Borges translation?

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What is the best Borges translation? Mine blows tons.

Moti Bahat, Saturday, 16 October 2004 15:09 (nineteen years ago) link

Which are you using? They're mostly the same.

kensanway, Saturday, 16 October 2004 23:18 (nineteen years ago) link

no, wasn't there a huge kerfuffle about the differt translations? i can't remember: is the american fellow with the italian name the translator that everyone loves or hates?

equinox, Monday, 18 October 2004 17:00 (nineteen years ago) link

My "Fictions" is edited by Anthony Kerrigan but it doesn't list a translator. Maybe I'm just not looking for it right.

Moti Bahat, Monday, 18 October 2004 19:27 (nineteen years ago) link

I can't remember who did it, but my Penguin Complete Stories transalation, which came out about, ooh, five or six years ago, is perfectly good, and has lots of hyper-informative notes, things like what corner is where. The Complete Poems features translations by lots of different people, including, I think, John Updike and other consecrated beings.

PS: I think Borges must be very difficult to translate, it's hard enough just to read. Everything counts in large amounts.

PJ Miller (PJ Miller), Tuesday, 19 October 2004 08:59 (nineteen years ago) link

the american fellow with the italian name: Norman Thomas Di Giovanni.

lovebug starski (lovebug starski), Tuesday, 19 October 2004 09:22 (nineteen years ago) link

Di Giovanni worked with Borges (who spoke English quite well)in translating his stories.

Michael White (Hereward), Tuesday, 19 October 2004 14:22 (nineteen years ago) link

four weeks pass...
The Hurley/Penguin translations have been critciised by Giovanni and others on the grounds that as a speaker of Caribbean Spanish (Hurley is based in Puerto Rico, I think) he has no knowledge of the Argentinian slang and idiom and even local geography which makes up yet another layer of the work. (in the Guardian Review, I think, or possibly the LRB) Also, they aren't very good, although convenient.
I once took a copy of 'Fictions' out of a North london library which had been annotated in pencil by a previous lendee. In the margin of the introduction, where the commentator mentioned that Borges had never written, or even seen the need to write, a longer work of fiction, our critic had written the phrase 'too lazy to write a novel'. Now that's literary criticism.

snotty moore, Thursday, 18 November 2004 11:54 (nineteen years ago) link

Borges was also constantly revising his earlier stories, so translations vary depending on the edition.

Borges also found Spanish limiting. There is a (rather surreal) interview with Borges in Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express where Borges expands on the deficiences (as he seems them) of Latin based languages. I don't think he tried to write in Argentine slang too much as he found it a little coarse.

My favourite Borges quote is this: "Two bald men fighting over a comb"

Referring to the Malvinas war.

MikeyG (MikeyG), Thursday, 18 November 2004 12:42 (nineteen years ago) link

There is a guide to all the geographical stuff (and other things) which is constantly referred to in the notes. If you don't know Argentinian slang you can always ask someone who does. That's what I did when I translated an Argentinian novel, turns out all my questions had already been asked by the Spanish publisher. Which just goes to show. They were more about cakes than slang.

PJ Miller (PJ Miller), Thursday, 18 November 2004 14:11 (nineteen years ago) link

six months pass...
I saw a posting on by some english chap that the andrew hurley translations are dogshit and the Irby ones are legit. Based on this, I bought Everything and Nothing and loved it. If you compare the two, you realize how poor the Hurley ones are. Side note: apparently Hurley is all that sells.

benndeis, Friday, 10 June 2005 20:52 (eighteen years ago) link

I thought whoever did "The Personal Anthology" or whatever it was, was pretty good, but yeah, if the person doesn't know Argentinean Spanish they won't get it right. I remember reading a translation of Sabato's "On Heroes And Tombs" where the translator didn't seem to know that "buen mozo" meant "handsome."

k/l (Ken L), Friday, 10 June 2005 21:30 (eighteen years ago) link

two months pass...
i appreciated hurley's note about 'funes the memorious'.

