Borges: A Life by`Edwin Williamson (Viking) (Paperback) Short story writer, essayist, and poet Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) revolutionized the literature of Latin America almost single-handedly and left a legion of readers and admirers worldwide. Based on an unprecedented range of interviews and on research into previously unknown or unavailable resources, this is the first biography in any language to encompass the entire span of Borges’s life and work. In Borges, Edwin Williamson brings to life the little known human side of the writer: his ancestral roots in Argentina, his relations with family and friends, his passions and despairs, and the evolution of his political ideas. By correlating this new biographical information with Borges’s literary texts, Williamson also reconstructs the dynamics of his inner world—the conflicts, desires, and obsessions that drove the man and shaped his work. This major new study finally unlocks the mysteries that have obscured the life of Borges. The result is a compelling and often poignant portrait that will radically transform our views of this modern master.
Edwin Williamson turns Borges' own oft employed techniques
of psychoanalysis and detective work on his subject in an effort to link events
in Borges' life with Borges' literary creation. He seizes on several themes,
honor, rebellion, alienation, love, nationalism, and responsibility to forge
JThe results are decidedly mixed for Mr. Williamson sometimes seems to omit detail for conjecture without justifying his viewpoint. The author may make too much of some of the linked themes here, for sometimes he seems to be straining to force circumstances in Borges' life to correspond to a story or poem. That is not to deny the clearly articulated autobiographical nature of Mr. Borges' writing. But Borges favored the`aforementioned themes and a well-known and oft-used set of symbols---tigers, mirrors, daggers, books, and so on---throughout his career and did not necessarily employ a specific theme because of a particular event.
Borges' political philosophies and missteps are crucial elements as are his early artistic leanings toward the avant garde. His boldness in those areas contrasts harshly with his sometimes weak personality, most notably demonstrated by his nearly lifelong deference to his mother (who lived to be 99) and his repeated failing at establishing and maintaining a meaningful, normal long-term romantic relationship until he was elderly.
Whether one quibbles with Mr. Williamson's presentation, one has to admire the attention to detail and the effort he has poured into "Borges: A Life." Mr. Williamson has consulted with an array of sources, reviewed myriad documents, and perhaps more crucially, interviewed many who knew Borges, especially Maria Kodoma, his companion and eventually his wife. Yet while he often seems to leave no stone unturned, he otherwise glosses over other significant events such as Borges' estrangement from his remaining family after his mother died or his separation from literary compatriots and collaborators.
As a previous reviewer here noted---and I agree---there is some degree of repetition employed in this biography, perhaps a tad too much. At times the book drags a bit and in other spots it does compel one to stay up a bit too late. All in all, this biography meets its stated goal of examining Borges' literary output in context of his life. But the result of applying this lens is that Borges the person does not fully come into view and the characterizations may make him appear more ineffectual and enigmatic that he actually was.
I support the notion that this work will remain an important but imperfect distillation of Borges' life but suspect that some scholarly missive will one day supplant "Borges: A Life" as the definitive biography of Borges.
From Publishers Weekly: Only one of the most paradoxical men of 20th-century Spanish-language letters could have authored an equally complicated literary work such as Labyrinths. And Jorge Luis Borges's life (1899–1986) imitated his art. In this dynamic biography, Spanish literature scholar Williamson (The Penguin History of Latin America) pieces together the life of Argentina's elusive literary master against a backdrop of the country's history and the author's oeuvre. While Borges was known as a rebel of narrative form and a crusader against conservative politics, Williamson argues that in spite of his ultracerebral writing style, he lived and died with very ordinary regrets. Borges was the son of battling parents from opposing political parties and the grandson of some of Argentina's most revered military generals. Williamson shows the young writer (whom he nicknames "Georgie" for effect) as a weakling and social recluse, unable to defend himself from the world's bullies. Ultimately, Borges chose the pen over the valiant dagger, so often used in his family's bloody history, as a means of protection. Later in life, displeased with his early books of essays, he set out to buy and burn all available copies. With just the right balance of fact and insight to make for a composed and not overly inflated biography, Williamson's psychoanalysis of Borges in love and in alienation is compelling. Replete with the most detailed facts about the air surrounding Borges, the book maintains human drama without overloading on unnecessary facts to create a poignant overview of a peculiar man. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges (Viking) (Paperback) Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish- language writer of the century. Now, for the first time in English, all of Borges's dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume--from his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, the enigmatic prose-poems of The Maker, up to his final, and never-before-translated, work from the '80s, Shakespeare's Memory. In maddeningly ingenious stories that play with the very form of the short story itself, Borges returns again and again to his celebrated themes: dreams, labyrinths, mirrors, infinite libraries, the manipulations of chance, gaucho knife fighters, transparent tigers, and the elusive nature of identity itself. Collected Fictions is the perfect one- volume compendium for all those who have long loved Borges, and the perfect introduction to the master's work for all those who have yet to discover him.
