The Total Library

August 22, 2008 03:41

This is a collection of more than 150 non-fiction pieces (critical essays, movie & book reviews, prologues, introductions) grouped chronologically from his earlier (disowned) writings to the year of his death in 1986. Some of these pieces have also appeared in Labyrinths. Most are short, with longer pieces dedicated to certain subjects well-associated with Borges (The Thousand and One Night, time, dreams, labyrinth…).

Readers will notice recurring themes and subjects — Quixote, H.G. Wells, Chesterton, Poe, Joyce, Gibbon, etc. — even repetitions (of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, even pages), running through these vast range of essays. As Eliot Weinberger wrote in the introduction, Borges was fascinated with the infinite possibilities of reassemblies of old elements. (I rather pity the glaring absence of The Saragossa Manuscript, at least in When Fiction Lives in Fiction, whereas The Thousand and One Nights is discussed alongside The Golem and At Swim-Two-Birds.) Borges is notable for the incisive-strength with which he discusses vast range of subjects in accessible manner, his polyglot nature never to intimidate. His movie criticism, however, came nowhere near the erudition and range of his literary oeuvre.

Borges has often been accused of political inertia and detachment; Weinberger’s inclusion of Borges’ writings against Peron dictatorship, anti-Semitism, etc. might challenge this archetype. (Yet, at the same time, I don’t deny Borges’ “political Brahmanism”, his voluntary seclusion from reality into his invented universe — see Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia for an interesting comparison with Ernesto Sábato.)

This collection comes with Index, valuable for a book so brimming with thrilling ideas, and is well-translated.

Also available by the same author

The Complete Fictions
Introduction to American Literature

Categories: Book reviews

: Founding director, c2o library & collabtive. Currently also working in Singapore as a Research Associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). Opinions are hers, and do not represent/reflect her employer(s), institution(s), or anyone else with whom she may be remotely affiliated.
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