Borges and I


Another piece of revenant television to tick off the “When will I see this?” list. I mentioned David Wheatley’s film Borges and I back in January in a post about the director’s dramatisation of the life and work of René Magritte. Wheatley’s student film secured for him a job as a BBC director at a time when the Arena arts series was one of the best things being produced by the corporation. Borges and I was filmed in 1982 and broadcast a year later, an event I managed to miss to my considerable regret. Once again Ubuweb has turned up the goods with a copy from an American video tape. It’s not ideal—all the Spanish sequences would have been subtitled in the original broadcast—but I’m not going to complain. This 80-minute film is not only the best Anglophone documentary I’ve seen on Borges, it was produced in collaboration with the author who for much of the running time discusses his life and work in English. The tape copy also frustratingly lacks credits but the unseen American interviewer and narrator would appear to be translator and collaborator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, a writer who later found himself and his work marginalised by the Borges estate. Between the interviews and readings there are dramatised sequences from The Meeting, Funes, the Memorious, The South, The Circular Ruins, Death and the Compass, and The Sartorial Revolution, one of the collaborations with Adolfo Bioy Casares. Plus, of course, the expected complement of mirrors, tigers and a duel with knives. The budget must have been generous: scenes were shot in Argentina and Uruguay, and we also see Borges at his favourite lodging in Paris: L’Hôtel in the Rue des Beaux-Arts, a building which now bears plaques celebrating the visits of Borges and another famous literary resident, Oscar Wilde.

Previously on { feuilleton }
René Magritte by David Wheatley
L’Hôtel, Paris
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

3 thoughts on “Borges and I”

  1. I take that back: “English-speaking readers have been very poorly served. From the uneven versions collected in Labyrinths to the more meticulous, but ultimately unsuccessful, editions published by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, from Ruth Simm’s abominable apery of Other Inquisitions to Paul Bowles’s illiterate rendition of The Circular Ruins, Borges in English must be read in spite of the translations.” — A. Manguel

  2. Translation is an odd thing in Borges’ case, he probably thought about it–and referred to it in his fiction–far more than most writers. His first published work was his own translation of an Oscar Wilde story so it’s no surprise he had distinct opinions on the matter. I think there’s a quote (which I can’t find for the moment) in which he says it’s a mistake to try and be absolutely faithful to the translated author. I can go along with that so long as the translator’s prose works without pulling you out of the text; the best translations keep the translator as an invisible presence. My problem with Andrew Hurley’s recent Borges translations is that they make the translator’s presence very obvious with the repeated use of unprecedented American colloquialisms that seem quite out of place for a writer who was influenced by British writers such as Stevenson, Wells and Chesterton. So on that score I’ll prefer to keep reading the Andrew Kerrigan and Norman Thomas di Giovanni’s versions.

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