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Borges: Collected Fictions (original 1998; edition 1999)

by Jorge Luis Borges

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Member:Jeefrs
Title:Borges: Collected Fictions
Authors:Jorge Luis Borges
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1999), Paperback
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Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (1998)

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English (34)  Spanish (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
"Hey guys, what's going on?"
"The party's over. That, Justin, is how late to the party you are. It is over."

I have no idea why it took me so long to get to Borges. Perhaps because I mostly read second hand books, and nobody trades in his books? Perhaps because I spent a solid portion of my youth believing that only tremendously depressing books could be interesting? Perhaps because, had I read him before now, I would have been enraged at his disinterest in politics and then his proud 'liberalism'?

In any case, I found a copy at a thrift store, have realized that funny/joyous books can be important and fascinating, and, luckily, the fiction isn't as open to self-congratulatory critics saying things like "Borges knew all along that trying to help poor people results in evil, see?"

He wrote three kinds of story: metaphysical tales, which take place in an imaginary world or in which someone has a super-power or Arabian Nights style trinket (special bonus: Borges convinced me to start on the 1001 Nights, and it is *fabulous*); literary critical tales in which the same kinds of things happen, but in a book that somebody's reading; and stories about gauchos.

In his non-fiction, Borges states, repeatedly, the obvious but often ignored fact that all literature relies on context for its power; he goes so far as to imply that great works are read as great works only because that's how they've previously been read--and that that's okay. The point is: I have *no* context whatsoever for the gaucho stories. I know nothing about the revolutions in South America, or the civil wars, or, indeed, any of the history there until the twentieth century. Nor have I read Martin Fierro. So it has to be taken with a grain of salt, but, I don't think the gaucho tales are worth reading, and I certainly won't be re-reading them.

The metaphysical and literary critical tales, particularly those in 'Fictions,' 'The Aleph,' 'The Book of Sand,' and 'Shakespeare's Memory,' on the other hand, have made me think I should read more short stories. I'll be disappointed, because I'll read some Cheever knock-off that will bore me silly, and then I'll return to these books.

They're a fabulous example of why everything people say about literature in high school is wrong. You don't need developing characters; you don't need deep psychological insights; you don't need wondrous epiphanies. You can do without all of that if you have a story worth telling, and the story can come in any form.

In Borges' case, that means you can write the most Alexandrine, hermetic kinds of things possible--but if you do it with joy and a good tale, people will fall over themselves to shower you with praise and awards, and your books will pass down from parents to children for generations. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I'm afraid Borges' fictions suffered, for me, from expectations that had, over the years, been built up to far too great a height. I began this book expecting to have my socks knocked off, and while the stories were mostly quite good, my socks stayed firmly planted and there were a fair number of these that simply underwhelmed. I think I'll have to try again some other time with some sections to see whether it was simply a matter of timing. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Oct 12, 2013 |
“You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?” Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”

Even though I read Borges’s “Collected Fictions” in Spanish, my native tongue, I have to confess I didn’t understand half of it. Presumptuous of me to think I would. Famous for being the founder of postmodernist literature and influenced by the work of fantasists such Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, whom I adore, I was naive enough to assume I would be able to untangle Borges’s labyrinthine, almost rigorously mathematical style to form a coherent opinion of his short narratives. I was also deceived by the apparent simplicity of the tales which turned out to be complex, condensed and thought provoking meditations about philosophical and existential issues.

Borges’s enormous erudition, which might be appealing to others, worked the other way round for me, leaving me mostly frustrated by the multitude of literary allusions from cultures around the globe which I struggled to connect with the meaning of his surrealist inventions. It seems this proved to be too much of a strenuous task for my ignorant self.

The blurred line between reality and dream challenged comprehension in tales such as “Tlon, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius” where Borges depicts an ideal, metaphysic world made real by the power of imagination.

The same idea is reinforced in “The Circular Ruins” , in which a man is able to create a son only dreaming about him. Later, after the man accomplishes his goal, much to my astonishment, he discovers that he in turn is being dreamt by someone else. The tittle, which also notes the mythical temple where the man appears out of nowhere (maybe time travel?), might also carry the analogy of the infinite repetition which can be seen in a circle, a geometric figure which has no end and no beginning. Like the act of this neverending regression of dreaming and creating process presented in the story.

I was most disturbed by the oppressive idea “The Library of Babel” conveyed to me. We are introduced to a Library whose cataloguing system consists of hexagonal and identical galleries to classify the infinite books it contains. The inhabitants of this Library know the answers to all their questions lay somewhere, among the books, although the probability of being able to find those answers is close to impossible. The central conflict of the individual intellect and the physical manifestation of the infinite chaos is portrayed with negative connotations, pointing out the futility of trying to establish order in a chaotic universe, which reminds me of the insignificance of human beings.

"The Babylon Lottery” follows the same line of thought in presenting a detached narrator who depicts life as a labyrinth through which a man wanders without control over his own fate, which is governed by ruthless uncertainty. Here again there seems to appear the issue of trying to put order in a fragmented, indecipherable universe ruled by randomness.

My favorite one was “The secret miracle” probably because I could identify with the need of Hladík, a Jewish poet and the main character, to freeze time when he is arrested and condemned to death by the Nazis. I found the way Borges manages to portray the subjectivity of time simply brilliant, especially in the scene where Hladík is being executed. Everything seems to end in a second for the rest of world except for Hladík whose prayer is answered in the form of a precious year in which everything becomes paralysed so that he can mentally finish the last act of his half-written play. “Funes the Memorious” is similar in the way it deals with the curse of having an extraordinary memory to absorb details and subtle changes at a precise moment but not the capability of abstraction needed to control our acts.

