Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery

Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery

Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery

Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery


This book studies how Borges constructs a theory of translation that plays a fundamental role in the development of Argentine literature, and which, in turn, expands the potential for writers in Latin America to create new and innovative literatures through processes of re-reading, rewriting, and mis-translation. The book analyzes Borges's texts in both an Argentine and a transnational context, thus incorporating Borges's ideas into contemporary debates about translation and its relationship to language and aesthetics, Latin American culture and identity, tradition and originality, and center-periphery dichotomies. Furthermore, a central objective of this book is to show that the study of the importance of translation in Borges and of the importance of Borges for translation studies need not be separated. Furthermore, translation studies has much to gain by the inclusion of Latin American thinkers such as Borges, while literary studies has much to gain by in-depth considerations of the role of translation in Latin American literatures. Sergio Waisman is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at The George Washington University.


Ningún problema tan consustancial con las letras y con su mo
desto misterio como el que propone una traducción

[There is no problem as consubstantial to literature and its mod
est mysteries as that posed by a translation.]

—Jorge Luis Borges, “Las versiones homéricas”
[The Homeric Versions] (1932)

THIS BOOK STUDIES THE IMPORTANCE OF TRANSLATION IN THE WORK of Jorge Luis Borges, the importance of Borges for translation theory, and the highly productive fertilizations that can result from the cross between these two fields. In Argentina’s twentieth century, there is arguably no other writer for whom translation is as integral a part of his or her literary production as it is for Borges. In one way or another, Borges was an active translator throughout his life; significantly, this was an activity that he always kept close to his other literary endeavors. In fact, as Borges develops his narrative techniques in the 1930s, which culminate in his best-known fictions of the 1940s and early 1950s, his theories of translation become inseparable from his theories of reading and of writing. Translation and writing, in Borges’s texts, become nearly interchangeable practices of creation, of hermeneutic inquiry, and of aesthetic and ethical reflection. In the process, Borges defies the notion that translations are necessarily inferior to originals and valorizes an irreverent practice of mistranslation that lends an unexpected freedom to writers in the periphery. Borges’s position destabilizes the concept of a “definitive text” and challenges the supposed primacy of the center from where it comes, thus expanding the potential for writers in Latin America to create new literatures.

Translation—like any act of writing—is always undertaken from a specific site: the translator’s language, but also the entire cultural and sociohistorical context in which translators perform their task. Translation is not solely the transposition of a text from one Unguis-

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