Friday, July 9, 2010

Borges, Revisited

"The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books." ~ Jorge Luis Borges, 10 November 1941

Among the most profound writers of fiction in the 20th century is a remarkable Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges. Like many great writers, he is steeped in the classic tradition. His story "There Are More Things" is extracted from a line in Hamlet. His references to Cervantes and other greats are too numerous to catalog.

But most significantly, his influence on peers and those who follow in his wake has extended globally to wherever fine literature can be found. Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are just three 20th century literary masters who tip their hats to Borges as their fountain of inspiration. The school of "Fantastic Realism" owes its debt to him as well.

If you seek stories outside the humdrum, that explore beneath the surface of things so as to stir up the unimaginable and make it yet more real than the Real itself, I recommend Borges with a full heart.

The quotes on this page today are from various essays by Borges, though his collections of short stories were what established him. My first encounter with Borges was the 1970-71 Fall Winter edition of the Antioch Review. Six short pieces like staccato gun bursts.

Some of my own short stories found their impetus in an idea that germinated from seeds Borges has sown. Readers who know the man's work will readily hear the echoes in these stories of my own: Duel of the Poets (which has been translated into Croatian for a poetry site), The Nonsense Room and An Unremembered History of the World, all of which can be found in my first published volume of fiction, Unremembered Histories.

In the meantime, here are some additional quotes and excerpts from Borges that will help give you a sense of his flavor.

"The original is unfaithful to the translation." On Henley's translation of Beckford's Vathek, 1943
"Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon." ~ Essay: "The Wall and the Books"

"It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much. It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious coordinations, one of them -- at least in an infinitesimal way -- does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others." ~ Essay: "The Avatars of the Tortoise"

"A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships." ~ Essay: "A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw"

"A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face." ~ Afterword to El hacedor, 1960

"Of course, like all young men, I tried to be as unhappy as I could -- a kind of Hamlet and Raskolnikov rolled into one." ~ Autobiographical essay 1970

If you liked this reprint of my 2007 blog entry on Borges, you might wish to check out Borges and I Redux

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