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Paper Tigers: The Ideal Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges (review)

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 2, Number 2, Fall 1978
pp. 275-276 | 10.1353/phl.1978.0033

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Shorter Reviews2 75 a distrust of human nature, a recognition of man's susceptibility to anarchic impulse, which links the early thinker with the late, and which connects the poet of "The Ancient Mariner" with the foe of democracy. I think that Lockridge succeeds in establishing his claim that "the change in political orientation between the young and the old Coleridge is not so drastic as used to be thought" (p. 270); and I like the way in which the discussion, by concluding with an analysis of "Frost at Midnight," places the final emphasis where it surely should be placed, on Coleridge's poetic wisdom. My misgivings about this book are, firstly, that I sometimes find it hard to see the wood for the trees, and a greater attention by the author to chronology and historical background would have been helpful; and, secondly, that the accounts of the poems moved too rapidly towards philosophical paraphrase, spending too little time on poetic texture and imaginative impact. The book rightly points out that against Coleridge's tendency to lofty abstraction plays a tendency to sensuous concreteness, so perhaps the analyses might have given a little more attention to the latter. University of SussexCedric Watts Paper Tigers: The Ideal Fictions ofJorge Luis Borges, by John Sturrock; pp. 227. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, $12.95. It takes a brave man to essay a work on Borges's fictions and meditations on fiction, as Sturrock has done in Paper Tigers. A labyrinth has already got its own ineluctable logic and cold clarity; and a man who sets out to describe and explain one cannot be surprised if his listeners find his effort to be in exceptionally bad aesthetic taste. Sturrock has set out to describe and explain the labyrinth. And he has managed to get control of a large number of the turns by organizing them about his central thesis: the fictions of Borges are ideal. They are so in two senses. They are intentionally free of the particularism of verisimilitude. And as self-consciously general structures they take their place among the advertently (and inadvertently) fictional realities of the past and open themselves to the countless reworkings of uncountable futures. These two parts of the main thesis combine with the author's clear perception of a third factor, the degree to which Borges is unabashedly self-consciously self-conscious, to produce a book which is in the main readable, often insightful and on occasion beautiful. Sturrock's main thesis is not as clearly presented as it should be. The reader who discovers that Borges "does not belong to the school of Realism" (p. 84), having earlier succeeded in digesting the information that Realism is a matter of holding "that general terms have reality and are not merely convenient abstractions from particulars" (p. 24), is bound to wonder what meaning the 276Philosophy and Literature label "Realism" is intended to have. The problem dissolves when one notes that it has at least two of them. Sturrock wants to say that Borges is not addicted to a sacrifice of obvious authorial prerogative to create an illusion of actuality. Instead, he is devoted to the literary object as what it really is, a thing of words and a kind of matrix within which incalculable possibilities are to be tried so that the essential can emerge. But here too, Sturrock is less than clear. In his eagerness to avoid a conflation of fact and fiction, he tends to disconnect them entirely. Thus in the end, he quite fails to see the hidden humor in his own consistent position that the bulk of Borges's stories steadily illuminate the nonconnection between fiction and reality. Sturrock's own analyses of purposiveness in fictions, the structure of fictions, and the author's relation to his fictions are theoretically insightful and consistent. Of his retellings and interpretations of the stories, those which emphasize the act of fictioning itself are the best. His account of "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote," generates a strong sense of the great importance of a twentiethcentury Frenchman's rewriting Cervantes's work—by recopying it. By contrast, many other readings are flawed by an effort to explain what...