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.
That the translator always brings their ‘experience’ to the table is the ultimate lesson we take from Adam Thirlwell’s similarly playful project, Multiples, a short-story collection and quirky investigation into stylistics and translation. Thirlwell explains the ‘experiment’ in his introduction: ‘What would happen if a story were successively translated by