- Borges’s Philosophy of Poe’s Composition
Over the past three decades, several scholars have analyzed the rich literary relationship between Edgar Allan Poe and Argentine poet, short story writer, and intellectual Jorge Luis Borges. Maurice J. Bennett examined Borges’s tale “La muerte y la brújula” alongside Poe’s Dupin trilogy in his article “The Detective Fiction of Poe and Borges” in 1983 and then followed that article with “The Infamy and the Ecstasy: Crime, Art, and Metaphysics in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘William Wilson’ and Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Deutsches Requiem’” in 1986.1 John T. Irwin published what remains the most in-depth study of Poe and Borges to date in 1994. His book, The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story, not only reveals Borges’s centennial doubling of the Dupin tales with his own trio of detective stories but also stands out as an impressive volume of inter-American and interdisciplinary literary criticism that brings Poe’s and Borges’s fiction, chess theory, Greek mythology, psychoanalysis, mathematics, and a myriad of other subjects into a conversation that demonstrates the complexity of the literary relationship between Borges and Poe.2 Most scholarship on Poe and Borges, including the work of Bennett and Irwin, focuses primarily on the fiction of each author and only occasionally refers to their critical writings.3 At the same time, much Poe/Borges scholarship—especially the scholarship available in English—views Borges as a world writer reacting to Poe as both a precursor and a literary peer while deemphasizing the cultural context in which Borges interprets Poe.
Borges refers to Poe in over 130 articles, essays, and prologues, from his first written reference to Poe in 1923 to his last words about him in 1986, the year Borges died. He also mentions Poe in scores of interviews and collaborative works of literary criticism throughout his life. The sheer number of references over the course of the more than sixty years of Borges’s writing career [End Page 458] demonstrates both Poe’s lasting influence on Borges as a writer and thinker and Borges’s profound influence on how Poe was read and interpreted in the Río de la Plata region and in Spanish America during the twentieth century and how he is still understood in the twenty-first century. Both the extent and the influence of Borges’s readings of Poe in his literary criticism beg further study.
In this article, I analyze several of Borges’s critical approaches to Poe while outlining the regional context in which Borges offered these interpretations and examining the impact of his analysis, aspects that are lacking in many comparative readings of these two authors. I read Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” as a theory for writing fiction, and I engage Borges’s first interpretation of Poe’s famous essay—a 1935 newspaper article entitled “La génesis de ‘El cuervo’ de Poe”—to demonstrate how Poe’s Dupin trilogy enacts his theory far better than the theoretical essay itself. I examine Borges’s descriptions of his own writing process to show how he consistently performs intellectual tricks espoused by Poe—for example, the hiding of an object in plain sight—while overtly professing that the muse rather than the intellect serves as his creative spark. Finally, I reveal how Borges’s literary criticism both alters Poe’s Spanish American image from poet-prophet to masterful story writer and constructs a predecessor for Borges’s own short fiction.4
“The Philosophy of Composition” and/as Detective Fiction
Borges began his literary career in the 1920s as a radical poet and a talented literary critic who challenged the aesthetics of the dominant literary movement of the time—Spanish American modernismo. Launched by the 1888 publication of Rubén Darío’s Azul, modernismo was primarily a poetic movement concerned with beauty and art for art’s sake.5 Although Darío was Nicaraguan, he spent a significant amount of time in Buenos Aires, and some of modernismo’s most important writers hailed from the Río de la Plata region, including Borges’s fellow Argentine Leopoldo Lugones...