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The Divine Argentine

This morning I wrote to my pal and co-conspirator Paul Marks. My subject was that idleness, not malice, is our biggest foe.

Then I wrote a piece about the genius of Borges. Then I read this.

Known for the nightmarishly dreamlike, surreal worlds he conjures up, Borges struggled with blindness and steered clear of writing novels, preferring to concentrate on shorter works.

This is almost true. Borges is on record as saying he wrote short stories and sometimes just paragraphs because he simply couldn’t be bothered to write novels. Other folks have said it was because he could say in a thousand words what lesser mortals would take a hundred thousand to say. I’ll buy that. Yes, blindness was an issue but so was glorious laziness. And so was the ability Borges had to condense. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is 1984 in a nutshell. Both are stories about the ultimate betrayal – the betrayal of reality itself. Orwell has 2+2=5, Borges has this…

“The metaphysicians of Tlön are not looking for truth or even an approximation to it: they are after a kind of amazement. They consider metaphysics a branch of fantastic literature”.

Borges is slightly more optomistic than Orwell. He states in an end-note to Tlön that it is a human labyrinth and therefore decipherable (meaning “destroyable”) by humans. What man can create, man can tear asunder! Reality is another matter. Being real helps for a start. And that is why Borges matters. He saw the ultimate issue was not left or right but reality versus invention.

A Universe without Borges is unimaginable. A rather Borgesian thought.

Despite the debt he is owed by authors from Gabriel García Márquez to Mario Vargas Llosa, Borges himself never won the Nobel prize.

Well, he wasn’t a magic realist was he? Borges wrote fantasy that saw the world more clearly than any “realist” – magical or otherwise.

My favourite story is “Death and the Compass”. It just edges “Emma Zunz”.

Seriously though. If you haven’t been reading Borges what the fuck have you been doing with your life?

6 Comments

  1. David Gillies says:

    I think my favourite is The Library of Babel. The idea that a finite (albeit very large) library could nonetheless contain not only all books that have been written as well as all books that ever could be written, is mind-boggling (but as Willard V. O Quine pointed out, a libary of two books, one containing a single dot, the other a dash, has the same property). Daniel Dennett explores some of the ramifications in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, one of those books that make you feel smarter for having read it.

  2. CIngram says:

    I’m not sure that García Márquez and Vargas Llosa do owe him all that much. Each has his own style and inspirations which didn’t really interact. I suspect the reference is a bit of laziness on the part of the Guardian writer.

    et caeterum censeo: lenguam hispaniorum esse studiandam

  3. Frank Davis says:

    one of those books that make you feel smarter for having read it.

    Which one? The one with the dot, or the one with the dash?

  4. Laird says:

    If you haven’t been reading Borges what the fuck have you been doing with your life?

    Clearly, wasting it. I suppose I shall have to rectify this clearly deplorable state of affairs.

  5. David Gillies says:

    If you find you like Borges, you might also like some of J. G. Ballard’s short stories.

  6. formertory says:

    If you haven’t been reading Borges what the fuck have you been doing with your life?

    I have to admit I’ve never read his stuff, and in fact, wondered “who?” when I saw all the chatter about his death. My loss, I’m sure; maybe Mrs F is right and I am indeed an uncultured Philistine.

    But that question means Ian Hislop need look no further for content for this weeks’ Pseuds Corner :-)

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