Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blogging Borges

I will be blogging about Borges' stories and essays for a while. I want to write about short succinct pieces of work (Borges rarely wrote long), presented in disciplined, short, succinct blog entries.

Before diving in, and because I am a narcissist, here’s how I first encountered Borges. I was in my early 20s, a sophomore in college, and my dad had arranged for me to work that summer on one of the seismic boats his company had in the Gulf of Mexico. (The company was Western Geophysical, which after many mergers and acquisitions is now WesternGeco and a subsidiary of Franco-American oil tools giant, Schlumberger.)

I decided to pack some books for the job, and the themes that suggested themselves were the sea (duh) and the exotic (which was a stretch since we never really left sight of the shore and worked mainly in Louisiana). For the sea, I picked Mutiny on the Bounty and Moby Dick, and for the exotic, I picked a V.S. Naipaul book (I think Guerrillas) and the Modern Library collection of Borges’ short stories.

These choices were more-or-less shots in the dark. But they were lucky shots. Mutiny on the Bounty was the least of them, and it was utterly entertaining and compelling. The others really nailed me to the wall, and I subsequently read everything I could of Naipaul and Borges. Borges also opened my eyes to Latin American literature as a whole, and the mid-80s was a good time to be into that—lots of cheap paperback editions of Latin American modern novels were being published. I especially liked Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, Vargas Llosa, and one that almost no one talks about anymore, Ignacio Loyola Brandão.

Borges turned out to be an especially rewarding writer. He was a prolific short-story writer and essayist, and he had his favorite subjects that he continually returned to. This kind of return could be tedious, but I never saw it that way. I saw it as him rolling them over and over in his mind. In his great essay “Kafka and His Precursors,” he links Kafka to several writers and literary works that in some way anticipate aspects of Kafka. It’s a delightful essay, and one that explained a particular Post-Modern notion of the author very well, but he unwittingly shows how his lifetime of learning combined with this process of rolling his knowledge and memories over and over like a gem polishing machine can lead to unexpected conclusions. Borges is so at home with his own influences—Kafka, Poe, Kipling, de Quincey, etc. Indeed, that sense of comfort pervades even his strangest works. He writes about the gradual replacement of our real world by the fictional world Tlon with all the “at-homeness” of Richard Russo writing about small-town New York State.

So I love this author, and blogging about him will give me a chance to revisit his stories and essays—a true pleasure.

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