poco a los americanos, pero aprobaba el hecho de que hubiera rascacielos en Buenos Aires; creía que los gauchos de la llanura son mejores jinetes que los de las cuchillas o los cerros. Cuando Daniel, su primo, le propuso veranear en Los Álamos, dijo inmediatamente que sí, no porque le gustara el campo sino por natural complacencia y porque no buscó razones válidas para decir que no.

El casco de la estancia era grande y un poco abandonado; las dependencias del capataz, que se llamaba Gutre, estaban muy cerca. Los Gutres eran tres: el padre, el hijo, que era singularmente tosco, y una muchacha de incierta paternidad. Eran altos, fuertes, huesudos, de pelo que tiraba a rojizo y de caras aindiadas. Casi no hablaban. La mujer del capataz había muerto hace años.

Espinosa, en el campo, fue aprendiendo cosas que no sabía y que no sospechaba. Por ejemplo, que no hay que galopar cuando uno se está acercando a las casas y que nadie sale a andar a caballo sino para cumplir con una tarea. Con el tiempo llegaría a distinguir los pájaros por el grito.

A los pocos días, Daniel tuvo que ausentarse a la capital para cerrar una operación de animales. A lo sumo, el negocio le tomaría una semana. Espinosa, que ya estaba un poco harto de las bonnes fortunes de su primo y de su infatigable interés por las variaciones de la sastrería, prefirió quedarse en la estancia, con sus libros de texto. El calor apretaba y ni siquiera la noche traía un alivio. En el alba, los truenos lo despertaron. El viento zamarreaba las casuarinas. Espinosa oyó las primeras gotas y dio gracias a Dios. El aire frío vino de golpe. Esa tarde, el Salado se desbordó.

Al otro día, Baltasar Espinosa, mirando desde la galería los campos anegados, pensó que la metáfora que equipara la pampa con el mar no era, por lo menos esa mañana, del todo falsa, aunque Hudson había dejado escrito que el mar nos parece más grande, porque lo vemos desde la cubierta del barco y no desde el caballo o desde nuestra altura. La lluvia no cejaba; los Gutres, ayudados o incomodados por el pueblero, salvaron buena parte de la hacienda, aunque hubo muchos animales ahogados. Los caminos para llegar a la estancia eran cuatro: a todos los cubrieron las aguas. Al tercer día, una gotera amenazó la casa del capataz; Espinosa les dio una habitación que quedaba en el fondo, al lado del galpón de las herramientas. La mudanza los fue acercando; comían juntos en el gran comedor. El diálogo resultaba difícil; los Gutres, que sabían tantas cosas en materia de campo, no sabían explicarlas. Una noche, Espinosa les preguntó si la gente guardaba algún recuerdo de los malones, cuando la comandancia estaba en Junín. Le dijeron que sí, pero lo mismo hubieran contestado a una pregunta sobre la ejecución de Carlos Primero. Espinosa recordó que su padre solía decir que casi todos los casos de longevidad que se dan en el campo son casos de mala memoria o de un concepto vago de las fechas. Los gauchos suelen ignorar por igual el año en que nacieron y el nombre de quien los engendró.

En toda la casa no había otros libros que una serie de la revista La Chacra, un manual de veterinaria, un ejemplar de lujo del Tabaré, una Historia del Shorthorn en la Argentina, unos cuantos relatos eróticos o policiales y una novela reciente: Don Segundo Sombra. Espinosa, para distraer de algún modo la sobremesa inevitable, leyó un par de capítulos a los Gutres, que eran analfabetos. Desgraciadamente, el capataz había sido tropero y no le podían importar las andanzas de otro. Dijo que ese trabajo era liviano, que llevaban siempre un carguero con todo lo que se precisa y que, de no haber sido tropero, no habría llegado nunca hasta la Laguna de Gómez, hasta el Bragado y hasta los campos de los Núñez, en Chacabuco. En la cocina había una guitarra; los peones, antes de los hechos que narro, se sentaban en rueda; alguien la templaba y no llegaba nunca a tocar. Esto se llamaba una guitarreada.

Espinosa, que se había dejado crecer la barba, solía demorarse ante el espejo para mirar su cara cambiada y sonreía al pensar que en Buenos Aires aburriría a los muchachos con el relato de la inundación del Salado. Curiosamente, extrañaba lugares a los que no iba nunca y no iría: una esquina de la calle Cabrera en la que hay un buzón, unos leones de mampostería en un portón de la calle Jujuy, a unas cuadras del Once, un almacén con piso de baldosa que no sabía muy bien dónde estaba. En cuanto a sus hermanos y a su padre, ya sabrían por Daniel que estaba aislado -la palabra, etimológicamente, era justa- por la creciente.

