Two to Tango


UPDATE:  Since posting my review (see below) of The Selected Visions of Jorge Luis Borges: 1958-1986, I have had to defend myself from the attacks of several critics and, though I replied in turn to each of them, I believe it best to air my thoughts publicly.

In their emails (for they dare not be seen communicating with an advocate of this “literary charlatanry,” as one critic put it, with “someone who actually believes in this shit,” as another had it) they point to my favouring Norman Thomas di Giovanni’s translations over those of, well, anyone else.  “Blasphemy!” they cry.  “It’s not in the spirit of Borges.  No one translation is superior to another.”  And in this they echo Borges’ famous essay “The Homeric Versions”, citing it as a text supportive of their claims, and they are right.

To assume that every recombination of elements is necessarily inferior to its original form is to assume that draft nine is necessarily inferior to draft H – for there can only be drafts.  The concept of the “definitive text” corresponds only to religion or exhaustion.

The superstition about the inferiority of translations – coined by the well-known Italian adage – is the result of absentmindedness.


If only “absentminded” was all I’ve been labeled.    Sadly, my aggressors have missed one glaringly salient point: Norman Thomas di Giovanni worked in collaboration with Borges, where other translators did not.  Furthermore, translation, understood by Borges as “merely different perspectives on a mutable fact, a long experimental game of chance played with omissions and emphases,” is something that, in its scrupulous construction, could hardly apply to the work of Borges and di Giovanni.  As said by William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker when di Giovanni’s translations were published in its pages, the works were not merely translations, but “elegant works of literature in English.”

Nor was the collaboration a one-way road of dictation and translation from Spanish to English.  Borges could more than hold his own with di Giovanni: at the age of 9 he (Borges) translated Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince into Spanish; he was reading Shakespeare in English by 12.


One Response to “Two to Tango”

  1. Harry Elliot Says:

    If only Fagles could have collaborated with Homer, the world might’ve been spared generations of misinterpretations of Achilles by inferior translators.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: