Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
December 9, 2008 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Norman Thomas di Giovanni, translator for the 20th century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges's has recently posted on his web-site, his translation of Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, one of his most well known and greatest short stories.
posted by Fizz (14 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
These were already posted on the Internet of Babel, an internet that contains all possible web-sites.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2008 [5 favorites]

good xmas gifts:
collected fictions
selected non-fictions
selected poems
posted by ageispolis at 1:24 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

di Giovani's site is just chock full of great stuff. The 'Missing Borges' ("...bits of Borges that went missing when the work they were attached to was abolished from the English canon by the Borges Estate...") and 'Borges in Conversation' sections are especially good.
posted by jack_mo at 2:20 PM on December 9, 2008

I tried to teach myself Spanish with a copy of Labyrinths and a copy of Ficciones. It didn't end well.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:23 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read this story in Ficciones and it's one of my favorite of all time. I think Borges is unmatched in his ability to present his stories as truth. I believe in the story of Uqbar and Tlön because Borges never seems to be trying to convince me of anything -- then, once I'm there, I'm like putty in his hands.

By the end of the story he's taken full advantage of his ability to bend me all out of shape, and damn if I don't enjoy it.
posted by invitapriore at 2:37 PM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Was Norman Thomas di Giovani named for Norman Thomas, the perennial socialist candidate for U.S. president? I'm not sure why, but that would make me really happy.
posted by craichead at 3:00 PM on December 9, 2008

The blog Orbis Quintus has a writeup on the, er, situation with N.T. di Giovanni and Maria Kodama.
posted by cobra libre at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2008

Well there goes my evening. Thanks, this is great.
posted by Uncle Ira at 5:18 PM on December 9, 2008

One of my favorites is Of Exactitude in Science:

...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda
posted by null terminated at 6:13 PM on December 9, 2008

I've been rereading Ficciones the last two nights. Great book, great timing, great post.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:59 PM on December 9, 2008

this really pisses me off. i met Borges while at the University of Puerto Rico and later at NYU. one of his former assistants ended up being the chairman of the NYU Spanish department while I was a PhD candidate. to say he was one of the most interesting people i've ever met is to put it mildly.

Borges went blind very early in his "golden years" and ended up writing most of his work by collaboration. he made the careers of a lot of writers and editors exactly because he'd find collaborators who were glad to be his more the poet's writing instruments.

maria kodama was one of those people but for years she was only known as Borges' secretary and traveling companion. it was an actual shock for many that he ended up getting married to anybody needless to say to a woman since he was not known for letting himself fall prey to any passion --hetero, gay or otherwise.

it's why she's been colored in the latin american literary community as a gold-digger who resented being just the secretary but ran away with the jackpot. many were shocked that she managed to get married and set for life while alienating collaborators and colleagues of her former employer.

at one point i studied translation with Nicanor Parra's main translator ---ugh, her name escapes me right now but she also went on to do one of the best translations of El Quijote. i studied with her right at the time she was working on a second draft of the first Quijote novel.

translation is an inexact and there's many assumptions to be made. this former professor of mine had the luck of also working closely with Parra for her translations. she was awesome and demonstrated how difficult AND creative translating can be. it's why she encouraged people to try to work with the author of their translation work and no matter whether it was a novel or a court deposition.

in one of my translation projects i ended up having David Huerta's assistance with part of my translation of his poem Incurable (it's 200+ pages long). it's one of the most satisfying translation jobs i've ever had. there's nothing like having the actual writer guide you through what is basically their re-write in another language of their work. it's why di Giovanni's work with Borges is so important.

damn you maria kodama!
posted by liza at 7:50 PM on December 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

"Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" just warped my mind. What a difficult, but worthwhile read. I'm going to have to buy one of Borges' books and then crack its spine only when my brain is in top form.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2008

I'm familiar with the story behind the translation but, with all those considerations aside, I don't find this to be a particularly great translation.

The memorable beginning by Borges: "Debo a la conjunción de un espejo y de una enciclopedia el descubrimiento de Uqbar. El espejo inquietaba el fondo de un corredor..." is aptly translated as a 'conjunction' and the word to me feels more precise than di Giovanni's 'concurrence.'

Likewise, "el fondo de un corredor" is rendered as "the far end of of a corridor." Thats ok I suppose but the other translations have "the depths of a corridor." This is repeated by Borges a few lines later when he writes "Desde el fondo remoto del corredor, el espejo nos acechaba." which in most translations is "From the remote depths of the corridor, the mirror spied upon us." Again, "depths."

di Giovanni translates this sentence as "From along the corridor the mirror spied on us." From along?? Somehow that lacks the mystery and power of "depths" and also to my mind messes up the rhythm which Borges is establishing early in the story.

The problem with all of Borges' collaborators is that they all claim some sort of special status, that they know and understand the Master because they once touched him or read out loud to him, like say Alberto Manguel did. But the thing about Borges is that he is more Universal than that. The idea that knowing him grants special insight is, conversely, a very provincial idea. But that still doesn't stop so many from trying to claim him.
posted by vacapinta at 6:51 AM on December 10, 2008

I'm a huge Borges fan, and back in a much earlier era of the internets (~1999), I created a hypertext puzzle based on Borges' story "The Book of Sand", which I found (appropriately) in an out-of-print anthology of the same name on a library shelf.

It was all translated by Di Giovanni... and for my money, far superior to Andrew Hurley's renderings of the same pieces. Whether that's because I imprinted on the Di Giovanni versions, or because they really are better (and heavily shaped by Borges himself), it's impossible to say.

Di Giovanni's son actually e-mailed me a few years back, when he found my puzzle online. I've never heard from Di Giovanni himself, however.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:26 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

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