On Self-Translation

Meditations on Language

By Ilan Stavans

Subjects: Language, Literature, Translation, Latin American Studies, Hispanic Studies
Series: SUNY Press Open Access
Paperback : 9781438471488, 284 pages, November 2018
Hardcover : 9781438471495, 284 pages, November 2018

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Table of contents

Part I. Meeting the “I”

On Self-Translation
Part II. Meditations


As It Were

Parable of Don Quixote

Finger Snapping

The Tenure Code


Ellipses and I

On Clarity

Part III. Beyond Words

On Being Misunderstood

Against Representation: A Note on Borges’s Aleph

The Monkey Grammarian

Midrash on Truth

Don Quixote in Schlemieland

Dying in Hebrew

The Reading Life of Ricardo Piglia

Adiós, Chespirito
Part IV. On Fútbol

“Sudden Death”

Van Persie’s Goal

Box of Resonance
Part V. Language and Politics

Trump and the Wall

Why Doesn’t English Have an Academy?

Shakespeare in Prison

The Spanish Language in Latin America since Independence

Against “Diversity”

Rolling One’s R’s
Part VI. Conversations

The Poet’s Alchemy (with Richard Wilbur)

On Silence (with Charles Hatfield)

Translating Cervantes (with Diana de Armas Wilson)

The Color of Existence (with Ryan Mihaly)

The Downpour of Inspiration (with Asymptote)

The Translingual Sensibility (with Steven G. Kellman)

Rescuing the Classics (with Lydia Davis)
Part VII. Onto Spanglish

Un Walker en Nuyol
Hamlet, Acto 2, Scene Dos [fragment] and Acto 3, Scene Uno
El Little Príncipe, Chapters I–IV
Don Quixote, Parte II, Chapter 72

Spanglish and the Royal Academy

About the Author

A fascinating collection of essays and conversations on the changing nature of language.


Finalist for the 2018 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the Essay category

From award-winning, internationally known scholar and translator Ilan Stavans comes On Self-Translation, a collection of essays and conversations on language in its multifaceted forms. Stavans discusses the way syntax is being restructured by texting and other technologies. He examines how the alphabet itself is being forgotten by the young, how finger snapping has taken on a new meaning, how the use of ellipses has lapsed, and how autocorrect is shaping the way we communicate. In an incisive meditation, he shows how translating one's own work reinvents oneself in another tongue. The volume includes tête-à-têtes with Pulitzer Prize–winner Richard Wilbur and short-fiction master Lydia Davis, as well as dialogues on silence, multilingualism, poetry, and the durability of the classics. Stavans's explorations cover Spanish, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and the hybrid lexicon of Spanglish. He muses on the meaning of foreignness and on living and dying in different languages. Among his primary concerns are the role and history of dictionaries and the extent to which the authority of language academies is less a reality than a delusion. He concludes with renditions into Spanglish of portions of Hamlet, Don Quixote, and The Little Prince. The wide range of themes and engaging yet informed style confirm Stavans's status, in the words of the Washington Post, as "Latin America's liveliest and boldest critic and most innovative cultural enthusiast."

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to Knowledge Unlatched—an initiative that provides libraries and institutions with a centralized platform to support OA collections and from leading publishing houses and OA initiatives. Learn more at the Knowledge Unlatched website at: https://www.knowledgeunlatched.org/, and access the book online at the SUNY Open Access Repository at https://soar.suny.edu/handle/20.500.12648/7138

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and the author of many books, including Borges, the Jew, also published by SUNY Press.


"…On Self-Translation: Meditations on Language, is, at its best, an engrossing potpourri of this thinker's continuing thoughts about language, culture, and the self … His capacious mind and intellectual verve are captured well in his short introduction." — The Arts Fuse

"On Self-Translation is a beautiful and often profound work. Stavans, a superb stylist, offers erudite meditations on translation, and gives us new ways to think about language itself." — Jack Lynch, author of The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of' "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park

"Stavans carries his learning light, and has the gift of communicating the profoundest of insights in the simplest of ways. The book is delightfully free of unnecessary jargon and ponderous discourse, allowing the reader time and space for her own reflections without having to slow down in the reading of it. This is work born out of the deep confidence that complete and dedicated immersion in a chosen field of knowledge (and practice) can bring; it is further infused with original wisdom accrued from self-reflexive, lived experiences of multilinguality." — Kavita Panjabi, Jadavpur University