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Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges' dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmat Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges' dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmatic, elaborate, imaginative inventions display Borges' talent for turning fiction on its head by playing with form and genre and toying with language. Together these incomparable works comprise the perfect one-volume compendium for all those who have long loved Borges, and a superb introduction to the master's work for those who have yet to discover this singular genius.


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Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges' dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmat Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges' dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmatic, elaborate, imaginative inventions display Borges' talent for turning fiction on its head by playing with form and genre and toying with language. Together these incomparable works comprise the perfect one-volume compendium for all those who have long loved Borges, and a superb introduction to the master's work for those who have yet to discover this singular genius.

30 review for Collected Fictions

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Humbled by the Word The Master. What educated person could live without his factional fiction? Borges created a genre which itself is now a fact in Western culture. And that fact, inadequately but accurately put, is that words lie. They can lie beautifully and even beneficially, but they nevertheless lie. And we love them for it. Words cannot reveal but oh how they direct one’s attention, often to opposing points of the compass. Words do not cut the world at its joints but separate off bits of re Humbled by the Word The Master. What educated person could live without his factional fiction? Borges created a genre which itself is now a fact in Western culture. And that fact, inadequately but accurately put, is that words lie. They can lie beautifully and even beneficially, but they nevertheless lie. And we love them for it. Words cannot reveal but oh how they direct one’s attention, often to opposing points of the compass. Words do not cut the world at its joints but separate off bits of reality arbitrarily with bloody and ragged edges that look different from every angle. Words then hide their duplicity behind a facade of neutrality and objectivity. Their beauty distracts us so we hardly notice the flesh behind the masque. Words lurk. They wait patiently, sometimes over millennia, for the unwary reader, whom they invade without conscience. Every use of a word is a Trojan horse meant to surreptitiously further someone's agenda: to convince, to inform, to threaten, to attract, to mislead, to embarrass, but never merely to designate reality accurately or completely. It is only when we think that we control words, when we think that we know with some certainty what they really, really mean, that they become dangerous. Speaking and writing words do not control them but spread them like a virus coughed into a crowd. Philosophers know that words speak people as much as that people speak words. Words, texts, essays, books, libraries are as controllable as an atomic explosion, and spread even more fallout. So humility is the prime virtue of the writer who knows he is controlled by every word he uses. He revels publicly in his literal humiliation by the words he publishes. He tells the truth by letting us know he lies with his words. He humbles himself before his words in order to become their master. He is more clever than words because they don't know how to be humble. Their hubris is their vulnerability. This is why Jorge Luis Borges may be the humblest writer ever to exist.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

    For the last year or so, I've been working at a film studios. As I wander around the site, what I find most fascinating is not star-spotting (they tend to be shielded from prying eyes anyway) but the many and varied pre-production activities needed to make the magic of cinema a reality: building sets and props; puppet-people in motion-capture suits; food carts for the crews; the whir of industrial generators; cabling for light and sound; the making of costumes, weapons and jewellery. Real, tang For the last year or so, I've been working at a film studios. As I wander around the site, what I find most fascinating is not star-spotting (they tend to be shielded from prying eyes anyway) but the many and varied pre-production activities needed to make the magic of cinema a reality: building sets and props; puppet-people in motion-capture suits; food carts for the crews; the whir of industrial generators; cabling for light and sound; the making of costumes, weapons and jewellery. Real, tangible crafts, performed by and for living, breathing people. Reading Borges' multi-layerd and ambiguous blending of truth and imagination has made me consider what is real, and what is fiction in new ways. At the studios, there are sets within sets, to tell stories within stories, as well as different versions of the same story. First, there was a traditional fairytale, then Uncle Walt's team made a blockbuster animation of it, and now they're making a live action version. That in itself prompts philosophical musings, but there's more to it than that. Even this "real" version of the story is illusory. The huge and impressive sets are made of cheap timber, plaster, plastic and polystyrene; their beauty is skin deep, and best viewed from a distance. Blue and green-screen are used for backgrounds and special effects. Maybe audiences will think the sets are CGI as well, so why have builders, carpenters, and sculptors been toiling for months to create the ephemeral palaces of dreams? Would such a misapprehension diminish or enhance the importance of their work? (This question becomes more personal: I write help and user guides for software; if no one reads what I write, is my effort worthless, my job pointless?) In a few months, the sets will be dismantled, props and costumes repurposed or thrown away. But an impression will live on in the digital realm and people's memories. Ephemeral - or not? Real - or not? Last month, I touched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She's real. The publications in this volume of Collected Fictions are reviewed individually: • 1935, A Universal History of Iniquity 3* - plain, macho stories Then a group of philosophical, mind-warping stories: • 1941, The Garden of Forking Paths 6*, which includes: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius 6* The Library of Babel 6* • 1944, Artifices 6* • 1949, The Aleph 6* • 1960, Dreamtigers (aka The Maker) 5*, which includes 1969, In Praise of Darkness 6* • 1970, Brodie's Report 4* - back to plainer, more realistic stories, but some have a deeper, more ambiguous aspect • 1975, The Book of Sand 6* - another switch: back to the style I like best. It includes The Congress 5* • 1983, Shakespeare’s Memory 6* - the master's final four stories are a triumph.