“He more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”
– J.M. Coetzee
Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine short story writer, essayist, and poet would become during the 1940s one of the premier fore-runners of ushering the world of Latin American literature into the realm of magical realism. Prior to Borges (during the 1940s) and Gabriel García Márquez (during the 1960s), Latin American writers tended to be primarily concerned with painting realistic and detailed portrayals of the reality they existed in. However, when Borges released Ficciones and The Aleph in the 1940s he presented to other artists, worlds where themes such as of dreams, labyrinths, religions, the supernatural, and metaphysics could be injected into realism. Rather than using fiction as a way to document reality, Borges used it to create new realities that toyed with philosophical concepts (in fact, he was so into the toying with reality that while he worked as a book reviewer for a Argentine Newspaper, he would make up and add facts to the author’s biography). The act of writing to Borges was intellectual play; in it he was free to try out new storytelling techniques, or he fram elaborate puzzles for his readers to figure out.
One of my favorite story by Borges, “Death and the Compass” (Collected Fictions, p. 147), is one of the best examples of how good he was at taking the tricks of a particular genre (in this case detective story) and flipping it on its head. The plot of the story is that detective Erik Lönnrot, is attempting to solve a series of murders which seems to add up to the Kabbalist pattern of the Tetragrammaton (the unspeakable name of god). Inside the plot and structure Borges combines some of his favorite themes like religious symbols and rituals, a main character who succumbs to hubris, conspiracy theories, and an ironic conclusion, to craft a story that is magically clever, with an ending that is best left unspoiled.
You can check out “Death and the Compass” or find your own favorite Borges short story in Collected Fictions (FIC BORGES).
You can also continue reading for more information on Borges including the books he wrote and those that he inspired.
Books by Jorge Luis Borges
The Aleph and Other Stories
Full of philosophical puzzles and supernatural surprises, these stories contain some of Borges’s most fully realized human characters. With uncanny insight he takes us inside the minds of an unrepentant Nazi, an imprisoned Mayan priest, fanatical Christian theologians, a woman plotting vengeance on her father’s “killer,” and a man awaiting his assassin in a Buenos Aires guest house. This volume also contains the hauntingly brief vignettes about literary imagination and personal identity collected in The Maker, which Borges wrote as failing eyesight and public fame began to undermine his sense of self.
All of Borges’ fictions gathered together into a single volume and translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmatic, elaborate, imaginative inventions display Borges’ talent for turning fiction on its head by playing with form and genre and toying with language.
Though best known in the United States for his short fictions and poems Jorge Luis Borges is just as revered in Latin America as an immensely prolific writer of nonfiction prose. Selected Non-Fictions brings more than 150 of Borges’ most brilliant writings together for the first time in one volume–all in superb new translations. More than a hundred of the pieces have never previously been translated into English. Like the Aleph in his famous story–the magical point in a certain basement in Buenos Aires from which one can view everything in the world–Borges’ unlimited curiosity and almost superhuman erudition become, in his nonfiction, a vortex for seemingly the entire universe.
Books Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges
The Invention of Morel
by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Best friend and fellow Latin American writer, Jorge Luis Borges declared The Invention of Morel a masterpiece of plotting, comparable to The Turn of The Screw and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Set on a mysterious island, Bioy’s novella is a story of suspense and exploration, as well as a wonderfully unlikely romance, in which every detail is at once crystal clear and deeply mysterious.
Borges and the Eternal Orangutans
by Luis Fernando Verissimo
Vogelstein is a loner who has always lived among books. Suddenly, fate grabs hold of his insignificant life and carries him off to Buenos Aires, to a conference on Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of the modern detective story. There Vogelstein meets his idol, Jorge Luis Borges, and for reasons that a mere passion for literature cannot explain, he finds himself at the center of a murder investigation that involves arcane demons, the mysteries of the Kaballah, the possible destruction of the world, and the Elizabethan magus John Dee’s theory of the “Eternal Orangutan,” which, given all the time in the world, would end up writing all the known books in the cosmos.
The Death of Artemio Cruz
by Carlos Fuentes
Artemio Cruz, newspaper owner and land owner, begins this novel on his deathbed. From there Fuentes plunges the reader into his thoughts as he segues from the past to his increasingly disoriented present. Drawn as a tragic figure, Cruz fights bravely during the Mexican Revolution but in the process loses his idealism–and the only woman who ever loved him. He marries the daughter of a hacienda owner and, in the opportunistic, postwar climate, he uses her family connections and money to amass an ever-larger fortune. Cocky, audacious, corrupt, Cruz, on another level, represents the paradoxes of recent Mexican history.
Fitz, E. E. (2008). Faulkner, borges, and the translation of the wild palms: The Evolution of borges’ theory concerning the role of the reader in the game of literature. Faulkner Journal, 24(1), 29-61. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.