This Article presents a reworking of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, as applied to the U.S. Constitution. In Borges’ original story, which deals with important issues governing interpretation, the creation of meaning, and the ascertainment of original intent, Borges’ fictional scholar, Pierre Menard, undertakes to translate Cervantes’ Don Quixote for a modern audience by creating a Quixote that could have been written by Cervantes today. To do so, Menard begins by immersing himself in the world of 17th century Spain, much as an originalist today might immerse him or herself in 18th century America, as a first step in providing an accurate, yet modern, “translation” of the text. As he undertakes the process of translation, however, Menard comes to recognize that the words and phrases used by Cervantes have come to mean something quite different today.
Further, he realizes that any change to the words themselves would fail to produce a truly modern translation of this canonical text because it would cause the loss of textual richness and interpretative understanding accumulated over generations. Therefore, in a stroke of genius, Menard recognizes that the best way to translate the Quixote to preserve the text’s modern meaning is to produce word-for-word, line-for-line “translation” of the antiquated original! It is important to note that Pierre Menard adamantly maintains that his word-for-word rendition of the original words is not simply a “copy” of the original text. Rather, as Borges’ original story suggests, Menard has actually produced a much more nuanced text than Cervantes, one that, though verbally identical, “is almost infinitely richer” in that the words penned by Cervantes no longer mean what they once did, but have become imbued with the accumulated historical understanding of many generations.