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  • Borges’s Poe: The Influence and Reinvention of Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America by Emron Esplin
  • Whitney S. May
Emron Esplin. Borges’s Poe: The Influence and Reinvention of Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. 256pp. $44.95 (cloth).

Much has been done in recent scholarship to situate the work of Edgar Allan Poe within the frame of a “world literature,” and further, to sketch out the reach of Poe’s literary impact on a previously unexplored global scale. Transatlantic or European connections predominate, so there remain broad gaps in the geographic, as much as the literary, map of Poe’s influence.

Emron Esplin seeks to fill in a significant portion of this missing information by examining the manifold connections between Poe and one of his most prolific critics and translators, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges’s Poe turns an evaluative lens on this literary relationship in order to investigate, beyond Poe’s influence on Borges’s work, Borges’s interpretation, and thus his shaping, of Poe’s image in Spanish America. In this way, Esplin investigates a connection that, at first glance, might appear one-sided, and uses it as a foundation on which to challenge and reevaluate altogether our understanding of direct—in this case reciprocal—literary influence.

The book’s main persuasive force lies in the impressive depth of its research, particularly into the literary climate of Borges’s Rio de la Plata region of Argentina in Chapter 1. In order to demonstrate the significant impact that Borges’s scholarly attention had on Poe’s image in South America in the mid-twentieth century, Esplin opens his book with a comprehensive examination of the reigning image of Poe that Borges would go on to challenge, that of the modernistas. Whereas the modernistas viewed Poe with a decidedly Romantic undertone as a “poet-prophet” (Esplin situates them in the same camp as Baudelaire and the French symbolists), Borges saw in Poe a logical and methodical craftsman, and sought to rewrite the Poe of his predecessors. Esplin argues convincingly that Borges was successful in this endeavor, specifically by expanding the scope of Poe’s image and moving the focus from Poe’s poetry to his detective fiction and literary theory, and finally by continuously returning to this theory when criticizing the genre. The effect, Esplin writes, is that “Borges’s literary criticism continues to spread Poe—his Poe, the inventor of the detective genre, the author of Pym, the fiction master who dreamed of being a poet but found immortality through prose—to both regional and global audiences” (63). [End Page 196]

The modernista Poe—and Borges’s amendments to it—established up front, the central chapters of Borges’s Poe deal extensively and eloquently with the art and mechanics of translation. In Chapter 3, devoted largely to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and Borges’s two translated fragments thereof, Esplin promptly offers his own approach to translation studies in line with James S. Holmes and Itamar Even-Zohar before elaborating on Borges’s targeted translations of Poe, which seek to “emphasize what Borges sees as Poe’s genius (his imagination) while simultaneously minimizing what he sees as Poe’s primary weakness (his language)” (69). By providing textual support in the form of an impressive array of Borges’s essays and interviews, Esplin paints a comprehensive picture of Borges’s theory of translation before applying it to Borges’s translated fragments of Pym. By closely examining the original alongside Borges’s scrupulously altered translations (and Esplin’s own invaluable translations of Borges’s translations), Chapter 3 posits that Borges’s intentions in altering Poe’s original text allowed him the “opportunity to portray Poe’s longest, wordiest, and least-Borgesian piece of fiction as an example of, rather than an exception to, the detective genre that Borges sees as Poe’s most important creation” (80).

Chapter 4 follows a similar tack, though Borges’s translations of “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and “The Purloined Letter” offer, as Esplin avers, a more extended look at Borges’s revisionary tactics by way of his translations. Poe’s...


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pp. 196-198
Launched on MUSE
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