Josh (Josh), Sunday, 28 August 2005 08:12 (eighteen years ago) link

Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes did translations of a bunch of Borges poems back in the eighties & nineties, many of them quite spectacular, but the Borges estate is really hands-on about who gets to publish - I have copies of some of their translations & they're stunning - would post one here but who knows how much trouble one could get in posting unauthorized translations

(paranoid I know, but the Borges estate...I've heard stories I tell you)

Banana Nutrament (ghostface), Monday, 29 August 2005 00:22 (eighteen years ago) link

If I was ever a translator, I'd definitely be asking lots of questions about cakes.

Forest Pines (ForestPines), Monday, 29 August 2005 06:53 (eighteen years ago) link

eight months pass...
I'm reading Labyrinths, having previously read the collections it collates; I'm finding Borges kinda less and more than I remembered. I think the J.E.I. translations make a difference. I think I'd read Hurley before, I might be totally wrong come to think, I definitely read 'ficciones' in kinda an old edition, probably am wrong. Huh.

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 20 May 2006 23:11 (seventeen years ago) link

I didn't remember 'Pierre Menard' reading so much like Swift, for example. Which gets to what I find different, everything seems less, well, utter, than I remember it being. ("utter" seems sort of like a Borges word, don't it? maybe not.) But reading like Swift makes it seem more like satire, thus less interesting. Something about the prose style seems to have an incredibly limiting effect on the stories, to whatever they might come to. (Which is interesting, actually, I'd kept him in my head as a writer for 'ideas', the memory of these stories being much the same as the stories: which this reread I'm thinking was completely wrong: anyway now there are lots of paragraphs I find myself just enjoying as collections of words, which is something.)

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 20 May 2006 23:14 (seventeen years ago) link

Here's an one of them:

"I now arrive at the most difficult point in my story. This story (it is well the reader know it by now) has no other plot than that dialogue which took place half a century ago. I shall not try to reproduce the words, which are now irrecoverable. I prefer to summarise with veracity the many things Ireneo told me. The indirect style is remote and weak; I know I am sacrificing the efficacy of my narrative; my readers should imagine for themselves the hesitant periods which overwhelmed me that night."

(tho partly i like this bcz it's a lot like stuff in the rhetoric of fiction which i read the other week: both of these being on the Barthelme list.)

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 20 May 2006 23:17 (seventeen years ago) link

two months pass...
Does anybody know if there is an English translation available of the lectures Borges gave in Beunos Aires in 1966 on English literature?

Jeff LeVine (Jeff LeVine), Wednesday, 16 August 2006 18:38 (seventeen years ago) link

two months pass...
It's a long shot, but after consulting libraries and mailing around, who knows – maybe someone at good old ILB can help me?

Short question: does anyone have an edition of the Irby translation of 'The Library of Babel' in which the line ...there are always several hundred thousand imperfect facsimilies: works which differ only in a letter or a comma (about three quarters into the story) has facsimilies spelled facsimiles?

Long explanation: I'm participating in a project to make posters and books inspired by the story. My starting point was to compare different editions/translations. I came across two Dutch editions that had a wonderful meta-discrepancy in the 'imperfect facsimilies' line quoted above, differing only in an apostrophe; facsimiles/facsimile's.
Now, this I turned into a nice poster, but ideally I'd prefer an English version. All the English versions of the story I've been able to find online (such as spell 'facsimiles', while the 1979/2000 Penguin copies of Labyrinths that I've checked spell 'facsimilies'. I'm hoping that this is not just an interweb typo and that there really is such a printed version.
If someone has the Di Giovanni translation, I'd be very interested in his rendering of this line as well, as I haven't been able to find him in Dutch libraries.

Please let me know if you have any info, or if you're curious about the project.

Orange (Orange), Thursday, 2 November 2006 19:36 (seventeen years ago) link

five years pass...

"Everything and Nothing" sends chills down my spine every time. I totally understand why people get deeply obsessed with Borges. I don't think any other writer moves me so deeply with so few words. After I first read "Library of Babylon," I had the darkest and most vivid nightmare of my life.