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    There exists a relatively small amount of commentary on this short riddle-like tale written by the Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Perhaps the reasons have to do with the impenetrable, sphinxlike nature of the secret cult he speaks of and the existence of what Borges refers to as the Secret (that’s with a capital S) of this secret cult being, well, a secret. So, with all the secrecy, I will keep my comments brief. Below my comments I have included the tale itself. From the to There exists a relatively small amount of commentary on this short riddle-like tale written by the Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Perhaps the reasons have to do with the impenetrable, sphinxlike nature of the secret cult he speaks of and the existence of what Borges refers to as the Secret (that’s with a capital S) of this secret cult being, well, a secret. So, with all the secrecy, I will keep my comments brief. Below my comments I have included the tale itself. From the tone of this Borges tale, we are given the unmistakable impression the Secret is revealed only through direct experience. Without such immediate first-hand initiation, anybody, no matter how well read or intellectually savvy, not matter how well traveled or wise in worldly things, will forever remain on the outside looking in. Terence McKenna, an American ethnobotanist and field researcher who has made a lifetime study of the use of plants with psychedelic properties by tribespeople and indigenous cultures, upholds the Secret refers to religious practice based on the use of hallucinogenic plants that have existed for millennia. Considering the large number of tribes and indigenous peoples both prior to and in the year 1952 when Borges wrote this tale along with the author’s including such language as: “since there is no human group which does not included partisans of the Phoenix” McKenna’s interpretation makes abundance sense. A close cousin to imbibing powerful hallucinogens are the intense physical practices within the yogic and tantric traditions from the East. Usually many years of vigorous, demanding discipline is required to receive higher teaching to activate one’s subtle energy body (these traditions use such technical terms as kundalini and chakras). I refer to these practices since a number of interpreters of The Cult of the Phoenix point to specific passages within the text as evidence the Secret that Borges is citing is sexual intercourse or even more specifically, homosexual intercourse And what, you may ask, is the link between sexual intercourse and these Eastern physical practices? These esoteric traditions speak of the union of male/female, Shiva/Shakti energies within one’s own physical body and subtle energy body. To maintain secrecy, many times the gurus, rishis and teachers of these esoteric practices have used conventional sexual language to represent what is happening on the spiritual level. Additionally, since the practitioners are awakening both male and female subtle energies within their one-and-same body, in this sense there is also a homosexual component. Perhaps another distant cousin are the mystics and the path of mysticism within the three great Western monotheistic religious traditions as well as the esoteric teachings within Buddhism, most especially Tibetan Buddhism. Matter of fact, in the tale Borges mentions Buddhism specifically. We need only think of those Buddhist monks and solitary hermits in the land of snow with their chanting, visualizations and hyperphysical practices such as tummo meditation. So, is Borges’ secret Cult of the Phoenix really about hallucinogenic plants, esoteric Eastern traditions or religious mysticism? Aren’t we as far distant as we can possibly be from the reflections and storytelling of a refined, bookish aesthete such as Jorge Luis Borges? Yes and no. Unless biographers have missed something, it doesn’t appear the author had initiation into any of these practices or traditions. However, Borges being Borges, he had sometime that in many respects was even stronger medicine: an unbounded, creative imagination. THE CULT OF THE PHOENIX by Jorge Luis Borges Those who write that the sect of the Phoenix originated in Heliopolis, and make it derive from the religious restoration which followed the death of the reformer Amenhotep IV, cite texts by Herodotus, Tacitus, and inscriptions from the Egyptian monuments; but they ignore, or try to ignore, the fact that the denomination of the sect by the name of Phoenix is not prior to Rabanus Manrus, and that the most ancient sources (the Saturnalia, or Flavius Josephus, let us say) speak only of the People of Custom or the People of the Secret. Gregorovius had already observed, in the Conventicles of Ferrara, that any mention of the Phoenix was extremely rare in oral language. In Geneva, I have spoken to artisans who did not understand me when I asked if they were men of the Phoenix, but who admitted, in the next breath, that they were men of the Secret. Unless I am mistaken, the same phenomenon is observable among the Buddhists: the name by which they are known to the world is not the same as the one they themselves pronounce. Miklosie, in an overly famous page, has compared the sectarians of the Phoenix with the gypsies. In Chile and in Hungary there are sectarians of the Phoenix and there are also gypsies; beyond their ubiquity, they have very little in common. The gypsies are horsedealers, tinkers, smiths, and fortune tellers; the sectarians tend to practice the liberal professions successfully. The gypsies are of a certain definite physical type, and they speak – or used to speak secret language; the sectarians are indistinguishable from the rest of the world; the proof of it is that they have not suffered persecutions. Gypsies are picturesque and inspire bad poets. Narrative verse, colored lithographs, and boleros pay no heed to the sectarians . . . . Martin Buber declares that Jews are essentially pathetic; not all sectarians are, and some of them despise pathos, this public and notorious fact suffices to refute the vulgar error (absurdly defended by Urmann) which sees in the Phoenix a derivative of Israel. People think more or less as follows: Urmann was a sensitive man, Urmann was a Jew, Urmann associated with the sectarians in the ghetto at Prague; the affinity felt by Urmann serves to prove a fact. I cannot in good faith agree with this judgement. The fact that sectarians in a Jewish environment should resemble Jews does not prove anything; the undeniable fact is that they resemble, like Hazlitt’s infinite Shakespeare, all the men of the world. They are everything to all men, like the Apostle. Only a short time ago Doctor Juan Francisco Amaro, of Paysandu, marveled at the ease with which they became Spanish-Americans. I have mentioned that the history of the sect does not record persecutions. Still, since there is no human group which does not included partisans of the Phoenix, it is also true that there has never been a persecution which they have not suffered or a reprisal they have not carried out. Their blood has been spilled, through