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by Jorge Luis Borges & edited by Eliot Weinberger & Esther Allen & Suzanne Jill Levine

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-84947-2
Publisher: Viking

Familiar essays and lectures by the great Argentine fantasist, plus many hitherto uncollected pieces. Borges (1899—1986) first appeared on the American scene in 1962, when his Ficciones abruptly made it plain that a major foreign writer had escaped our attention for quite a while. Since then, our publishing houses have been briskly making up for lost time, issuing a wide variety of anthologies and collections. This one, honoring the author’s centenary, comprises no fewer than 150 separate nonfiction pieces: essays, lectures, book and movie reviews, magazine articles, journalistic commentary, prologues to Spanish translations of books from other languages. This is a lot of Borges, and the volume’s bulk runs counter to the spirit of his creativity. A modest and always fastidious writer, he cultivated short forms with great success; consequently, to have so much of his occasional writing deposited in one clump may not have been to his taste. Still, it’s good to reread familiar pieces and discover a few new ones. Curiously, the expanded Borges does not open new vistas on this writer. Instead, it serves to confirm that his imagination circled back continually and always fruitfully to topics and figures that preoccupied him: De Quincey, The Arabian Nights, Chesterton, Schopenhauer, the Kabbalah, Nietzsche, Argentine identity, Buddhism, and the idea, variously ramified, of infinity. His characteristic pose is that of slightly pedantic bookishness, as in this opening: “I read, a few days ago, that the man who ordered the building of the almost infinite Chinese Wall was that first Emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who also decreed the burning of all books that had been written before his time.” Apart from a little new information about this or that, what we always come away with is a deepened understanding of how passionate and rich the literary life can be. Fresh translations, useful and unintrusive notes (editor Weinberger has also translated the poetry of Octavio Paz), several new pieces of writing, but not a leap into an altered vision of Borges. (First serial to Grand Street)