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  • Borges' Narrative Strategy
  • Silvia G. Dapía
Donald L. Shaw. Borges' Narrative Strategy. Liverpool Monographs in Hispanic Studies 11. Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1992. 191 pp. No price given.

Narrative strategy is the neglected aspect of Borges' fiction. However, Donald Shaw deals with this generally ignored aspect of Borges' writings. In his book Borges' Narrative Strategy, Shaw examines some of the more significant narrative techniques, frequently employed by Borges in his short stories. Thus, he discusses opening strategies, framing devices, pivotal episodes and shifting themes, interludes and inlaid details, narratorial stances, and closing strategies, within the framework provided by the interpretation of individual stories.

One of the merits of his study lies in the fact that Shaw stresses the need to work towards an interpretation in which significant details fit. His study draws extensively and incisively on the main scholarship on Borges and also contends with traditionally accepted interpretations which overlook indications or clues held out to the alert reader. Accordingly, Shaw calls into question, for example, the generally accepted interpretation of "La Casa de Asterion," which views Asterion as standing for mankind, and his labyrinth as the construct which he inhabits and regards as reality. This interpretation, in Shaw's view, leaves a number of questions unanswered. Hence, Shaw claims that Asterion does not represent man in general, but man possessed by evil. Furthermore, Shaw stresses Borges' notion that men tend to need a construct of reality, a means of imposing order to life. Thus, those converted to evil take refuge in an arbitrary cruel order in preference to having no order in their lives. [End Page 164]

Even though Shaw is primarily concerned with Borges' mature stories, he does not overlook Borges' narrative before 1940. Conventional opening, unexpected anticlimax at the end, and an incipient technique of ambiguous narration are some of the technical features that, according to Shaw, characterize Borges' early stories and are discussed in the second chapter of his study. Six chapters follow, each focusing on a different narrative strategy.

While Chapter Three explores foreshadowing devices, Chapter Four centers on framing devices. Foreshadowing devices are designed to announce the theme or themes of the story and are part of the story opening. Framing devices, by contrast, surround the kernel of the story and usually interact ironically with the central core. "Deutsches Requiem," "El Fin" and "Tigres Azules" are some of the stories analyzed in Chapter Three, while "El Zahir" and "El Aleph" are examined in Chapter Four.

Since a major feature of Borges' short story technique is that of suggesting assumptions to the reader and then betraying them, pivotal episodes assume a particular role in Borges' stories. Not unrelated to the question of pivotal episodes is that of shifting themes. Both strategies are discussed in Chapter Five, within the framework of individual stories.

In Chapter Six, Shaw concentrates on one of the more elusive aspects of Borges' narrative technique, his use of interludes. Illuminating in regard to Borges' use of this strategy is Shaw's analysis of the story "La escritura del Dios." In the next chapter, Shaw centers on Borges' narratorial stances, and in Chapter Eight he addresses closing strategies. Particularly revealing is Shaw's treatment of the closing strategy of "El Aleph," in which a further disturbing element is added to what seemed to be the original conclusion.

Donald Shaw, focusing on a formal aspect and not divorcing it from matters of meaning, has provided meticulous analysis of Borges' short stories. This book should be of interest to all readers of Jorge Luis Borges' work.

Silvia G. Dapía
Purdue University, North Central


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pp. 164-165
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