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Ficciones ()


New York Public Library's Books of the Century

    There is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately pointless.
        -Jorge Luis Borges

    Borge's gnosticism--his sense that the ultimate God is beyond good and evil, and infinitely remote
    from creation--is deeply felt.  But the sense of dread that informs his work is metaphysical rather
    than religious in nature : at its base are vertiginous glimpses of the collapse of all structures of
    understanding including language itself, flashing intimations that the very self that speaks has no
    real existence.
        -J. M. Coetzee, Borge's Dark Mirror (NY Review of Books)

A modern author who spends his life writing two chapters of Don Quijote, not rewriting mind you, but writing the original, a wizard who dreams a son into existence only to realize that he himself is but the emanation of another's dream, an infinite library, a man accepting a challenge to a knife fight which he can not possibly win, these are just some of the elements that Jorge Luis Borges draws upon in his stories.  These labyrinthine fictions loop back upon themselves and upon reality in order first to undermine the claims of reason and ultimately to call into question existence itself.

Borges was one of the great conservative authors of the 20th Century--his support for things like the Bay of Pigs invasion and his anti-Peronism are widely considered to have cost him the oh-so-politically-correct Nobel Prize--but his was a very particular conservatism, the conservatism of anti-Reason, of which the other great exemplar was Leo Tolstoy.  On first reading War and Peace, I couldn't understand how a supposedly great writer had made such an incomprehensible hash of the battle scenes, but in his great essay, The Fox and the Hedgehog, Isaiah Berlin makes the compelling case that Tolstoy was thereby attempting to show just how unsusceptible events are to the application of human reason.  Borges similarly challenges the central place of reason in the modern age, suggesting that existence is simply  incomprehensible, absurd, unyielding to human understanding or planning.  With this understanding of how subjective our interpretation of life is at the forefront of his work, Borges then proceeds to craft brief, tightly controlled, imaginative, stories which seem to play with the idea that the writer is the god of the literary world that he creates.

Of course, this too is a paradox.  Like the Existentialists, he is hoist on the petard of his own ideology.  If intellectual exercises are pointless, and his writings are nothing if not intellectual exercises, why devote his life to a pointless exercise?  Likewise, one wonders why anyone would produce such carefully constructed stories if all of existence is so essentially dubious.  The awkward answer can be nothing but faith.  God may be a distant figure to Borges, a non-existent one to the Existentialists, but the very act of continuing to write beautiful stories to argue their point of view, indicates that at some level they do find a purpose to life and do trust in the capacity of their own voices to influence other people and the future.  Borges shares a fascination with suicide or at least the acceptance of death with the Existentialists, but like them, he kept on going.  Their actions speak louder than their words.

Perhaps because of this central paradox in his work, I found it a little difficult to read the whole set of  stories straight through.  I got a sense that the author didst protest too much.  If everything is mere illusion, why'd he bother to write all of this & why am I reading it?  On the other hand, if you read them one at a time and let each roll around in your head, you really get a chance to savor their playfulness and ingenuity and to ponder the questions they raise.  I certainly recommend them, but suggest that they are best when read over a longer period of time. Don't get stuck on an airplane with just this book.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

Jorge Borges Links:

