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Borges and His Fiction

Borges and His Fiction

Gene H. Bell-Villada
Copyright Date: June 2010
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    Borges and His Fiction
    Book Description:

    From reviews of the first edition:

    "A compulsively readable account of the life and works of our greatest...writer of fantasy. With a keen appreciation of Borges himself and a pleasant disregard for the critical clichés, Bell-Villada tells us all we really want to know about the modern master-from pronouncing his name to understanding the stories." -New York Daily News "Of the scores of Borges studies by now published in English, Bell-Villada's excellent book stands out as one of the freshest and most generally helpful.... Lay readers and specialists alike will find his book a valuable and highly readable companion to Ficciones and El Aleph." -Choice

    Since its first publication in 1981, Borges and His Fiction has introduced the life and works of this Argentinian master-writer to an entire generation of students, high school and college teachers, and general readers. Responding to a steady demand for an updated edition, Gene H. Bell-Villada has significantly revised and expanded the book to incorporate new information that has become available since Borges' death in 1986. In particular, he offers a more complete look at Borges and Peronism and Borges' personal experiences of love and mysticism, as well as revised interpretations of some of Borges' stories. As before, the book is divided into three sections that examine Borges' life, his stories in Ficciones and El Aleph, and his place in world literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79196-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Revised Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
    G. B.-V.
  4. Preface to the 1981 Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
    G. B.-V.
  6. Note on Page References
    (pp. xix-xx)
    G. B.-V.
  7. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-xxviii)
  8. Part I Borges’s Worlds

    • 1 Buenos Aires and Beyond
      (pp. 3-13)

      Above all a superb author of fiction, but also a fine poet and a hauntingly original essayist, the elder Borges loomed infinitely larger as public figure than as flesh-and-blood individual—the personally shy, multilingually bookish, all but blind octogenarian who spent his final two decades living more or less alone in his native Buenos Aires. For, beginning in the 1960s, Jorge Luis Borges evolved as an international phenomenon, a name commonly invoked by literati from Stockholm to San Francisco, from Poland to Peru, a sculptor of words whose three- or four-dozen short stories and as many brief essays came to...

    • 2 A Sort of Life, a Special Mind
      (pp. 14-41)

      Much of the shape of Borges’s artistry and intellect can be traced to his home life as a growing boy.¹ Born at the final stages of the nineteenth century, in 1899, he received no public schooling until his tenth year, owing to the Spencerian-libertarian beliefs of his father, who distrusted all activities of the State. Instead, he and his sister Norah received their first lessons from a resident tutor called Miss Tink, the daughter of a British couple who had settled in Argentina. Similarly, Borges’s adult literary acculturation was to come to him not so much via formal schooling as...

    • 3 What Borges Did for Prose Fiction
      (pp. 42-62)

      Borges is one of the foremost literary innovators of the twentieth century, a true originator and discoverer, a master artisan and meticulous maker, a man whose verbal inventions have effectively altered, in both the Americas and in Europe, the guidelines for writing, reading, and judging prose fiction.

      Within the Hispanic American world, from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, Borges’s thirty-odd stories stand as an event of immeasurable cultural importance. Quite simply, had Borges not existed or had he died before producing the Ficciones, the panorama of Latin American literary life in the later twentieth century—with its awesome standards of...

  9. Part II Borges’s Fictions

    • 4 The Apprentice Fiction Maker
      (pp. 63-76)

      Borges’s first attempts at fiction appeared in the oddly titled Historia universal de la infamia (1935; English translation,A Universal History of Infamy, published in 1972). It was a kind of entry through the back door, since this literary curiosity was initially conceived and produced not as a book but as journalism. The bulk of its contents first saw light in a weekly entertainment supplement, edited in part by Borges and included weekends in Crítica, a mass-circulation daily. Crítica was actually little more than a sensationalistic scandal sheet, but its owner had cultural pretensions and therefore gave his literarily inclined employees...

      (pp. 77-108)

      Borges’s genius as maker of fiction at long last became fully manifest in 1941, his forty-second year, when El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), a thin volume containing eight fantastic tales, appeared. (This was also the year of the local scandal in which Borges did not receive the National Literary Prize for a group of stories that would eventually earn Borges, and Argentine letters, worldwide fame.) These narratives were reissued in 1944, under the now-familiar collective title Ficciones, with a supplementary section, consisting of six stories, labeled ‘‘Artificios’’ (‘‘Artifices’’). To this last section...

