Monday, July 5th, 2010
This beginning is fairly characteristic of the stories in Brodie's Report -- the narrator (who is often identifiably Borges) distances himself from the story he is telling. He introduces it as a story he heard years ago, that he doesn't remember, quite, and is embroidering with his own inventions -- sometimes (eg "Unworthy") the character who is telling the enclosed story explicitly expects Borges to weave a story out of it, to decorate it with knife fights and lawlessness.
|Hace ya tantos años que Carlos Reyles, hijo del novelista, me refirió la historia en Adrogué, en un atardecer de verano. En mi recuerdo se confunden ahora la larga crónica de un odio y su trágico fin con el olor medicinal de los eucaliptos y la voz de los pájaros.|| It's been many years already since Carlos Reyles, son of the novelist, told me this story -- in Adrogué, one evening in the summer. In my memory are muddled now the long story of a hatred and its tragic ending, with the sickly odor of the eucalyptuses, the cry of birds.|
-- beginning of "The Other Duel"
Sunday, July 4th, 2010
At the opening of "Juan Muraña" (the fifth story in Brodie's Report), Borges refers back to a biography of Evaristo Carriego which he wrote in 1930 (and which I see was translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, in 1984*) -- his old classmate Trápani mentions the book by way of asking what Borges knows of "malevos," a word which I am not finding in the dictionary but which Hurley translates as "fighters and thugs and underworld types." ("Gangsters" seems like it might work just as well...)
I took the opportunity to have a look at Borges' foreword to Versos de Carriego, a selection which he edited in 1964** -- it is giving me another bit of nuance about the Argentine literary tradition Borges is coming out of. Previously I had been thinking the knife fighting in his Argentine stories was a reference to gauchesca literature, the literature of the pampas; but in this foreword he writes,
Esteban Echeverría was the first chronicler of the pampas; Evaristo Carriego, it appears, was the first chronicler of the arrabales [suburban slums around Buenos Aires].
There is knife fighting in gauchesca literature, but the knife fighting in the stories in Brodie's Report all takes place in the slums around Buenos Aires; the reference here is not to gauchos but to malevos.
Below the fold, a little more from the foreword, which makes Carriego's work sound fairly important to the evolution of Argentine literature. Carriego's complete works are online at Proyecto Biblioteca Digital Argentina.
From the foreword:
Carriego could not have carried out his works without the enormous freedom of vocabulary, of theme and of meter which Modernism granted to the literatures of the Spanish tongue, both on this side and on the other side of the ocean; but the Modernism which was his stimulus was also his enemy. A good portion of Heretic Masses is given over to involuntary parody of Darío and of Herrera. But beyond these pages, and beyond the rest, the discovery (let's call it that) of our suburbs is the most valuable contribution of Carriego.
I know little of his political inclinations -- a likely guess is that he was vaguely, eloquently an anarchist. [which cf Borges' statements about his own politics in the foreword to Brodie's Report.]... He worked ceaselessly, driven by the soft mania of the tubercular. ... He died twenty-nine years of age, at the same age and of the same disease as John Keats. Both men had a hunger for fame -- [this last bit I am finding very hard to understand, not sure whether from a language problem or a complexity problem:]
la pasión era lícita en aquel tiempo, ajeno todavía a las malas artes de la publicidad.
* di Giovanni wrote an essay on "Evaristo Carriego: Borges as Biographer," which one can read in part at Google Books
** (Also included in Prologos
is a foreword to Roberto Godel's Birth by Fire
-- In "Juan Muraña," Borges mentions that Godel was in school with him and Trápani.)
Thursday, July first, 2010
The first page of "Unworthy" has me scurrying to find out a little more about Spinoza, bizarre theories lent an illusory rigor by a Rube Goldberg Euclidian apparatus sounds like just my cuppa tea... I spend a little time looking at his Short Treatise on God, Man and Human Welfare and am finding it... strange. Not "difficult to parse," which has often been my experience reading philosophy, but just wrong-headed. Statements like "So since man has an idea of God it is clear that God must exist formally" have me scratching my head and wondering what Spinoza makes of unicorns and leprechauns, and flying spaghetti monsters... Statements like "Since Nothing can have no attributes, the All must have all attributes" have me shaking my head and muttering that that does not follow, all your capitalization and italics will not make it follow. All this head-scratching and head-shaking and muttering is making it hard to get anywhere with the text. (It was fun to find out, though, that I can nearly read Dutch -- if I squint just right and have the translation to hand -- I had never thought to look much at Dutch before but the description I've heard of it as being halfway between German and English seems just about right.)
|Estaba compilando, me dijo, una copiosa antología de la obra de Baruch Spinoza aligerada de todo ese aparato euclidiano que traba la lectura y que da la fantástica teoría un rigor ilusorio.||Fischbein was putting together, as he told me, a collection of the work of Baruch Spinoza, shorn of this whole Euclidian business which hinders the reading experience and which lends the bizarre theory some rigor, some illusory rigor.|
Joseph B. Yesselman maintains a hypertext library of Spinoza's works translated into English. It seems like his Ethics and possibly Tractatus Theologico-Politicus are where I should look for Euclidean apparati.