the centuries, under opposing enemy flags, in the wars of the West and in the remote battles of Asia. It has availed them little to identify themselves with all the nations of earth. Lacking a sacred book to unify them as the Scripture does Israel, lacking a common memory, lacking that other social memory which is language, scattered across the face of the earth, differing in color and features only, one thing – the Secret – unites them and will unite them until the end of time. Once upon a time, in addition to the Secret, there was a legend (and perhaps also a cosmogonic myth), but the superficial men of the Phoenix have forgotten it, and today they conserve only the obscure tradition of some cosmic punishment: of a punishment, or a pack, or a privilege, for the versions differ, and they scarcely hint at the verdict of a God who grants eternity to a race of men if they will only carry out a certain rite, generation after generation. I have compared the testimony of travelers. I have conversed with patriarchs and theologians; and I can testify that the performance of the rite is the only religious practice observed by the sectarians. The rite itself constitutes the Secret. And the Secret, as I have already indicated, is transmitted from generation to generation, but usage does not favor mothers teaching it to their sons, nor is it transmitted by priests. Initiation into the mystery is the task of individuals of the lowest order. A slave, a leper, a beggar plays the role of mystagogue. A child can indoctrinate another child. In itself the act is trivial, momentary, and does not require description. The necessary materials are cork, wax or gum Arabic. (In the liturgy there is mention of silt; this, to, is often used.) There are not temples specially dedicated to the celebration of the cult; a ruin, a cellar, an entrance way are considered propitious sites. The Secret is sacred, but it is also somewhat ridiculous. The practice of the mystery is furtive and even clandestine, and its adepts do not speak about it. There are no respectable words to describe it, but it is understood that all words refer to it, or better, that they inevitably allude it it, and thus, in dialogue with initiates, when I have prattled about anything at all, they have smiled enigmatically or taken offense, for they have felt that I have touched upon the Secret. In Germanic literature there are poems written by sectarians, whose nominal theme is the sea, say, or the evening twilight; but they are, I can hear someone say, in some measure symbols of the Secret. As stated by DuCange in his Glossary, by way of apocryphal proverb. Orbis terrarium est speculum Ludi. A kind of sacred horror prevents some of the faithful from practicing the extremely simple ritual; the others despise them for it, but they despise themselves even more. On the other hand, those sectarians who deliberately renounce the Custom and manage to engage in direct communication with the divinity enjoy a large measure of credit. To make this commerce manifest, these latter sectarians have recourse to figures from the liturgy, thus John of the Rood wrote: May the Nine Firmaments know that God is a delightful as cork or muck. I have enjoyed the friendship of devotees of the Phoenix on three continents; it seems clear to me that at first the Secret struck them as something paltry, distressing, vulgar and (what is even stranger) incredible. They could not reconcile themselves to the fact that their ancestors had lowered themselves to such conduct. The odd thing is that the Secret has not be lost long ago; despite the vicissitudes of the world, despite wars and exoduses, in its tremendous fashion, to all the faithful. One commentator has not hesitated to assert that it is already instinctive. Merged review: If asked to suggest a one word key as a humble first step to unlock the worlds and mysteries of Jorge Luis Borges, my answer would be: labyrinths. Here are two Borges quotes: “There is no need to build a labyrinth when the entire universe is one.” “It only takes two facing mirrors to build a labyrinth.” Many Borges tales have references, either direct or indirect, to labyrinths, my favorite, a one-pager entitled “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths.” Here is my write-up: Synopsis: An ancient Babylonian king has a labyrinth constructed confusing and subtle in the extreme, thus nobody with an ounce of sense dare enter. Indeed, so convoluted and twisted, so baffling and wondrous, his labyrinth was unseemly in the eyes of God. The king of the Arabs pays a visit to court and, as a way to mock the simplicity of his guest, the Babylonian encourages the Arab to enter his labyrinth. Thus, the Arab king wanders for hours, bewildered and disgraced, until evening when he calls upon God’s help and finally locates the exit. The Arab king says nothing but returns a second time to Babylon with an army and destroys the city and captures his former host. The Arab king takes the Babylonian king many miles out into the desert and, before abandoning the Babylonian, tells him as repayment for being treated to his convoluted Babylonian labyrinth, this is his labyrinth. Pattern: In an interview, Borges once said how the universe as labyrinth is really encouraging news since the very existence of a labyrinth implies the universe contains both pattern and structure; much more preferable than complete chaos. Sidebar: The difference between labyrinth and maze: a labyrinth has only one path to follow, whereas a maze offers a number of paths to choose from. However, this is not a hard and fast rule since there are some labyrinths with multiple paths and some mazes with only one path. Borges Link: This short tale is read by a character in another of his stories – “Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari, Murdered in His Labyrinth.” Also, wise to keep in mind the image of a labyrinth, both Babylonian and Arab, when reading other Borges tales, for example, “The Aleph was probably two or three centimeters in diameter, but universal space was contained inside it, with no diminution in size,” or, “It is not as though the Zahir were made of glass, since one side is not superimposed upon the other – rather, it is as though the vision were itself spherical, with the Zahir rampant in the center.” Or, as in the story, “There Are More Things” where a nephew investigates his uncle's monstrous house now belonging to an extraterrestrial being more Minotaur than man. Babylonian Labyrinth: I myself envision the cubicles in a modern office building forming a convoluted labyrinth with a mean-spirited worker as the stand in for Minotaur. Of course, some of these labyrinths will have more than one Minotaur, while some others might be fortunate to have none - finding out the number is half the challenge. Also, the various reams of data that must be understood, assimilated and handled add more abstract dimensions to our office labyrinth, making it maze-like, with multiple choices and paths available. Desert Labyrinth, One: I can really empathize with the Babylonian king out in the middle of the desert since I had an extraordinarily vivid dream when in my early 20s. Here’s the