    • 6 Ficciones II: THE WORLD WITHIN A BOOK
      (pp. 109-141)

      With characteristic understatement, Borges points out in his preface to Ficciones that ‘‘The Lottery in Babylon’’ is a piece ‘‘not entirely free of symbolism.’’ It is curious that Borges should so single out this one story, since all his narrative writings from this period have the symbolic aura ordinarily associated with his kind of fantasy. Indeed, close to one-half of the stories in Ficciones are symbolic parables that evoke human problems and situations. Some pieces do this by sketching before our eyes imaginary antiworlds, whose rituals, arts, and history are variously suggested; others hint at a larger reality by focusing...

      (pp. 142-180)

      Borges’s other major collection of stories, El Aleph, first saw light in 1949. To its original fourteen narratives Borges added four in 1952. Ten of these stories can be found in the Irby-Yates anthology Labyrinths; the remainder are gathered in the Borges and di Giovanni collection, The Aleph and Other Stories.

      The book contains numerous masterpieces, stories of breathtaking intellectual power that are haunting in their breadth and originality and easily the equals of any of the major narratives in Ficciones. On the whole, however, El Aleph lacks the impression of organic unity found in the earlier volume. Ficciones keeps...

      (pp. 181-208)

      More so than Ficciones, El Aleph contains a number of tales dealing with various types of physical violence—underworld executions, rustic machismo, political killings, even pathological revenge. Borges’s famed erudition and fantasy tend to be absent from these stories, which are generally in the lean, unadorned, hard-boiled tradition. The only overt signs of Borgesian fancifulness in them are an occasional secondary conceit such as the blurred identities in “The Waiting” and “Emma Zunz” or the final play of contradiction in “The Dead Man.” The one exception to this is “The Other Death,” with its erudite and oneiric machinery every bit...

      (pp. 209-244)

      The volume El Aleph contains a handful of formidable, imposing and somewhat longer stories that depict holistic experiences and convey a vivid glimpse of grand totalities, be these the mystical, unitary revelations of “The God’s Script,” “The Zahir,” and “The Aleph” or the multitudinous adventures, attitudes, and personalities of a universal wanderer in “The Immortal.” The first three of these stories divide neatly into Hindu, Islamic, and Hebrew mysticisms, according to their choice of lexicon and imagery, while “The Immortal” complements these Eastern-tinged artifacts with its 3000-year patchwork of European authors from Homer to Shaw.

      This group of narratives has...

  10. Part III Borges’s Place in Literature

    • 10 Dreamtigers and Later Works: A TENTATIVE SUMMATION
      (pp. 247-267)

      Borges’s output in prose fiction after El Aleph, though abundant, presents a somewhat changed picture. Of five subsequent gatherings, only El hacedor (literally “The Maker,” but retitled Dreamtigers in the English translation),¹ a thin opus first issued in 1960, is unmistakably of major artistic importance. The other collections—Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (1967; Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, 1976), El libro de los seres imaginarios (1967; The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969), El informe de Brodie (1970; Doctor Brodie’s Report, 1972), and El libro de arena (1975; The Book of Sand, 1978)—all pose troublesome aesthetic limitations that I shall discuss...

    • 11 Literature and Politics North and South
      (pp. 268-285)

      Surveying the sum total of Borges’s works, one is struck by a kind of “bulge” at approximately the middle of his career. This bulge constitutes the relatively brief spell (1939 to the middle 1950s) during which he produced the stories gathered in Ficciones and El Aleph, as well as the prose parables in Dreamtigers. Until then, Borges had brought out many of his strangely provocative essays and some lovely books of verse, but little as yet of universal import. During the 1960s and 1970s, well after his writing career had peaked, he reaped the benefits of his sudden and deserved...

    • 12 Borges as Argentine Author: AND OTHER SELF-EVIDENT (IF OFTEN IGNORED) TRUTHS
      (pp. 286-296)

      In a polemical essay first published in Salmagundi in 1980, George Steiner unfavorably compared the intellectual scene in the United States with that of Europe. And twice in that controversial piece Steiner referred incidentally to Borges, mentioning him in the same breath with European figures such as Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Webern, Joyce.¹ The context and the tone were both highly flattering to Borges. Now, Borges was scarcely the focal point of Steiner’s reflections, and obviously the eminent critic would know that Borges writes not in Europe but from the remote latitudes of Argentina, in South America. Nevertheless, there is something symptomatic...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 297-298)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 299-308)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 309-318)
  14. Index
    (pp. 319-325)