Challengingly erudite assortment of fiction, poetry, and essays
A fraction of the pieces included here are set in Borges’s native Argentina. In such stories, which sometimes take the form of westerns (or in Argentina’s case, southerns?), Borges contrasts the European culture of metropolitan Buenos Aires with the rugged gaucho life of the surrounding rural pampas. In stories like “The South,” “The Dead Man,” and “The End,” characters try to navigate from one world to the other and often find themselves in over their heads.
Beyond his tales set in South America, the writer Borges most calls to mind is Umberto Eco. The scope of Borges’s writings encompasses all of world history, including ancient and medieval times. Like Eco, Borges has a particular fascination for books and writers of the past, of all languages, and he demonstrates his encyclopedic mind through frequently arcane references. Unlike Eco, who seems to take pride in educating his readers on the world’s intellectual history, Borges just assumes you already know what he knows. While one can’t help but admire his impressive erudition, one also has to wonder if many of the critics and fans who praise Borges really understand what he’s saying much of the time.
Many of the briefer entries in this work, fiction and nonfiction, do little more than draw connections between historical figures and books from different corners of the globe and different eras in time, as if Borges were engaging in the mental gymnastics of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. This intellectual pinball makes his poetry quite interesting and enigmatic. In his fictional narratives, Borges defies conventional rules of storytelling. Even time itself doesn’t necessarily follow a linear path, and he often injects himself into his stories, blurring the line between author, narrator, and character. Such quirks feel appropriate in works that touch on science fiction and fantasy, like “Funes, the Memorious” or “The Aleph,” but often feel obtrusive elsewhere.
I don’t know if any of the writings in A Personal Anthology can be considered among Borges’s best work, but the volume overall, in presenting an ample and diverse selection of his work, serves as a fine introduction to his writing for the novice. That doesn’t mean that all the works included make for a satisfying reading experience. It seems as if the selections were chosen for their brevity, and they often feel more like incomplete sketches than fully realized ideas. Borges’s narratives are often frustratingly disjointed, and his style is a little too arty and pretentious for all but the highest denizens of the ivory tower to enjoy. If I had to judge his career on A Personal Anthology alone, the verdict would not be entirely favorable, but this collection did pique my interest enough to want to delve further into his extensive bibliography.
Stories and essays in this collection
(Poems and very brief selections are not included in the list below)
Death and the Compass
The Dead Man
Funes, the Memorious
A New Refutation of Time
The Circular Ruins
Inferno I, 32
Parable of the Palace
The Wall and the Books
The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald
Everything and Nothing
From Someone to No One
Forms of a Legend
Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz
Story of the Warrior and the Captive
The Modesty of History
The Secret Miracle
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