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Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Formative (19): Borges

I don't remember when I first read Borges, but he was part of the mix in American "postmodernism" (metafiction) and behind or underneath the Latin American boom. Everyone had read Labyrinths, a book that does not exist in Spanish. I really went to school with Borges, reading all of it, poetry and prose, going back to works that he later suppressed, etc..., and reading parts of what he had read. I am more Borgesian than Borges.

Borges is a great innovator whose theory of literature is that innovation does not exist. Everything has already been invented. His beef against Hispanic avant-garde poetry was the narrow emphasis on the creation of new metaphors. For B, a valid metaphor had to be one of a narrow set of universal metaphors. You couldn't just arbitrarily forge new ones. In this he anticipates the cognitive science approach to metaphor developed much later. He is also one of the main translation theorists, with a perspective more useful, even, than Benjamin.


I won't have many posts on individual writers in this series, but I believe Borges was formative for me.


profacero said...

Someone I should pay more attention to, I used to find him formulaic and one time when I gave grades to authors for fun, assigned him B+. It was Cortázar I liked then.

Hmmm I am looking forward to summer reading.

Jonathan said...

Cortázar's stories are very Borgesian. He learned from the best. Axolotl, continuidad de los parques, casa tomada.

Andrew Shields said...

I first read "Borges and I" in Dennett and Hofstadter's "The Mind's I." That story blew me away, so I went and got "Labyrinths". I still have that copy (32 or so years old); its cover is barely still attached to the book.

profacero said...

I read all the Borges I could find one week when I was 23 because he was on the M.A. exam. I said: all right JLB, I understand your schtick.

Tried to teach him this semester and got in trouble with students and chair for teaching "marginal science fiction" when I should be teaching "something more typically Spanish." (This in intro to lit class).

Andrew Shields said...

I recommend Tim Parks's essay on Borges (originally in the New York Review of Books, now in one of his essay collections): an appreciative but critical take. A bit reminiscent of Barthes on La Rochefoucauld.