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Knife Fights and Tigers in The Republic of Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges

By thankyougustad in Culture
Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 07:24:21 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

Jorge Luis Borges is a giant of 20th century literature, and a monster in South American arts and letters, despite the fact that his entire fiction canon can be read in English, in a single, well translated volume. This article is a short review of some of Borges' favorite themes - Infinity and mirrors, identity, and the true nature of reality.

Borges was born just before the turn of the century in Buenos Aires, to an educated father, himself a failed writer, and mother who worked as a translator. He was raised in a multicultural, learned, and affluent household. When he was an adolescent, his father uprooted the family and took them all to Geneva, where he sought treatment for the congenital eye problems that would later take Borges' own sight.

After the first Great War, the now blind patriarch took the family to several of Spain's most cosmopolitan cities, where Borges was exposed to cutting edge artistic movements and joined the so called `ultraist' movement, and began publishing poetry.

The family later moved back to Argentina, and Borges continued to publish poetry, translations (he spoke four languages fluently) and literary criticism. In 1938, the year his father died, he suffered severe head trauma and subsequent blood poisoning. The episode almost killed him, leaving him mute for a short time. After his recovery, much like his contemporary Céline, he began writing short pieces of fiction. In the next eight years, he would write some of his greatest stories. In reading through his collected fictions, which often read like a literary playground, a few themes recurrently surface in his work. Often, his fiction is like the barest framework, over which he stretches and bends ideas like canvas.

According to Borges, the `Library of Babel' is a universe composed of `an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below - one after another, endlessly.'

The galleries are filled with five shelves per wall, each one holding 32 identical but unique books, composed of 410 pages, 40 lines per page, and 80 black letters per line. These books contain every possible combination of letters. Some of the books are full of nonsense. Some, presumably, contain the complete works of Shakespeare, Borges' beloved Quixote, Joyce's Ulysses, the work of Carol, the Bible, Basho's haikus, repeated endlessly, Emmanuelle, that same book with one extra comma, The History of the past and future, and so on. In this universe, everything has already been written, and nothing new can possibly be added to thought.

Borges explores the possibilities of such a library, searching for meaning in language, a way to express perception, and the true form of God. The inhabitants of this universe believe, logically, that the book which contains all the answers to the Universe's riddles, and a book which explains the reason for the existence of the library, can be found. The depressed and doleful inhabitants search for this book, and speak of a book found long ago with as much as two pages of continuous, coherent text. It is a strange existence that Borges has inflicted on his creations.

`Funes, His Memory,' is an investigation of another side of this verbal infinity. Disguised as a piece written In memoriam, the story presents a young man gifted with incredible powers of memory. After an injury which left him paralyzed, Funes began to capitalize on this ability. He learns Latin in a single night of study, and then embarks on the creation of his own language. This language has a word for everything, and every possible state of this thing according to time and perception. Every leaf has a unique word in this language, every drop of water in the oceans and combinations thereof. Funes dies at 24 of pulmonary congestion.

These attempts to define infinity, one that can be explained, conceived of by the human mind is revisited and re-explored by Borges in `The Aleph.' Borges laments the loss of Beatriz Viterbo. His two page eulogy is mundane, describing Beatriz and his relationship with her family, who he visits despite his distaste for them just to spend some time in the room she once flit about in. A poet friend of his reads his lamentable work and expounds on his preposterous ideas and philosophies. In two sentences, the story veers off sharlpy toward the incredible. 'He explained that in one corner of the cellar there was an Aleph. He explained that an Aleph is one of the points in space that contains all points.'

Borges' poet has been writing sonnets dedicated to every point on Earth, using the Aleph for inspiration. Borges asked to see the Aleph, which is located the ninth step up, when lying on the cellar floor behind the staircase. Alone in the dark he begins to wonder if he has not just been given poison, and is to be walled into the cellar, making allusions to Poe.

