The OF Blog: Placing Borges

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Placing Borges

Several days ago, there was a semi-challenge of sorts for me to blog about Jorge Luis Borges and how he connects (or doesn't) with what the Anglo-Americans at least would call SF. I said I would, since I had just discovered a book by Carlos Abraham that was published in 2005 in Spanish called Borges y la ciencia ficción. I am currently reading that book and will hopefully have more to say about it this holiday weekend.

In the meantime, there are two Borges-related things for you to do. First, what genres, if any, would you place Borges work? Why so?

The second is relatively simpler. Over to the right will be a poll that'll run through Sunday afternoon for what Borges book you'd like for me to write a short commentary on for Monday. Mind you, I purposely excluded most of his well-known works and I own all of these in Spanish, so I'll be reading them in Spanish but writing the review of the chosen book in English. Thankfully, none of these are over 200 pages, so I should be able to manage a quick turnaround. So yeah, be sure to vote early...if not often.


Fabio Fernandes said...

Already voted!

Speaking of Borges, have you received an e-mail I sent recently?

Terry Weyna said...

I sure wish I could read Borges in the Spanish. Unfortunately, I have no facility at all for foreign languages.

James said...

I've never read any Borges, but I have Labyrinths coming in the mail, so that will be changing soon. I am looking forward to it.

Lsrry said...


Yes, I received it, but I haven't had time to read hardly a thing over the past week since I've been helping with my school's Title I funds application (we turn it in in the morning), but I'll try to look at it Sunday (Saturdays are now devoted to the near-total worship of my Vols :P)


Luckily for you, most of those books have been translated into English, but some of his non-fiction (admittedly, about half of the selections there) is Spanish-only.


I believe you're in for a treat! :D

Daniel Ausema said...

The stories from Book of Sand is in the Collected Fictions, are they not? The title story is one of my favorites, so I'm surprised you consider it not as well known (not that you're wrong--my perspective is likely skewed).

Borges is one of those authors who drives home for me how silly it is to worry about genre definitions and limits. He is undoubtedly literary, by any definition of the word I'd accept...but not at all what people seem to think of when they first hear that word and try to assign specific characteristics to it. And he's undeniably writing the fantastic, with some of his stories at least, but not what people think of with "fantasy."

I'll be interested to read your thoughts on the ciencia ficcion book.

tim said...

I really doubt it helps, but I mentally place Borges in with most of the other South American/ Caribbean writers, like Neruda, Garcia Marquez, Chamoiseau. From what I understand of Latin American history, these were regions that were not as affected (desicated?) by the ideals of the Enlightenment, and instead, sort of like 19th century Germany, developed a much more robust Romantic tradition that did not separate and categorize peoples, places, and things with quite the same fervor as the English were compelled to do. This is part of my own 'origin myth' as a historian of religions: founded in Germany, one of the reasons we think this might have been possible is that the German Romantic movement and its preoccupation with local fables and with India lead scholars to the realization that Other Peoples beliefs had to be treated on their own terms, as equally valid as Christianity.

Borges influence on Anglo genre fiction seems to be a sort of late development, perhaps only in the last few decades, with Vandermeer, perhaps Harrison (I don't know for sure). Going back to the hypothetical German/ LA connection, Borges and Kafka share a lot, as do current writers in eastern Europe, like Zivkovic.
Rambling is finished.

José said...

I would like you to review "The Book of Sand", which includes what is arguably the closest Borges ever got to writing a genre sf story, "Utopia of a Tired Man". I think the story was even nominated for a Nebula in the mid 70s. This book is not as well known as "Ficciones" or "El Aleph", and it is certainly minor when compared to those two books, but besides "Utopia..." it also includes a rather stange Lovecraft pastiche "There Are More Things" (original title in English) and a few really good fantasy stories such as "The Congress".
I have always thought of Borges as a writer in the Western tradition of the fantastic. I think calling his work magic realism is mislabelling it, for the local color -which seems to seduce some English speaking readers to read work in that mode- is always subordinate to idea in Borges -as it is also the case in Greg Egan's short fiction, for example.

Anonymous said...

What genre? Fantasy. Or Science Fiction. Or Speculative Fiction. I tend to view the three as synonymous in many cases. I think on balance I'd just side with 'Fantasy', which SF seems to be a subset of.

Some of his stories, of course, aren't fantasy. Some of them are on the borderline; some should probably be just called 'metafiction'. But overall I don't think that fine subdivisions of genre are helpful here.

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