Shelf Defense: The Maker, In Praise of Darkness

In late 2011 I decided, in the hopes of keeping my library down to a manageable size, to comb through the unread sections in alphabetical order. It was a naïve, Sisyphean project, and it will take forever—so I’d better get moving. Shelf Defense is my occasional notebook about what I dig up, from Alphabet Juice to Point Omega.

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JORGE LUIS BORGES, THE MAKER (1960, TRANS. ANDREW HURLEY)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: See here.

THOUGHTS: Haha! Remember last time, when I was overwhelmed by Borges’s subtle but neverending tiger motifs? Well, one story in this slim collection of miscellania (forty pages, each piece a few hundred words long) has officially proven me right. “Dreamtigers" reads so much like non-fiction that I’m going to treat it as such; when the narrator describes memorizing tiger pictures in encyclopaedias as a boy, or thinks, while asleep, "This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have unlimited power, I am going to bring forth a tiger,” it’s only too easy to read it as both a confession and a celebration of Borges’s own writing process. What is fiction, after all, but a pure diversion of the will?

The narrator in the story is always disappointed by the tigers he manages to conjure. So, too, was Borges with his own work. He’s constantly disowning earlier stories, underselling his own talents, and humblebragging his way into the canon. This time you get a particularly clear sense that he’s getting older, and growing anxious about whether his powers will one day fail him, as Homer’s eyes do him in the title story. Then again, the name of the collection below gives me hope that Borges is able to at least make peace with the darkness.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

* * * * *

JORGE LUIS BORGES, IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS (1969, TRANS. ANDREW HURLEY)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: See above.

THOUGHTS: Or maybe not. This collection is even shorter—a scant 14 pages—and Borges bills it up front, for some reason, not as fiction at all, but poetry. Not much of anything to dig into here, except maybe for the tip sheet from the foreword (sample: avoid synonyms, as “they suggest imaginary differences”). “A Prayer” is about dying intact; “The Ethnographer” at least features a vintage supercondensed final line. The table of contents of my Collected Fictions tells me Borges, who was 70 at the time, has more (and longer) books in his future, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from this.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

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