Still on Borges

«A new edition of The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges has just been published by Viking (ISBN 0-670-89180-0). The translation is by Andrew Hurley, but the new translation is not the only difference. This book has almost as bizarre a history as some of those in Borges's own fictions. (Then again, the history of the various collections of Borges's short fictions was quite convoluted as well. Perhaps it is just another self-referential aspect of Borgesian fiction.)

Let me start by noting that this work is a compendium of beings "created" by other people or traditions - Borges (and Guerrero -see below) merely collected the ones they considered the most interesting. So unlike Borges's fictions (such as "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"), one cannot analyze it as being strictly the creation of Borges's mind. One can, I suppose, ask why certain beasts are included, but given a co-compiler, even that is not as useful.

There was a 1957 book, Manual de Zoologia Fantastica, with the authorship given as Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero, containing eighty-two entries. A 1967 version, titled El Libro de los Seres Imaginarios, had some revisions and a hundred and sixteen entries, with the order re-arranged as well. The text for this is the text of all subsequent Spanish-language editions.

In 1969, a version in English (translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni) was published by E. P. Dutton, followed by one by Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom, and then an Avon edition, with Guerrero still listed, though in a lesser credit and misspelled as "Margaritta Guerro". (This was correctly spelled in my 1974 Penguin edition [ISBN 0-1400-3709-8].) The English-language version had four new entries: "The Carbuncle", "An Experimental Account of What Was Known, Seen, and Met by Mrs. Jane Lead in London in 1694", "Fauna of Chile", and "Laudatores Temporis Acti". There are also many changes other than mere translation from the previous Spanish edition. (I will mention some of these below).

A new Spanish-language edition was published in 1978. The order was changed for copyright reasons, but the four new pieces were not included. A 1981 Spanish-language edition came out in strict alphabetical order, again with the four pieces missing, and these have been omitted from all subsequent Spanish-language editions as well. Hurley has chosen to keep the revisions from earlier English-language editions only when these have shown up in subsequent Spanish-language editions.

Borges biographers Emir Rodriguez Monegal and James Woodall both claim that Borges worked with di Giovanni on the translation and contributed the new pieces as well. Monegal even says, "Its final version appeared in the 1969 English translation done by the author in collaboration with Norman Thomas di Giovanni." (Note that Rodriguez Monegal explicitly, and Woodall implicitly, consider Borges as the sole author, ignoring any contribution by Guerrero.) Hurley seems to feel there is no substance to these claims because the changes were not included in future Spanish editions. However, one needs to consider that Hurley is doing a translation, and could hardly claim to be translating passages that have not appeared in Spanish, but only in English and credited to other translators. The inclusion of these passages is therefore almost impossible in a new translation, so Hurley may have been swayed by practical considerations.»
Jorge Luis Borges's BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS by Evelyn C. Leeper


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