Collected Fictions. Jorge Luis Borges.

Collected Fictions. Jorge Luis Borges. Andrew Hurly translation Penguin Classics, New York, 1998, . Original publication in 1935-1983.

This is another book I remember from my undergrad literature years. A quite strange European Literature in Translation teacher was preoccupied with labyrinths and fed us a steady of diet Mr. Borges along with more classic recursive confusion. I think I read maybe ten stories, and wrote papers on them. Most of them came from Ficciones. I remember in particular The Garden of Forking Paths, and Funes, His Memory. I was of course unaware as a 1960s undergraduate of everything published after about 1970. This time, I read about 60% of the contents of this new translation of his complete works.

I can recall some specific material from the former translation, and I seem to prefer it to the rendering in this one. At the start of The Lottery of Babylon, for example, here we have “I have known… ignominy, imprisonment.” What I remember is “I have known… opprobrium, jail.”

It’s silly for me to try to add to the corpus of Borges criticism. It’s just a pleasure to see him make something metaphysical of the imagination, always with irony but also suggesting it just could be. An encyclopedia that describes a place which doesn’t exist but comes to be more real than the world that does, someone who sets out to dream a real person, and someone who writes chapters of Cervantes as an original all involve prodigious works of the imagination that end up in an ambiguous stance toward the real world. It’s recursive: in Circular Ruin the fabulously detailed creative dreamer eventually realizes someone else is dreaming him.

I loved Weary Man’s Utopia, new since my university days. In an ironic Back to the Future our hero finds that printing of books has been forbidden because it multiplies unnecessary texts. The retrospective description of 1970s society is full of ridiculous triviality, which looks mild compared to our much greater foolishness, even more hopelessly cemented into the fabric of the way we think. In the story’s future world governments fell into disuse because nobody paid any attention. Politicians had to find honest work like being a comedian or a witch doctor. It almost seems as if Borges has a conventionally-accessible sense of humor, but this just sets us up for the deadly serious ending.

My epiphany came in The Rose of Paracelsus. “Every step you take is the goal you seek.” says the alchemist to the would-be follower who comes to his door and is eventually sent away. Ain’t it the truth. 9.??

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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