Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I began the year by re-reading Borges

I realize now it was a good choice, reinforcing my love for books early on in 2013.

Borges is, I find, a true animator of human thought. He takes a hypothetical- what would you do if you met a later version of yourself? - and makes a scene of it: younger Borges enters his own room and finds, lying down on his bed, another, older Borges. They exchange quips, ask important questions, argue over who is dreaming whom. We read along, entertained by the revelations, wondering how exactly this is going to end. In the work of Borges, philosophy has the quality of the detectivesque, of the historias poliacas he knew so well. 

Borges, who lived from 1899 to 1986, is known for having been an avid reader. He was and continues to be an excellent advocate of reading. For one thing, his stories lead to further book hunts. One can read Borges without understanding the allusions (Spinoza’s philosophy, the battle of Masoller) but there is always delight in doing a bit of extra research and realizing: ha! the battle of 1904 in Masoller did take place! It was the last battle of the Uruguayan Civil War. Or in finally checking out Ben Johnson’s work or beginning to think about the Kabbalah...

Borges is a strong advocate of texts simply because he understood reading as a legitimate way of spending time, as a way of informing our human experience. He was also, of course, an amazing craftsman, composing stories of clever structure and deliciously precise word choice.  His stories and essays are ever present in my own interpretation of memory, in my relationship to human history and the history of human thought. Borges is essential to the way I think of stories and imagination.

If you haven’t approached Borges yet, or if it’s been a while since you entered his labyrinths, I recommend finding your way to a collection of his short stories.   

At La Casa Azul Bookstore we have Ficciones in English and El Aleph in Spanish, and can always help you find more of his works, stop by any time!

Happy, powerful reading to all.

1 comment:

  1. Borges was a stupendous poet. I have the book, "Jorge Luis Borges Selected Poems" (Penguin 2000) which is bilingual, offering the added pleasure of critiquing the Eng translators'many of whom are also published poets.

    Back to the poetry - a quatrain from "Milonga de Manuel Flores"

    Manuel Flores va a morir.
    Eso es moneda corriente;
    Morir es una costumbre
    Que sabe tender la gente

    Alastair Reid translates:

    Manuel Flores is doomed to die.
    That's as sure as your money.
    Dying is a custom
    Well-known to many.

    Now I ask you, where is the lyricism in the translation?

    Here' my take although literal Borges is better than any likely recreation in our Germanic-Latinic English:

    Manuel Flores is going to die
    As certain as pocket change.
    Dying is a custom
    Any can arrange.