Suddenly, he sees a point of light, The Aleph, and in it he sees

Each thing, (the glass surface of a mirror, let us say) was infinite things, because I could clearly see it from every point in the cosmos. I saw the populous sea, saw dawn and dusk, saw the multitudes of the Americas, saw a silvery spider web at the center of a black pyramid, saw a broken labyrinth (it was London), saw endless eyes, all very close, studying themselves in me as though in a mirror, saw all the mirrors on the planet (and none of them reflecting me), saw in a rear courtyard on Calle Soler the same tiles I'd seen twenty years before in the entryway of a house in Fray Bentos, saw clusters of grapes, snow, tobacco, veins of metal, water vapor, saw convex equatorial deserts and their every grain of sand, saw a women in Inverness whom I shall never forget, saw her violent hair, her haughty body, saw a cancer in her breast, saw a circle of dry soil within a sidewalk where there had once been a tree, saw a country house in Adrogué, saw a copy of the first English copy of Pliny (Philemon Holland's), saw every letter of every page at once (as a boy I would be astounded that the letters in a closed book didn't get all scrambled up), saw simultaneous night and day, saw a sunset in Querétero that seemed to reflect the color of a rose in Bengal, saw my bedroom (with no one in it), saw in a study in Almaar a globe of the terraqueous world placed between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly, saw horses with wind whipped manes on the Caspian Sea at dawn, saw the delicate bones of a hand, saw the survivors of a battle sending postcards, saw a Tarot card in a shop window in Mirzapur, saw the oblique shadows of ferns on the floor of a greenhouse, saw tigers, pistons, bisons, tides, armies, saw all the ants on the earth, saw a Persian astrolabe, saw in a desk drawer (and the handwriting made me tremble) obscene, incredible, detailed letters that Beatriz had sent Carlos Argentino, saw a beloved monument in Chacarita, saw the horrendous remains of what had once, deliciously, been Beatriz Viterbo, saw the circulation of my dark blood, saw the coils and springs of love and the alterations of death, saw the Aleph from everywhere at once, saw the earth in the Aleph, and the Aleph once more in the earth and the earth in the Aleph, saw my face and my viscera, saw your face, and I felt dizzy, and I wept, because my eyes had seen that secret, hypothetical object whose name has been usurped by men but which no man has ever truly looked upon: the inconceivable universe.

This is a dizzying paragraph, and captures well the potential for further extrapolation of Borges' images by the reader. His investigations of nature and reality are not meant to be answers, but do give us hints of something larger. His stories serve as little pushes in our own mental exploration. At the end of 'The Aleph,' Borges wonders if he saw the Aleph, and then forgot it. How can we be sure of what we percieve? How can we know that we didn't forget something? 'I myself am distorting and losing, through the tragic erosion of the years, the features of Beatriz.'

Further reading:
Borges' "Library of Babel" and the Internet
A biography

Science Fiction and Fantasy by Jorge Luis Borges
The Book of Sand - A Hypertext Puzzle


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Related Links
o in a single, well translated volume.
o Borges
o Céline
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o Borges' "Library of Babel" and the Internet
o A biography
o Science Fiction and Fantasy by Jorge Luis Borges
o The Book of Sand - A Hypertext Puzzle
o Also by thankyougustad

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Knife Fights and Tigers in The Republic of Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges | 36 comments (22 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
I stumbled onto the aleph once, I think (none / 1) (#3)
by CodeWright on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 04:21:53 AM EST

I don't quite remember, but I think I ate it.

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

why Borges didn't win the Nobel Prize? (none / 0) (#16)
by vqp on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 06:24:05 PM EST

someone can explain?

happiness = d(Reality - Expectations) / dt

some say (none / 0) (#17)
by thankyougustad on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 07:12:09 PM EST

it was because of his politics.

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
Others say (none / 1) (#20)
by Lode Runner on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 12:07:39 AM EST

it's because prize committees don't like being made fools of, which is precisely what would've happened should've they tried to explain why they gave him the Nobel. Nobody could ever quite tell when he was being serious -- leaving us all to wonder how recognize his work.

[ Parent ]
what were Borges politics anyways? (none / 0) (#35)
by bendybendy on Wed Jul 28, 2004 at 03:28:44 PM EST

I've read some essays of his that were strongly anti-nazi, and he seemed to instinctively understand that anti-semitism leads to anti-intellectualism. Did he have some sort of other rightward tendency which precluded his consideration, or do you think it was his apolitical nature?

