Monday, June 07, 2004

spanish-connection dept.

About two years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that Jorge Luis Borges was the greatest author not to be awarded the Nobel prize. I had never heard of this Borges fellow. Not a single mention even from people I had expected to be in the know about this here literature business.
Then some months after that, I was in the US, and I went through Barnes&Noble looking for this enigmatic person (I couldn't even spell his name then), and found him.
My initial reaction on reading Collected Fictions, a translation by Andrew Hurley, were ummm..everything from perplexity to jealousy to plain distaste to sneaking admiration.
Borges is a hard author to read. (Maybe it was just the translation). His language, especially later in his career, is very laconic, terse, yet replete with allusions and casual references to things that any average human being may not have a clue about. So looking beyond the name-dropping that his books are riddled with, and parsing this into something closer to our own understanding requires some work.
But beyond that, A few quick notes on Borges as a writer.
- Does not write about psychology, politics, social problems etc. the way the other novelists do.
Umm, to put it another way, these themes play cameos in his story, but never have star value.
- Focuses on ideas, they are central theme of the story. In fact his stories are always about ideas he has, rather than the other way round for most novelists.
- Writes tersely, laconically -- a sentence sometimes sums up what could be a 1000-page novel. e.g. "Just as some men court a woman just to get her out of their mind...". Just that single sentence can potentially spawn a slew of movies, novels, poems, whatever.
- Writes Apocrypha. True genius is incredibly lazy. Ordinary mortals will first build the outline of the plot, then construct the story/novel/movie etc. around it. Borges builds his plot, then assumes that the story has already been built, the gaps filled, the grunt work done; and then reviews this as the work of some fictional character.
Truly awesome.
He is not funny or ironic enough though (although he still has a lot of humour in his books -- he stops short of parodying himself, sometimes, although he does that too).
Pu La Deshpande has written similar stuff with equally great insight, but with a much superior class of wit and humor.

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