[Reader Beware – This post has nothing to do with sociology, economics or politics, and is also a bit silly.]
Dear Translator of The Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges,
I nearly bought your collection, which contains complete translations of Borges’ most important and best written works of fiction. Unfortunately, for you, before making my purchase, I examined your version of The Garden of the Forking Paths and was shocked, shocked!, to see its unfaithful deviations from the Yates translation in Labyrinths.
Let’s compare for a moment the last sentence, which I conveniently memorized in two languages (for just such an occasion):
(Spanish) “No sabe (nadie puede saber) mi innumerable contrición y cansancio.”
(Yates’ translation) “He does not know (no one can know) my innumerable contrition and weariness.”
A word for word translation, made possible by the relatively uncomplicated (albeit somewhat anomalous for Spanish) grammar and heavy use of Latinate words – like much of Borges’ writing.
Now, the Collected Fictions version:
(Hurley’s translation) “He does not know (no one can know) my endless contrition, and my weariness.”
At first glance, little has changed – an extra possessive pronoun was added, and a comma, which alters the pacing of the translation and suggest that the contrition, but not the weariness, was endless. Here we have an interpretation I disagree with, but one that is not baseless.
But wait, endless? Where did endless enter into this? Borges did not use that word or its synonyms – e.g. sin fin, interminable, sempiterno, eterno, etc. Borges used the word innumerable – without number. Why is this significant? The Garden of the Forking Paths is a story about time, and about the numberless forking roads we might take – “the various futures”. Various, without number, but not exhaustive. “Innumerable” evokes this entire train of thought, so essential to the “essay” half of this classic “cuento-ensayo” of Borges.
Endless evokes entirely the wrong notion of time – a temporality that is flat and pre-determined, the temporality of Newton, not of Heisenberg. Borges’ deity (the Librarian of Paradise) does not simply play dice with the world, but rather busts out of a copy of Risk with half a dozen worlds at once!
And so, dear translator, I must ask – why make this change? Are you, perhaps, attempting to subtly undermine the work of Yu Tsun’s illustrious ancestor, Ts’ui Pen, and of Borges himself? Hmm?
Respectfully, and wearily,