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Monday, October 11, 2010

Two Great Things (more, and of surely many more still) from Borges

Again from "The Aleph" --just two simple sentences:

"I come now to the ineffable center of my tale; it is here that a writer's hopelessness begins.  Every language is an alphabet of symbols the employment of which assumes a past shared by its interlocutors."

If you notice that these two sentences, out of context as they are, don't seem to coalesce, read them IN context.  Something about this blog is bringing me to see over and over again the subtleties wrought by context.  FASCINATING!  Take either of these sentences alone, and you could write a thesis; or, pen the right narrative and they can sit right next to each in perfect harmony.  It's kind of mind blowing.  Look at them!  They shouldn't be able to go together!



Notes from the translator, Andrew Hurley, on the collection, "The Maker," which has particular bearing upon the blog's brief tangent on ascribing meaning to words, especially across languages:

The Spanish title of this "heterogeneous" volume of prose and poetry ... is El hacedor, and hacedor is a troublesome word for a translator in English.  JLB seems to be thinking of the Greek word poeta, which means "maker," since a "true and literal" translation of poeta into Spanish would indeed be hacedor.  Yet hacedor is in this translator's view, and in the view of all those native speakers he has consulted, a most uncommon word.  It is not used in Spanish for "poet" but instead makes on think of someone who makes things with his hands, a kind of artisan, perhaps, or perhaps even a tinkerer.  The English word maker is perhaps strange too, yet it exists; however, it is used in English (in such phrases as "he went to meet his Maker" and the brand name Maker's Mark) in a way that dissuades one from seizing upon it immediately as the "perfect" translation for hacedor.  (The Spanish word hacedor would never be used for "God," for instance.)  Eliot Weinberger has suggested to me, quite rightly, perhaps, that JLB had in mind the Scots word makir, which means "poet."  But there are other cases: Eliot's dedication of The Waste Land to Ezra Pound, taken from Dante--il miglior fabbro, where fabbro has exactly the same range as hacedor.  Several considerations seem to militate in favor of the translation "artificer": first, the sense of someone's making something with his hands, or perhaps "sculptor," for one of JLB's favorite metaphors for poetry was at one time sculpture; second, the fact that the second "volume" in the volume Fictions is clearly titled Artifices; third, the overlap between art and craft or artisanry that is implied in the word, as in the first story in this volume.  But a translation decision of this kind is never easy and perhaps never "done"; one wishes one could call the volume Il fabbro, or Poeta, or leave it El hacedor.  The previous English translation of this volume in fact opted for Dreamtigers.  Yet sometimes a translator is spared this anguish (if he or she finds the key to the puzzle in time to forestall it); in this case there is an easy solution.  I quote from Emir Rodriguez Monegal's Jorge Luis Borges: A Literary Biography, p. 438: 'Borges was sixty when the ninth volume of his complete works came out.... For the new book he had thought up the title in English: The Maker, and had translated it into Spanish as El hacedor; but when the book came out in the United States the American translator preferred to avoid the theological implications and used instead the title of one of the pieces: Dreamtigers.'  And so a translation problem becomes a problem created in the first place by a translation!  (Thanks to Eliot Weinberger for coming across this reference in time  and bringing it to my attention.)"

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