- The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges ed. by Edwin Williamson
Edwin Williamson, author of Borges: A Life, a biography heralded in some circles and criticized in others (see David Foster Wallace's review in the New York Times Review of Books), edits this collection and writes its introduction. Most of the authors gathered to reflect on Borges's life and work are well-known in the field (Balderston, Echavarría, Fishburn, Kristal, Merrell, Olea Franco) but not all of them are specialists on the Argentine master. Given the extensive and frequently repetitive scholarship on Borges, it is quite difficult to be enthralled about still one more book about him. Yet, The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges is successful in achieving three main objectives: 1) introducing Borges's literature to the non-specialist while at the same time offering something of value to literary critics;2) providing a malleable structure, with chapters that alternate between a focus on themes ("Philosophy and Fiction," "Borges on translation") and a focus on specific works (The Aleph, Brodie's Report); and 3) presenting a comprehensive, kaleidoscopic, "Borgesian" view of the author's world. These objectives are enhanced by a detailed chronology, suggestions for further readings, and a subject index.
In the fourteen chapters, some critics make valuable contributions to Borgesian studies, while others cannot help repeating hackneyed ways of reading Borges or continuing to emphasize one aspect to the detriment of others. In particular, the first three chapters on philosophy, science, and theory offer interesting and relevant discussions on Borges's questioning of objective reality, identity and the self, realism versus nominalism in his fictions, and on his connection to the critical thought of Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, and others. Stemming from different approaches, both Levine's article on translation, and Fishburn's on Jewish, Christian, and gnostic themes are well-researched and elegantly-written, as is López Baralt's study of Islamic themes in Borges (she does not, however, pay attention to extant scholarship on "Ibn-Hakam Al-Bokhari, Murdered in his Labyrinth"). Fiddian's article on "Post-colonial Borges" also examines his relationship to the Orient, but through another lens: it seeks to dispel notions of Borges as a colonial writer (see, for example, Gerald Martin) and emphasize his role as a post-colonial precursor deeply rooted in Argentine and South American history. Meanwhile, Swan-son's essay on Borges and popular culture (tangos, detective fiction, cinemas, etc.) is most entertaining, combining a study of Borges's textual fascinations with this culture during the 30s and 40s—confirmed in 2016 by the publication of some lost lectures on the tango—with an examination of Borges's appeal to contemporary culture, Swanson exemplifies this with an episode of the television series Flashfor-ward entitled "The Garden of Forking Paths" that in some ways reenacts both the story by the same name and "Death and the Compass" (this is a real find; we do not share the author's enthusiasm for Alex Cox's adaptation of Death and the Compass for cinema, though!).
When we get to the analysis of specific books, we find trite or banal discussions like Balderston's (with phrases like "the games Borges plays here with both reality and fiction are highly complex," 122) and probing ones, such as González [End Page 504] Echeverría's study of The Aleph, which claims that the title story "sums up the other stories in the collection and the entirety of Borges poetics" (125). MacAdam's essay on The Maker is confused and confusing, since he spends almost half of it arguing with Borges about the things he did not say or clarify. Echavarría's perspective on Brodie's Report sticks to successful close readings of the stories, linked to the idea of the duel as a motif reflecting anxieties about social class; whereas Kristal's reading of The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory is descriptive but competent.
The next two chapters engage with Borges's poetry. Olea Franco's essay is, as usual, solid; his...