The OF Blog: Borges Month: Siete noches (1977), Nueve ensayos dantescos (1982), La memoria de Shakespare (1983), Atlas (1984), Prólogas de La Bibloteca de Babel (posthumous), Biblioteca Personal (posthumous)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Borges Month: Siete noches (1977), Nueve ensayos dantescos (1982), La memoria de Shakespare (1983), Atlas (1984), Prólogas de La Bibloteca de Babel (posthumous), Biblioteca Personal (posthumous)

In this brief essay, I want to touch upon Borges' final non-poetry releases during the last nine years of his life, as well as note two in-progress series of forewords he was writing for Argentine and Italian publishers that were collected posthumous, sometime around 1988-1989.  It is a remarkable amount produced by a man who was in his late 70s and early 80s during this time period between 1977 and his death on June 14, 1986.

Back in 2007, I had written a short review of Borges' final collection of short fiction, La memoria de Shakespeare.  Below is what I said about it at the time:

I just finished reading the last-written collection of short stories that Jorge Luis Borges wrote before his 1986, collected as La memoria de Shakespeare (Shakespeare's Memory in English translation, contained within Andrew Hurley's omnibus translation, Collected Fictions). Written around 1983, there are only four stories contained within, but I feel that some, if not all of them, ought to be talked about in much the same fashion as his earlier stories from Ficciónes or The Aleph are discussed.

Before I did the virtual version of sitting down to write this review (having already had my tookus in park for a while), I scoured the web for reviews of Shakespeare's Memory. They were scant, perhaps in part because at first they were only available within the omnibus Collected Fictions. Perhaps it's because many reviewers are drawn to the first sparkles of creative light and are not willing to reflect upon the last refractions cast before the life's sun sets eternally. Whatever the reason, I want to devote some words to two of the four stories contained within, "Blue Tigers" and the eponymous story of "Shakespeare's Memory."

"Blue Tigers" is that of searching too far, of having the miraculous given unto you, in the guise of stones that multiply or disappear at will. It is a story that can be viewed as a reflection upon the Almighty and all of His names, or perhaps of our attempts to make order out of things beyond our ken. It was for me a cautionary tale, with multiple possibilities, but also rather straightforward in its storytelling and language. It is not another Tlön, nor did it need to be - it was its own story, possessing a unity of voice and style that did not hearken back to an earlier tale, but instead felt more as if it were written by a more world-wise and weary Borges, one who wasn't content with asking simply "What if?" but rather "Why this, perhaps?"

"Shakespeare's Memory" is one of the better tales that Borges has written. It is a reflection of how the Bard has had an influence on how we have perceived people and motives, but also a musing on how impossible it is to contain that dead man's "memory" within that of the living, vibrant souls, regardless of how "inferior" of a talent that person might possess in comparison. It is also a tale of personality conflation, of a confused jumble of images, emotions, and loves. It is a memory to be passed on rather than kept for oneself. It is, perhaps, a personification of the transmission of literature and ideas and how they are altered and transmuted by each person in line from the past to the now-present towards the future.

These two stories, along with "August 25, 1983" and "The Rose of Paracelsus," represent a Borges that still was continuing to probe questions about Self and Others, among other things. He just wasn't being as whimsical about it as he might have been earlier in his writing career. It would be a grievous oversight for people to neglect his latter fictional works in favor of the earlier work. One would miss out on the maturation process that took place through the various experimental stages that made up the last 50 years of his life. Borges was not a static stylist; his pieces have their own tunes. We just only have to open ourselves enough to consider that the old dog still had tricks to show us that he hadn't done before his last years and not judge the new act by the memories of before, lest it all become jumbled and hazy in our minds. 

Three years later, there is very little I would change to it, except maybe the wording slightly.   It is still a fine collection, but lamentably short at only four stories.  A year later, in 1984, Borges' final non-poetry collection (although that is not exactly true, as a few of his earlier poems were reprinted here or later in 1985's Los conjurados), Atlas, was released.  It is a very short, photography-filled collection of Borges' thoughts on travels, life, tigers, mysteries, and various mystical aspects associated with his travels in the late 1970s and 1980s with his future second wife, María Kodama.  It is a very minor piece, but one that perhaps might be of interest to Borgesian scholars and fans.

There were two related critical studies released during this time period.  The first, Siete noches (1977), is the transcription of seven nights of lectures that Borges gave in Argentina in front of packed audiences.  The first night dealt with Borges' appreciation for Dante's The Divine Comedy, a topic he explored in more depth in his 1982 book, Nueve ensayos dantescos.  In this lecture, Borges combines some scholarly rigor (he is familiar with certain interpretations of the texts, but he is not providing footnote-heavy commentary here) with a fan's passion, creating a fascinating look into Borges' thoughts not just on Dantes, but also, in the succeeding six nights, on the following:  nightmares, The Arabian Nights, Buddhism (which he first covered in 1976's Qué es el budismo), poetry, the Cabala, and finally, blindness.  Below is a clip I've posted before of the first part of his lecture on blindness:

These are the last of Borges' works that he managed to finish in his lifetime.  At the time of his death, he was working on two projects simultaneously for Argentine and Italian publishers, where he would select lists of favorite authors and write forewords for limited-edition works that would bear Borges' name along with the original authors.  These books, Prólogos de La Biblioteca de Babel (the Italian) and Biblioteca Personal (the Argentine), were created from collecting what forewords Borges had managed to complete before his death in Geneva from liver cancer.  They are interesting only as sources of how Borges viewed other authors; there are overlaps of authors in the two, but no duplicate essays between the two.

And with this, I have commented at least a little bit on every Borges-penned work that I own.  There are a few that I have not yet bought.  Perhaps in the near future, I'll comment on those.  Sometime in August (not tomorrow!), I do plan on writing three more Borges-related posts.  The first will be a review of three memoirs/diaries that three friends of his wrote after his death (Adolfo Bioy Casares, Norman Thomas di Giovanni, María Esther Vásquez), the second a short commentary on Carlos Abraham's book on Borges' connections with SF, and the final essay will be a summation of what I have learned about Borges.  Hopefully, these will be done by the 111th anniversary of Borges' birth, August 24.

It certainly has been fun and hopefully these three related posts will be of interest to people who have read these posts and who perhaps have learned a bit more about Jorge Luis Borges.

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