Possible worlds: textual equality in Jorge Luis Borges’s (Pseudo-)Translations of Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka

DeWald, Rebecca Maria (2016) Possible worlds: textual equality in Jorge Luis Borges’s (Pseudo-)Translations of Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3151709


This thesis re-evaluates the relationship between original text and translation through an approach that assumes the equality of source and target texts. This is based on the translation strategy expressed in the work of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and theoretical approaches by Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault, as well as exponents of Possible World Theory. Rather than considering what may be lost in translation, this thesis focuses on why we insist on maintaining a border between the textual phenomena ‘translation’ and ‘original’ and argues for a mutually enriching dialogue between a text and its translation.
The opening chapter investigates marginal cases of translation and determines where one form (original) ends and the other (translation) begins. The case studies derive from the anthology Cuentos breves y extraordinarios (edited by Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares) and include ‘pseudotranslations’: texts presented as translations even though no linguistic transfer precedes them. Another example is Borges’s self-translation of his Spanish poem ‘Mañana’ into German as ‘Südlicher Morgen’ for the Expressionist poet Kurt Heynicke. Although an original text, the pseudotranslation is judged as a translation, problematizing the boundary between the two. Since its perception changes over time, it unsettles the idea of the stable text by positing a text in progress. The analysis of the effects of the translation is supported by a discussion of Michel Foucault’s categorization expressed in Les mots et les choses (1966). Translations are regarded as coins, which gain value through their ability to represent, and create heterotopias: potentially existing non-places, which escape logic and thereby create an ‘uneasy laughter.’ Heterotopias are based on anti-logical orders, exemplified in the organisation of Antología de la literatura fantástica, collaboratively edited by Borges, Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo in 1940. This organisation invites an interpretation based on resemblance rather than comparison, the latter of which always results in the production and reproduction of hierarchies.
In Chapter Two, I uncover the fraudulent assumption that an original is a stable text. I make recourse to Walter Benjamin’s definition of origin in ‘Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers’ (1923) as ‘the eddy in the stream of becoming’, and André Lefevere’s notion of the refracted text, explaining that our first encounters with a classic text are mostly made through abridged, altered, and interpreted versions. Collaborative work also unsettles the idea of the single author as source and guarantor of authenticity, exemplified through examples of Borges and Bioy Casares’s collaboration, and Borges’s collaborative translations with Norman Thomas di Giovanni. I elaborate on Possible World Theory (PWT) following Marie-Laure Ryan and Ruth Ronen, explaining key terms and concepts and showing that PWT offers an alternative to thinking about the relationship of original text and translation as hierarchical. PWT can be employed to consider source text and target text to be possible, parallel versions of a fictional world. The findings lead to a link between authenticity and the different reception of original and translated texts. I note that the term ‘authenticity’, often used in reference to the original, also has ‘murderous’ connotations. Applied to a text, ‘inauthenticity’ might therefore be a more helpful term in discussing its ‘afterlife’ (Fortleben; Benjamin) as an inauthentic text. An effective way of ensuring a text can be read as ‘inauthentic’ is to dissimulate its origin and relations, whilst also unsettling the authority of the author and translator.
The theoretical examination of hierarchies and categorization is then illustrated in case studies analysing Borges’s contrasting translations of works by Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka. Chapter Three focuses on translations of Orlando and A Room of One’s Own attributed to Borges. While it remains uncertain whether Borges did in fact translate Woolf’s texts himself, the notion of ‘translatorship’ comes into focus. The continuation of claiming Borges as the translator serves to aid the publication of the translations by making use of the famous translator’s name. I give an overview over the publishing environment in Argentina of the 1930s into which the Woolf texts were translated, with particular focus on the readership of the publishing house Sur. I thereby foreground Victoria Ocampo’s particular interest in having Woolf translated into Spanish, since Ocampo considered Woolf a role model for feminism. Feminist discussions show parallels with the way in which translations and original texts are separated. Borges’s Orlando furthermore triggered controversy concerning his handling of gender issues. I offer a reading of the text along the lines of Feminist Translation Studies, as expressed by Sherry Simon, Luise von Flotow and Lori Chamberlain, amongst others. I argue that Borges’s translation can be read ‘inauthentically’ as fidelity becomes a movable factor. I regard the translations of Orlando and A Room of One’s Own attributed to Borges as texts translated in a feminist way as they offer many possible worlds of interpretation and much undecidability.
The notion of ‘translatorship’ is picked up again in the final Chapter Four, as it applies equally to the translation of Franz Kafka’s ‘Die Verwandlung’ as ‘La metamorfosis.’ Since there are different versions of ‘La metamorfosis,’ the quest for the translator also questions where ‘translation’ ends and ‘editing’ begins. The popularity of Borges’s version might furthermore be particularly linked to this uncertainty, as I argue that the veneration of Kafka’s work is, at least in part, due to the fragmentary nature in which his work survived. This incompletion enables many possible interpretations of his texts, which thereby appear as perfect pieces of literature since they, like Foucault’s coin, are uncorrodable and have the ability to represent, much like inauthentic texts. The ‘inauthentic’ literary treatment of translating in collaboration, as is the case when Borges and Bioy Casares translate ‘Cuatro reflexiones’, ‘Josefina la cantora’, ‘La verdad sobre Sancho Panza’ and ‘El silencio de las sirenas’ is hence particularly adequate for these fragments. The translations in collaboration, besides undermining the authorial genius of the single author, also feature particular destructions of the perfection of the original.
The concluding chapter summarises the findings concerning the questions as to why there should be a hierarchy between the reception of original texts and translations, why this hierarchy is so persistent, and what alternatives may be offered instead. I demonstrate how the selected case studies are exemplary of alternative approaches to Translation Studies and to what effect PWT and Borges have been helpful in pursuing this approach. I then suggest further routes of research, including: an increased visibility of translations in academic disciplines, through publishing books and reviews; further study on the translations of Argentine literature into an Anglo-American context and the ‘decolonized’ effect this could have; and an update of Feminist Translation Studies to expand it to Transgender Translation Studies. I finally suggest that the uncertain and unsettling effect brought about by translation in its creation of multiple worlds should be embraced as a way of reading and writing inauthentically.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Earlier thoughts on some of the aspects and texts discussed in this thesis have been published in two collected volumes: Rebecca DeWald, ‘“A Dialogue… about This Beauty and Truth”: Jorge Luis Borges’s Translation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando’, in Contradictory Woolf: Selected Papers from the Twenty-First Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, ed. by Derek Ryan and Stella Bolaki (Clemson: Clemson University Digital Press, 2012), pp.243–49. Rebecca DeWald, ‘Borges and Borders: Identity, Imagination, Translation’, in Bonds and Borders: Identity, Imagination and Transformation in Literature, ed. by Rebecca DeWald and Dorette Sobolewski (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011), pp.39–49.
Keywords: Translation studies, Jorge Luis Borges, translation theory, literary translation, hispanic studies, pseudotranslation, Sur, collaborative translation, literary theory, collaboration.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages
P Language and Literature > PC Romance languages
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
College of Arts & Humanities > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Hispanic Studies
Supervisor's Name: Benavente, Dr. Karen
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Ms Rebecca M DeWald
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7183
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2016 08:31
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2019 09:23
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7183

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