[Borges and I: Reflexive Translations / Alex Ender]

In the self-reflexive “Borges and I,” Borges divests the personal and the professional, each from the other self, while only noting semblances to one another in co-existence for the reciprocal maintenance of both selves. The slow, aware conceding of his personal self to his writer persona makes him recognize himself less in his own work: music and other authors remain his only trace of true self-reflection. The same identity that developed and defined the personal Borges into a writer also squelched his inner voice, devalued his passions and interests into nothing more than an author’s character sheet. Borges further acknowledges how his writer persona has become popular off of ideas that his personal self can no longer identify with, leaving him further detached from the once valued mythologies of the streets. The writer Borges will fatedly consume him and Borges consciously admits that he is not sure who to credit as the author of this piece.

Borges’ mainly claims this divestment as a submission to his philosophy of language and tradition, to which he or no author like him has control of: “It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition.” This is my translation, where Mildred Boyer has snuck in “Spanish” in front of “language,” which exemplifies the core to this argument: Borges making this statement seems trite if limited only to the Spanish language.

I am a reader who has often refused to read certain works in English that originated in Spanish because these translations have often not served me as well as the original, either from inaccuracies or idiom variations. When it comes down to it, translation preference comes down to the self, and although Borges’ philosophy states that a piece cannot belong solely to the individual, scrutinizing another translation for the purpose of self is necessary to fully absorb its meaning, for tradition.

I will take to the stated tradition, then, to gain some semblance for the effects of language on my reading. Admittedly, I tend to translate nearly word to word when I read, letting the nuances speak for themselves and trusting that sentence syntax carries me through. In accordance with that technique, Mildred Boyer’s translation of “Borges and I” both pains and enriches me.

I read each, the Spanish original and her English adaptation, side-by-side.

Already, in the first line, the position of “to” in the sentence perplexes me. Boyer’s position of “things happen to” at the end of the sentence, instead of directly “to that other one, to Borges,” passivizes the sentence and lessens the initial intensity. In the second line, “Yo comino” is fitted into “I stroll” instead of “I walk,” the literal definition. Furthermore, “me demoro,” meaning “I linger,” turns into simply “stop.” As per the first sentence of this paragraph, the casualty of strolling and stopping without the sense of lingering in this sentence communicates a much less intense feeling to my mind. Looking even further into the complexity of line two, Boyer’s choice to put “News of Borges reaches me through the mail” at the beginning of the second clause after the semi-colon disrupts similarly: “Of Borges I receive news in the mail” gives another more direct tone and causes more preferable malice between the two Borges.

The third and fourth lines, in Boyer’s translation, are separated by a period rather than the original semi-colon. The semi-colon, for this reader, creates more tension between the two Borges because it makes the clauses more relative than the full stop separation of a period. I see here that even punctuation changes my understanding of the tension, either softening the piece or making it somewhat violent—I want more tension.

In the seventh line, Boyer’s translation of “I am destined to lose” I am into “I am destined to be lost” again passivizes the statement. In my reading, an understanding of his acknowledgement directly and no other reason to feel lost or be in a state of lost is warranted—he will lose to his other self and without question. In the eighth line, “conceding” is translated into “yielding”; although these two words are synonymous, to concede, by my ear, has a much more surrendering tone than to yield, perhaps because of one less syllables. The ninth and tenth lines have the same issue of punctuation; the original semi-colon was changed into a colon, most likely to make the statement about stones wanting to remain stones and tigers remaining tigers complete. For this reader, the colon making a statement in these clauses gives too much power to the personal Borges, where the semi-colon creates a mirror reflection. However, the original “stone” is translated into “rock,” and the addition of the harder sound of “rock” gives a harder voice to each Borges. I have been arguing for more tensioned choices, so this favorable choice makes both more equally tough and conflicting.

These sorts of changes are no more significant than in the very last line of “Borges and I.”  The Boyer translation has “us” in place of “the” in “I do not know which of us two is writing this page.” The “us” here is more familiar than the titular “the,” which leaves this reader with a much different consciousness between the two selves. Overall, although Boyer’s translation does convey the basic level of the piece, I find myself pained by these small details and prefer a much more literal translation or, more favorably, the Spanish original.

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