Dale, dale, dale (Abbbottt), Thursday, 3 May 2012 02:26 (eleven years ago) link

Everything and Nothing

Dale, dale, dale (Abbbottt), Thursday, 3 May 2012 02:27 (eleven years ago) link

five years pass...


The star attraction of the #Borges Foundation Musuem in BA has to be the oringial manuscript for The Circular Ruins (The crossed out titled is 'The Temple of Fire'). Precise miniscule cursive annoted with a key of astrological/alchemical-like symbols. And with illustrations.

— Paul Prudence (@MrPrudence) February 15, 2018

mookieproof, Friday, 16 February 2018 16:04 (six years ago) link

I loved The Aleph and Other Stories, 1933-1969 (also has backstories by JLB), and every other and Di G. translation I've come across, although the Estate apparently doesn't agree, and yes you have to dig on Amazon for them, but I found these, in a doc from three years ago, haven't had time recently to check again

from wikipedia
some found only by ISBN on Amazon, but has most I checked
Norman Thomas Di Giovanni trans and/or collabs
The Book of Imaginary Beings (1969)
Doctor Brodie’s Report (1972)
Selected Poems 1923-1967 (1972)
Borges on Writing (1973)
In Praise of Darkness (1974)
The Congress (1974)
The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969 (Dutton, 1978. ISBN 0-525-47539-7)
Chronicles of Bustos Domecq (Written with Adolfo Bioy-Casares) (Dutton, 1979. 0-525-47548-6)
Six Problems for don Isidro Parodi (1981)
Evaristo Carriego (1984)
A Universal History of Infamy (Penguin Books, 1985?. ISBN 978-0-14-008539-6)
The Book of Sand (Penguin Books, 1989?. ISBN 978-0-14-018025-1)
see also

dow, Saturday, 17 February 2018 02:37 (six years ago) link

I recall reading something about finding his definitive, personally approved english translator, then Penguin decided to get a new translation for money reasons. Could paying for a new translation really be cheaper than one that already existed?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Saturday, 17 February 2018 15:28 (six years ago) link


🐦[The star attraction of the #Borges🕸 Foundation Musuem in BA has to be the oringial manuscript for The Circular Ruins (The crossed out titled is ’The Temple of Fire’). Precise miniscule cursive annoted with a key of astrological/alchemical-like symbols. And with illustrations.🕸
— Paul Prudence (@MrPrudence) February 15, 2018🕸]🐦

Was that his handwriting? Was he legally blind but he could still read his own tiny handwriting, or was he not blind at the time? Oh I see, he went blind at 55.

Prometheus Freed's Rock and Roll Pâté (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 17 February 2018 16:42 (six years ago) link

xp Not only definitive and personally approved, but in at least some cases done in collaboration with Borges. They're essentially keeping Borges's own work out of print.

jmm, Saturday, 17 February 2018 17:15 (six years ago) link

Yes, at least in the case of Di G., I got the impression that ones presented as collaborations, and the others as well, were considered by the Estate to be essentially or too often exploitative?

dow, Saturday, 17 February 2018 23:13 (six years ago) link


Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 18 February 2018 01:55 (six years ago) link

"The Borges Papers" tells Di Giovanni's side of the story. ("In Memory of Borges" gives more more detail about working with B., among other good pieces on here.)

dow, Sunday, 18 February 2018 02:50 (six years ago) link

then Penguin decided to get a new translation for money reasons

I don't think it was Penguin, I think it was the estate. Not that Penguin is above bullshit moves.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Sunday, 18 February 2018 05:23 (six years ago) link

30+ years back two professors of mine were working on translations of the poems, which are incredible and into which they put a decade or so of work with the knowledge of the estate and poss penguin idk. when the rubber hit the road, new translators were commissioned (some of whom didn't actually speak Spanish iirc but who were doing the sort of "translation" that's a kind of "I write a poem based on a transliteration" thing that's so fuckin gross). my professors' renditions of 40 or so of the poems circulate privately & are quite good but yah much chicanery involved on the estate side.