Although Jorge Luis Borges published his first book in 1923--doling out his own money for a limited edition of Fervor de Buenos Aires--he remained in Argentinian obscurity for almost three decades. In 1951, however, Ficciones appeared in French, followed soon after by an English translation. This collection, which included the cream of the author's short fictions, made it clear that Borges was a world-class (if highly unclassifiable) artist--a brilliant, lyrical miniaturist, who could pose the great questions of existence on the head of pin. And by 1961, when he shared the French Prix Formentor with Samuel Beckett, he seemed suddenly to tower over a half-dozen literary cultures, the very exemplar of modernism with a human face.
By the time of his death in 1986, Borges had been granted old master status by almost everybody (except, alas, the gentlemen of the Swedish Academy). Yet his work remained dispersed among a half-dozen different collections, some of them increasingly hard to find. Andrew Hurley has done readers a great service, then, by collecting all the stories in a single, meticulously translated volume. It's a pleasure to be reminded that Borges's style--poetic, dreamlike, and compounded of innumerable small surprises--was already in place by 1935, when he published A Universal History of Iniquity: "The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." (Incidentally, the thrifty author later recycled the second of these aphorisms in his classic bit of bookish metaphysics, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Teris.") The glories of his middle period, of course, have hardly aged a day. "The Garden of the Forking Paths" remains the best deconstruction of the detective story ever written, even in the post-Auster era, and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" puts the so-called death of the author in pointed, hilarious perspective.
But Hurley's omnibus also brings home exactly how consistent Borges remained in his concerns. As late as 1975, in "Avelino Arredondo," he was still asking (and occasionally even answering) the same riddles about time and its human repository, memory: "For the man in prison, or the blind man, time flows downstream as though down a slight decline. As he reached the midpoint of his reclusion, Arredondo more than once achieved that virtually timeless time. In the first patio there was a wellhead, and at the bottom, a cistern where a toad lived; it never occurred to Arredondo that it was the toad's time, bordering on eternity, that he sought." Throughout, Hurley's translation is crisp and assured (although this reader will always have a soft spot for "Funes, the Memorious" rather than "Funes, His Memory.") And thanks to his efforts, Borgesians will find no better--and no more pleasurable--rebuttal of the author's description of himself as "a shy sort of man who could not bring himself to write short stories."
From Publishers Weekly: Undeniably one of the most influential writers to emerge in this century from Latin America or anywhere else, Borges (1899-1986) is best known for his short stories, all of which appear here for the first time in one volume, translated and annotated by University of Puerto Rico professor Hurley. Many of the stories return to the same set of images and themes that mark Borges's best known work: the code of ethics embraced by gauchos, knifefighters and outlaws; labyrinths; confrontations with one's doppelganger; and discoveries of artifacts from other worlds (an encyclopedia of a mysterious region in Iraq; a strange disc that has only one side and that gives a king his power; a menacing book that infinitely multiplies its own pages; fragmentary manuscripts that narrate otherworldly accounts of lands of the immortals). Less familiar are episodes that narrate the violent, sordid careers of pirates and outlaws like Billy the Kid (particularly in the early collection A Universal History of Iniquity) or attempts to dramatize the consciousness of Shakespeare or Homer. Elusive, erudite, melancholic, Borges's fiction will intrigue the general reader as well as the scholar. This is the first in a series of three new translations (including the Collected Poems and Collected Nonfictions, all timed to coincide with the centennial of the author's birth), which will offer an alternative to the extensive but very controversial collaborations between Borges and Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Alexander Coleman (Viking)
brings together some two hundred poems--the largest collection of Borges's
poetry ever assembled in English, including many never previously translated.