dream: the mountains and ground and sky and sun along with my own body shake as if in a cataclysmic earthquake. The convulsions become so extreme the entire universe crumbles and comes to an end - all that remains is an infinite blackness and my own consciousness. I’m in a state of shock, having witnessed the end of the universe. I behold the infinite darkness and remain in this shocked state for many minutes, wondering what I should be thinking at this point. Then, gradually I felt my fingers (ah, fingers!) touching something soft – oh, yes, the sheets of my bed. Slowly, very slowly, I woke up. What a relief – the universe coming to an end was only a dream. Desert Labyrinth, Two: Of course, there is are critical differences: (1) the Babylonian king in the desert remained a man in his body whereas in my dream I was bodiless, and (2) the desert is a specific landscape on our planet whereas the infinite blackness of my dream was, well, infinite and undifferentiated. Sidebar: It was this vivid dream that in large measure motivated me to seek a meditation teacher and initiate a lifetime meditation practice. Desert Labyrinth, Three: Several years ago I had a similar vivid dream, a dream where I died and all that remained was my consciousness and an infinite darkness. This time, however, since I had many years of meditation practice, I relaxed into the experience and felt restful, even blissful. These two encounters with infinity really brought home for me how when it comes to the desert labyrinth in its various manifestations, much of what we undergo is mind-created. I relay all this as a way of underscoring the truth of how Jorge Luis Borges judges literature. Borges Judges Life and Literature: In an interview, Borges said, “Many people are apt to think of real life on the one side, that means toothache, headache, traveling and so on, and then you have on the other side, you have imaginary life and fancy and that means the arts. But I don’t think that that distinction holds water, I think that everything is a part of life.” I agree - the longer I live, the less weight I give to people who are “realists,” those folks who place hard facts above imagination, storytelling, poetry and the arts. For me, such realism bespeaks how one is trapped in a Babylonian labyrinth. This Borges tale is available on-line: http://boiteaoutils.blogspot.com/2010... Merged review: The myth of the Minotaur goes back to ancient Greece, the Minotaur being a creature “part man and part bull” dwelling at the center of an elaborate maze-like labyrinth on the island of Crete. But who since the time of the ancient Greeks over two thousand years ago has ever thought to explore this vivid mythic tale with the Minotaur as the first-person narrator? Answer: Argentina’s master fabulist and storyteller Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Reading this Borges short story over the years has prompted me to ask the following questions. Below the questions, is the classic tale itself. • The Minotaur is man-like enough to share the very human experience of frustration and boredom – and the Minotaur yearns for release. How do we in our daily lives escape these conditions, if at all? Is our vision of eternal life a life free of frustration and boredom, a life where the experience of time dissolves? • What would be the qualities of a life completely transcending frustration and boredom? Or, a life transcending clock time itself with all our reflections on the past and projections into the future? Is this possible in our current form or is this an experience we envision possible only after our death? • Similar to many other readers, the ending of this Borges tale caught me by surprise. What does this say about our very human tendency to project qualities and mindsets onto mythic creatures? Put another way, do we think just because a creature is not completely human that creature’s experience of life has nearly nothing in common with our own? • Why does the Minotaur rely on a redeemer to release him? Why didn’t it occur to him to take a more active role in his own release, his own escape? Does the Minotaur envision his release as one into oblivion, or is this simply our own very human projection? • Lastly, what’s with all the numbers? Especially number fourteen and number nine? As modern people have we lost our sense of numbers containing a kind of magic and symbolically charged meaning? THE HOUSE OF ASTERION by Jorge Luis Borges And the queen gave birth to a child who was called Asterion. Apollodorus Bibliotecha III, I I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps misanthropy, and perhaps of madness. Such accusations (for which I shall exact punishment in due time) are derisory. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose numbers are infinite) (footnote: The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that, as used by Asterion, this numeral stands for infinite.) are open day and night to men and to animals as well. Anyone may enter. He will find here no female pomp nor gallant court formality, but he will find quiet and solitude. And he will also find a house like no other on the face of this earth. (There are those who declare there is a similar one in Egypt, but they lie.) Even my detractors admit there is not one single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous falsehood has it that I, Asterion,

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    "The South"* is perhaps my favorite story from this collection, as well as Borges’ himself. In the prologue to Artifices, Borges comments:Of “The South,” which is perhaps my best story, let it suffice for me to suggest that it can be read as a direct narrative of novelistic events, and also in another way.The main character is Juan Dahlmann, a mixture of German and Spanish ancestry, whose life is mundane but who dreams vaguely of a more romantic life, inspired by the Flores side of his heritage "The South"* is perhaps my favorite story from this collection, as well as Borges’ himself. In the prologue to Artifices, Borges comments:Of “The South,” which is perhaps my best story, let it suffice for me to suggest that it can be read as a direct narrative of novelistic events, and also in another way.The main character is Juan Dahlmann, a mixture of German and Spanish ancestry, whose life is mundane but who dreams vaguely of a more romantic life, inspired by the Flores side of his heritage and the Flores ranch in the South that he owns but has never visited. One day Dahlmann brushes his forehead against something in a dark stairway and realizes afterwards that he is bleeding. He develops a life-threatening infection and is taken to a sanitarium for treatment. After many excruciatingly painful and feverish days, he recovers, and decides that he will take a trip to his ranch to convalesce. He travels out of the city on a train, feeling as though he is traveling into the past, and has an unexpected confrontation as he nears his final destination. Or does he? You decide, but several clues in the text ― a mysterious cat (view spoiler)[symbolic of eternity (hide spoiler)] , a spitball that brushes his face (view spoiler)[echoing his initial injury in