Borges, Jorge Luis

Tagged: Author

(1899-1986) Argentine poet, essayist, librarian, short-story writer, poet, essayist, a central figure of Latin American literature for the 60 years of his active career, which he conducted solely in Argentina, though he was partly raised in Switzerland, and took his university degree there; his influence extended through poetry, very numerous reviews and seminal essays, which covered almost all of Western literature, as well as fiction. Beyond Latin America, he is most influential for his fiction, the whole of which has been conveniently assembled as Collected Fictions (coll trans Andrew Hurley 1998), a collection which includes work from the 1930s until 1980 or later, though almost all of his most famous stories were published in the 1940s (see below). Much of Borges's work can be understood as prefiguring Magic Realism, and in terms of Fantastika in general – he praised very highly the writer generally thought to have initiated the Argentinian fantastic, Leopoldo Lugones, commemorating him in Leopoldo Lugones (1955 chap) – though unlike Lugones he cannot be understood as a writer of sf. But his influence on twentieth-century literature worldwide has been so deep and pervasive that any sf written in English since about 1960 may consciously or subliminally reflect Borges; any sf story whose structure or arguments question or play with the nature of reality – or which makes fantastic use of images of the Labyrinth, the Mirror, the Library, the Map, and/or the Book and/or the Dream [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] which informs the world – will necessarily navigate seas of imagination he already plumbed, apodictically, in ten or twenty short stories. Borges's Metaphysical insistence on the primacy of Time over space, and his refusal to allow any genuine escape from time's Labyrinth, combine in his greater stories to generate a sense of ecstatic enclosedness in the Word Incarnate (see also Oulipo, Postmodernism) that may be uniquely intense in world literature. His direct influence can be seen clearly in many modern US authors like Philip K Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut Jr and Gene Wolfe.

Borges began to publish reviews and poems as early as 1919, and continued doing so into the 1980s. As already noted, very little of his career impinges on sf, except through its diffused influence on literature as a whole [the Checklist below is therefore highly selective]. Most sf writers have restricted their homages to and borrowing from Borges to the stories published in relatively few books. The first of these volumes – El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan ["The Garden of Forking Paths"] (coll 1941 [distributed 1942]) – appeared, as a separate publication, only in Argentina, but was soon modestly expanded and retitled as Ficciones (coll 1944; exp with three new stories 1956; trans Anthony Kerrigan and Anthony Bonner, et al, 1962); as Ficciones became Borges's most famous single title, and possibly the most important single volume of short fiction published in the twentieth century, we have here ignored our usual ascription practice and listed it not as a vt but as a separate title. The English publisher's claim that the 1962 translation of Ficciones was a "selection ... designed to give English readers an idea of [Borges's] astonishing range and talent" is false: the 1962 volume exactly translates the 1956 version of the original. Some stories assembled here that have proved particularly influential include:

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (May 1940 Sur; trans James E Irby 1983 chap), a mise en abime or Arabian Nightmare tale in which an imaginary encyclopedia "creates" Uqbar, whose literature is invariably set in the fantastic imaginary realms of Mlejnas (not again referred to) and Tlön;

• "Pierre Menard, autor del Quixote" [trans Anthony Bonner as "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote"] (May 1939 Sur), in which Menard "creates" Don Quixote anew by rewriting it word for identical word;

• "Las ruinas circulares" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "The Circular Ruins"] (December 1940 Sur), which portrays a character dreaming and giving life to a man, only to realize that he in turn is another man's dream, a kind of Golem; as a teenager, Borges had been strongly influenced by Gustav Meyrink's The Golem (1915);

• "La Loteria en Babilonia" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "The Babylon Lottery"] (January 1941 Sur), which details the history of a game of chance that gradually becomes so complex and universal that it is indistinguishable from real life;

• "La biblioteca de Babel" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "The Library of Babel"] (in El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, coll 1942), where books and their catalogues comprise an infinite recursion of the "real", sense and nonsense implacably entwined;

• "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "The Garden of Forking Paths"] (in El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, coll 1942), a meditation on the splitting of space by Time not many universes removed from sf tales involving Jonbar Point moments;

• "Funes el memorioso" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "Funes the Memorious"] (June 1942 La Nación), who in a sense chokes to death on his inability to forget anything;

• "La muerte y la brújula" [trans Anthony Kerrigan as "Death and the Compass"] (May 1942 Sur), whose detective protagonist is named Lönnrot after Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), the Finnish philologist who "created" Finnish literature through his manufacture of the Kalevala (1835; exp 1849) out of fragments of folk material; both Lönnrots "create" the worlds they detect; they are, in a sense, Magus figures manqué (see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy).

