Critical and popular acclaim of twentieth-century Latin American letters focuses on Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, the two authors most generally credited with awakening interest abroad in the literature of the Spanish-speaking Western hemisphere. The books reviewed here corroborate the far-reaching influence of these two authors.
The Emperor's Kites: A Morphology of Borges' Tales by Mary Lusky Friedman identifies imbedded in each of Borges' tales the ur narrative, "a story that coexists with the plot but does not necessarily coincide with it." To distinguish between these two texts, the individual story and the paradigmatic text, is analogous to Freud's differentiation "between the manifest and latent content of a dream." Lusky Friedman proceeds by first identifying the ur narrative, explicating its [End Page 263] presence in a representative number of Borges' texts, then turning to the questions of how the ur narrative evolved in Borges' A Universal History of Infamy. Next, other of the ur narrative's antecedents are sought in Borges' nonnarrative work, and, finally, the author hypothesizes that the process of mourning for his father provided Borges the emotional experience and state of mind out of which the ur narrative was metamorphosed into the mature texts of Ficciones and The Aleph, disguising "the motif of oedipal strife" and heightening "the irreality of his tales."
The Emperor's Kites is a well-researched, well-argued study that deserves critical attention. Lusky Friedman's thoughts on Oedipal strife lead her to consider at length two crucial aspects of Borgean technique: derealization of experience and impoverishment of the individual (the deemphasizing of personal circumstance). The latter topics as well as Lusky Friedman's discussions of the evolution of violence into mystery, the relationship between loss of selfhood, punishment, and mirrors; the development of the double; Borges' postulation of reality (verisimilitude); and other metaphors basic to the Borges oeuvre help, as well as challenge, the reader to decipher Borges' narrative world. Although Lusky Friedman couches in tentative terms her hypothesis that Borges' genius and the vitality of his work are a product of mourning, her recapitulation of Borges' aesthetic, philosophical, and literary preferences is certain and forceful. The only concern one might voice is that in spite of Borges' known playfulness and wryness, Lusky Friedman always reads Borges seriously, taking him at his word. Nevertheless, her scholarship is commendable, the volume has ample documentation with a Borges bibliography, and the physical volume is attractive and nearly error-free.
Textual Confrontations: Comparative Readings in Latin American Literature, although not about Borges, is informed throughout by his presence. MacAdam's presentation approximates a reading of Latin American literature through the filter of Borges' oeuvre. MacAdam's goal is to connect Latin American literature, "an eccentic branch of the Western tradition," with British and American literature "in order to reaffirm Latin America's place in that tradition and to explore those factors that render Latin American literature unique." He concludes that eccentricity in any Western national literature makes manifest that the Western tradition is "vast and growing," that Latin American writers share the belief that "literature ought to raise more questions than it resolves," and that Latin American writers share the belief that writers "are entitled to express their moral concerns in their writing, and critics ought to point out those concerns." In spite of the latter assertion, MacAdam elsewhere dismisses history-bound criticism as ignoring the artistic qualities of the text while simultaneously averring that Latin American reality "has been one of cultural and economic dependence coupled with intellectual eccentricity."
The present volume is ostensibly an exercise in comparative reading intended as an introduction to Latin American letters for the Anglo reader. The...