the stairwell (hide spoiler)] , a dagger tossed to him by an old gaucho, and some other clues ― have led me unequivocally to my own conclusion. I was completely engaged by this tale, which was complex and layered enough to make me think, but didn’t lose me in a labyrinth of difficult-to-grasp ideas. This isn't the most philosophical of Borges' short stories, but I think it's one of the most accessible ones and, thankfully, it has an actual plot! If you're looking for a relatively easy introduction to Borges' writings, I highly recommend "The South." Here's an online version of it; it's not the translation I read, but it seems to be a pretty good one. If you'd like a more mentally challenging Borges work, check out The Library of Babel, The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim or The Circular Ruins. If you really want to challenge your brain, go read Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, which I tried to grapple with and failed miserably. *This used to be a review space just for "The South" but a Goodreads editor, in their infinite wisdom, moved it to this collection as part of a general effort to get rid of review spaces for individual short works that appear in collections. I've read a number of the stories in this collection, though - see my Ficciones review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    “You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?” Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” Even though I read Borges’s “Collected Fictions” in Spanish, my native tongue, I have to confess I didn’t understand half of it. Presumptuous of me to think I would. Famous for being the founder of postmodernist literature and influenced by the work of fantasists such Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, whom I adore, I was naive enough to assume I would be able to untangle Borges’s labyrin “You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?” Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” Even though I read Borges’s “Collected Fictions” in Spanish, my native tongue, I have to confess I didn’t understand half of it. Presumptuous of me to think I would. Famous for being the founder of postmodernist literature and influenced by the work of fantasists such Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, whom I adore, I was naive enough to assume I would be able to untangle Borges’s labyrinthine, almost rigorously mathematical style to form a coherent opinion of his short narratives. I was also deceived by the apparent simplicity of the tales which turned out to be complex, condensed and thought provoking meditations about philosophical and existential issues. Borges’s enormous erudition, which might be appealing to others, worked the other way round for me, leaving me mostly frustrated by the multitude of literary allusions from cultures around the globe which I struggled to connect with the meaning of his surrealist inventions. It seems this proved to be too much of a strenuous task for my ignorant self. The blurred line between reality and dream challenged comprehension in tales such as “Tlon, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius” where Borges depicts an ideal, metaphysic world made real by the power of imagination. The same idea is reinforced in “The Circular Ruins” , in which a man is able to create a son only dreaming about him. Later, after the man accomplishes his goal, much to my astonishment, he discovers that he in turn is being dreamt by someone else. The tittle, which also notes the mythical temple where the man appears out of nowhere (maybe time travel?), might also carry the analogy of the infinite repetition which can be seen in a circle, a geometric figure which has no end and no beginning. Like the act of this neverending regression of dreaming and creating process presented in the story. I was most disturbed by the oppressive idea “The Library of Babel” conveyed to me. We are introduced to a Library whose cataloguing system consists of hexagonal and identical galleries to classify the infinite books it contains. The inhabitants of this Library know the answers to all their questions lay somewhere, among the books, although the probability of being able to find those answers is close to impossible. The central conflict of the individual intellect and the physical manifestation of the infinite chaos is portrayed with negative connotations, pointing out the futility of trying to establish order in a chaotic universe, which reminds me of the insignificance of human beings. "The Babylon Lottery” follows the same line of thought in presenting a detached narrator who depicts life as a labyrinth through which a man wanders without control over his own fate, which is governed by ruthless uncertainty. Here again there seems to appear the issue of trying to put order in a fragmented, indecipherable universe ruled by randomness. My favorite one was “The secret miracle” probably because I could identify with the need of Hladík, a Jewish poet and the main character, to freeze time when he is arrested and condemned to death by the Nazis. I found the way Borges manages to portray the subjectivity of time simply brilliant, especially in the scene where Hladík is being executed. Everything seems to end in a second for the rest of world except for Hladík whose prayer is answered in the form of a precious year in which everything becomes paralysed so that he can mentally finish the last act of his half-written play. “Funes the Memorious” is similar in the way it deals with the curse of having an extraordinary memory to absorb details and subtle changes at a precise moment but not the capability of abstraction needed to control our acts. It is in “The South” , “The Shape of the Sword” and “Three versions of Judas” where Borges’s metafiction is most palpable with the multiplication of character identity, combining historical facts with detectivesque narrative techniques. I think I can sense the lurking forces behind Borges’s mathematical concision, audacious adjectives and unusual ideas, I think I grasp his need to defy understanding to make his point about incomprehensible concepts such as infinite, time and reality. I even feel strongly attracted to the notion that reality can be seen as a mere convention and that the true nature of things is vacuous, existing only in conditional relationship with other things. It is language which ultimately creates illusion and builds meanings. And it is the dreamer who creates reality as the writer creates the possibility of a reader. The problem is that all these feelings didn’t implode in within me, I had to struggle against Borges’s detached, metallic style to get them through. Maybe I shouldn’t have read all the tales in one sitting, maybe Borges is that kind of author to read sparsely, one story at a time, like a rare, exquisite delicatessen to let all the flavors fuse and wholly impregnate the senses. It might not be very orthodox, but these three stars are meant to be a rating referred to my own inadequacy to truly enjoy this novel rather than directed to the novel itself, which I am not that fool to recognize as a genuine, exceptional work of art.

