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Collected Fictions (1988)
by Jorge Luis Borges
Magic Realism (45)
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Jorge Luis Borges is what Neil Gaiman wants to be. Both authors have a magical aspect to their writing, but for me, Gaiman tends to fall off the knife's edge of maintaining that consistent logical magic. Which makes Borges's writing all the stranger, because much of it actually seems almost random at times, but somehow he makes it all work.
This is partially because many parts of this seem like an almost reality of fiction… it's hard to tell what Borges is taking from other writers and what he's inventing whole cloth. Is nothing previously written? Is everything? Much of the writing is steeped in South American culture and history, particularly that of Argentine and Uruguay. Borges borrows, molds, marries, and deconstructs the histories and legends until it's not clear where reality ends and fantasy begins. Maybe there is a time when such spectacles happened, and our history just remembers it differently.
The magical aspects and ideas are so foreign in their concept that they always feel just out of reach. It's an idea that flits just on the edge of reason. Maybe all things are possible. Maybe a coin can have one side, maybe a man can be all men, maybe Shakespeare's memory can live on with another man so that he almost feels he is both himself and the Bard.
I wrote recently about the movies that may not exist without the film 8½, but I wonder the same with Borges. This is The Twilight Zone before The Twilight Zone. Certainly there are stories with ironic twists written before, but I have to imagine there's a straight line from some of Borges's work to the "What if?" ideas of The Twilight Zone, and by extension, all of its imitators.
An idea that recurs often in Borges's fiction is that a man does not have a fixed identity, yet man repeats endlessly in himself and other men. The most distilled version of this is the story 'Everything and Nothing' about Shakespeare. It posits that Shakespeare was never sure who he was, so constantly reinvented himself in the ideas of other people. (Sounds a bit like David Bowie, don't it?) From that constant need to reinvent and find who he was, we now have the most influential English-language body of work outside of The Bible. Married with this is the idea that your existence is inconsequential. It sounds nihilistic, but Borges is not. Your life may have no meaning save that you inspire a line of a poem. But what if it was the most beautiful poem ever to exist, and without your life-inspired line, it would fall apart? Your life lived, breathed, loved, lost, died; solely to exist and destined by God to live on and serve a greater beauty. Many may read it but none will ever know your name or the reason you did what you do. Borges reveals the questions of humanity inside his magical things.
A few lines I liked:
- ...but then, all our lives we postpone everything that can be postponed; perhaps we all have the certainty, deep inside, that we are immortal and that sooner or later every man will do everything, know all there is to know.
- there are those who seek the love of a woman in order to stop thinking of her, to put her out of their mind…
- The universe may change, but I shall not, thought I with melancholy vanity.
- ... in her walk, there was (if I may be pardoned the oxymoron) something of a graceful clumsiness...
- ...I enter the library. Almost physically, I can feel the gravitation of the books, the serene atmosphere of orderliness, time magically mounted and preserved.
- A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples the space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, dishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.
- The truth is that no one can hurt us except people we love.
- ...there are events that cannot be held to ordinary measures of time.
- No two mountain peaks are alike, but anywhere on earth the plains are one and the same.
- In order truly to see a thing, one must first understand it.… The savage cannot really perceive the missionary's Bible; the passenger does not see the same ship's rigging as the crew. If we truly saw the universe, perhaps we would understand it.
He may be considered a classic, but to my mind most of these stories just meanderd pointlessly then petered out.
One doesn't just read Borges, one experiences Borges.
The first book I read of his [The Book of Imaginary Beginnings] left me disappointed. I don't recommended reading that book first. I also thought he could of done a lot better with that book. With this book, I'm now a fan of Borges. I don't think he's the best short story writer I've come across (I'll get to that later), but I do think he knew what he is talking about and he can tell a story well.
Borges is kind of known as the master of metafiction. This book is called Collected Fictions, but let's use that term lightly. Some of these stories read like non-fictions. Some read short prose poems. This isn't your typical storytelling. Most of these stories will make you go to places you never been to before. Or maybe you'll travel to a time before you were born. Whatever it was, you don't need drugs are alcohol to experience Borges. Borges will take you anywhere you want and you can be whoever you want.
You can compare his style to almost any author you have read. Why? Well he himself has read a ton of books and shows. However, he mentions Shakespeare, Dante, and 1001 Nights constantly. I would recommended reading up on your classics before Borges. You don't really have too, but he kind of expects his reader to know what he is talking about some of the times. This short story collection isn't for readers who dislike old books or fancy writing styles. Borges loves the classics with passion. He kind of reads like a snob at times, but I totally get where he's coming from. He just wants you to read, understand, and love the books he loves.
One author that I thought he was similar with, that I'm not sure others would compare, is H.P. Lovecraft. They both place you in this dreamlike/realistic world. You become the characters in these stories, you share their thoughts and feelings. However, Lovecraft makes you feel insane and unconformable as Borges makes you feel intellectual and safe. I actually prefer Lovecraft over Borges. Lovecraft wrote about New England (my home) where Borges mostly wrote about Argentina (somewhere foreign to me).
Location and language is another factor that I feel like I have to bring up in this review. I feel like I can't fully understand everything Borges wrote in these stories. It helps to know about Argentina, it's history, and the Spanish language. I only speak English. This book is translated in English, but at times I feel like the translation is off. I feel like if I knew Spanish and read this in Spanish I would get more for these tales. Most translated books I don't feel like this, but this book is different. I think it's because Borges was a translator himself and langues, as these stories show, are important to him.
This isn't a book I'd recommended to others unless I know exactly what you like. Yes you might read a lot, but I feel like you have to study the books you like to full get this. I honestly hate saying this, but this is one book I feel like having a degree in English/literature helps. Of course I'd probably never have read this book if it wasn't recommenced from one of my favorite professors in college. I can see why she would recommended this book.
The long labyrinthian Lovecraft-esque stories from early on in his career didn't do much for me however the shorter pieces from later on in his life are quite lovely.
Belongs to Publisher Series
The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Artificios by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Dead Man by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Theologians by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Story of the Warrior and the Captive by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Life of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829-1874) by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Emma Zunz by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The House of Asterion by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Other Death by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Deutsches Requiem by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Averroes' Search by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The God's Script by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Waiting by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Man on the Threshold by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Zahir [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Aleph [short story] by Jorge Luís Borges (indirect)
The Gospel According to Mark [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Rosendo's Tale [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Intruder [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Meeting [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Doctor Brodie's Report [short story] by J. L. Borges (indirect)
The End of the Duel [short fiction] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Duel [short fiction] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Unworthy Friend [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Jean Murana [short fiction] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Elder Lady [short fiction] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Doctor Brodie's Report [short fiction] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
There are more things (Short story) by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Rose of Paracelsus by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Lottery in Babylon [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Library of Babel [short story] by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Funes the Memorious by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Shape Of The Sword by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Theme Of The Traitor And The Hero by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Death and the Compass by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Secret Miracle by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
Three Versions of Judas by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The End by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The Sect Of The Phoenix by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
The South by Jorge Luis Borges (indirect)
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (5)
The works of an Argentinian writer who took the detective story and turned it into metaphysics. They range from the 1935 A Universal History of Iniquity, a series of biographies of reprehensible evildoers, to the surrealistic August 25, 1983 in which Borges meets himself as an old man.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)863Literature Spanish and Portuguese Spanish fiction
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