Borges and His Fiction
A Guide to His Mind and Art, A Revised Edition
Publication Year: 1999
Published by: University of Texas Press
Preface to the Revised Edition
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Shortly after the first edition of this book came out in 1981, I experienced the enormous pleasure of receiving mail from complete strangers, broadly cultured nonspecialists who simply wanted to convey to me their appreciation as readers. A lawyer in Albuquerque, a painter in Chicago, a freelance writer in Connecticut, a ...
Preface to the 1981 Edition
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Writings on Borges now run in four figures. Despite this abundance, most commentators tend to give fragmentary views of Borges and his work. With a couple of exceptions, what has been lacking on the Borges studies scene is a broad and sensible look at the man and the artist, a book that would examine Borges’s relationship to his stories and his times, and that would discuss his significance for ...
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Numerous individuals have directly aided in the making of this book. To each and every one I wish to express my sincerest thanks. Different portions of the manuscript, in varying stages of its evolution, have been read by John Blegen of the State University of New York at Binghamton; by John Gliedman and Margery Resnick of ...
Note on Page References
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PART I: Borges's Worlds
1. Buenos Aires and Beyond
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Above all a superb author of fiction, but also a fine poet and a hauntingly original essayist, the elder Borges loomed infinitely larger as public figure than as flesh-and-blood individual—the personally shy, multilingually bookish, all but blind octogenarian who spent his final two decades living more or less alone in his native Buenos Aires. For, beginning in the 1960s, Jorge Luis Borges evolved as ...
2. A Sort of Life, a Special Mind
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Much of the shape of Borges’s artistry and intellect can be traced to his home life as a growing boy.¹ Born at the final stages of the nineteenth century, in 1899, he received no public schooling until his tenth year, owing to the Spencerian-libertarian beliefs of his father, who distrusted all activities of the State. Instead, he and his sister Norah received their first lessons from a resident tutor called Miss ...
3. What Borges Did for Prose Fiction
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Borges is one of the foremost literary innovators of the twentieth century, a true originator and discoverer, a master artisan and meticulous maker, a man whose verbal inventions have effectively altered, in both the Americas and in Europe, the guidelines for writing, reading, and judging prose fiction ...
PART II: Borges's Fictions
4. The Apprentice Fiction Maker
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Borges’s first attempts at fiction appeared in the oddly titled Historia universal de la infamia (1935; English translation, A Universal History of Infamy, published in 1972). It was a kind of entry through the back door, since this literary curiosity was initially conceived and produced not as a book but as journalism. The bulk of its contents first saw light in a weekly entertainment supplement, edited in ...
5. Ficciones I: Doubles, Dreamers, and Detectives
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Borges’s genius as maker of fiction at long last became fully manifest in 1941, his forty-second year, when El jardı´n de los senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), a thin volume containing eight fantastic tales, appeared. (This was also the year of the local scandal in which Borges did not receive the National Literary Prize for a group of stories that would eventually earn Borges, and ...
6. Ficciones II: The World Within a Book
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With characteristic understatement, Borges points out in his preface to Ficciones that ‘‘The Lottery in Babylon’’ is a piece ‘‘not entirely free of symbolism.’’ It is curious that Borges should so single out this one story, since all his narrative writings from this period have the symbolic aura ordinarily associated with his kind of fantasy. Indeed, close to one-half of the stories in Ficciones are symbolic ...
7. El Aleph I: Doubles and Puzzles
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Borges’s other major collection of stories, El Aleph, first saw light in 1949. To its original fourteen narratives Borges added four in 1952. Ten of these stories can be found in the Irby-Yates anthology Labyrinths; the remainder are gathered in the Borges and di Giovanni collection, The Aleph and Other Stories ...
8. El Aleph II: Tales of Action and Violence
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More so than Ficciones, El Aleph contains a number of tales dealing with various types of physical violence—underworld executions, rustic machismo, political killings, even pathological revenge. Borges’s famed erudition and fantasy tend to be absent from these stories, which are generally in the lean, unadorned, hard-boiled tradition. The only overt signs of Borgesian fancifulness in them are an ...
9. El Aleph III: The Visionary Experience
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The volume El Aleph contains a handful of formidable, imposing and somewhat longer stories that depict holistic experiences and convey a vivid glimpse of grand totalities, be these the mystical, unitary revelations of ‘‘The God’s Script,’’ ‘‘The Zahir,’’ and ‘‘The Aleph’’ or the multitudinous adventures, attitudes, and personalities of a universal wanderer in ‘‘The Immortal.’’ The first three of these stories ...
PART III: Borges's Place in Literature
10. Dreamtigers and Later Works: A Tentative Summation
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Borges’s output in prose fiction after El Aleph, though abundant, presents a somewhat changed picture. Of five subsequent gatherings, only El hacedor (literally ‘‘The Maker,’’ but retitled Dreamtigers in the English translation),¹ a thin opus first issued in 1960, is unmistakably of major artistic importance. The other collections ...
11. Literature and Politics North and South
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Surveying the sum total of Borges’s works, one is struck by a kind of ‘‘bulge’’ at approximately the middle of his career. This bulge constitutes the relatively brief spell (1939 to the middle 1950s) during which he produced the stories gathered in Ficciones and El Aleph, as well as the prose parables in Dreamtigers. Until then, Borges had brought out many of his strangely provocative essays and some lovely ...
12. Borges as Argentine Author: And other Self-Evident (If Often Ignored) Truths
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In a polemical essay first published in Salmagundi in 1980, George Steiner unfavorably compared the intellectual scene in the United States with that of Europe. And twice in that controversial piece Steiner referred incidentally to Borges, mentioning him in the same breath with European figures such as Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Webern, Joyce.
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Page Count: 351
Publication Year: 1999