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Tony Grist

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Borges: Fictions [Oct. 13th, 2008|11:11 am]
Tony Grist
Borges may have lived his life as though trapped in a library of interconnecting hexagonal galleries, but most of us don't.  He leaves too much out of his fictions for them to be accepted as any sort of true allegory of existence.  His fantasies are paper-thin. For instance, if the guy in that particular story- The Library of Babel-  was able to write the text we're reading there must be other writings in his world- apart, that is, from the nonsensical ones on the shelves- and once you make such a supposition the whole fabric begins to tear apart.  Apparently there are "authorities" is his world too- but how can they possibly be organised? And do people not reproduce?  Oh- and a silly one this- apparently they excrete, but how do they eat exactly? This  nightmare universe comes equipped- very thoughtfully-  with lavatories, but not with kitchens.

Borges fictions are dreams- and like dreams illogical and flimsy- which would matter less if they didn't make such a parade of their logic. They frighten us with their inescapable labyrinths- only the labyrinths are full of holes.

It's a familiar 20th century trick- and with distance we're getting to see just what a trick it is: you create fiction from which you wilfully omit everything that gives life colour,  then complain about how life is a prison.  It's like that line of Beckett's, "They give birth above an open grave". Yeah, but what about all the stuff in between? Nabokov had a smack at this literary miserabilism in his early novel, Invitation to a Beheading- where a guy who's been stewing away in prison a la Kafka suddenly comes round and realises that the walls are cardboard and he can kick them down.

I can't help noticing- indeed, Borges openly acknowledges the debt- how much he owes to G.K Chesterton. And not only in matters of mood and style.  The plot of Death and the Compass is- for one example among many- merely a variant on that of The Mystery of the Blue Cross. The difference is that Chesterton's labyrinths are built to be broken out of, where Borges always shuts the door behind us with a fateful clang.  I know which version of reality I prefer- and believe to be closer to the truth.

I enjoy Borges. His little stories are very moreish. As art there's a lot to be said for them. Certain images- that infinite library for instance- are indelible. The mistake would be- and for many people has been- to suppose they have anything to do with life. Writing about labyrinths doesn't ipso facto make you profound.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: internet_sampo
2008-10-13 02:20 pm (UTC)
I greatly enjoy Borges also. But about your analogy: I remember that they weren't trapped in the library, they were there searching for something. Is that right?

Have you heard of Invisible Cities?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-13 03:06 pm (UTC)
The library was their entire universe. They were searching for different things- some for their own biographies or apologias, others for the library catalogue- and so on.

Invisible cities? Sounds vaguely familiar. Care to explain?
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[User Picture]From: internet_sampo
2008-10-13 10:20 pm (UTC)
It's a novel written in the 70's. Marco Polo describes to Kubla Kahn the cities of his empire. The author looks at what is real, what is imaginable and how language fits in. Not like Borges, but it reminds me of Borges.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-14 08:42 am (UTC)
I think that's a part of Borges greatness- that, no matter how good his own work is- he's been a huge influence on later writers.
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From: sculptruth
2008-10-13 07:22 pm (UTC)
I have a beautifully illustrated Book of Imaginary Beings. The etchings were done by Peter Sis, and they're endearingly sweet and dreamish. I Borges' other works, but I definitely have to be in a mood for him.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-13 07:43 pm (UTC)
That looks wonderful.

One thing I really like about Borges is how economical he is. He can give a short story of two or three pages all the gravitas of a three hundred page novel.
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From: sculptruth
2008-10-13 07:55 pm (UTC)
That is definitely true -- I wish every day I could write like that!
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[User Picture]From: silveredmane
2008-10-13 08:40 pm (UTC)
I love Borges. I've carried The Circular Ruins around in my active consciousness for years.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-10-14 08:45 am (UTC)
His best stories are literally unforgettable.
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