How did you discover Borges?
It was indeed a discovery for me. I stumbled upon him while going through one of his poems translated by Rafiq Azad in mid-1980s. Rafiq bhai translated one of his poems titled “The Knife ” and it caught my attention immediately. I was lured by the poet’s ability to infuse lifeless objects with life. I was introduced to Borges through this poem. Gradually I became apprised of his short stories and essays. It turned out that his prose attracted me more afterwards.
Why do you think Borges is important?
It is difficult to answer this question in a few words because he brings in many dimensions to his writing in perfect balance. When his book, Historia universal De La Infamia, was published, Spanish literature was confined within national and provincial boundaries. His difference from his contemporaries in terms of subject and form was evident in his first book. He was the first writer in Spanish literature to play with the ideas of protagonist versus antagonist, oriental versus occidental, justice versus injustice, moral versus immoral in a tone of sarcasm and ridicule. His craftsmanship is also remarkable. In order to tell new stories from new angles, he had to craft a new mode of narrative.
So, what are the characteristics of his new narrative? There are actually too many: one, preciseness; two, economy in description; three, inserting the infinite within the finite; four, pushing regionalism to the margins and giving a universal appeal to his stories; fifth, divesting prose narratives of verbosity altogether, and he took terseness to such an extent that he started believing novel was an imperfect narrative mode. There are many other reasons why Borges is important.
For example, in his stories past, present and future co-exist; in his stories good and bad coexist in one person. He blended history, fiction, philosophy and the complexities of human mind, creating an ambience where one is inseparable from another. He was also perhaps the first author to show us that an author can make use of materials from any source, be it oriental or occidental or Latin American, and successfully incorporate them in his work. It was he who, using an example from The Quran, showed us that even in the absence of any direct reference to one’s time and place, every literary work is intrinsically connected to a time place. Also, I believe it was he who showed us that philosophy too can be a useful material for fiction, which he explored in his story, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.
What do you think is the present condition of Borges studies in Bangladesh?
Does anything like that even exist? I am afraid the answer is: abysmal. There is a lot of interest about many western writers and little magazines bring out special issues on them, but I haven’t seen any such interest in exploring Borges. Some work has been done in West Bengal. A few days back I found out that Manoj Chakladar published a collection of all of Borges’s short stories, but the quality of his translation is pretty bad and his introduction is full of wrong information about the author. In Bangladesh special supplements have been brought out on Marquez and Mario Vargas Yosa, but i haven’t seen anything on Borges. Still, some writers are writing about him, and the interesting thing to note is the young generation is showing more enthusiasm about him than the older generations. I believe the youths will bring new life to Borges studies.
How much of Borges can be retained in translation?
To begin with, the English translations available to us -- not all of them are good enough. So, if anyone is basing his translation on such a text, I’m not sure how much of Borges can be retained in that kind of translation. Let me read a line from one of his stories to make my point clear.
“Every hundred paces a tower cleft the air, to the eye their color was identical, yet the first of all was yellow, and the last, scarlet, so delicate were the gradations and so long the series.” (Dreamtigers, Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland , Texas Press, 1991, p. 44)
This line is from his short parable called “Parable of the Palace”. Please notice how he invokes the infinite within the four walls of a palace. The contradiction he brings into play with different colours is very important here. Now if any translator, whicle translating it, thinks this is an umportant line and tries to condense or shorten it in any way, readers will be deprived of Borges’s sheer artistry. Therefore, if we are not careful while translating Borges, we will merely get his skeleton.
What aspect of Borges are you working on now?
At present I am investigating the presence of Shakespeare in Borges. While reading both of them side by side, I found some covert and some overt Shakespearean elements in Borges. So I’m thinking of working on this.
How was the response to your Borges series published by Oitijjho?
I’m not sure if it created a buzz in the market but it has surely been well received by readers and writers. I remember how happy Abdul Mannan Syed was with my work. Within two years of its publication, the story series was sold out and sales of the other series are also well. I think this is quite a big response to a philosophically oriented writer like Borges.
(Translated by Hasnin Hasan)