Sophie Hughes

Tour of Babel

Multiples: An Anthology of Stories in an Assortment of Languages and Literary Styles


Granta Books 380pp £20 order from our bookshop

For George Steiner, ‘the most acute, most concentrated commentary anyone has offered on the business of translation’ was Jorge Luis Borges’s short story and mischievous piece of literary criticism, ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’. In it, a narrator surveys the various approaches of Menard, a maverick translator, as he attempts a ‘total translation’ of Don Quixote. Menard first tries to write it by ‘becoming’ Miguel de Cervantes – a Borgesian allegory for invisible translation, in which nothing is added, nothing subtracted. When being Cervantes proves too simplistic for Menard, he decides ‘to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard’, recreating it line for line as if he had conceived it. The narrator declares Menard’s identical version ‘more subtle’ than that of Cervantes. 

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