Saturday, June 26th, 2010
In the interest of drawing connections between unrelated texts... This passage from "Unworthy":
deserves to be read in conjunction with this song:
(and well also, the song deserves to be listened to in conjunction with that passage -- they magnify one another, is what I mean.)
La imagen que tenemos de la ciudad siempre es algo acrónica. El café ha degenerado en bar; el zaguán que nos dejaba entrever los patios y la parra es ahora un borroso corredor con un ascensor en el fondo.
The image which one holds of one's city is always a little anacronistic. This café has deteriorated into a bar; that hallway, the one through which we could make out the patio and the garden, is now a faded corridor with an elevator at the far end.
Another useful point of reference for this passage, and for this song, is the beginning of "The aleph":
La candente mañana de febrero en que Beatriz Viterbo murió ..., noté que las carteleras de fierro de la Plaza Constitución habían renovado no sé qué aviso de cigarrillos rubios; el hecho me dolió, pues comprendí que el incesante y vasto universo ya se apartaba de ella y que ese cambio era el primero de una serie infinita.
On the hot February morning when Beatriz Viterbo died ..., I noticed that the iron billboards in Plaza Constitución had been cleared of their advertisement for blonde cigarettes (or whatever it had been)... The matter caused me some pain, when I understood that the vast, incessant universe was detaching itself from her memory; this change would be the first in an infinite series.
In the foreword to Brodie's Report, Borges claims to be attempting ("I don't know how successfully") the composition of direct narratives, stories which do not mislead -- the implicit counterpart being that his previous volumes of stories have been labyrinths, mazes for the reader to lose himself in. (He draws a parallel to Kipling's work which I don't fully understand, need to look into that a bit more.) This is an interesting claim and I think it bears some thinking about...
|Esa obra era un escándolo, porque la confusión y la maravilla son operaciónes propias de Dios y no de los hombres.||This work [the building of a labyrinth in Babylon] caused outrage; for chaos and miracles are acts proper to God, not to mortals.|
-- "The two kings and the two labyrinths",
which Borges attributes to an inauthentic edition of the 1001 Nights.
One way of treating this foreword is as itself a clever bit of misdirection. I have only read Brodie's Report once, in the course of reading Collected Fictions this Spring, did not blog about it at all; my impression was that the stories in this volume would be, after I read them some more and got comfortable with them, my very favorite of Borges' stories, and that while there was a good deal of potential for the reader to get lost in the mazes of these stories, one would need to pull in the themes and storylines of his earlier fictions to make that happen -- that the stories appeared to be straightforward narrative but contained secondary levels in which the path of plot was not as obvious. I'm embarking on a second read now, to try and confirm some of this and to see how they hold up on rereading. Here is some beautiful prose from the foreword:
He intentado, no sé con qué fortuna, la redacción de cuentos directos. No me atrevo a afirmar que son sencillos; no hay en la tierra una sola página, una sola palabra que lo sea, ya que todas postulan el universo, cuyo más notorio atributo es la complejidad. Sólo quiero aclarar que no soy, ni he sido jamas, lo que antes se llamaba un fabulista o un predicador de parábolas y ahora un escritor comprometido. No aspiro a ser Esopo.
I have made an attempt, I don't know how successfully, at the composition of direct narratives. I am not claiming that they are simple; there is not a single page on earth -- a single word -- that is simple; for every word must assume the entire universe, whose most noteworthy attribute is complexity.* I would only like to clarify that I am not -- I have never been -- what was once called a fabulist, a preacher of parables, what is now called an "engaged" author. I have no desire to be Æsop.
*In this regard, see also "Scripture".
Reading further, he is talking about his political beliefs in a slightly combative way, or perhaps in a resigned tone with a bit of self-justification about it. He says, his writing does not contain his personal political views -- except for once, in the case of the Six Days War -- this almost sounds like a response to (or an anticipation of) people who think he was denied a Nobel prize which he deserved, on the basis of being considered too conservative. The Six Days War thing would be useful to read up on... not finding quickly what writing he's got in mind, though I see a reference to it in this Martín Zubieta piece at leedor.com.
Saturday, June 12th, 2010
My and Mariana's exchange of Spanish books continues -- yesterday I gave her El informe de Brodie (she says she and every other Argentinian student read Borges' stories in her High School classes but has not gone back to them since then) and she gave me Galeano's Bocas del tiempo and El palacio japonés by José Mauro de Vasconcelos (translated from the Portuguese, and with a foreword, by Haydée M. Jofro Barroso).
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Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.