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Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)

Lifespan: 1899 - 1986

Related: faction - South America - 1900s literature - magic realism - experimental literature - postmodern literature

Photo of Borges, credit unidentified

No other author in the twentieth century has more successfully blended the the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic, blurring the lines between fict and faction, a genre we now call faction.

His favorite film director was Josef von Sternberg, whom he called a "cinematic novelist".

"I do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that adulated platonic entity known as 'The Masses'. Both abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time." — Introduction to The Book of Sand

Animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies. --The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

André Maurois ... wrote, "His sources are innumerable and unexpected. Borges had read everything, and especially what nobody reads anymore[emphasis mine]: the Kabalists, the Alexandrine Greeks, medieval philosophers. His erudition is not profound -- he asks of it only flashes of lightning and ideas -- but it is vast." Maurois was mostly correct; Borges read everything, but there was a lot he didn't finish, including "The Brothers Karamazov," "Madame Bovary," Proust and Thomas Mann. A great deal of highfalutin American and European writers left little or no impression on him (the major exception being the French symbolist poets, especially Paul Valéry). The last great modernist of 20th century literature drew his primary inspiration not from other modernists but from styles and modes of literature (fables, folk tales, ancient epics) that had become proud words on dusty shelves and from writers of prose and poetry such as H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, G.K. Chesterton (particularly the Father Brown mysteries), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Irish fabulist Lord Dunsany, and Argentine "gaucho" poets, writers who, for one reason or another, Western literature had relegated to the twilight realm of the praised but unread. He preferred genre literature to the deep-dish classics. --"Borges: A Life" by Edwin Williamson via http://dir.salon.com/story/books/review/2004/08/27/borges/index_np.html?pn=3 [Jan 2007]


Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899 - June 14, 1986) was an Argentine writer who is considered to be one of the foremost writers of the 20th century. A poet and an essayist, Borges is generally best-known for his short stories. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges [May 2005]

Borges: Selected Non-Fictions (1999) - Jorge Luis Borges

Borges: Selected Non-Fictions (1999) - Jorge Luis Borges
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... his nonfiction output was even more staggering: the young Borges cranked out hundreds of essays, book notes, cultural polemics, and movie reviews, and even after he lost his sight in 1955, he continued to dictate short pieces by the dozens. Eliot Weinberger has assembled just a fraction of this outpouring in Selected Non-Fictions, and the result is a 559-page Borgesian blowout, in which the Argentinean fabulist takes on being and nothingness, James Joyce and Lana Turner, and (surprisingly) racial hatred and the rise of Nazism. So much for our image of the mandarin bookworm! The very engagé author of this book seems more like a subequatorial Camus, with a dash of Siskel and Ebert on the side. ... Borges on King Kong is a hoot. --James Marcus

Other Inquisitions: 1937-1952 (1952) - Jorge Luis Borges

Animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies. --The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List of animals (Borges) [Sept 2006]

This work, here translated into English for the first time, is Borges' best collection of essays, and forms a necessary complement to the stories of Ficciones and El Aleph, which have made him famous. Otras inquisiciones was first published in 1952, but its pieces had appeared separately (most of them in Victoria Ocampo's review Sur or in the literary supplement of La Nación) over the preceding thirteen years. The title harks back to Borges' first volume of essays, published in 1925, when he was twenty-six. Those original Inquisiciones now seem to him affected and dogmatic avant-garde exercises; he will not have the book reprinted and buys up old copies to destroy them. --https://www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exboroth.html [Sept 2006]

Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote (1939)

Pierre Menard is a fictional 20th century writer, created by Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges's story "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote" ("Pierre Menard, autor del Quixote") originally appeared in Spanish in the Argentine journal Sur, May 1939. The Spanish-language original was first published in book form in Borges's 1941 collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths). That entire book was, in turn, included within his much-reprinted Ficciones (1944). Two English-language translations were published more or less simultaneously in 1962, one by James E. Irby in a diverse collection of Borges works entitled Labyrinths, the other by Anthony Bonner as part of a collaborative translation of the entirety of Ficciones published in 1962. The Bonner translation is reprinted in Borges, a Reader (1981). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Menard_%28fictional_character%29 [May 2005]

Ficciones (1944) - Jorge Luis Borges [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Reading Jorge Luis Borges is an experience akin to having the top of one's head removed for repairs. First comes the unfamiliar breeze tickling your cerebral cortex; then disorientation, even mild discomfort; and finally, the sense that the world has been irrevocably altered--and in this case, rendered infinitely more complex. First published in 1945, his Ficciones compressed several centuries' worth of philosophy and poetry into 17 tiny, unclassifiable pieces of prose. He offered up diabolical tigers, imaginary encyclopedias, ontological detective stories, and scholarly commentaries on nonexistent books, and in the process exploded all previous notions of genre. Would any of David Foster Wallace's famous footnotes be possible without Borges? Or, for that matter, the syntactical games of Perec, the metafictional pastiche of Calvino? For good or for ill, the blind Argentinian paved the way for a generation's worth of postmodern monkey business--and fiction will never be simply "fiction" again.

Its enormous influence on writers aside, Ficciones has also--perhaps more importantly--changed the way that we read. Borges's Pierre Menard, for instance, undertakes the most audacious project imaginable: to create not a contemporary version of Cervantes's most famous work but the Quixote itself, word for word. This second text is "verbally identical" to the original, yet, because of its new associations, "infinitely richer"; every time we read, he suggests, we are in effect creating an entirely new text, simply by viewing it through the distorting lens of history. "A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships," Borges once wrote in an essay about George Bernard Shaw. "All men who repeat one line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare," he tells us in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." In this spirit, Borges is not above impersonating, even quoting, himself.

It is hard, exactly, to say what all of this means, at least in any of the usual ways. Borges wrote not with an ideological agenda, but with a kind of radical philosophical playfulness. Labyrinths, libraries, lotteries, doubles, dreams, mirrors, heresiarchs: these are the tokens with which he plays his ontological games. In the end, ideas themselves are less important to him than their aesthetic and imaginative possibilities. Like the idealist philosophers of Tlön, Borges does not "seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding"; for him as for them, "metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature." --Mary Park, Amazon.com

via Anne Galloway http://www.purselipsquarejaw.org

see also: originality

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