  6. 5 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    Do yourself a massive favor and read Borges. He can deliver more plot and twists in 2-5 pages than many authors do in 300. Every page will blow your mind as you loose yourself in the brilliant labyrinth of his words. Read it. Now.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mala

    You who read me—are you certain you understand my language? Imagine you are watching a highly recommended, multiple awards winning, foreign-language film- it's everything you expected it to be, then, suddenly, the subtitles stop working- how annoying! But you are hooked; you can't stop watching– welcome to the Borgesian Labyrinth! The 'Collected Fictions' consists of the following nine collections- 'A Universal History of Iniquity', 'Fictions', 'Artifices', 'The Aleph', 'The Maker', 'In Praise of You who read me—are you certain you understand my language? Imagine you are watching a highly recommended, multiple awards winning, foreign-language film- it's everything you expected it to be, then, suddenly, the subtitles stop working- how annoying! But you are hooked; you can't stop watching– welcome to the Borgesian Labyrinth! The 'Collected Fictions' consists of the following nine collections- 'A Universal History of Iniquity', 'Fictions', 'Artifices', 'The Aleph', 'The Maker', 'In Praise of Darkness', 'Brodie's Report' , 'The Book of Sand', and finally 'Shakespeare's Memory', totaling around 103 stories. 'A Universal History of Iniquity', describing villainous characters from all over the world, reveals two characteristic features of Borges' fiction- as translator Andrew Hurley writes in the introduction: This volume is purportedly a series of biographies of reprehensible evildoers, and as biography, the book might be expected to rely greatly upon "sources" of one sort or another—as indeed Borges' 'Index of Sources" seems to imply. In his preface to the 1954 reprinting of the volume, however, Borges acknowledges the "fictive" nature of his stories... This sui generis use of sources, most of which were in English, presents the translator with something of a challenge: to translate Borges even while Borges is cribbing from, translating, and "changing and distorting" other writers' stories. Another is the geographical and historical diversity of Borges' fictional universe: from Southern slave traders, New York gangsters, to Chinese pirates, Japanese Ronins, Arabic false prophet..stories are short & easy to follow. The stand out ones are The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell (perhaps Tarantino read it for Django Unchained!), Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv, for the sheer horror of its ending but the pièce de résistance is The Man on Pink Corner–a Hemingwayesque homage to the culture of Machismo. The stories in 'Fictions' (1944), are the ones Borges is most reputed for–Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, The Circular Ruins, The Library of Babel, & The Garden of Forking Paths, are the ever shining gems of his oeuvre. Borges' style, as seen here, is deceptively simple–Quietness, subtlety, a laconic terseness—these are the marks of Borges' style. It is a style that has often been called intellectual, and indeed it is dense with allusion—to literature, to philosophy, to theology, to myth, to the culture and history of Buenos Aires and Argentina and the Southern Cone of South America. Add to that the Apocryphal nature of his writing– fake reviews of fake books, interpolations from known-fake sources– & his stories become forbidding mind-benders: as Borges remarks in his Paris Review interview– Most of those allusions and references are merely put there as a kind of private joke. Labyrinths, mirrors, dreams, doubles -- so many of the elements that appear over and over in Borges' fiction are symbols of the psyche turned inward– it's hard to escape solipsism and alter egos of Borges as blind librarians, diffident, celibate, middle-aged academics & writers people the stories– Borges and I, The Other, August 25,1983 are outstanding stories in this regard : Here's Borges having a laugh at his own expense in August 25, 1983: I realized that it was a masterpiece in the most overwhelming sense of the word. My good intentions hadn't lasted beyond the first pages; those that followed held the labyrinths, the knives, the man who thinks he's an image, the reflection that thinks it's real, the tiger that stalks in the night, the battles that are in one's blood, the blind and fatal Juan Murana, the voice of Macedoniel Fernández, the ship made with the fingernails of the dead, Old English repeated in the evening. "That museum rings a bell," I remarked sarcastically. "Not to mention false recollections, the doubleness of symbols, the long catalogs, the skilled handling of prosaic reality, the imperfect symmetries that critics so jubilantly discover, the not always apocryphal quotations. The military background of Borges' family, his love of epic poetry, link him with "Argentine history and also with the idea of a man's having to be brave." This finds expression in stories like Man on Pink Corner,The South (Borges called it his best story!),The Dead Man,The Wait*,The Encounter, The Duel, Juan Muraña & The Elderly Lady. A character in the story Juan Muraña, asks him: Somebody lent me your book on Carriego," he said. "It's full of knife fighters and thugs and underworld types. Tell me, Borges," he said, looking at me as though stricken with holy terror, "what can you know about knife fighters and thugs and underworld types?" "I've read up on the subject," I replied. How can you not love this bookish writer! My favourite Borges stories are– The Aleph, Shakespeare's Memory, The Secret Miracle, Borges and I, August 25,1983, The Circular Ruins, Funes, His Memory, & The Gospel of St.Mark. The least liked was The Immortal. DFW, in his review, 'Borges on the Couch', emphasized the seminal importance of Borges in literature: Why Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is an important enough fiction writer to deserve such a microscopic bio. The truth, briefly stated, is that Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty -- a mind turned thus wholly in on itself. His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything...And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same. Obviously, this has postmodern* implications, but Borges's is really a mystical insight, and a profound one. It's also frightening, since the line between monism and solipsism is thin and porous, more to do with spirit than with mind per se. And, as an artistic program, this kind of collapse/transcendence of individual identity is also paradoxical, requiring a