[ Parent ]
Hard to speculate (none / 1) (#36)
by thankyougustad on Wed Jul 28, 2004 at 03:48:38 PM EST

on Borges politics. I only know a little about the man's political beliefs, and I do know that we eventually withdrew from politcs after he supported a president who caved into Argentina's military, allowing a junta to take control of the country.

He is said to have been very critical of this government, though he must have curbed his criticism to some degree, as he was appointed director of the National Library. Perhaps he was a little ahead of his time speaking out against the Nazis because he saw, and did not like, the results of the dictatorship in Argentina.

I think it is safe to assume that he was a very clever man, and most clever people don't give much credos to Anti-semitism or other ideaologies of hate. They make no sense.

If I had to guess how all this comes into play vis à vis his not getting the Nobel Prize, I would say, as you said, his apolitical nature made him ineligible (though this is something that developed in him with maturity, it seems). Many people found it outragous, especially in South America, that one of their most respected writers not be involved with politcs. Supposedly, many, including perhaps the Swedes, took his non-action to be a tacit condoning of the military dictatorships in South America.

He did however win the Prix Formentor jointly with Beckett. Perhaps the French were more concerned with his art than with his politics?

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
I cannot describe (3.00 / 8) (#18)
by mcc on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 07:17:42 PM EST

what the works of Borges mean to me. I'm not sure if the words "short story" really even suffice to describe them. Borges once said something (I cannot find the original quote of at this time) along the lines of "what an exhausting thing that would be, to write a novel; better just to have the idea for a novel, and write a summary", and this pretty much sums up the way Borges wrote his stories. Just about every single one of Borges' short stories seems more like a fragment of a larger work than anything else; each one suggests an entire novel, or an entire world, which Borges had the capacity to present but chose not to. (One of Borges' favorite tactics was to claim that he had come upon some fictitious document and was merely translating or editing it, or to present his story rather than being a story, being merely some sort of review or analysis of a fictional novel written by someone else. The fact Borges was, in fact, a librarian*, editor and translator-- and the fact that many of his stories have historical or mythological bases and ALL of his stories are scattered with constant references to other literary works, about half of which actually are real-- allowed him to pull this off with sublime convincingness. Start reading Borges and you almost start to almost believe you are not reading fiction, but just documents Borges rescued from some alternate world where all of this is real...)

If you haven't heard of Borges before thankyougustad's story here, if you are going to read one thing by Borges, I would suggest it be "Labyrinths", a short story collection containing many of Borges best pieces. At the same time though it is something more than a collection of stories; the pieces all seem to simply work together, as if the seemingly unrelated stories were meant to fit together into some larger, more meaningful structure, or like there were only really one story in the entire book and Borges were merely giving you small glimpses of this story from different perspectives. It almost starts to seem like less a book than a labyrinth itself, a labyrinth made out of stories which are themselves labyrinths (most of which are in some form actually stories about labyrinths, and a few of which are stories about books which are also labyrinths), all swirling about some indeterminate center where the Minotaur lives. Oh, uh, and it's good. Really.

Anyhow, while I am being pretentious, if you have heard of Borges and like him, then I would like to recommend to you to check out the works of Julio Cortazar, another Argentinian writer who was partially operating at the same time and is sometimes viewed as part of the same literary movement as Borges. He had much the same unearthly writing and flawless grasp of unreality that Borges did, and sort of to an extent played Autechre to Borges' Aphex Twin. The thing I would recommend here would be his fantastic short story collection "The End of the Game and Other Stories" (you might find this same collection under the title "Blow-up and Other Stories"), which I think pretty much any fan of Borges would enjoy quite a bit. I would also possibly recommend a novel of Cortazar's that I am currently working through. The novel is called "Rayuela" ("Hopskotch" in English) and has the odd property that you can read the chapters in any order or subset you like and it still makes about the same amount of sense. It's wierd and kind of hard to read but I am really enjoying it...

