Translators Association – 60 Years of Classic Translations: Labyrinths (1962)

1962 is represented in The Society of Authors #TA60 series of classic translations by Jorge Luis Borges, whose surreal prose is often seen as having opened the door to magical realism.

The influential Argentine writer was largely unknown in the English-speaking world until he was awarded the prestigious Prix International jointly with Samuel Beckett. The following year (1962) his stories, essays and poems were translated and collected in two major anthologies: LABYRINTHS and FICCIONES. LABYRINTHS was edited and translated by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby, with contributions from Harriet de Onis, Andrew Kerrigan, John M. Fein, Julian Palley, Dudley Fitts and L. A. Murillo.

Borges went blind at the age of 55: by the time his work found international fame he was no longer able to read. He was fluent in several languages, including English and French, and his Spanish translation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” was published when he was only nine. In his early years as a literary critic he would sometimes publish original works and pass them off as his translations of imaginary authors.

In LABYRINTHS, his essay “The Mirror of Enigmas” examines different translations and interpretations of I Corinthians 13:12 and their implications. Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate… Are we looking through a mirror as through a glass skylight, or staring into it at a reflection? Is what we see a glimpse of divinity, or the infinite abyss of our own souls?

Staying in the realm of the enigmatic and surreal: a close collaboration between director Alain Resnais and the author Alain Robbe-Grillet resulted in the classic French Left Bank film LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. The screenplay was later turned into a “cine-novel”, which was translated into English by Richard Howard and published in 1962.

By Charlotte Collins

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