From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 14.1 (1994): 107-09.
Copyright © 1994, The Cervantes Society of America

Raffel Replys to Parr*

To the Editor:
     The trouble with what Professor Parr sees as a problem is, bluntly, that it has problems. I have nothing to say about his personal genre uncertainties: to be sure, if one were to read Don Quijote as, say, a poem in disguise, or a prose poem, or a translation from Sanskrit, varying readings would inevitably be produced. I read Don Quijote as a book, written by one Miguel de Cervantes, and take my cues —all my cues— from the text rather than from any critical stance. I too am a professor of literary studies, and have for my sins written my share of criticism and given the world the immense benefits of my share of scholarship. But a literary translator must, to the extent humanly possible, work from his text rather than from any and all preconceptions.
     Indeed, this is precisely what I have tried to do, and Professor Parr's chosen example, the dialogue between the Duchess and Sancho, II, 32, is I think an excellent example of his and my ineluctably differing approaches. I have a copy of Murillo, and have duly noted what is in that edition; I have a copy of Covarrubias and have carefully noted, too, what that invaluable source has to say. I have the O.E.D., and I used it to decipher Smollett's “bucking.” But I also have what Cervantes rather than any and all of these authorities wrote, and among other things the Cervantian text makes me ask myself, and ought to make Professor Parr at least ponder, is why on earth, if this passage is designed to exhibit, inter alia, the Duchess's “cruel humor,” Cervantes has her go on to say, as she does, “Mirad, maestresala . . . lo que el buen Sancho pide, y cumplidle su voluntad al pie de la letra”? Are we to imagine, if Professor Parr has correctly glossed these lines, that she is carefully instructing her maestresala to (in his words) “douse [Sancho] in the linen colander, if need be”? Would she be speaking of Sancho's “voluntad,”

     * This item is a reply to James A. Parr's letter “To the editor”, Cervantes 13.2 (1993), 135-37, which in turn was a response to Raffel's piece “Translating Cervantes: Una vez más.” Cervantes 13.1 (1993): 5-30. -F.J.


108 BURTON RAFFEL Cervantes

much less of observing it “al pie,” if that were the case? Sancho —who after all was there, as neither Professor Parr nor I were— has just observed that “un lavatorio de éstos antes es gusto que trabajo” (emphasis added). If both the Duchess and Sancho were thinking in the terms Professor Parr stipulates, would “gusto” be an appropriate word? We do indeed know that Sancho knows the phrase “meter en la colada”: quite so. But we also know that he is distinctly lecherous; that young and nubile females are doing the washing; and we know that “innuendo” is precisely what, under similar circumstances in this book (whatever its genre) the Duchess has employed. And will, in this same book, employ again. Must we, then, in the face of such contextual evidence, insist on absolute literalness of lexicon? That is not Cervantes's way. And if we refrain from imposing textbook-flat literalness on the lines in question, can we not remind ourselves that Cervantes frequently thinks, like most people, in metaphorical terms? Might the Duchess thus be saying, as I have made her say, something more like “if you like, we'll go even further than that”? Could that not be what the reference to putting someone or something in the “colada” really means? And, finally, isn't “meaning” what, as a translator, I am supposed to be after —not genre theory, not lexical knowledge which distracts us away from, rather than further into, the text being translated?
     I am sorry that Professor Parr thinks I am not aware (I teach in a department of English and comparative literature) of Smollett's dates. I am also aware, however, that my essay was appearing in a journal read primarily by Hispanists, and for their benefit I highlighted the now unusual spelling, in English, of “dutchess.” I was not thereby signalling: Look what an idiot Smollett is, not knowing how we spell this word, but simply: dear readers, this is indeed the spelling employed by Smollett. That seems to me no more than scholarly good manners, which is, alas, more than I can say for Professor Parr's frequently irony-laden comments on my essay. My “puff-piece,” as he calls it, will appear in Spring 1994, in not very different form, as chapter six of my Penn State UP study, The Art of Translating Prose, an immensely serious and scholarly volume with, I think, some moderately significant linguistic and literary things to say. Would he have me, or any translator, pretend not to prefer our own translations to those of others? Why indeed would we bother doing the translations in the first place? or have (in his

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words) “the temerity to launch a new version of the Quijote”? (There are of course those who fear any substantial, not to say any significant project. But ought we thus to penalize those who are not so afraid?) I am in truth saddened by any and all such displays. If it did not seem to me important to set the record straight, believe me, I would not have bothered (as I usually do not bother) to reply.


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