Traductor, Traidor (Or, a Borgesian Fork Too Far)

[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,
Dan

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Yep,… innumerable traición.

  2. veo

     /  April 21, 2010

    we live for the subtleties

  3. Javier

     /  November 6, 2013

    I believe both Yates’ and the other translator’s versions are wrong; I believe the person narrating the events is adressing someone when he says “No puede saber”.
    “No puede saber” can be translated as “Usted -formal you form- can not know”.
    Otherwise who is the “he” the narrator refers to?
    What am I not getting? Is he refering to a universal “He”, like “Man can not know”?

    • Dear Javier,

      Fascinating theory. But let’s back up a sentence or two for more context. Here’s the text in Spanish: “El Jefe ha descifrado ese enigma. Sabe que mi problema era indicar (a través del estrépito de la guerra) la ciudad que se llama Albert y que no hallé otro medio que matar a una persona con ese nombre. No sabe (nadie puede saber) mi innumerable contrición y cansancio.”
      Two sentences earlier, we have the subject being “El jefe”. The next sentence is in the third person, and the boss is clearly the subject; “He know that my problem was to indicate…” must be “[The boss] knew my problem was to indicate…” So, the “he” from “nadie puede saber” is presumably still “el jefe” in the final sentence, I.e. “[The boss] does not know (no one can know) my innumerable contrition and weariness.” Does that make sense?