* Borges, in a short but really good memoir piece I once read that I dearly wish I could remember the name of, indicated that the Library of Babel story was inspired by his coming into the directorship of the National Library of Argentina later in his life after he had already gone blind. The story seemed to have been born from the feeling of godlike powerlessness from walking through the library after everyone had left, knowing he was lord of an immeasurable wealth of books all around him that was completely useless to him, knowing that an immeasurable wealth of knowledge was just at his fingertips, but if he actually picked any book off the shelf and opened it he would see nothing but a yellow blur...

Aside from that, the absurd meta-wankery of k5er-quoting sigs probably takes the cake. Especially when the quote itself is about k5. -- tsubame

Let the Borgesian Games BEGIN!!! (none / 0) (#19)
by Lode Runner on Sun Jul 25, 2004 at 11:52:04 PM EST

Good stuff, but I hope you realize Borges was teasing--sorta maybe half-truthfully--with regard to drawing Babel from his own experience.

Don't just take it from me; Baldrson[e..t..] is the supreme authority in this particular area.

[ Parent ]

Oh, I'm sure (none / 0) (#21)
by mcc on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 12:28:13 AM EST

But Borges is one of those trolls so exquisite that even when you outright know he's fucking with you, you pretty much just sit back and enjoy it ^_^

[ Parent ]
Foucault loved that too (none / 1) (#22)
by Lode Runner on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 12:41:11 AM EST

I wish the new trolls here knew Borges. Because whatever else, he wasn't dull!

[ Parent ]
Hear, hear ! (none / 0) (#23)
by bml on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 06:36:59 AM EST

Excellent comment. Regarding his becoming the director of the National Library when already almost completely blind, that's the topic of my favourite Borges poem, "Poema de los Dones" ("Poem of the Gifts"). I found a decent English translation here:

Poem of the gifts

Encouraging Borges fans to discover Cortázar is also an excellent suggestion.

The Internet is vast, and contains many people. This is the way of things. -- Russell Dovey
[ Parent ]
The Name of the Rose (3.00 / 5) (#27)
by edo on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 12:21:04 PM EST

> Borges was, in fact, a librarian

This is why the blind librarian in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is called Jorge of Burgos.
Sentimentality is merely the Bank Holiday of cynicism.
 - Oscar Wilde
[ Parent ]

Hopscotch (none / 2) (#30)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:56:04 PM EST

Keep at it, the novel(s) is exquisitely well crafted and very much worth the unusual demands it makes of its readers. It also has one of the most hauntingly beautiful passages of prose I've encountered:

Chapter 7, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar

I touch your mouth, I touch the edge of your mouth with my finger, I am drawing it as if it were something my hand was sketching, as if for the first time your mouth opened a little, and all I have to do is close my eyes to erase it and start all over again, every time I can make the mouth I want appear, the mouth which my hand chooses and sketches on your face, and which by some chance that I do not seek to understand coincides exactly with your mouth which smiles beneath the one my hand is sketching on you.

You look at me, from close up you look at me, closer and closer and then we play cyclops, we look closer and closer at one another and our eyes get larger, they come closer, they merge into one and the two cyclopses look at each other, blending as they breathe, our mouths touch and struggle in gentle warmth, biting each other with their lips, barely holding their tongues on their teeth, playing in corners where a heavy air comes and goes with a heavy perfume and a silence. Then my hands go to sink into your hair, to cherish slowly the depth of your hair while we kiss as if our mouths were filled with flowers or with fish, with lively movement and dark fragrance. And if we bite each other the pain is sweet, and if we smother each other in a brief and terrible sucking in together of our breaths, that momentary death is beautiful. And there is but one saliva and one flavor of ripe fruit, and I feel you tremble against me like a moon on the water.


Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
-1, too Argentina-centric (none / 0) (#24)
by bml on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 06:40:19 AM EST

Just joking. Very good article. I only missed something about knife fights and tigers in the body.

