May 29, 2009
A More Complete Plea for Epigraph Help
Dearly Beloved Hivemind,
I need your help. And, I love you. We practically grew up together. Remember when I held your hand in the 90s when you were still so nebulous? Remember how I lent you my bicycle when we were in college? Remember when you drank a little too much and sent all that spam? Now that you’re so much larger and smarter, I wonder if you could help an old friend.
A year ago I found the perfect epigraph for SPELLWRIGHT. It comes from a heavy-weight Argintine poet named Jorge Borges. If you were an English major, you probably had to read his short about Don Quixote. Maybe you liked it. Maybe it spun your head right round (right round). Regardless, that’s not what I’m after. The quotation comes from a prolog to his 1968 book of poetry called “El Otro, El Mismo.” I’ve included it and my own—likely imperfect—translation below.
Suele olvidarse que son repertorios artificiosos, muy posteriores a las lenguas que ordenan. La raíz del lenguaje es irracional y de carácter mágico. El danés que articulaba el nombre de Thor o el sajón que articulaba el nombre de Thunor no sabía si esas palabras significaban el dios del trueno o el estrépito que sucede al relámpago. La poesía quiere volver a esa antigua magia. Sin prefijadas leyes, obra de un modo vacilante y osado, como si caminara en la oscuridad.
One often forgets that [dictionaries] are artificial repositories, created well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical character. The Dane who spoke the name ‘Thor’ or the Saxon who spoke the name ‘Thurnor’ did not know if these words meant ‘the god of thunder’ or ‘the din that follows lightning.’ Poetry longs to return to that ancient magic. Without predefined laws, it moves falteringly, bravely, as if walking in the dark.
-Jorge Luis Borges, “El Otro, El Mismo”
Here’s the problem. I don’t have permission to translate and publish this piece. IF YOU HAVE EVER COME ACROSS A PUBLISHED TRANSLATION OF “EL OTRO, EL MISMO” PLEASE PLEASE *PLEASE* LET ME KNOW. If someone has translated it, I could use ask them for permission to use their translation. The translation might also be in a collection of Borges work (I haven’t found one with it yet). However, a translated version of the above is ALL OVER THE INTERNET! Someone, somewhere must have published a translation. If you have any idea about where I might find it, please let me know.
Sadly, the quest to find this epigraph is looking so bleak, my agent has told me to start looking for plan B. Which leads me to my second request. If you’ve ever come across a quotation about the magical nature of language, please send it along to me.