grotesque self-obsession combined with an almost total effacement of self and personality. Tics and obsessions aside, what makes a Borges story Borgesian is the odd, ineluctable sense you get that no one and everyone did it. I dreamed that this review was already written so I wouldn't have to write it! Borges is a life-time reading project because he gets better with repeated readings. Don't let the perceived "difficulty" of Borges from reading him– as these inspiring lines from Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote proclaim: Thinking, meditating, imagining... are not anomalous acts—they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional exercise of that function, to treasure beyond price ancient and foreign thoughts, to recall with incredulous awe what some doctor universalis thought, is to confess our own languor, or our own barbarie. Every man should be capable of all ideas, and I believe that in the future he shall be. References: (*)The story is uncannily similar to Hemingway's famous story The Killers, but Borges doesn't mention him anywhere in the Foreword. Take a look at the long list of writers that Borges has inspired: http://www.themodernword.com/borges/b... Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 39, Jorge Luis Borges http://www.theparisreview.org/intervi... DFW's essay on Borges: Borges on the Couch. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/07/boo...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Deep in Don Quixote, for a while I convinced myself that Cervantes had written the footnotes too, and the Quixote commentators the editor cited were actually made up by Cervantes. He messes with you like that: he plays so many tricks that you end up thinking anything is possible. Four months later I pick up Borges, and...here he is doing exactly that. Writing essays about imaginary books, with footnotes pointing to other imaginary commenters on the same imaginary books. Layer on layer of fiction. Deep in Don Quixote, for a while I convinced myself that Cervantes had written the footnotes too, and the Quixote commentators the editor cited were actually made up by Cervantes. He messes with you like that: he plays so many tricks that you end up thinking anything is possible. Four months later I pick up Borges, and...here he is doing exactly that. Writing essays about imaginary books, with footnotes pointing to other imaginary commenters on the same imaginary books. Layer on layer of fiction. Obviously I'm not the first to point out that Borges is Cervantes' spiritual descendant. The first was Borges, or (more likely) some guy Borges made up. One of his persistent themes is the relative reality of literature, and I always think of Richard III; there are two of them: the monster in Shakespeare's play and the slightly-less-monstrous asshole in real life. But Shakespeare's version is way better known. In fact, his is so dominant that most people assume it's the only one. Richard III is cited as a warning story, used as a measuring stick for other monstrous leaders. So isn't he more real than the real one? Hasn't he had more impact on history? Borges is obsessed with this idea, as in "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," in which a secret cabal writes an encyclopedia of an imaginary world so detailed and convincing that it takes over the real world. Not like this is his personal idea: Yeats deals with it, and Nabokov, and the King in Yellow. And She-Hulk. And it's half the joke of Don Quixote. (The second half, to be precise.) (Borges also, BTW, in The Garden of Forking Paths, suggests a quantum multiverse that scientists would begin to take almost seriously fifty years later. The possibility of a particle being in two places at once suggests the possibility that, given a choice, both outcomes always happen, with reality forking infinitely off and there being as many times as points on a line. Which is, like, whoa, man, and then Borges wrote a story about it.) I made the mistake of blazing through all of "Ficciones" on a flight; these are not stories to read in great gulps. Since then I've read them intermittently, and I'm occasionally going back to Ficciones to take those one at a time as well. They're so intense and (I might as well just use the word) labyrinthine that you need to chew on each one for a while. "Universal History of Iniquity" is Borges' first collection, and it's unlike the others: a series of almost straight-forward stories rewritten from sources. The only hint of Borges' upcoming trickery is the fact that sometimes the story he tells is radically different from its source, or not from that source at all. (And how would I know that if I hadn't read the notes?) The final story, "Man on Pink Corner" or "Streetcorner Man," hints at the Borges to come. With "Ficciones" he's suddenly here, apparently with no awkward middle period. This is his best stuff: staggeringly original and weird. At its best, "The Aleph" matches Ficciones, but at its worst, it reminds one uncomfortably of M Night Shyamalan; Borges has developed an O Henry-esque obsession with twist endings, so that halfway through each story you start to guess what the twist is. Borges is still Borges, so you're often wrong...but being right even once is unworthy of him. Many of "The Maker"'s stories are just sketches, tiny little puzzles. Whereas in Ficciones Borges wrote papers about imaginary books, now it sometimes seems like he's writing abstracts of the papers about the imaginary books. It works better than I've made it sound, and this is my second-favorite of his collections. The remainder of the collection (In Praise of Darkness, Brodie's Report, Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory) is...spotty. At times ("Undr") it feels like Borges is just kinda flipping the switch on the crazy-idea machine. Others ("Shakespeare's Memory") stand up to his best stuff easily. As I told Alasse below: I feel like I've been waiting for Borges all my life. He will take the rest of my life to read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    Islam tells us that on the unappealable Day of Judgement, all who have perpetrated images of living things will reawaken with their works, and will be ordered to blow life into them, and they will fail, and they and their works will be cast into the fires of punishment. Only Borges could possibly have made such a statement at the beginning of a short story called “Covered Mirrors” under “The Maker” (1960) in this multi-faceted selection of mesmerizing and fascinating short stories. Why I began wit Islam tells us that on the unappealable Day of Judgement, all who have perpetrated images of living things will reawaken with their works, and will be ordered