The Internet is vast, and contains many people. This is the way of things. -- Russell Dovey
My favourite... (3.00 / 4) (#25)
by onealone on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 07:43:31 AM EST

...was the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.
An encyclopedia which classifies animals into the following sections:

   1. those that belong to the Emperor
   2. embalmed ones
   3. those that are trained
   4. suckling pigs
   5. mermaids
   6. fabulous ones
   7. stray dogs
   8. those included in the present classification
   9. those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. innumerable ones
  11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
  12. others
  13. those that have just broken a flower vase
  14. those that from a long way off look like flies

another great one (none / 1) (#29)
by thankyougustad on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:30:24 PM EST

is 'On Exactitude in Science,' where he imagines a map of an Empire drawn up on a 1/1 scale. Later the people lose interest in cartagraphy and the map is lost in the desert.

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
One of the lesser known mindfucks (none / 2) (#26)
by rpresser on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 10:06:45 AM EST

was "A New Refutation of Time".  He makes an eloquent case for the idea that there is no such thing as time; when you experience something for a second time, there is no difference between that experience and the previous experience; a man "lost in reading Shakespeare" (not immediately conscious that he is reading) IS Shakespeare.

Yipes. Just yipes.
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty

Good article (none / 1) (#28)
by DeanCutlet on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 02:22:40 PM EST

I enjoyed your article. This is what I like to read. Keep up the good work.

-1 bury this article (1.33 / 3) (#31)
by angus on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 03:04:19 PM EST

Too bad I wasn't here on time to vote this down.

Any article that reveals the end of any story should be burned and its author crucified.

Ahh... (none / 3) (#32)
by LilDebbie on Mon Jul 26, 2004 at 05:08:17 PM EST

The Rich Idiot. Tales of one whose birth affords him the ability to experience the Eternal New - where nothing grows old, nothing becomes boring, and if either ever threatened to happen, he could always up and leave for some obscure point on the Globe, putting greater distance between himself and Death. But the Rich Idiot cannot outrun Death, no matter how many planes, trains, and automobiles speed him away. For the world is a small place, and Death is native to every land.

Thus, never knowing decay, never knowing loss, the Rich Idiot thinks himself wise because he has filled his head with useless trash he pretends is Knowledge. And so he dances through life, memories always fresh, knowing every dance from every culture on the Earth, but never knowing the meaning behind any of them, until Death comes to show him how stupid he really was.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

Borges Rules (3.00 / 4) (#33)
by Daemin on Tue Jul 27, 2004 at 10:51:35 AM EST

Borges is one of my favorite authors, and reading his work is often a mind bending experience.

The Library of Babel is a wonderful presentation of the idea that in some sense, any sentence that can be written down in a language already exists out there in "mindspace." In this story, Borges shows how worthless it would be if they were already written down for us to look at.

Quine noted, in a very short, very funny article, that the library is extravagant. We don't need the "25 orthnagrphic symbols." We just need two, a 0 and 1, a dot and dash, a blank and a non blank, to do the job. If we then allow books to be used repeatedly, you can compress the library down to just two volumes: one containing a zero, the other containing a one.

Sometimes, Borges puts forth very interesting claims in the context of stories.

In "The Sect of the Thirty", for example, he discusses an ancient Christian sect who worshiped Jesus AND Judas. Their argument was that in the divine plan for the redemption of mankind, nothing could be left to chance. Further, in the whole drama of Jesus' execution, only two people acted. The mob that demanded his death, and the judge who washed his hands were but bit players. But Jesus had to go willingly to the cross, and Judas had to knowingly betray him. They hold that Judas' betrayal was just as integral to the divine plan as Jesus' sacrifice. It is an excellent story, and i think a convincing argument could be made for this point.

Another great story is "Two Versions of Judas," where an author puts forth the theory that the savior WASNT Jesus, but Judas instead. The details of the argument are too complicated to summarize here, but it is again convincing, and a great story.

The secret miracle is a wonderful story about a writer about to be executed, who prays to god the night before his execution for the time to Finnish the great work he is doing. The next morning, just as the rifle men fire, time stops except for his consciousness. Everything, including his body, is frozen. It takes him a couple of days to realize that god has granted his wish. He finishes "writing" it, and time resumes, his execution happening exactly on time.

The Lottery In Babylon is about a company that has secret drawings, and strange and incomprehensible things are the results. The author mentions that he was once declared invisible for a year, and could steal with impunity, and cry out but be ignored.

The Zakiher is a story about a coin that cannot be forgotten once it has been seen.

If anyone has ever read "House of Leaves", you simply must read the story "The House of Asterion" by Borges. I cannot prove it, but I swear this story is the inspiration for that book.

"On Exactitude in Science" is a short "story" that is about half a page long. It is about a country where the science of cartography was brought to its highest level anywhere. They eventual made a map that was a perfectly detailed map of the Empire, with a 1:1 scale. It was such a perfect representation, that the fading and fraying of the map exactly mirrored the decay of the empire. It ends by mentioning the bandits that still prowl the deserts to the west

Funny matrix connection:

At the beginning of The Matrix 1, when Neo is selling drugs, he takes it out of a "book" labeled "Simulacra and Simulation." This is a (extremely dense and incoherent) book by the French philosopher Baudrillard. The very first page of this book talks about the Borges story i just mentioned, and coins the term "The desert of the real." If you recall, when Morpheus is showing Neo the real world, he says "Welcome to the desert of the real world..." So the Matrix is indirectly quoting Borges.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop here.

Go out and buy the Collected Fictions. It will cost you about $15, but you will get all of Borges short works of fiction, and some of the most enjoyable reading i have ever come across.

Borges and pressing pause (none / 3) (#34)
by Wax Cat on Wed Jul 28, 2004 at 08:43:45 AM EST

This comment contains a couple of novel spoilers... Some of you may have read Nicholson Baker's self-reflexive (and downright filthy) novel The Fermata, in which Borges makes an interesting cameo. For anyone who hasn't read the novel, it tells the tale of one Arno Strine who has the unique capacity to put time on hold whenever he wants. Arno uses this gift to take off women's clothes and ogle them. Who wouldn't? At one point in the novel, which is written as though Arno himself is the 'author' of his 'memoirs', Arno reflects that there are only two 'literary artifacts that treat conditions of temporal halt'; one is Ambrose Bierce's short story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek' and the other is Borges's 'The Secret Miracle'. In the Bierce story (from what I can remember), a soldier is being hanged from a bridge. The rope snaps and he swims to freedom -- albeit a strange, hallucinatory freedom. At the end of the story, we discover that the soldier died at the hanging; his experiences after his supposed death were a kind of textual purgatory. Bierce puts the literal 'reality' of the story on pause and interpolates the soldier's afterlife. The Borges story also deals with military execution. An author, Jaromir Hladik, is facing the firing squad. Just before he is shot, time is paused and Hladik is able to (mentally) complete his unfinished play. It's a typical Borgesian story, and you can see why it appeals to the inquisitive, postmodern mentality of Baker. The notion of putting reality on pause and allowing a thought (or even a play) to balloon to its complete expression is an interesting one and, it seems to me that there are many more examples of 'literary artifacts that treat conditions of temporal halt'. William Golding's 'Pincher Martin' is comparable to the Bierce story. The novel's eponymous hero is also revealed at the end to have been 'dead' from the start; his experiences of being shipwrecked on a rock are in fact a kind of afterlife, in which Golding (ever the moralist) punishes Martin for his life of sin. Another example could be the 'Circe' chapter of Ulysses. This chapter (the one that's written as a play) puts reality on pause whilst the fleeting thoughts and impulses of Bloom and Stephen are enacted as if they are literally happening. You could even go back as far as Sterne's Tristram Shandy who is constantly putting his biography on pause -- digressing, making asides, submitting to every anecdotal temptation that arises; or Wordsworth, whose Prelude deals with 'spots of time', moments of intense recollection; you could even argue that the soliloquies of Shakespeare (of whom Borges was fond) exist outside of the temporal scale of the plays: when Hamlet speaks, the 'reality' of the play is discretely paused... I could go on, but I think I've digressed enough myself. I'll leave you with a quotation from the poet Craig Raine: 'Good writing is a criticism of life: it describes, selects, contemplates defining features, beauties, flaws; it puts reality on pause; it searches the freeze-frame; it is an act of measured consideration, of accurate re-presentation'.

Knife Fights and Tigers in The Republic of Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges | 36 comments (22 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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