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Selected Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Selected Non-Fictions (1999)

by Jorge Luis Borges

Other authors: Esther Allen (Translator), Suzanne Jill Levine (Translator), Eliot Weinberger (Editor)

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Dear editors of 'selected' editions,

no, you don't need to include that. I recognize that you're fascinated by the idea that someone opposed fascism, but by and large, that's only worth a footnote. You also don't have to include this. Sure, it's interesting every now and then to see what a favorite author thinks about a book, but not *every* book. Don't you see, editor, what a disservice you're doing to these people? Just choose the very best, and leave the rest for later volumes.

On the other hand, who am I to complain? This is a lovely looking volume, despite the horrid ruffled pages (did all the book-cutting machines in the world break at the same time? Why do so many books come with this rubbish? How do you expect me to flick forward and back?), and contains wonders and wealth.

The downside to including so much is that Borges' world starts to look a little more restricted and a little less fascinating. There are only so many times you can go over the same themes, many of which are treated more effectively and more entertainingly in the fiction. There are a number of absolute must reads, particularly the Dante essays, and the writings brought together in section II.

One solution to my problem, of course, would just be to read what looks fascinating to you. But I like to finish books, so here I am: fascinated at times, but ultimately a bit disappointed that Borges wasn't treated better by Weinberger. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Borges is a reader's writer and he is a writer who reads; but unlike the many other writers who read he writes about reading as both an intellectual challenge and an inspiration (some might find that redundant). The connections he makes with writers from Plato to Cervantes, from Bacon to Mallarme, are made fascinating by his ability to be comprehensible while demonstrating an erudition that is almost beyond description. That his erudition does not obscure his attempt to share his ideas is one of his many charms.
This collection displays his writing skill in the essay, the prologue, the review, the lecture and the dictation of literary miscellany, all of which have their unique appeal. He reveals the mind of an omnivorous reader who is incapable of writing uninteresting pieces about what he has read and the surprising ideas and connections to which he is led by his reading. He shares his personal library; while elsewhere you learn about the synergy between Swedenborg and the Kaballah! The "Library of Babel" is represented and his comments make you suddenly want to go back and reread that wonderful story. One aspect of all of this is to provide some little insight into the mind of the writer who created the stories of Babel and Menard and the wonderful Ficciones that entrance your reader's mind.
I return to Borges to remind myself why I read and to find out more about the process, the act of reading, the humanity of it all -- the magic he performs is spiritual food for my soul. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Sep 14, 2013 |
A high point in this volume comes in the form of the Nine Dantesque Essays (pp. 265-305). Having Borges' book and Dante's masterpiece open in front of me at the same time, witnessing what could rightly be called a conversation between those two demigods, was a singular experience in my career as a reader. If someday the stylistic circumstances recur that permitted an achievement like the Commedia, I believe that the author of the new one will tap Borges for duty as Virgil. If literature can be a kind of secular religion, you'll find no better guide through it's many circles, terraces, and spheres than the one who presents himself in this volume. No work is too humble to merit a word—a kind word—from Borges. No connection is too subtle for him to note. Ever wonder what Dante Gabriel Rosetti said about Wuthering Heights, and what that has to do with the short stories of Julio Cortazar? Neither did I, but now I'm glad to know.

Read it to rediscover the classics. Read it for the book recommendations. Authors I tired of in high school—Emerson, Whitman, Poe—suddenly form parts of my wishlist. Authors I never thought about attempting—Edward Gibbon, for instance!— are now vying for my attention. To read Borges as a reasonably well-read person is to be immensely flattered by how much better-read he assumes that you are. It's funny; I have a feeling of not wanting to disappoint him. I want to be up to the task of either agreeing or disagreeing with his assessments. Mostly, I want to be a part of his conversation.

The most striking thing to emerge here is a picture of Borges the person, and particularly his moral character. If you've read his stories only, as I had, it is easy to imagine an almost disembodied intellect as the responsible party. The Notes on Germany & the War (pp. 199-213) were a revelation in this respect, as were the late lectures entitled "Blindness" (p.473) and "Immortality" (p. 483).

The early essays are individually flawed and forgettable, and many were later disowned by their author. Rightly so. They were the work of a young man who had not yet fully digested his influences. In many cases, they appear to aim for the sound of intellectualism, without the substance. The first words of the first essay in this collection are: "Intention. I want to tear down the exceptional preeminence now generally awarded to the self..." This becomes unbelievably poignant after a reading of the entire collection. The ambition of this line becomes notably absent in Borges' mature tone. Any impetus towards destruction, even of outdated orthodoxies, is likewise dissipated. Instead, I think, for the mature Borges, reading widely became a way of loving widely. I share that aspiration, and that faith.
5 vote polutropon | May 16, 2010 |
Contains essays, book and movie reviews, lectures, prologues, and dictations concerning a wide variety of subjects, some philosophical, others historical, others pop culture. No red flags, but some of the early work is tedious.
  chosler | Jan 20, 2009 |
The remarkable thing about much of Borges' non-fiction is that it is often hard to distinguish it from his fiction. Having said that, this volume is probably only partly of interest to the casual Borges fan. It contains many of his early essays and reviews, which he later found embarrassing (sometimes for good reason, sometimes not).

On the other hand, for those interested in the evolution of Borges as an artist and thinker, this is a rich resource. The reviews of mainly British and American works give a sense of the change in Borges' voice from Argentinian to internationalist. There are also some very rare speeches and prologues that are otherwise very hard to find. ( )
  tom1066 | Nov 22, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jorge Luis Borgesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Allen, EstherTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Levine, Suzanne JillTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Weinberger, EliotEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Intention. I want to tear down the exceptional preeminence now generally awarded to the self, and I pledge to be spurred on by concrete certainty, and not the caprice of an ideological ambush or a dazzling intellectual prank.
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Though best known in the English-speaking world for his short fictions and poems, Borges is equally revered in Latin America as an immensely prolific and beguiling write of non-fiction prose. Now, with the Total Library, more than 150 of Borges' most brilliant pieces are brought together for the first time in one volume-- all in superb new translations. More than a hundred o f the pieces have never previously published in English.

The first comprehensive selection of his work in any language, The Total Library presents Borges at once as a deceptively self-effacing guide to the universe and the inventor of a universe that is an indispensable guide to Borges.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140290117, Paperback)

Jorge Luis Borges was our century's greatest miniaturist, perpetually cramming entire universes onto the head of a pin. Yet his splendid economy, along the wafer-thin proportions of such classic volumes as Ficciones and Labyrinths, has given readers the impression that Borges was miserly with his prose. In fact, he was something of a verbal spendthrift. His collected stories alone run to nearly 1,000 pages. And his nonfiction output was even more staggering: the young Borges cranked out hundreds of essays, book notes, cultural polemics, and movie reviews, and even after he lost his sight in 1955, he continued to dictate short pieces by the dozens. Eliot Weinberger has assembled just a fraction of this outpouring in Selected Non-Fictions, and the result is a 559-page Borgesian blowout, in which the Argentinean fabulist takes on being and nothingness, James Joyce and Lana Turner, and (surprisingly) racial hatred and the rise of Nazism. So much for our image of the mandarin bookworm! The very engagé author of this book seems more like a subequatorial Camus, with a dash of Siskel and Ebert on the side.

Selected Non-Fictions demonstrates just how quickly Borges began wrestling with such brainteasers as identity, time, and infinity. Indeed, the very first piece in the collection, "The Nothingness of Personality" (1922), already finds him fiddling with the self: "I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I." There are many such meditations here, including "A History of Eternity" (in which Borges maps out his own, disarmingly empty version of the eternal, "without a God or even a co-proprietor, and entirely devoid of archetypes"). But it's more fun--and more revelatory--to see the author venturing beyond his metaphysical stomping grounds. Borges on King Kong is a hoot, and a cornball masterpiece such as The Petrified Forest elicits this terrific nugget: "Death works in this film like hypnosis or alcohol: it brings the recesses of the soul into the light of day." His capsule biographies are a delight, his critiques of Nazi propaganda are memorably stringent, and nobody should miss him on the tango. True, the sheer variety and mind-boggling erudition of Selected Non-Fictions can be a little forbidding. But, taken as a whole, the collection surely meets the specifications that Borges laid out in a 1927 essay on literary pleasure: "If only some eternal book existed, primed for our enjoyment and whims, no less inventive in the populous morning as in the secluded night, oriented toward all hours of the world." Oh, but it does. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:02 -0400)

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A collection of writings includes essays, literary and film criticism, biographical sketches, and lectures.

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