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  • The Dialectics of Heresy and Authority in Borges and Carpentier
  • Eleni Kefala

The word translation derives from the past participle of the verb transfero (translatum), which means "to transfer," "to bring over." Translation constitutes a key term in understanding the aesthetics of Borges who, throughout his life, was engaged with it in three ways: as a translator, critic, and writer. First, as a translator, Borges made his debut as early as at the age of eleven when he translated Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince" (1888), which was published in El País (25 June 1910); on page three of the issue, we read: "traducido del inglés por Jorge Borges (hijo)" (Helft 23).1 As Efraín Kristal argues in Invisible Work: Borges and Translation (2002), Borges's translations by no means are mere linguistic renderings of an original text but "transformations" (xvii). Secondly, Borges as a critic wrote and gave numerous essays, lectures, and interviews, which are engaged either with the notion of translation in general or with different translations of a given text; such examples are his essays "Los traductores de Las 1001 noches" (1935), "Sobre el 'Vathek' de William Beckford" (1943), "Las versiones homéricas" (1932), and "El enigma de Edward FitzGerald" (1951) to mention but a few. Finally, Borges's interest in translation is manifest in his fictional work where translation is a recurrent motif; among his short stories, "La busca de Averroes" (1947) is perhaps the finest example along with "El evangelio según Marcos" (1970). In fact, as [End Page 342] Kristal says, "translation played a central role in his literary concerns and in the very content of his literary works" (xxi). Moreover, Kristal suggests that "Borges developed a way of writing fiction informed by his own approach to translation: a way of writing that willfully adopts, transforms, and adapts the works of others" (xix). Essentially, for Borges the terms translator and writer are interchangeable.

In "Translation as Metaphor: Three Versions of Borges" (1975), Alfred J. MacAdam points out that "all literature [. . .] is a translatio (transfer, translation) between traditions, individuals, and languages" (748). This is precisely what Borges does throughout his fictional work: he transfers (translates) literary, religious, and philosophical narratives to his own texts and, in doing so, he appropriates, distorts, and falsifies them—like the archetypal dyer-forger, Hákim de Merv ("El tintorero enmascarado Hákim de Merv," Historia universal de la infamia [1935]), whose profession is the "arte de impíos, de falsarios y de inconstantes" (1: 324).

This notion of translation as transfer invokes Homi K. Bhabha's theory of cultural translation and more specifically his concept of the translational. Referring to Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), in his Location of Culture (1994) Bhabha argues that what the author does is translate, dislocate the Koran from its religious context and relocate it in the profane space of "the novel of postwar cultural migrations and diasporas" (226). He explains that Rushdie subverts the authenticity of the Koran "through the act of cultural translation," hybridizing the religious with the blasphemous. Rushdie, according to Bhabha, contests the authority of the Koran by touching it in an imaginative, critical, and irreverent way and, in particular, by translating it from the perspective of "historical and cultural relativism" (226). In addition, Bhabha conceives hybridity as the "third term," the undecidable neither-nor (neither European, nor Indian, neither black nor white), which disavows the authoritative discourse of colonialism while it "creates a crisis for any system of authority" (114). In reality, he attributes a strong political function to the "Third Space" (interstice) of cultural translation and hybridity. He argues that it is "in the process of translation and displacement" that the "object of politics is inscribed" and that the "emphasis in the representation of the political, on the construction of discourse, is the radical contribution of the translation theory" (26–27). Moreover, commenting on Rushdie's translation of the Koran, he says: "Translation may not be a smooth transition, a consensual continuity, but the configuration of the disjunctive rewriting of the transcultural, migrant experience" (226). For Bhabha, cultural [End Page 343] translation destabilizes and desacralizes cultural supremacy by setting off a "constant state...


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