- Borges's Poe: The Influence and Reinvention of Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America by Emron Esplin
In Borges's Poe, Emron Esplin traces the connections between two of the Americas' most well-known authors. The book posits a two-way literary influence: Poe's work shaped Borges as a writer and thinker, while Borges's interpretations of Poe had a lasting effect on Poe's reputation within Spanish [End Page 472] America and beyond. According to Esplin, whereas turn-of-the-century Spanish American modernistas such as Rubén Darío revered Poe as a "poet-prophet," Borges redefined him as a writer of short stories and emphasized his favoring of reason over inspiration, thus transforming Poe into a precursor for Borges's own intellectual fictions. Although Borges was not the only author to undertake such a project, he was, Esplin argues, "the earliest, most insistent, and most successful catalyst" (45) for this rewriting of literary history. Esplin develops his argument through a variety of approaches, combining close readings of each author's works with analyses of manuscripts, personal notes, and translations. The result is a valuable contribution not only to scholarship on Poe and Borges but also to wider debates on the relationships among literary and linguistic traditions.
Esplin's Introduction situates the book within multiple critical conversations. Esplin explains that Poe scholars have long recognized the importance of Poe's nineteenth-and twentieth-century French advocates but have minimized the participation of other regions. As a consequence, "Poe studies as typically practiced in Spanish also fetishizes Poe as influence rather than confronting what Spanish American writers have done with/to Poe" (4). Esplin avoids this paternalistic mindset and joins an increasing number of critics who view the writers on equal footing, yet he goes further by calling attention to the spatial and historical context—the Río de la Plata region from the 1920s to the 1980s—within which Borges responded to Poe and modified Poe's reputation. This perspective allows Esplin to understand Borges as an Argentine and Spanish American writer who later attained global stature, rather than depicting Poe and Borges as static figures in the pantheon of world literature. Esplin places similar emphasis on context when locating his work within the field of New Southern Studies. Stating that "[b]oth Poe and Borges are and are not southern writers in the geographical and cultural senses of the term" (6), Esplin problematizes the concept of "southernness," pointing out, for example, that the history of Argentina more closely resembles that of the US North than that of the US South. Esplin values recent scholarship that has highlighted shared experiences across borders, but this book centers on the specific literary relationship that Borges created when incorporating Poe into his work and redefining him for twentieth-century Spanish American readers.
Borges's Poe is divided into three sections, each dedicated to one of the ways in which Borges changed Poe's reputation. The first section, "Renaming Poe," explores how Borges reshaped Poe through oral and written literary criticism. Chapter 1 contends that Borges interpreted Poe's analytic essay "The Philosophy of Composition" as detective fiction in order to undermine [End Page 473] Poe's image as a melancholic poet and recast him as the creator of the rational short story. Chapter 2 extends this discussion to Borges's lifelong interest in Poe, arguing that references to Poe in Borges's reviews, prologues, and articles on other topics depict Poe almost exclusively as a fiction writer, neglecting the poetry that had inspired the Spanish American modernistas. The second section of the book, "Translating Poe," discusses Borges's influential translations of Poe's work. Esplin now develops his argument from the perspective of Translation Studies, drawing upon the ideas of scholars such as James S. Holmes and Itamar Even-Zohar. Chapter 3 offers a side-by-side analysis of Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and Borges's partial translation of the...