she carries a torch. two torches, actually (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 18 February 2018 09:47 (six years ago) link

...onlly 20+ years back I should say, with some relief, that 30 was looking pretty intense

she carries a torch. two torches, actually (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 18 February 2018 09:48 (six years ago) link

still awake, i dug around a little - here's a letter from one of my professors, Dick Barnes, to Variaciones Borges, airing out his grievances with the estate and with, mainly, Viking (later Viking/Penguin I think). as I now work in books I do find some notes here a little odd - for example I personally would not undertake a lengthy work of translation unless and until I was under contract, because you never know where you stand until you're under contract. but the case for publication of the translations seems strong to me both on the merits of the work & the testimony of Merwin, Wilbur, et al; I treasure my copy of the small selection Bob gave me some years back.

anyway, an interesting read. Dick Barnes died in May of 2000.

she carries a torch. two torches, actually (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 18 February 2018 10:51 (six years ago) link

Thanks Dow and Chachi.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 18 February 2018 13:40 (six years ago) link

Remarkable document, thanks! Those verses---and so Merwin, Wilbur, Hollander withdrew permissions for their translations in protest, woo. Yeah, I've done extended writing on spec even when I was way too dependent on contract income, but sometimes that's---what happens.

dow, Sunday, 18 February 2018 17:36 (six years ago) link

way too dependent on *freelance* contract income, that is (def not rec).

dow, Sunday, 18 February 2018 17:38 (six years ago) link

four years pass...

Finally just now read A Universal History of Infamy (Dutton PB 1979, trans. by Di G.): each entry is just a few pages, and some may have just a few words that strike ancient notes of dread, doom, awe, blind memory, as our chatty tour guide takes us down the buried corridor, past the niche---so easy to just keep turning pages, 'til I find myself maxed out on infamy for the day or night, however flat some of the delivery (Di G. makes sure we feel the key details through sandals, also the overall distance covered in each little tromp). Nothing but surfaces, the author assures us in two intros, the self-amusement of a young man "who was unhappy," and we start with sociopaths carving their way through American wildernesses of infamy and other wilderness, but always with a few engaging quirks in the see-and-raise audacity of the lonely, latter several accounts of seekers going forth and down, often somewhat more obediently than the Americans--in abjection, and/or with a secret purpose, to a lowest point, where the worm can turn: lots of vengence in here.
Then again, there's the theologian who just keeps writing, leaving out the role of charity in salvation: he doesn't know he's dead, and the angels come around, present him with opportunities to change his mind, so he can get into or nearer heaven, or not the bad place, but even when he senses what is missing, and includes charity, his words soon disappear, because he doesn't really mean it, and he can't change his nature, nor can the angels, and his punishment, his fate, is cause and effect, nature beyond nature, the system---oops spoiler, but I left out some powerful imagery, and the experience that you can only get from reading the original.
(Not all of these are equally effective, and a couple of bonus tracks are only that, but overall effect---!)

dow, Wednesday, 20 April 2022 17:33 (one year ago) link

*Later* several accounts, I meant (faves are in the Middle East)

dow, Wednesday, 20 April 2022 17:36 (one year ago) link

six months pass...

I’ve got the Hurley translation in the collected edition which I bought in 1999 and finally read… today?

So I loved “Forking Paths” but, having read this thread, am I doing a disservice reading this translation — is there another translator that’s conclusively better?

Would be great to hear anyone’s recommended stories too

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 12 November 2022 23:01 (one year ago) link

I haven't read much Hurley, but all the other translations I've come across seemed pretty good--Alfred says the original Spanish text is tight, clean, so I guess hard to mess up, pretty much---but for nuanced precision my fave is Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, as mentioned upthread (good discussions on here). xpost Universal History of Infamy is the latest read from my JLB/NDG stash. Several translations mention a bar of sulphur in a desk drawer; Di G. presents it as "a candle."

dow, Monday, 14 November 2022 05:55 (one year ago) link

"a sulphur candle," that is---sorry!

dow, Monday, 14 November 2022 17:13 (one year ago) link

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