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Invisible Work

Borges and Translation

Efraín Kristal

Publication Year: 2002

It is well known that Jorge Luis Borges was a translator, but this has been considered a curious minor aspect of his literary achievement. Few have been aware of the number of texts he translated, the importance he attached to this activity, or the extent to which the translated works inform his own stories and poems. Between the age of ten, when he translated Oscar Wilde, and the end of his life, when he prepared a Spanish version of the Prose Edda , Borges transformed the work of Poe, Kafka, Hesse, Kipling, Melville, Gide, Faulkner, Whitman, Woolf, Chesterton, and many others. In a multitude of essays, lectures, and interviews Borges analyzed the versions of others and developed an engaging view about translation. He held that a translation can improve an original, that contradictory renderings of the same work can be equally valid, and that an original can be unfaithful to a translation. Borges's bold habits as translator and his views on translation had a decisive impact on his creative process. Translation is also a recurrent motif in Borges's stories. In "The Immortal," for example, a character who has lived for many centuries regains knowledge of poems he had authored, and almost forgotten, by way of modern translations. Many of Borges's fictions include actual or imagined translations, and some of his most important characters are translators. In "Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote," Borges's character is a respected Symbolist poet, but also a translator, and the narrator insists that Menard's masterpiece-his "invisible work"-adds unsuspected layers of meaning to Cervantes's Don Quixote . George Steiner cites this short story as "the most acute, most concentrated commentary anyone has offered on the business of translation." In an age where many discussions of translation revolve around the dichotomy faithful/unfaithful, this book will surprise and delight even Borges's closest readers and critics.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Title Page

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I first presented my ideas on Borges and translation in a conferenceheld at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, organized by Guillermo Guicci in 1996. I continued discussing various aspects of myongoing research in lectures and conferences in Peru, Australia,Germany, and the United States, as well as in graduate seminars...

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pp. xi-xxiv

On September 5, 1953, the author of Fictions and The Aleph wrote a letter to settle the final details of a lecture he would deliver on the Kabbalah. Almost as an afterthought, Jorge Luis Borges offers biographical information requested by his host. After indicating his birth in Buenos Aires in 1899, he introduces himself as the translator of Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and Henri Michaux. The note continues with other aspects...

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Chapter 1: Borges on Translation

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pp. 1-35

Borges affirmed, in earnest, that an original can be unfaithful to a translation. He vehemently objected to claims that certain translations he admired are “true to the original” and derided the presuppositions of purists for whom all translations are necessarily deceitful in one way or another. Borges would often protest, with various degrees of irony, against the assumption—ingrained in the Italian adage traduttore traditore—that a translator is a traitor to an original...

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Chapter 2: Borges as Translator

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pp. 36-87

One of Borges's first literary exercises, as a seven-year-oldboy, was a translation of sorts. He filled a notebook with transcriptions of Greco-Roman myths in the charmingly clumsy English of a gifted child learning to write in a foreign language. In his version of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, a theme that would inspire some of his most famous pages, the young Borges retains several names in Spanish, as if he felt a special affection...

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Chapter 3: Translation in the Creative Process

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pp. 88-134

The majority of Borges’s short stories include at least one character who translates, and these characters are often the protagonists. Many of his fictions are presented as implied translations, many translated excerpts or fragments are inserted into the body of his writings, and many real and imagined translations play either hidden or transparent roles in the gestation or contents of his fictions. Borges’s translations offer illuminating insights into his creative process, and his general approach to translation is fundamental to our understanding of his art...

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pp. 135-140

In public dialogues Borges would readily admit to any connection made by his interlocutors between his own creations and the works of others. His standard response to those who would identify a link between one of his writings and a literary antecedent was to acknowledge the influence and to blame his lack of memory for the borrowing. At other moments he would own up to the charge of plagiarism with ironic pride: “I do not write, I rewrite. My memory produces my sentences. I have read so much and I have heard so much. I admit it: I repeat myself...

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Afterword: Borges and Philosophy

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pp. 141-146

According to an influential view, Borges’s most important achievements in literature involve his philosophical insights. To some critics holding this view, translation may seem a side issue, a curiosity. I think Borges was a fabulist, that translation is at the heart of his concerns as a writer, and that his philosophical concerns—even when they inform a story or a poem—are a function of his literary ones...


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pp. 147-190


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pp. 191-204


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pp. 205-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591562
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514073
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514073

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 50321177
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Invisible Work

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Subject Headings

  • Borges, Jorge Luis, -- 1899-1986 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Translating and interpreting.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis, 1899-1986 -- Translations -- History and criticism.
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