El Aleph (coll 1949; rev 1952) contains further important short stories, including some of those considered closest to sf, like the gloomy presentation of Immortality in "El immortal" ["The Immortal"] (February 1947 Los Anales de Buenos Aires as "Los immortales") and the Basilisk-like coin of "El Zahir" ["The Zahir"]; the book was never directly translated, though most of it appears, with some of the most famous stories from Ficciones, in Labyrinths (coll trans 1962; rev 1964). The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969 (coll trans Norman Thomas di Giovanni with the author 1970) is not a translation of El Aleph, containing a quite different selection of stories. Other titles of at least indirect interest include Manual de zoologia fantastica (1957 Mexico; exp vt El libro do los seres imaginarios 1967; the latter trans Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Borges as The Book of Imaginary Beings 1969; new trans Andrew Hurley 2005), a bestiary. With Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993) and Adolfo Bioy Casares he edited Antologia de la Literatura Fantàstica (1940; rev 1965; further rev 1976; trans as The Book of Fantasy 1976; rev 1988 with introduction by Ursula K Le Guin); and revealed a first-hand (if inaccurate) knowledge of sf by including H P Lovecraft, Robert A Heinlein, A E van Vogt and Ray Bradbury in his Introducción a la literatura norteamericana (1967; trans L Clark Keating and Robert O Evans as An Introduction to American Literature 1971) with Esther Zemborain de Torres. In 1979 Borges received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement.

Borges's bibliography is complex; there are several conflicting translations of almost every story of note; but at the end of the Labyrinth, students of Borges – especially those who read Spanish, as a very high proportion of his nonfiction remains untranslated – will find routes into the interior, where they may encounter the figure they seek. [JC/PR]

see also: Gamebook; Claude Houghton; Secret Masters.

Jorge Luis Borges

born Buenos Aires, Argentina: 24 August 1899

died Geneva, Switzerland: 14 June 1986

works (highly selected)

  • Historia universal de la infamia (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Tor, 1935) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Seis problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Sur, 1941) with Adolfo Bioy Casares as by H Bustos Domecq [coll: binding unknown/]
  • El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan ["The Garden of Forking Paths"] (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Sur, 1941) [coll: published 1941, distributed 1942: see Ficciones below, which augments the contents of this volume: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Ficciones (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Sur, 1944) [coll: see text of entry for description of relationship between this volume and El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan above: pb/nonpictorial]
    • Ficciones (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Emecé, 1956) [coll: exp of the above, with three stories added: binding unknown/]
      • Ficciones (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962) [coll: trans by Anthony Kerrigan et al of the above: hb/Ralph Mabey]
  • El Aleph (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1949) [coll: binding unknown/]
    • El Aleph (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1952) [coll: exp of the above: binding unknown/]
  • El hacedor (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Emecé, 1956) [coll: binding unknown/]
    • Dreamtigers (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1964) [trans by M Boyer and H Morland: hb/]
  • Manual de zoologia fantastica (Mexico City, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1957) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Antología personal (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Sur, 1961) [coll: binding unknown/]
    • A Personal Anthology (New York: Grove Press, 1967) [coll: trans by Anthony Kerrigan of the above: hb/]
  • Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1967) with Adolfo Bioy Casares [coll: pb/]
  • El informe de Brodie (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Emecé, 1970) [binding unknown/]
    • Doctor Brodie's Report (New York: E P Dutton, 1972) [coll: trans by Norman Thomas di Giovanni: hb/Jim McMullan]
  • El libro de arena (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Emecé, 1975) [binding unknown/]
    • The Book of Sand (New York: E P Dutton, 1977) [coll: trans by Norman Thomas di Giovanni of the above: hb/Randall Richmond]
      • The Book of Sand (London: Allen Lane, 1979) [coll: exp of the above trans: hb/]
  • Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (Toronto, Ontario: The Porcupine's Quill, 1983) [story: first published in May 1940 in Sur; trans by James E Irby: pb/]

nonfiction

  • Inquisiciones ["Inquisitions"] (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Proa, 1925) [nonfiction: coll: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Historia de la eternidad ["A History of Eternity"] (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Viau y Zona, 1936) [nonfiction: coll: binding unknown/]
  • Otras inquisiciones (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Losada, 1952) [nonfiction: coll: binding unknown/]
    • Other Inquisitions: 1937-1952 (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1964) [nonfiction: coll: trans by Ruth L C Simms of the above: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Leopoldo Lugones (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Troquel, 1955) [nonfiction: chap: not translated: Leopoldo Lugones: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Introducción a la literatura norteamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Columba, 1967) with Esther Zemborain de Torres [nonfiction: hb/]
    • An Introduction to American Literature (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1971) with Esther Zemborain de Torres [nonfiction: trans by L Clark Keating and Robert O Evans of the above: hb/]

works as editor

English language compilations (selected)

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

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