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Translators+of+1001 - Borges - “This is bound to be the...

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Unformatted text preview: “This is bound to be the most authoritative anthology of theoretical reflection on translation currently available in English. The selection of primary documents is varied and imaginative, the editorial introductions lucid and informed.” Theo Hermans, Unit/Unity College London, UK “This updated, greatly expanded Translation Studies Reader will prove ! indispensable to scholars, translators and students. The volume's iudi- T I t- d- cious selections provide a comprehensive, history of translation from e a u antiquity to the present and the terms of translation theory are critically r assessed through a rich topographv of subjects. As translation emerges a L, J p ti, 4,, is a focal point in the era of digital literacy and new media, Lawrence ; Venuti's Reader offers an invaluable index to defining the past and future task of the translator.” Emily Apter, New Yuri? Univcrmjv, USA Praise for the first edition ‘ Edited by “This is a remarkable selection of the most important twentieth century contributions to the principles and procedures of translation, but what makes this volume so valuable are Venuti’s insightful notes that bring these contributions into proper locus for both students and teachers oi‘ translation.” at am», ,w an. Eugene Nida, American Bible Society, USA ’a “Venuti's Translation Studies Reader reflects all ‘the Misery and the Splendour’ (Ortega y Gasset) of almost a hundred years of translation studies. This book, and the supplementary readings suggested by Venuti, provide (almost) a complete course of translation studies.” Hans Vermeer, I,eop0]d~Franzen5—University, .qutria “This book offers a challenging and stimulating perspective on transla— tion theory in the twentieth century, Many of the essays included in the collection are seminal ones, others are exciting, innovative pieces that invite us to reflect again on our understanding and knowledge of the translation process.” Susan Bassnett, The University of Warwick, UK T a; i a R0 tied e . Tayioly'J&Fran(isg'3roup 2 NEW YORK AND LONDON Chapter 9 Jorge Luis Borges THE TRANSLATORS OF THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Translated by Esther Allen 1 Captain Burton T TR I EST E, IN I 872, in a palace with damp statues and deficient hygienic facilities, a gentleman on whose face an African scar told its tale re Captain Richard Francis Burton, the English consul - embarked on a famous trans- lation of the Quitah ah‘flaila ua laila, which the mumis know by the title, The Thousand and One Nights. One of the secret aims of his work was the annihilation of another gentleman (also weatherb’eaten, and with a dark Moorish beard) who was compiling a vast dictionary in England and who died long before he was annihilated by Burton. That gentleman was Edward Lane, the Orientalist, author of a highly scrupulous version of The Thousand and One Night: that had supplanted a version by Galland. Lane translated against Galland, Burton against Lane; to understand Burton we must understand this hostile dynasty. I shall begin with the founder. As is known, jean Antoine Galland was a French Arabist who came back from Istanbul with a diligent collection of coins, a monograph on the spread of coffee, a copy of the Night: in Arabic, and a supple- mentary Maronite whose memory was no less inspired than Scheherazade’s. To this obscure consultant whose name I do not wish to forget: it was Hanna, they say ~ we owe certain fundamental tales unknown to the original: the stories of Aladdin; the Forty Thieves; Prince Ahmad and the Fairy Pcri—Banu; Abu al-Hasan, the Sleeper and Waker; the night adventure of Caliph Harun alvRashid; the two sisters who envied their vounger sister. The mere mention of these names amply ,wnafim ,H «.m 5‘ ~ «My mxt m . ms: at, m in q .n ~ warms Lanna I n. w .exanmxb. rum-i m u-wrmnummwwa m Wm ‘ ammwuwuam.» m mavmmmaaunmwsamn» m a new» wk «r r» ~» «x m r mnmmrma am Ms THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 95 demonstrates that Galland established the canon, incorporatng stories that time would render indispensable and that the translators to come «7 his enemies 7 would not dare omit. Another fact is also undeniable. The most famous and eloquent encomiums of The Thalian and (lnc Nights 7 by Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Stendhal, 'l‘ennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, Newman ~ are from readers of Galland’s translation. Two hundred years and ten better translations have passed, but the man in Europe or the Americas who thinks of The Thousand and One Nights thinks, invariably, of this lirst translation The Spanish adjective mi/yunanochcsco [thousan(l«and~one« nightscsquc] Inlf/I’llnunOChé’I‘O is too Argentine, niili’ununorturno overly variant W has nothing to do with the erudite obscenitics of Burton or Mardrus, and everything to do with Antoine Galland’s bijoux and sorcerics. Word for word, Ualland's version is the most poorly written of them all, the least faithful, and the weakest, but it was the most widely read. Those who grew intimate with it experienced happiness and astonishment. Its ()ricntalism, which seems frugal to us now, was bedazzling to men who took snuff and composed tragedies in five acts. Twelve exquisite volumes appeared from 1707 to 1717, twelve volumes that were innumerany read and that passed into various languages, including Hindi and Arabic. We, their more anachronistic readers of the twentieth century, perceive only the cloying flavor of the eighteenth century in them and not the evaporated aroma of the Orient which two hundred years ago was their novelty and their glory. No one is to blame for this disjunction, Galland least of all. At times, shifts in the language work against him. In the preface to a German trans— lation of The Thousand and One Nights, Doctor Weil recorded that the merchants of the inexcusable Galland equip themselves with a “valise full of dates” each time the tale obliges them to cross the desert. It could be argued that in 1710 the mention of dates alone sufficed to erase the image of a valise, but that is unnecessary: mh’se, then, was a subspecies of saddlebag. There have been other attacks. In a befuddled panegyric that survives in his i921 ,‘l’lorccaux choisis, Andre Gide vituperates the licenses of Antoine Galland, all the better to erase (with a candor that entirely surpasses his reputation) the notion of the literalness of Mardrus, who is asfin de siécle as Galland is eighteenth—century, and much more unfaithful. Galland’s discretions are urbane, inspired by decorum, not morality. I copy down a few lines from the third page of his Nights: “[1 alla droit d l'appartement-de (CITE princesse, qui, ne s'artendant pas ti [6 revoir, .avait recu duns son [it un des demiers olficiers de sa matron." {He went directly to the chamber of that princess, who, not expecting to see him again, had received in her bed one of the lowliest servants of his household] Burton concretizes this nebulous offirier: “a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime." Each, in his way, distorts: the ori— ginal is less ceremonious than Galland and less greasy than Burton. (Effects of decorum: in Galland’s measured prose, “recevnir dans Son lit” has a brutal ring.) Ninety years alter Antoine Galland’s death, an alternate translator of the Nights is born: Edward Lane. His biographers never fail to repeat that he is the son of Dr. Theophilus Lane, a Hereford prebendary. This generative datum (and the terrible Form of holy cow that it evokes) may be all we need. The Arabized Lane lived rive studious years in Cairo, “almost exclusively among Moslems, speaking and listening 96 JORGE LUIS BORGES to their language, conforming to their customs with the greatest care, and received by all of them as an equal." Yet neither the high Egyptian nights nor the black and apulent coffee with cardamom seed nor frequent literary discussions with the Doctors of the Law nor the venerable muslin turban nor the meals eaten with his ringers made him forget his British reticence, the delicate central solitude of the masters of the earth. Consequently, his exceedineg erudite version of the Nights is (or seems to be) a mere encyclopedia of evasion. l‘he original is not professionally obscene; Ualland corrects occasional indelicacies because he believes them to be in bad taste, Lane seeks them out and persecutes them like an inquisitor. His probity makes no pact with silence: he prefers an alarmed chorus of notes in a cramped supplementary volume, which murmur things like: I shall overlook an episode of‘zhc most rcprchens‘ih/e sort; I suppress a repugnant explanation; Herc. a line [at [on course for translation; I mmt of‘necess‘it)! suppress the other anecdote; Hereafter, a series o/cmissiuns; Here, the story ojithc slave Bujait, who/[y iiiappropriatejfor translation. Mutilation does not exclude death: some tales are rejected in their entirety “because they cannot be purified without destruction." This responsible and total repudiation does not strike me as illogical: what I condemn is the Puritan subterfuge. Lane is a virtuoso of the subterfuge, an undoubted precursor of the still more bizarre reticences of Hollywood. My notes furnish me with a pair ofexamples. in night .391, a fisherman offers a fish to the king of kings, who wishes to know if it is male or female, and is told it is a hermaphrodite. Lane succeeds in taming this inadmissible colloquy by translating that the king asks what species the fish in question belongs to, and the astute fisherman replies that it is of a mixed species. The tale of night 217 speaks of a king with two wives, who lay one night with the first and the following night with the second, and so they all were happy. Lane accounts for the good fortune of this monarch by saying that he treated his wives “with impartiality” . . . One reason for this was that he destined his work for “the parlor table,” a center for placid reading and chaste conversation. The most oblique and fleeting reference to carnal matters is enough to make Lane forget his honor in a profusion of convolutions and occultations. There is no other fault in him. When free of the peculiar contact of this temptation, Lane is of an admirable veracity. He has no objective, which is a positive advantage. He does not seek to bring out the barbaric color of the Night: like Captain Burton, or to forget it and attenuate it like Galland, who domesticated his Arabs so they would not be irreparably out of place in Paris. Lane is at great pains to be an authentic descendant of l‘lagar. Galland was completely ignorant of all literal precision; Lane justifies his interpretation of each problematic word. Galland invoked an in- visible manuscript and a dead Maronite; Lane furnishes editions and page numbers. Galland did not bother about notes; Lane accumulates a chaos ofclarif‘ications which, in organized form, make up a separate volume. To be different: this is the rule the precursor imposes. Lane will follow the rule: he needs only to abstain from abridging the original. The beautiful Newman» Arnold exchange (1861,» l 862) k more memorable than its two intcrlocutors m extensively argued the two general ways of translating. Newman championed the literal mode, the retention of all verbal singularities: Arnold, the severe elimination ofdetails that distract or detain. The latter procedure may provide the charms of uniformity and seriousness; the former, continuous small s 4 ~. 41...; t mm Mkume an it it ammW‘mnwmmnm maawmmiwu m um u w V‘n‘xmflfilv!“ XV m sizaw»mmwmnmtmwwm a m i v4 : x mm» g . 1 l1 . 2 6‘ 5% ’X 5 ‘2 s i: m fHE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 97 surprises. Both are less important than the translator and his literary habits. To translate the spirit is so enormous and phantasmal an intent that it may well be innocuous; to translate the letter, a requirement so extravagant that there is no risk of its ever being attempted. More serious than these infinite aspirations is the reten— tion or suppression of certain particularities; more serious than these preferences and oversights is the movement of the syntax. Lane’s syntax is delightful, as befits the refined parlor table. His vocabulary is often excessively festooned with Latin words, unaided by any artifice of brevity. He is careless; on the opening page of his translation he places the adjective romantic in the bearded mouth ofa twelfth~eentury Moslem, which is a kind of futurism. At times this lack of sensitivity serves him well, for it allows him to include very commonplace words in a noble paragraph, with involuntary good results. The most rewarding example of such a cooperation of heterogenous words must be: “And in this palace is the last information respect— ing lords collected in the dust.” The following invocation may be another: “By the Living One who does not die or have to die, in the name of He to whom glory and permanence belong." In Burton 7' the occasional precursor of the always fantastical Mardrus I would be suspicious of so satisfyineg Oriental a formula; in Lane, such passages are so scarce that I must suppose them to be involuntary, in other words, genome. The scandalous decorum of the versions by Galland and Lane has given rise to a whole genre of witticisms that are traditionally repeated. i myself have not failed to respect this tradition. it is common knowledge that the two translators did not fulfil their obligation to the unfortunate man who witnessed the Night of Power, to the imprecations of a thirteenth-century garbage collector cheated by a dervish, and to the customs of Sodom. it is common knowledge that they disinfected the Nights. Their detractors argue that this process destroys or wounds the good—hearted naiveté of the original. They are in error; The Book ofthe Thousand Nights and a Night is not (morally) ingenuous; it is an adaptation of ancient stories to the low—brow or ribald tastes of the Cairo middle classes. Except in the exemplary tales of the Vindibadmamah, the indecencies of The Thousand and One Night: have nothing to do with the freedom of the paradisiacal state. They are speculations on the part of the editor: their aim is a round of guffaws, their heroes are never more than porters, beggars, or eunuchs. The ancient love stories of the repertory, those which relate cases from the Desert or the cities of Arabia, are not obscene, and neither is any production of preslslamic literature. They are impassioned and sad, and one of their favorite themes is death for love, the death that an opinion rendered by the ulamas declared no less holy than that ofa martyr who bears witness to the faith . . . If we approve of this argument, we may see the timidities of Galland and Lane as the restoration of a primal text. 1 know of another defense, a better one. An evasion of the original’s erotic opportunities is not an unpardonable sin in the sight of the Lord when the primary aim is to emphasize the atmosphere of magic. To offer mankind a new Decameron is a commercial enterprise like so many others; to offer an “Ancient Mariner,” now, or a “Bureau ivre," is a thing that warrants entry into a higher celestial sphere. Littmann observes that The Thousand and One Nights is, above all, a repertory of marvels. The universal imposition of this assumption on every Western mind is 98 JORGE LUIS BORGES (jalland’s work; let there be no doubt on that score. Less fortunate than we, the Arabs claim to think little of the original; they are already well acquainted with the men, mores, talismans, deserts, and demons that the tales reveal to us. in a passage, somewhere in his work, Rafael Cansinos Assens swears he can salute the. stars in fourteen classical and modern languages. Burton dreamed in stwcntcen languages and claimed to have mastered thirtyrhve: Semitic, |)ravidian, indo- European, Ethiopic . . . This vast wealth does not complete his definition: it is merely a trait that tallies with the others, all equally excessive. No one. was less vulnerable to the frequent gibes in Hudihrus against learned men who are capable of “aying absolutely nothing in several languages. Burton was a man who had a consid- arable amount to say, and the seventyAtwo volumes of his complete, works say it \tlll. I will note a few titles at random: (inn and the Blue .ilountums ( I335 l ); .l (limp/ere System iy'Bayr'tinet Exercise (l8‘33); Personal Narrative o/Iu Pilgrimage to li/wllcdinuh and Meccah (1855); The Lake Regions of Central Equatorial .lfrica ([860); The (fit/V ujlthe Saints (186]); The Highlands Qj'the Brazil (1869); ()n (In Hermuphmilite'f‘mm the Cape ile Verde Islands (1866); letters/ram the Battlefield: t‘7/VPt1ft7‘L7UL1/V (1870); Ultimo lliule tl875); To the (in/d Coustfbr (Io/Ll (1883); The Book (if-the Sword (first volume, l884); The Perfumed Garden oft‘lieileh chkaoui er a posthumous work consigned to the flames by Lady Burton, along with the Priupeia, or the Sporting Epi‘qrums of Divers Facts on Priapus. The writer can be deduced from this catalogue: the English captain with his passion for geography and for the innumerable ways of being a man that are known to mankind. 1 will not defame his memory by comparing him to Morand, that seden- tary, bilingual gentleman who infinitely ascends and descends in the elevators of identical international hotels, and who pays homage to the sight of a trunk . . . Burton, disguised as an Afghani, made the pilgrimage to the holy cities of Arabia; voice begged the Lord to deny his bones and skin, his dolorous flesh and blood, to the Flames of Wrath and justice; his mouth, dried out by the samun, left a kiss on the aerolith that is worshipped in the Kaaba. The adventure is famous: the slightest rumor that an uncircumcised man, a nasrcini, was prot‘aning the sanctuary would have meant certain death. Before that, in the guise ofa dervish, he practiced medicine in Cairo e alternating it with prestidigitation and magic so as to gain the trust of the sick. In [858, he commanded an expedition to the secret sources of the Nile, a mission that led him to discover Lake Tanganyika. During that under» taking he was attacked by a high fever; in I855, the Somalis thrust a javelin through his jaws (Burton was coming from Harar, a city in the interior of Abyssinia that was forbidden to Europeans). Nine years later, he essayed the terrible hospi- tality ofthe ceremonious cannibals of Dahomey; on his return there was no scarcity of rumors (possibly spread and certainly encouraged by Burton himself) that, like Shakespeare's omniverous proconsul,l he had “eaten strange ilesh." The lews, democracy, the British Foreign Office, and Christianity were his preferred objects of loathing; Lord Byron and lslam, his venerations. ()f the writer‘s solitary trade he made something valiant and plural: he plunged into his work at dawn, in a vast chamber multiplied by eleven tables, with the materials for a book on each one A and, on a few, a bright spray of jasmine in a vase of water, He inspired illustrious friendships and loves: among the former i will name only that of Swinburne, who dedicated the second series of Poems and Ballads to him 4 “in recognition of a friend- ship which I must always count among the highest honours of my life” re and who a H N. albo v«i‘»& astovawm‘amtu :- venom»; a «was». as.” c m . Amawmm meme umme s emu.“ uwxuumwaxw. «macwummmmmwtmimmammum«an. «was warms/aw: s u 9 THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 99 mourned his death in many stanzas. A man of words and deeds, Burton could well take tip the boast of Almotanabi's Divan: The horse, the desert, the night know me, Guest and sword, paper and pen. it will be observed that, from his amateur cannibal to his dreaming polvulot l liavc not rejected those of Richard Burton‘s personac that, without (limitiisfinii'iit oi lcrvor, we could tall legendary. Mv reason is clear: the Burton of the Burton legend is the translator of the Nights. liavc sometimes suspected that the radicil distinction between poetry and prose lies in the «...
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