02 June 2009

Borges' Labyrinths

It was our second meeting of our Confederacy of Dunces Book Club. We all seemed to agree that Borges is extremely unique and, at times, breathtaking.  If one word describes his work, it would be "succinct".  Some take it as far as saying he never wrote a novel, just plot outlines.  But what stories! Terse, pared to the bone, free of anything extraneous, yet charged with wry and detached humour, Borges takes us to amazing and often horrific universes in which literary, mathematical, scientific and philosophical riddles are made real. Here are stories exploring the nature of existence and the meaning of infinity.  I love such powerful literary works that can bridge the gap between philosophy and narrative.

During the evening it wasn't always a Borges love-fest.  Some went as far as to label it Jabberwocky, fairy tales for adults and mere abstracts for metaphysical tomes.   I remember reading somewhere: "speculative philosophy died and found its way into these stories".  ; each very Romantic and "magically realistic". These are fairy tales for adults.  An amazon reviewer said:
"Borges contracted the vices of two continents without assimilating any of the individual virtues possessed thereby. He was a journalist who wrote fiction with the corresponding appetite for the fantastic, and the scavanger's instinct for 'news' corresponding to the personal qualities demanded and cultivated by the profession."
But they did go on to say:
"That said, Borges was by far the finest Theosophical thinker of the last century . . . well learned and it shows . . . some power of imagination required to deliver all those clever little asides only those in command of the literature of six nations can fathom . . . a man of the people and ivory tower intellectual as well . . . none can compare . . ."
In 'Kafka and his precursors', Borges lampoons the very idea of authorship, yet his own influences are clear. He is as journalistic and rational as his heroes, Wells and Poe, and has a sharp, ironic style every bit as focused as Kafka, but if anything even harder hitting. The themes sound lofty, and they are -- but the execution is much more accessible than one would think, and it often has the beauty of the abbreviated, Japanese poetic form called the Haiku: I think of phrases such as "some birds, a horse, saved the ruins of an amphitheatre".