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Tag: jorge luis borges

Short story: “Shakespeare’s Memory”

“Shakespeare’s Memory” (“La memoria de Shakespeare”), by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley

Original first published in a collection of the same name in 1983; Hurley’s translation appeared in the New Yorker on April 13th, 1998 (subscribers can read here); read by Hisham Matar in the December 2012 New Yorker Fiction Podcast (listen here); also in Collected Stories (Hurley again, Penguin)

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This story is kind of nuts. I feel like it’s about the weirdness of academic types more than anything else. I mean it’s also a fantastic examination of how memory works, how it affects personal identity, how it holds fast to seemingly trivial details and fumbles seemingly significant ones.

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A false emblem

“One will wonder quite reasonably why tigers and not leopards or jaguars? I can only respond that spots displease me and not stripes. If I were to write leopard in place of tiger the reader would immediately intuit that I was lying.”

—Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Christopher Mulrooney (found here)

I love this but I’m not sure I understand or agree. Surely we all disguise our experiences, at least in fiction, by substituting one specific detail for another. Surely readers can’t read our minds and understand that this particular symbol or emblem is a false one. It seems to me that including true details (like the names of real people we’ve known) serves only a private purpose, a magical purpose.

On an unrelated note, Mulrooney removes Borges’ comma from that last sentence. I wonder why? Perhaps the Spanish original has a flat or abrupt or emphatic tone that’s best captured in English by eliminating the pause.

Short story: “Blue Tigers”

“Blue Tigers” (“Tigres azules”), by Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Andrew Hurley

In the original Spanish, collected in Rosa y Azul (1977) and in La memoria de Shakespeare (1983); appeared in English in Collected Fictions (1998, Penguin); found online in the Independent; PDF here

4,386 words

Is it absurd for Borges to make me think of Lovecraft? The narrator’s abject horror at discovering the nature of reality. A hidden knowledge that means madness for anyone who finds it. Impossible arithmetic and non-Euclidean geometry. Anyway, I like this, it’s an eerie little horror/philosophy story.

On our resources

“A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

—Jorge Luis Borges in Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983, can’t identify the translator by googling (quote found here)

Flash fiction story or fictional essay or perhaps personal essay: “Borges and I”

“Borges and I” (“Borges y Yo”), by Jorge Luis Borges or “I,” translated by various

Appeared in Borges’ collection The Maker (El Hacedor), 1960; anthologized in the 1981 book The Mind’s IAntonios Sarhanis’ translation online here

345 words

A brilliant examination of personal and authorial identity. It makes me think (forgive me) that “Everything and Nothing” is autobiographical. The last line could be the last line of a horror story.

Antonios Sarhanis’ takedown of Andrew Hurley’s translation is interesting. I don’t agree with every choice Sarhanis makes, but I admire the translation and the thought he’s put into it.

Short story: “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology”

“Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology,” by Theodora Goss

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine in July 2014; there’s also a YouTube recording of the author reading it aloud at Readercon (the audio isn’t very good)

7045 words, according to Lightspeed

A fantastic riff on a theme by Borges (“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”).

I love failed Pygmalion stories, and this one doubles as a failed imperialism story, which only makes it more delicious.

On how genius is made; or, on how a self is made

“[W]e tend to think of, say, Borges or Nabokov as geniuses, but really what we’re seeing is people who from an early age had access to knowledge that is completely off the table in schools. The presumption is that children couldn’t possibly cope with all this. We don’t even give them the chance. We decide on their behalf what we will dole out to them. The self is a product of choices and individualisms, but there is actually a very narrow range of choices. One does not have the chance to choose, and yet one is meant to invest so much into the path that one has chosen among this very small number of paths.”

—Helen DeWitt in an interview with Mieke Chew of BOMB Magazine (found via Language Hat)

On the irrelevance of the reader

“As far as writing something is concerned, the reader really doesn’t exist. The writer’s business is somehow to create in the work something which will stand on its own and make its own demands; and if the writer is good, he discovers what those demands are, and he meets them, and creates this thing which readers can then do what they like with. Gertrude Stein said, ‘I write for myself and strangers,’ and then eventually she said that she wrote only for herself. I think she should have taken one further step. You don’t write for anybody. People who send you bills do that. People who want to sell you things so they can send you bills do that. People who want to tell you things so they can sell you things so they can send you bills do that. You are advancing an art—the art. That is what you are trying to do.”

—William Gass (here)

Compare Borges in “The Secret Miracle”:

“He did not work for posterity, nor even for God, of whose literary preferences he possessed scant knowledge.”

Short story: “Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel”

“Librarians in the Branch Library of Babel,” by Shaenon K. Garrity

Found here in Strange Horizons, October 17, 2011;  their 2011 Readers’ Poll gave it fifth place in the Best Story category; also nominated for a BSFA Award

4,101 words

A great homage to Borges’ “Library.” You don’t really need to read that piece first, either, since the opening sums it up. I love the bittersweetness of the ending, with its suggestion that this story could only be recounted by a failed librarian, someone left behind. And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

The characters are fairly flat, sketched out just enough to support the plot and philosophical musings. Their names are nicely chosen. We all know what to expect from a Bev, Carol, or Ted who works at an obscure library in suburban Ohio.

Best line ever: “As you know, we did not work at an infinite library where every other book is Stephen King’s Cujo. That library is in El Paso.”

On the superfluity of camels

“Some days past I have found a curious confirmation of the fact that what is truly native can and often does dispense with local color; I found this confirmation in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels; I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were especially Arabian; for him they were a part of reality, he had no reason to emphasize them; on the other hand, the first thing a falsifier, a tourist, an Arab nationalist would do is have a surfeit of camels, caravans of camels, on every page; but Mohammed, as an Arab, was unconcerned: he knew he could be an Arab without camels. I think we Argentines can emulate Mohammed, can believe in the possibility of being Argentine without abounding in local color.”

—Jorge Luis Borges in his essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” as translated by James E. Irby

Borges isn’t trying to give advice to falsifiers and tourists here, but I think what he says also applies to fiction writers trying to write outside our own experience.

By the way, sorry for the blasphemy, Muslims. (Or is it blasphemy to call Muhammad the author of the Quran? A good atheist ought to know these things. Anyway, googling the question hasn’t yielded anything.)