It is in “The South” , “The Shape of the Sword” and “Three versions of Judas” where Borges’s metafiction is most palpable with the multiplication of character identity, combining historical facts with detectivesque narrative techniques.

I think I can sense the lurking forces behind Borges’s mathematical concision, audacious adjectives and unusual ideas, I think I grasp his need to defy understanding to make his point about incomprehensible concepts such as infinite, time and reality. I even feel strongly attracted to the notion that reality can be seen as a mere convention and that the true nature of things is vacuous, existing only in conditional relationship with other things. It is language which ultimately creates illusion and builds meanings. And it is the dreamer who creates reality as the writer creates the possibility of a reader.

The problem is that all these feelings didn’t implode in within me, I had to struggle against Borges’s detached, metallic style to get them through. Maybe I shouldn’t have read all the tales in one sitting, maybe Borges is that kind of author to read sparsely, one story at a time, like a rare, exquisite delicatessen to let all the flavors fuse and wholly impregnate the senses. It might not be very orthodox, but these three stars are meant to be a rating referred to my own inadequacy to truly enjoy this novel rather than directed to the novel itself, which I am not that fool to recognize as a genuine, exceptional work of art. ( )
  Luli81 | Jul 25, 2013 |
These are easily some of the best stories I have ever read. They're the sort of stories that stick with you; layered, subtle stories that can be read over and over again and only improve with each reading. The plain style of the words belies the density of the tales, which are a wealth of texture and detail. In this collection, Borges shows himself to be an indisputable genius in a variety of forms. This one is going on my "keep forever" shelf.

My favorites: The Story of the Two Dreamers (in Et Cetera); The Library of Babel; Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote; The Writing of the God; Delia Elena San Marco; Inferno, I, 32; Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. ( )
  wirehead | Jul 9, 2013 |
I love Jorge Luis Borges. After a teacher introduced me to LABYRINTHS in college, my life was never the same. Borges has this magical talent for both the erudite and the fantastic. In this day and age, the term 'Borgesian' is an important one.

This collection of Borges' fiction is thick, and fans of Borges will be pleased to have such a compendium of his work. That said, the translation is not of the absolute highest quality that it deserves. I can't claim to be an authority on translating the Spanish language, but the audacity of changing "Funes, the Memorious" to "Funes and his Memory" makes me pretty miffed! And although the translator (Hurley) tries to explain this decision in particular in the appendix, he completely fails to justify it. He basically says that 'memorious' is not a word and therefore is should not be a part of the title. Well, is that what Borges thought? Would he have objected to a neologism in a piece? To me the word 'memorious' is the very essence of 'Borgesian.'

If you are interested in getting started with Borges, pick up a used copy of Labyrinths somewhere. You'll save money and be better acquainted with one of the 20th Century's foremost literary figures for it.

4 out of 5 on the strength of Borges' concepts, and the weakness of the translation. ( )
  yrcorresps | Apr 9, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jorge Luis Borgesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hurley, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In 1517, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, feeling great pity for the Indians who grew worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines, proposed to Emperor Charles V that Negroes be brought to the isles of the Caribbean, so that they might grow worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140286802, Paperback)

Although Jorge Luis Borges published his first book in 1923--doling out his own money for a limited edition of Fervor de Buenos Aires--he remained in Argentinian obscurity for almost three decades. In 1951, however, Ficciones appeared in French, followed soon after by an English translation. This collection, which included the cream of the author's short fictions, made it clear that Borges was a world-class (if highly unclassifiable) artist--a brilliant, lyrical miniaturist, who could pose the great questions of existence on the head of pin. And by 1961, when he shared the French Prix Formentor with Samuel Beckett, he seemed suddenly to tower over a half-dozen literary cultures, the very exemplar of modernism with a human face.

By the time of his death in 1986, Borges had been granted old master status by almost everybody (except, alas, the gentlemen of the Swedish Academy). Yet his work remained dispersed among a half-dozen different collections, some of them increasingly hard to find. Andrew Hurley has done readers a great service, then, by collecting all the stories in a single, meticulously translated volume. It's a pleasure to be reminded that Borges's style--poetic, dreamlike, and compounded of innumerable small surprises--was already in place by 1935, when he published A Universal History of Iniquity: "The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." (Incidentally, the thrifty author later recycled the second of these aphorisms in his classic bit of bookish metaphysics, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Teris.") The glories of his middle period, of course, have hardly aged a day. "The Garden of the Forking Paths" remains the best deconstruction of the detective story ever written, even in the post-Auster era, and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" puts the so-called death of the author in pointed, hilarious perspective.

But Hurley's omnibus also brings home exactly how consistent Borges remained in his concerns. As late as 1975, in "Avelino Arredondo," he was still asking (and occasionally even answering) the same riddles about time and its human repository, memory: "For the man in prison, or the blind man, time flows downstream as though down a slight decline. As he reached the midpoint of his reclusion, Arredondo more than once achieved that virtually timeless time. In the first patio there was a wellhead, and at the bottom, a cistern where a toad lived; it never occurred to Arredondo that it was the toad's time, bordering on eternity, that he sought." Throughout, Hurley's translation is crisp and assured (although this reader will always have a soft spot for "Funes, the Memorious" rather than "Funes, His Memory.") And thanks to his efforts, Borgesians will find no better--and no more pleasurable--rebuttal of the author's description of himself as "a shy sort of man who could not bring himself to write short stories." --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:29 -0400)

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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.… (more)

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