The unknown Jorge Luis Borges


Jorge Luis Borges was an eminently portable writer. He favoured various forms, but everything he produced was brief. He once claimed that his reluctance to publish novels was due to laziness, and that his works of short fiction were summaries of imagined longer works. Either he was teasing or being too modest, for his writing is deliberately compressed, and his style an instrument with an arrestingly rich sound. It takes only one reading to remember phrases as vibrant as “la unánime noche” (the unanimous night), from the story “Las ruinas circulares” (“The Circular Ruins”). And his ideas – an infinite library, a tongue-in-cheek defence of plagiarism, the claim that writers create their own precursors, rather than vice versa – have equal resonance. Readers find it easy to carry Borges in their heads. It has proved rather difficult, however, to carry his work in a reasonable number of books. Both in the original Spanish and in English translation, the history of his publications is labyrinthine, and there is an abundance of miscellanies, selections and collections. (A Complete Works exists in Spanish. Even this is incomplete.) In English, Labyrinths and A Personal Anthology, which had the imprimaturs of the master himself, became benchmarks in the early 1960s, and have stayed in print ever since. Several volumes of poetry and fiction supplemented them. But publication was haphazard, and complicated by legal disputes which may have worked not only against readers, but also the author’s wishes for a platform in English – his second language.

more from Martin Schifino at the TLS here.