The selection draws from a lifetime's work--from Borges's earliest work in the
20s, his debut Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), to his final poetic work, Los
Conjurados (1985). Throughout the volume, the brilliance of the Spanish
originals is matched with luminous English versions rendered by a remarkable
cast of translators, among them W. S. Merwin, John Updike, Robert Fitzgerald,
Mark Strand and Alastair Reid.
"--In Borges's case I do not consider it rash to acclaim him as the most important thing to happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times and as one of the most memorable artists of our age."-- Mario Vargas Llosa.
During his life, Jorge Luis Borges wore many hats. He was, variously, a poet, an essayist, a short-story writer, a librarian, and, for a short time, a poultry inspector. Born in Argentina in 1899, he lived for several years in Europe before eventually returning home to Buenos Aires in the early 1920s. It was here that Borges started his career as a writer. At the age of 24, he published his first volume of poetry, and though he would go on to garner considerable acclaim as an essayist and crafter of fiction, he always considered himself first and foremost a poet. This bilingual edition of Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman, gathers together 200 poems from different periods of Borges's life, including some that will be appearing in English for the first time.
Whether he was writing fiction, essays, or poetry, there were certain themes and subjects that Borges returned to time and again. His home town became a favorite topic--in his first collection, Fervor de Buenos Aires, he wrote: "My soul is in the streets / of Buenos Aires," a sentiment that remained constant throughout his life. This collection reveals other preoccupations as well--with history in all its permutations, Borges's own ancestry, and his fascination with metaphysics, mazes, mirror images, and the blurry line between parallel realities:
The celibate white cat surveys himself
in the mirror's clear-eyed glass,
not suspecting that the whiteness facing him
and those gold eyes that he's not seen before
in ramblings through the house are his own likeness.
Who is to tell him the cat observing him
is only the mirror's way of dreaming?
This companion volume to Andrew Hurley's new translation of Collected Fictions boasts a stellar cast of translators, including W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand, and John Updike among others. Admirers of Borges will find Selected Poems a fitting memorial to the great man; and for those have never had the pleasure of reading him before, this book is a wonderful introduction.
Borges was fascinated by English. As a kid, he grew up speaking it with his English grandmother and he spent the rest of his life ransacking the treasure-chest of English and American literature. In a famous prose-poem published in 1960, "Borges and I", he could cite Robert Louis Stevenson's prose as one his favorite things (alongside the taste of coffee and the strumming of a guitar). And even after he lost his eyesight in mid-age, most of the books he went on reading in his mind were in English.
Consequently, he sounds good in translation. It's tough to make Neruda or Lorca or even a lot of novelists writing in Spanish sound clear and convincing in English. Lorca, for example, wrote in a distinctively Andalusian idiom, and nobody who has never read his poetry in the original can understand how stilted he sounds in English. Borges, by contrast, had a more universal intellect and the strands of his writing span many non-Hispanic cultures. His reading in many different literatures left a deep imprint on him linguistically and helps explain why his work translates so well into other languages. While it's true that much of his poetry has a distinctly Argentine "flavor", it has many other flavors, as well. Depending on the poem, Borges can evoke Quevedo, Leopoldo Lugones, "Beowulf", the Icelandic Prose Edda, Whitman, Omar Khayyam, or Ralph Waldo Emerson. And yet the English influence is present in virtually all of his work.
Thirteen translators are featured in this anthology and the quality varies. Barnstone and Merwin are, as usual, impeccably accurate and 1000% unadventurous. Robert Fitzgerald shows yet again that his last name must be some kind of cosmic byword for quality (F. Scott, Edward, Ella, now Robert...). His version of "Odyssey, Book Twenty-Three" is breathtakingly tight and sweeping, actually more of a rendition than a word-for-word translation. Unlike Barnstone's somewhat stilted versions of Borges' sonnets, Fitzgerald manages to stick to the original rhyme-scheme without sounding forced. Unfortunately, he only did five poems in this book. ?Qu? lastima!
Alistair Reid did most of the work here. Reid is a perfect example of a fine translator who did some really great stuff back in the '60s, then apparently revised it to make stuffy literalists like Barnstone happy. For example, he took an excellent translation of "Limits" (which appeared in a 1967 book called "A Personal Anthology", which basically launched Borges's reputation in the United States) and altered it to make the words stick more closely to the original Spanish word order. It's still a good translation and all, but not as good as the first one. Other than that, though, I don't have any bones to pick with Reid.
