The OF Blog: Borges Month, Discusión (1932)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Borges Month, Discusión (1932)

Out of all of his pre-1935 non-fiction collections, Discusión has long been a favorite of mine.  It is more of a literary critique book than the others, although each of those had at least some discussion of literary themes found within certain works.  Although Discusión too has essays on metaphysical elements, here these feel more integrated into the Art of story composition than in the previous four collections.

Discusión begins with a lengthy essay on gaucho poetry, "La poesía gauchesa."  Presaging his later essay collection on José Hernández's most-famous work, El 'Martín Fierro', this essay explores in great detail structure, themes, as well as transformations of gaucho stories from the actual gauchos living on the pampas to those of urban mythmakers such as Hernández and Rojas. Since this issue arises in even more depth in the above-mentioned collection, I will hold off on exploring what Borges says here at length, contenting myself with merely noting that Borges compares and contrasts meter and stanza in a way that made me want to break out my copy of Martín Fierro and re-read it again (there will be a brief post on it just prior to my review of Borges' collection on that fine epic poem).

In the second essay, "La penúltima versión de la realidad," Borges starts by referencing a description of a book that another is translating from English into Spanish and then he riffs on the descriptions found within the blurb about the dimensions of reality.  Originally published in 1928, this essay combines elements of reviewing a critical study with Borges' interpretations of philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Kant.  It is relatively brief, only about five pages of text, yet it was a fascinating read.

The third essay, ""La supersticiosa ética del lector," concerns itself with certain wrongheaded notions that are prevalent among many readers, both past and present.  This is how Borges opens his argument:

La condición indigente de nuestras letras, su incapacidad de atrae, han producido una superstición del estilo, una distraída lectura de atenciones parciales.  Los que adolecen de esa superstición entienden por estilo no la eficacia o la ineficacia de una página, sino las habílidades aparentes del escritor:  sus comparaciones, su acústica, los episodios de su puntuación y de su sintaxis.  Son indiferentes a la propia convicción o propia emoción:  buscan tecniquerías (la palabra es de Miguel de Unamuno) que les informarán si lo escrito tiene el derecho o no de agradarles.  Oyeron que la adjetivación no debe ser trivial y opinarán que está mal escrita una página si no hay sorpresas en la juntura de adjetivos con sustantivos, aunque su finalidad general esté realizada.  Oyeron que la concisión es una virtud y tienen por conciso a quien se demora en diez frases breves y no a quien maneje una larga. (Ejemplos normativos de esa charlatanería de la brevedad, de ese frenesí sentencioso, pueden buscarse en la dicción del célebre estadista danés Polonio, de Hamlet, o del Polonio natural, Baltasar Gracián.)  Oyeron que la cercana repetición de una silabas es cacofónica y simularán que en prosa les duele, aunque en verso les agencie un gusto especial, pienso que simulado también.  Es decir, no se fijan en la eficacia del mecanismo, sino en la disposición de sus partes.  Subordinan la emoción a la ética, a una etiqueta indiscutida más bien.  Se ha generalizado tanto esa inhibición que ya no van quedando lectores, en el sentido ingenuo de la palabra, sino que todos son críticos potenciales.

Tan recibida es esta superstición que nadie se atreverá a admitir ausencia de estilo, en obras que lo tocan, máxime si son clásicas.  No hay libro bueno sin su atribución estilística, de la que nadie puede prescindir - excepto su escritor (pp. 45-46)

The poor condition of our letters, their incapacity to attract, has produced a superstition of style, a inattentive reading of parcial attention.  Those afflicted with this superstition understand style not by the efficacy or inefficacy of a page, but instead by the apparent aptitudes of the writer:  his comparisons, his acoustics, the episodes of his punctuation and of his syntax.  They are indifferent to its proper conviction or proper emotion:  they seek 'techniques' (this word is from Miguel of Unamuno) which will inform them if the writing has the authority or not of pleasing them.  They heard that the use of adjectives ought not be trivial and they will opine that a page is badly written if there are no surprises in the juncture of adjectives with nouns, although its general finality is accomplished.  They heard that concision is a virtue and they hold up as being concise those which have ten brief phrases and not those which manage a larger one.  (Normative examples of that garrulous brevity, of that sententious frenzy, can be found in the diction of the celebrated Danish statemans Polonius, of Hamlet, or the nautral Polonius, Baltasar Gracián).  They heard that the close repetition of some syllables is a cacophony and will feign that in prose it grieves them, although in verse it gives them an especial pleasure, I think which they also feign.  It is to say, they are not fixated on the efficacy of the mechanism, but instead on the disposition of its parts.  They suborn emotion to ethics, to a rather indisputable etiquette.  That inhibition has been generalized so much that now they do not remain readers, in the ingenious sense of the word, but instead all are potential critics.

So received is this superstition that no one dares to admit to himself the absence of style, in works which they handle, all the more if they are classics.  There is not a good book without its stylistic attribution, from which none can disregard - except its author.
Borges goes on to discuss how certain works, especially Cervantes' Don Quixote, do not fit into these artificial parameters and how these preconceptions weaken the ability of a reader to perceive qualities (and errors) in a text.  I believe I'm going to copy/paste this section into a separate discussion on style and conventions shortly.

Borges also touches upon other writers, with two essays on Walt Whitman alone.  Borges has a deep appreciation for what Waltman managed to place in verse and his ecstatic joy expressed here is making me more inclined to re-read Whitman than I have been in several years.  I could also continue outlining passages from essays on the art of the narrative , magic, visions of Hell, and so forth, but hopefully these first few essays that I've discussed at some length give a clearer picture as to why I consider Discusión to be one of, if not the best, Borges non-fiction for readers curious about Borges' non-fiction to read.  It is a book that I've re-read several times over the years when trying to gather techniques for how to review works and it is one that I'll gladly dip into again and again in the coming years.

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites