An elegant and deftly woven five-part lecture series that uses philosophic, etymological, and personal inquiry to offer an erudite and coherent exposition on the power and limitations of language with regard to the crafting of poetry.
Argentine magical realist Borges (Collected Fictions, 1998, etc.) delivered these lectures at Harvard in 1967–68 and the tapes were subsequently lost. Edited by Harvard professor Calin-Andrei Mihailescu, these heretofore unpublished lectures provide a uniquely personal glimpse into the questions and riddles that preoccupied one of the most fascinating literary minds of the 20th century. The first four lectures grapple with the problematic notions of metaphor, translation, narration, and time, while the fifth ("A Poet's Creed") is an autobiographical account of his literary awakening and development (complete with a reading list). For these investigations, Borges draws on a mind-boggling body of works, from Keats, Baudelaire, Plato, and Cervantes to Rafael Cansinos-Asséns, Omar Khayyám, Chuan Tzu, and Lucan, and from literary traditions as disparate as Norse mythology, the Kabbalah, and Indian philosophy. Perhaps most impressive is the way Borges manages, through a delicate balance of humility and clarity, to make his vast literary resources available to a lay audience. It is that same humility, however, manifest in the self-effacing disclaimers that qualify so many of his observations ("I am sure you know much more about these things than I do," "I think you are quite mistaken if you admire my writing," etc.), that interrupts the otherwise almost seamless marriage of logic to reference, painting this collection with a disconcerting veneer of artifice. His engaging and seemingly simple tone is a double-edged sword that both renders him accessible and simultaneously diffuses the impact of some of his boldest and most interesting arguments—such as postmodernism signifying the death of the novel and the history of literature impeding the appreciation of beauty.
A fascinating journey that weaves together the familiar and the unfamiliar in literature to cast old questions in a new light and supplement our understanding of a complex literary mind.