Selected Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Esther Allen, Suzanne
Jill Levine (Viking) The third and final jewel in the crown of Viking's
acclaimed three-volume centenary edition of Borges's collected works in English
Though best known in the United States for his short fictions and poems Jorge Luis Borges is just as revered in Latin America as an immensely prolific writer of nonfiction prose. Now, following on the success of the critically acclaimed Fictions, Viking's Selected Non-Fictions brings more than 150 of Borges's most brilliant writings together for the first time in one volume--all in superb new translations. More than a hundred of the pieces have never previously been translated into English.
Even Borges aficionados are sure to be amazed to discover the extent of the master's interests. Like the Aleph in his famous story--the magical point in a certain basement in Buenos Aires from which one can view everything in the world--Borges's unlimited curiosity and almost superhuman erudition become, in his nonfiction, a vortex for seemingly the entire universe. He was equally at home with Schopenhauer and Ellery Queen, King Kong and the Kabbalists, James Joyce or Alfred Hitchcock, Flaubert, the Buddha, and the Dionne Quints!
The first comprehensive selection of this work in any language, the Selected Non-Fictions presents Borges at once as a deceptively self-effacing guide to the universe and the inventor of a universe.
Selected Non-Fictions demonstrates just how quickly Borges
began wrestling with such brainteasers as identity, time, and infinity. Indeed,
the very first piece in the collection, "The Nothingness of Personality" (1922),
already finds him fiddling with the self: "I, as I write this, am only a
certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention.
That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid
branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I." There
are many such meditations here, including "A History of Eternity" (in which
Borges maps out his own, disarmingly empty version of the eternal, "without a
God or even a co-proprietor, and entirely devoid of archetypes"). But it's more
fun--and more revelatory--to see the author venturing beyond his metaphysical
stomping grounds. Borges on King Kong is a hoot, and a cornball masterpiece such
as The Petrified Forest elicits this terrific nugget: "Death works in this film
like hypnosis or alcohol: it brings the recesses of the soul into the light of
day." His capsule biographies are a delight, his critiques of Nazi propaganda
are memorably stringent, and nobody should miss him on the tango. True, the
sheer variety and mind-boggling erudition of Selected Non-Fictions can be a
little forbidding. But, taken as a whole, the collection surely meets the
specifications that Borges laid out in a 1927 essay on literary pleasure: "If
only some eternal book existed, primed for our enjoyment and whims, no less
inventive in the populous morning as in the secluded night, oriented toward all
hours of the world." Oh, but it does.Kafka knew the pathetic result of
procrastination. Resultantly he ordered Max Brod to destroy his work. Two ideas
govern Kafka's work, Borges maintains, subordination and infinity. His works
contain infinite hierarchies. Kipling and Nietzsche shadow both Jack London and
Ernest Hemingway who were both men of action.
Borges blocks out a personal library wonderfully and amusingly. He compares Kierkegaard to Hamlet! Useful notes appear at the back of the book. The volume contains 161 pieces. The introduction of Eliot Weinberger notes that Borges was a master of concision. Borges characterizes James Joyce as a millionaire of words and styles.
As a young man he postulated that all literature is autobiographical. He charges the belief in the inferiority of translations is a superstition. For reason of causality, temporal succession, texts always seem right. Rereading makes them better, more inevitable. The English have an apetite for adventure and legality Borge asserts. A detective narrative encompasses both passions. Borges writes of Croce, Dreiser, S.S. VanDine, Spengler, V. Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and many other writers. He finds Aldous Huxley's fame excessive. He claims for Huxley an intolerable lucidity.
Novelists present a memory of reality. Borges casts MOBY DICK as the infinite novel. One of the pieces is called "The History of the Tango." Borges proclaims the tango is sexual and violent. It has a compensatory function. Swift and Flaubert were fascinated by madness. The concepts espoused by Carlyle are an obvious Presbyterian legacy. Emerson professed a fantastic philosophy, monism. The Germans were very moved by Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE and produced countless imitations.
Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE has been a recognized masterpiece for two hundred years. Swedenborg anticipated the nebular theory of Laplace and Kant. He would have liked to talk to Sir Isaac Newton. Borges describes his blindness, an hereditary affliction of his father and grandmother too. He explains that the blind live in a world that is inconvenient. Milton, the historian Prescott, and James Joyce were blind.
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