Explorando la casa, siempre cercada por las aguas, dio con una Biblia en inglés. En las páginas finales los Guthrie -tal era su nombre genuino- habían dejado escrita su historia. Eran oriundos de Inverness, habían arribado a este continente, sin duda como peones, a principios del siglo diecinueve, y se habían cruzado con indios. La crónica cesaba hacia mil ochocientos setenta y tantos; ya no sabían escribir. Al cabo de unas pocas generaciones habían olvidado el inglés; el castellano, cuando Espinosa los conoció, les daba trabajo. Carecían de fe, pero en su sangre perduraban, como rastros oscuros, el duro fanatismo del calvinista y las supersticiones del pampa. Espinosa les habló de su hallazgo y casi no escucharon.

Hojeó el volumen y sus dedos lo abrieron en el comienzo del Evangelio según Marcos. Para ejercitarse en la traducción y acaso para ver si entendían algo, decidió leerles ese texto después de la comida. Le sorprendió que lo escucharan con atención y luego con callado interés. Acaso la presencia de las letras de oro en la tapa le diera más autoridad. Lo llevan en la sangre, pensó. También se le ocurrió que los hombres, a lo largo del tiempo, han repetido siempre dos historias: la de un bajel perdido que busca por los mares mediterráneos una isla querida, y la de un dios que se hace crucificar en el Gólgota. Recordó las clases de elocución en Ramos Mejía y se ponía de pie para predicar las parábolas.

Los Gutres despachaban la carne asada y las sardinas para no demorar el Evangelio.

Una corderita que la muchacha mimaba y adornaba con una cintita celeste se lastimó con un alambrado de púa. Para parar la sangre, querían ponerle una telaraña; Espinosa la curó con unas pastillas. La gratitud que esa curación despertó no dejó de asombrarlo. Al principio, había desconfiado de los Gutres y había escondido en uno de sus libros los doscientos cuarenta pesos que llevaba consigo; ahora, ausente el patrón, él había tomado su lugar y daba órdenes tímidas, que eran inmediatamente acatadas. Los Gutres lo seguían por las piezas y por el corredor, como si anduvieran perdidos. Mientras leía, notó que le retiraban las migas que él había dejado sobre la mesa. Una tarde los sorprendió hablando de él con respeto y pocas palabras. Concluido el Evangelio según Marcos, quiso leer otro de los tres que faltaban; el padre le pidió que repitiera el que ya había leído, para entenderlo bien. Espinosa sintió que eran como niños, a quienes la repetición les agrada más que la variación o la novedad. Una noche soñó con el Diluvio, lo cual no es de extrañar; los martillazos de la fabricación del arca lo despertaron y pensó que acaso eran truenos. En efecto, la lluvia, que había amainado, volvió a recrudecer. El frío era intenso. Le dijeron que el temporal había roto el techo del galpón de las herramientas y que iban a mostrárselo cuando estuvieran arregladas las vigas. Ya no era un forastero y todos lo trataban con atención y casi lo mimaban. A ninguno le gustaba el café, pero había siempre un tacita para él, que colmaban de azúcar.

El temporal ocurrió un martes. El jueves a la noche lo recordó un golpecito suave en la puerta que, por las dudas, él siempre cerraba con llave. Se levantó y abrió: era la muchacha. En la oscuridad no la vio, pero por los pasos notó que estaba descalza y después, en el lecho, que había venido desde el fondo, desnuda. No lo abrazó, no dijo una sola palabra; se tendió junto a él y estaba temblando. Era la primera vez que conocía a un hombre. Cuando se fue, no le dio un beso; Espinosa pensó que ni siquiera sabía cómo se llamaba. Urgido por una íntima razón que no trató de averiguar, juró que en Buenos Aires no le contaría a nadie esa historia.

El día siguiente comenzó como los anteriores, salvo que el padre habló con Espinosa y le preguntó si Cristo se dejó matar para salvar a todos los hombres. Espinosa, que era librepensador pero que se vio obligado a justificar lo que les había leído, le contestó:

-Sí. Para salvar a todos del infierno.

Gutre le dijo entonces:

-¿Qué es el infierno?

-Un lugar bajo tierra donde las ánimas arderán y arderán.

-¿Y también se salvaron los que le clavaron los clavos?

-Sí -replicó Espinosa, cuya teología era incierta.

Había temido que el capataz le exigiera cuentas de lo ocurrido anoche con su hija. Después del almuerzo, le pidieron que releyera los últimos capítulos. Espinosa durmió una siesta larga, un leve sueño interrumpido por persistentes martillos y por vagas premoniciones. Hacia el atardecer se levantó y salió al corredor. Dijo como si pensara en voz alta:

-Las aguas están bajas. Ya falta poco.

-Ya falta poco -repitió Gutrel, como un eco.

Los tres lo habían seguido. Hincados en el piso de piedra le pidieron la bendición. Después lo maldijeron, lo escupieron y lo empujaron hasta el fondo. La muchacha lloraba. Espinosa entendió lo que le esperaba del otro lado de la puerta. Cuando la abrieron, vio el firmamento. Un pájaro gritó; pensó: es un jilguero. El galpón estaba sin techo; habían arrancado las vigas para construir la Cruz.

Translated: La Casa de Asterión becomes The House of Asterion

Andrew Hurley’s translations of Borges’s work I don’t consider so highly. I’ve already attempted my own translation of Borges Y Yo, and now in a similarly hubristic manner, I issue forth my translation of La Casa de Asterión.

The House of Asterion (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

And the queen gave birth to a son named Asterion.
Apollodorus, Library, III, I

I know they accuse me of arrogance, perhaps also of misanthropy, perhaps madness too. Such accusations (which I shall castigate in due course) are laughable. It is true that I do not leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (which are infinite* in number) are open day and night to man and animal alike. Anyone who wishes may enter. One will not find feminine extravagance here, nor gallant courtly ritual, just quiet and solitude. Here one will find a house like no other on the face of the Earth. (They who declare that in Egypt exists another similar are lying). Even my detractors admit that there is not a single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous tale claims that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Need I repeat that there are no closed doors? Should I add that there are no locks? Besides, I did one evening step out onto the street; if I returned home before nightfall, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the hoi polloi, faces discoloured and plain like an open hand, had induced in me. The sun had already set, but the helpless cry of a babe and the coarse supplications of the common herd signalled that I had been recognised. The people prayed, fled and fell prostrate; some climbed up to the stylobate of the temple of Axes, others gathered stones. Someone, I believe, hid himself under the sea. Not in vain was my mother a queen; I cannot mix with the common people, though my modesty does so desire it.

The fact is that I am unique. What a man can pass unto others does not interest me; like the philosopher, I think nothing is communicated by the art of writing. Annoying and trivial minutiae have no place in my spirit, a spirit which is receptive only to whatsoever is grand. Never have I retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not consented that I should learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days are long.

Naturally, I am not without amusement. Like a ram on the charge, I run through the galleries of stone until dizzily I tumble to the ground. I conceal myself in the shadows of a cistern or in the corner of a corridor and pretend that I am being searched for. There are rooftops from which I let myself fall until I bloody myself. At any time I can shut my eyes and pretend that I am asleep, breathing deeply. (Sometimes I really do sleep, sometimes the colour of the day has changed by the time I open my eyes). But of the games I play, the one I prefer is pretending there is another Asterion. I pretend that he has come to visit me and I show him around the house. With great reverence I tell him: Now we return to the previous intersection, or Now we head towards another courtyard, or I knew you would like this drain, or Now you will see a cistern that has filled with sand, or Now you will see how the cellar forks. Sometimes I err and we both laugh heartily.

Not only these games have I imagined; I have also meditated on the house. Each part of the house repeats many times, any particular place is another place. There is not one cistern, courtyard, drinking fountain, manger; there are fourteen (infinite) mangers, drinking fountains, courtyards, cisterns. The house is the size of the world; better said, it is the world. Nevertheless, by dint of exhausting all the dusty galleries of grey stone and the courtyards with their cisterns, I have reached the street and I have seen the temple of Axes and the sea. This I did not understand until a night vision revealed to me that there are also fourteen (infinite) seas and temples. Everything exists many times over, fourteen times, but there are two things in the world that seem to exist only once; above, the intricate Sun; below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the Sun and the enormous house, but I do not remember anymore.

Nine men enter the house every nine years so that I may deliver them from all evil. I hear their footsteps or their voices in the depths of the galleries of stone and I run with joy in search of them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. One after another, they fall to the ground without my having to bloody my hands. Where they fall, they remain, and the cadavers help to distinguish one gallery from another. I know not who they are, but I do know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that someday my redeemer would come. Since then, the solitude does not pain me because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will rise above the dust. If I could hear all the rumblings of the world, I would detect the sound of his footsteps. Let it be that he take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors.

I wonder: what will my redeemer be like? Will he be a bull or a man? Will he be perhaps a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

 

The morning Sun was reflected in the sword of bronze. No trace of blood remained.

“Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. “The minotaur hardly put up a fight.”

* The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that in Asterion’s eyes, this adjectival numeral is no different to infinite.


