Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
London: Penguin Classics, 2000 ISBN 9780141184845
I recently read a piece on the New York Review of Books website by Tim Parks about being receptive to literature - how, if read at the wrong time, even the greatest of literary feats may ring hollow to a reader. Parks had that experience when he first read Ulysses, not seeing past his own prejudices and habits and projecting them onto the work. This is indeed natural, and is why there is such a wide variety of literature out there to be consumed and pondered upon.
When it comes to Borges, I have had the same experience that Parks had with Joyce. I just don't get it. I know it must be something to do with me, as Borges is almost universally regarded as one of the leading proponents of South American literature. Added to that is my realisation on reading Labyrinths that one of my favourite authors, Gerald Murnane, owes a lot to Borges, both in content and style.
To me, at this moment in my life, the stories and essays contained in this book seem light-weight and facile, despite the undoubted erudition of the writer. As well as Murnane, I am reminded of the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, in the description of impossible buildings, speculative literary works, variations in timelines and so on. Some of the stories in Labyrinths are no doubt good, but I haven't been convinced they rise much above the realms of good speculative fiction. I wonder that it is the thin premise of many of these stories that is the reason why many of them are so short: they can't actually be stretched out longer than a few pages.
Stories about a person who set about re-writing the Quixote, of a Library that contains everything, or of a spy pre-figuring his own death seem to me to be so much idle Sunday-afternoon puffery. I found little in this book to nourish me.
As I suggested at the beginning of this piece, my view of Borges must be "wrong", as he is such a lauded writer, and so I am perhaps revealing my blindness and philistinism by writing as I have. Perhaps, as Parks did with Joyce, I shall return to Borges later on in life and discover what is hidden from me now. As for now, all I can say is that Borges is not for me.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell