Translation as collaboration: Jorge Luis Borges's unfaithful relationship with literature from the United States




Hoag, Andrew

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Jorge Luis Borges presents a theory of translation in his essays and non-fiction that ultimately champions a paradoxical collaboration between author, text, and translator, all within the conflicting boundaries of each writer's historical and cultural context. He does this by attempting to change the traditional playing field of translation that inexorably binds the act of translation to one of two poles: faithfulness to the original text or obedience to the demands of the receptor culture. He breaks the translation free from its connection to the original not to forget the original but to view the two as individual versions of all the possible artistic manifestations of the textual world first imagined in the original, a process that he hopes to be collaborative. The question that I will explore is whether or not this hope for a collaborative translation process worked out in practice within Borges's translations of literature in the United States. In my analysis, I will explore his work with literature from the United States: short poems from Langston Hughes, Robert Penn Warren, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, and E.E. Cummings, all of whom he translated for Sur ; "The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe and "Mr. Higganbotham's Catastrophe" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, both co-translated with Adolfo Bioy Casares for their collection Los mejores cuentos policiales ; William Faulkner's novel The Wild Palms ; Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, the translation of which Borges published twice; several stories by Jack London; and his abridged version of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I choose to look solely at his translations of United States literature because this idea of collaborative translation holds significant implications when applied to a literary culture that has both already developed as its own tradition separate from Europe and held itself as the dominant literature of the Western hemisphere. In analyzing Borges's translations I argue that Borges presents not only a unique perspective on translation as art but also a model of his arguments for an Argentine literary style that capitalizes upon but is not beholden to the literary traditions of the Western world. Borges attempts to direct literary collaboration between U.S. and Argentine cultures in which the latter gains inspiration from the literary achievements of the former but is not obligated to conform to its cultural hegemony. In other words, Borges attempts to establish a model of literary collaboration between U.S. and Argentine cultures in which the latter gains inspiration from the literary achievements of the former but is not obligated to conform to its cultural hegemony. The position Borges puts himself and his fellow Argentine writers in, then, stands equivalent to the precarious place of the translator: in his conception, both the translator and the Argentine writer attempt to reconfigure something, whether a text or a culture's literary canon, that is not theirs and create something wholly new without obeying the traditional rules of the game, fidelity to the original for translation and the assimilation of the borrowed from culture's norms along with its artistic innovations. The question I will answer as I explore Borges's translations is whether or not his work exemplifies a successful endeavor at both of those goals: does Borges successfully construct new artistic texts not bound by faithfulness to their originals, and does he successfully establish a method for taking advantage of the accomplishments of U.S. authors without reifying the systems of domination that perpetuate the United States' attempts at asserting its control over the western hemisphere?


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Literature and linguistics, Argentina, Borges, Jack London, Translation, Walt Whitman