La Casa de Asterión por Jorge Luis Borges

Y la reina dio a luz un hijo que se llamó Asterión.
Apolodoro, Biblioteca, III, I

Sé que me acusan de soberbia, y tal vez de misantropía, y tal vez de locura. Tales acusaciones (que yo castigaré a su debido tiempo) son irrisorias. Es verdad que no salgo de mi casa, pero también es verdad que sus puertas (cuyo número es infinito*) están abiertas día y noche a los hombres y también a los animales. Que entre el que quiera. No hallará pompas mujeriles aquí ni el bizarro aparato de los palacios, pero sí la quietud y la soledad. Asimismo hallará una casa como no hay otra en la faz de la tierra. (Mienten los que declaran que en Egipto hay una parecida.) Hasta mis detractores admiten que no hay un solo mueble en la casa. Otra especie ridícula es que yo, Asterión, soy un prisionero. ¿Repetiré que no hay una puerta cerrada, añadiré que ho hay una cerradura? Por lo demás, algún atardecer he pisado la calle; si antes de la noche volví, lo hice por el temor que me infundieron las caras de la plebe, caras descoloridas y aplanadas, como la mano abierta. Ya se había puesto el sol, pero el desvalido llanto de un niño y las toscas plegarias de la grey dijeron que me habían reconocido. La gente oraba, huía, se prosternaba; unos se encaramaban al estilóbato del templo de las Hachas, otros juntaban piedras. Alguno, creo, se ocultó bajo el mar. No en vano fue una reina mi madra; no puedo confundirme con el vulgo, aunque mi modestia lo quiera.

El hecho es que soy único. No me interesa lo que un hombre pueda trasmitir a otros hombres; como el filósofo, pienso que nada es comunicable por el arte de la escritura. Las enojosas y triviales minucias no tienen cabida en mi espíritu, que está capacitado para lo grande; jamás he retenido la diferencia entre una letra y otra. Cierta impaciencia generosa no ha consentido que yo aprendiera a leer. A veces lo deploro, porque las noches y los días son largos.

Claro que no me faltan distracciones. Semejante al carnero que va a embestir, corro por las galerías de piedra hasta rodar al suelo, mareado. Me agazapo a la sombra de un aljibe o a la vuelta de un corredor y juego a que me buscan. Hay azoteas desde las que me dejo caer, hasta ensangrentarme. A cualquier hora puedo jugar a estar dormido, con los ojos cerrados y la respiración poderosa. (A veces me duermo realmente, a veces ha cambiado el color del día cuando he abierto los ojos.) Pero de tantos juegos el que prefiero es el de otro Asterión. Finjo que viene a visitarme y que yo le muestro la casa. Con grandes reverencias le digo: Ahora volvemos a la encrucijada anterior o Ahora desembocamos en otro patio o Bien decía yo que te gustaría la canaleta o Ahora verás una cisterna que se llenó de arena o Ya verás cómo el sótano se bifurca. A veces me equivoco y nos reímos buenamente los dos.

No sólo he imaginado eso juegos, también he meditado sobre la casa. Todas las partes de la casa están muchas veces, cualquier lugar es otro lugar. No hay un aljibe, un patio, un abrevadero, un pesebre; son catorce [son infinitos] los pesebres, abrevaderos, patios, aljibes. La casa es del tamaño del mundo; mejor dicho, es el mundo. Sin embargo, a fuerza de fatigar patios con un aljibe y polvorientas galerías de piedra gris, he alcanzado la calle y he visto el templo de las Hachas y el mar. Eso no lo entendí hasta que una visión de la noche me reveló que también son catorce [son infinitos] los mares y los templos. Todo está muchas veces, catorce veces, pero dos cosas hay en el mundo que parecen estar una sola vez: arriba, el intrincado sol; abajo, Asterión. Quizá yo he creado las estrellas y el sol y la enorme casa, pero ya no me acuerdo.

Cada nueve años entran en la casa nueve hombres para que yo los libere de todo mal. Oigo sus pasos o su voz en el fondo de las galerías de piedra y corro alegremente a buscarlos. La ceremonia dura pocos minutos. Uno tras otro caen sin que yo me ensangriente las manos. Donde cayeron, quedan, y los cadáveres ayudan a distinguir una galería de las otras. Ignoro quiénes son, pero sé que uno de ellos profetizó, en la hora de su muerte, que alguna vez llegaría mi redentor. Desde entonces no me duele la soledad, porque sé que vive mi redeentor y al fin se levantará sobre el polvo. Si mi oído alcanzara los rumores del mundo, yo percibiría sus pasos. Ojalá me lleve a un lugar con menos galerías y menos puertas. ¿Cómo será mi redentor?, me pregunto. ¿Será un toro o un hombre? ¿Será tal vez un toro con cara de hombre? ¿O será como yo?

 

El sol de la mañana reverberó en la espada de bronce. Ya no quedaba ni un vestigio de sangre.

– ¿Lo creerás, Ariadna? – dijo Teseo. – El minotauro apenas se defendió.

* El original dice catorce, pero sobran motives para inferir que en boca de Asterión, ese adjetivo numeral vale por infinitos.

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/.