    -Internetaleph.com: Jorge Luis Borges (Martin Hadis)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "jorge luis borges"
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Jose Luis Borges (NY Times Book Review)
    -OBIT : Blind genius of faction : Obituary of Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine writer  (WJ Weatherby, June 16, 1986, The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES : Borges (NY Review of Books)
    -POEM : OF HEAVEN AND HELL by  JORGE LUIS BORGES and TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH BY ALASTAIR REID (NY Review of Books)
    -ETEXT : The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
    -ETEXT : The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges
    -ETEXT : Borges and I by Jorge Luis Borges
    -STORY : Ulrike (Jorge Luis Borges, NY Times Book Review, 1978)
    -POEM : The Art of Poetry by Jorge Luis Borges
    -LECTURE : Who Needs Poets? (Jorge Luis Borges, NY Times Book Review, 1971)
    -Coleccion Jorge Luis Borges (Fundación San Telmo in Buenos Aires)
    -The Jorge Luis Borges Center for Studies & Documentation
    -The Jorge Luis Borges Collection (UVA)
    -The Garden of Jorge Luis Borges
    -The Garden of Forking Paths, the Libyrinth's Borges site
    -Martin Hadis' page on The Life and Works of Jorge Luis Borges
    -TRIBUTE : Jorge Luis Borges (Empirezine)
    -Fantastic Philosophy: A WWW Site devoted to Jorge Luis Borges
    -OBIT : Jorge Luis Borges, A Master of Fantasy and Fable, Is Dead (NY Times, June 15, 1986)
    -TIMELINE : Jorge Luis Borges (Book List)
    -PROFILE : Borges, a Blind Writer With Insight (Israel Shenker, NY Times, 1971)
    -PROFILE : Meeting Borges (Alfred Kazin, NY Times, 1971)
    -PROFILE : BORGES ON LIFE AND DEATH (July 13, 1986, Amelia Barili, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : Librarian of Babel : The Gnostic imagination of Jorge Luis Borges (Robert Royal, Books & Culture)
    -ESSAY : The Talismans of Jorge Luis Borges (Paul Ingendaay, Frankfurter AZ)
    -ESSAY : Jorge Luis Borges & the plural I (Eric Ormsby, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY : Jorge Luis Borges : Quiet Executions Have Replaced Loud Bombs (Uki Goñi)
    -ESSAY : Webmaster Borges (Douglas Wolk, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Virtual Scholars in the Library of Babel (McKenzie Wark, The Australian)
    -ESSAY : Why Jorge Luis Borges Wished He Was an 'Israelite' : A Poet's Abstract Embrace of a People as a Literary Symbol (ILAN STAVANS, Forward)
    -ESSAY : Alongside The Dead In Argentina (Edna Aizenberg, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : THE WORLD; To Pushkin, Add Borges, Soap Opera And Smut (STEVEN ERLANGER, NY Times Book Review)
    -READING GUIDES : Jorge Luis Borges
    -REVIEW : of Ficciones (Mildred Adams, NY Times, May 27, 1962)
    -REVIEW : Oct 22, 1998 J.M. Coetzee: Borges's Dark Mirror, NY Review of Books
       Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges and translated by Andrew Hurley
    -REVIEW : of COLLECTED FICTIONS By Jorge Luis Borges  (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Collected Fictions By Jorge Luis Borges (Mavis Gallant, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (Henry Sheen, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of Collected Fictions (Marc Berley, Commentary)
    -REVIEWS : Borges under Review : Critical Responses to the Collected Fictions (Complete Review Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of This Craft of Verse by Jose Luis Borges (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World)
    -REVIEW : of THIS CRAFT OF VERSE By Jorge Luis Borges (National Post)
    -REVIEW : Nov 19, 1964 Paul de Man: A Modern Master, NY Review of Books
       Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer, and Harold Morland
       Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Donald Yates, and James E. Irby
    -REVIEW : of BORGES: A READER A Selection From the Writings of Jorge Luis Borges (James Atlas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SELECTED NONFICTIONS By Jorge Luis Borges (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Writings by Jorge Luis Borges (Allen B. Ruch)
    -EXCERPT : from The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux The Brass Plaque Said 'Borges'
    -REVIEW : of Borges : A Life by James Woodall (August 31, 1997, ROBERTO GONZALEZ ECHEVARRIA, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of "Conversations With Jorge Luis Borges" By Richard Burgin (1969)(Remy Inglis Hall, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of "Jorge Luis Borges: A Literary Biography" By Emir Rodriguez Monegal (1978)(John Sturrock, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges (Geoff Dyer, SF Chronicle)
 

GENERAL :
    -ESSAY :  REVLOUTION AND THE INTELLECTUAL IN LATIN AMERICA  (Alan Riding, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : A FEW WORDS ABOUT MINIMALISM  (John Barth, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : DOES THE WRITER EXIST?  (Joyce Carol Oates, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : ABOUT BOOKS; THE LIBRARY OF NONEXISTENT CLASSICS (Cynthia Ozick, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : A LEGACY OF POETS AND CANNIBALS: LITERATURE REVIVES IN ARGENTINA  (Luisa Valenzuela, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : with Eduardo Galeano : regarded as one of Latin America's fiercest voices of social conscience. Yet he insists that language -- its secrets, mysteries, and masks -- always comes first (Atlantic Monthly)

Comments:

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- Nov-26-2006, 13:51

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