I am reading the much maligned Andrew Hurley translation of the collected fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorite writers. I have not yet sat down and compared, side-by-side, his translation of some of Borges’ more indelible works such as The Circular Ruins, but I have done some reading on Hurley’s translation. In particular, I read Hurley’s own account of the process. Having done so, I, at the very least, gained respect for Hurley’s methods while still withholding judgment on the end result.
I have now completed nearly three-quarters of the book and have come to a realization regarding Borges that adds credence to Hurley’s work. English-language fans of Borges (many of whom are physicists and mathematicians) tend to list many of his more mystical stories as their favorites – works such as the aforementioned The Circular Ruins, Death and the Compass, and The Zahir. Indeed, these are some of my favorite stories and, as with many English-language fans, were my introduction to Borges. But when one reads his full, collected fictions one finds that a good deal of his writing – perhaps the majority of it – deals with Argentina and related South American themes. These works, such as Man on Pink Corner, are less mystical but more violent. They are rich in the history of Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, with gangs, knife fights, gauchos, love triangles, and death. While they may not be my favorite stories, they are, to me, the ones that define Borges.
This, then, brings up the nature of Hurley’s translation. If nothing else, Hurley delved into the context within which the stories were written. While many people found his endnotes annoying (they’re just asterisks – you can ignore them), they supply the needed background for people unfamiliar with Argentine history and geography. One of the most criticized translations in Hurley’s volume was the title Funes, The Memorious which Hurley translated as Funes, His Memory. It certainly seems to lack the imaginative word-smithing we come to expect of Borges. But Hurley defends his translation by saying the Spanish word used for ‘memorious’ or ‘memory’ was not unusual to a Spanish speaker. So why translate it to something – memorious – that isn’t even a word in English? This raises the question of whether or not the English-language translators have created a certain literary persona that isn’t entirely accurate. While it might help to read the di Giovanni translations that Borges himself assisted with, it nonetheless seems that translators prior to Hurley have missed that Argentine essence that is at the heart of Borges, the man.
As I said, I will reserve full judgment until I compare some of the translations. But, from what I have read so far, I think that some of the criticism of Hurley has been unfounded and I think we have missed the genuine Borges in many ways over the years.