to blow life into them, and they will fail, and they and their works will be cast into the fires of punishment. Only Borges could possibly have made such a statement at the beginning of a short story called “Covered Mirrors” under “The Maker” (1960) in this multi-faceted selection of mesmerizing and fascinating short stories. Why I began with “The Maker” which is halfway through the book still deludes me but I’m glad that I began here. Admittedly the author is now beginning to enter into an older period in life as he’s now sixty. It’s basically rather a random collection of works but they immediately entice one and show the broad spectrum of Borges’ works. His themes are rather fascinating, that of dreams, mirrors, slashing of throats, libraries amongst other things but more bizarre is his love of tigers. When he was young he was just rather taken with them and I guess that was that: In my childhood, I was a fervent worshipper of the tigers – not the jaguar, that spotted “tiger” that inhabits the floating islands of water hyacinths along the Parana and the tangled wilderness of the Amazon, but the true tiger, the striped Asian breed that can be faced only by men of war, in a castle atop an elephant. Can you imagine, one moment we have a short story on dreamtigers, one on toenails (now that was extraordinary to say the least!) and then one on mirrors. Diverse indeed but fascinating. I would love to be able to understand Borges’ thought processes but I never will of course. He has tantalized me with his views on life and it never ceases to amaze me how authors come up with these brilliant ideas. The book is divided up into different sections during Borges’ life starting with “A Universal History of Iniquity” in 1935 with further sections “Fictions” – 1941, “Artifices” - 1944, “The Aleph” - 1949, “The Maker” - 1960, “In Praise of Darkness” - 1969, “Brodies’ Report” - 1970, “The Book of Sand” - 1975 and “Shakespeare’s Memory” – 1983. The short stories are all brilliant and one can literally open up at any page and continue to be delighted. And my favourite section? Well it has to be the final one: “Shakespeare’s Memory”. It says it all and it is for you to read this book to find out! But the “Library of Babel” is also a must read under “The Garden of Forking Paths” (1941). This is the most exquisite writing on a library. I loved it! And remember Borges was Director of the Argentine National Library from 1955 until 1973. The beauty of this book is that the translator, Andrew Hurley very kindly gave copious notes on all sections. I felt as though I was at university again while a lecturer went into full flight with his favourite subject. I absolutely loved this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions By Luis Borges (1899 -1986) Newly translated by Andrew Hurley, this volume includes all ten editions from 1935 to 1975 of Luis Borges short stories. Borges’ characters are murderers, knife fighters, throat slitters, liars, evil and violent, and in his favourite themes, we meet gauchos, Indians, blacks and mirrors, leopards, tigers, books, libraries, infinity and the human identity itself. The majority of these ‘novelitas’ are inspirations from existing works of a Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions By Luis Borges (1899 -1986) Newly translated by Andrew Hurley, this volume includes all ten editions from 1935 to 1975 of Luis Borges short stories. Borges’ characters are murderers, knife fighters, throat slitters, liars, evil and violent, and in his favourite themes, we meet gauchos, Indians, blacks and mirrors, leopards, tigers, books, libraries, infinity and the human identity itself. The majority of these ‘novelitas’ are inspirations from existing works of a variety of ancient or contemporary authors. He took the detective story and turned it into metaphysics, he took fantasy writing and mixing it with everyday reality, central to his works of fiction. He created wholly new and original fictions. And very original at that. The setting of his works are mostly in Buenos Aires, some in Europe, some in Asia, and some in undefined space. The time settings are throughout the nineteenth century, seeing the endless civil wars of Argentina, kindled by opposed Whites, and Reds, the remnants of Aristocratic Feudal Families against gauchos and low cast immigrants in the dangerous slums around Buenos Aires. It is a ‘machos' world. Except for one or two slave girls, there are not many female characters in Borges works. Borges’ work may be compared to the most immortal of storytellers and poets. Chekhov comes to my mind, Kafka, James Joyce, Alighieri Dante, Edgar Alan Poe, Boccaccio, and Rudyard Kipling. And looking at my bookshelves, I will find more. For his style I give you some quotes from his own words: “I do not have any aesthetics. Time has taught me a few tricks – avoiding synonyms, the drawback to which is that they suggest imaginary differences; avoiding Hispanicisms, Argentinisms, archaisms, and neologisms; using everyday words rather than shocking ones, inserting circumstantial details, which are now demanded by readers, into my stories; feigning a slight uncertainty, even though reality is precise, memory isn’t; narrating events (this I learned from Kipling and the Icelandic Sagas) as though I didn’t fully understand them;” “The extravagant title of this volume (‘A Universal History of Iniquity’) proclaims its baroque nature. Softening its pages would have been equivalent to destroying them; that is why I have preferred, this once, to invoke the biblical words “quod scripsi, scripsi” and simply reprint them. They are the irresponsible sport of a shy sort of man who could not bring himself to write short stories, and so amused himself by changing and distorting (sometimes with aesthetical justification) the stories of other men. In this text, which is written in the accents of the toughs and petty criminals of the Buenos Aires underworld, the reader will note that I have interpolated a number of "cultured" words – entrails, conversions, etc. I did this because the tough, the knife fighter, the thug, the type that Buenos Aires calls the ‘compadré or compadrito' aspires to refinement because ‘compadres’ are individuals and don’t always talk like The Compadre, which is a Platonic ideal. The learned doctors of the Great Vehicle teach us that the essential characteristic of the universe is its emptiness. They are certainly correct with the tiny part of the universe that is this book. Gallows and pirates fill its pages, and that word of ‘iniquity' strikes awe in its title, but under all the storm and the lightning, there is nothing. It is all just appearance, a surface of images – which is why readers, may, perhaps, enjoy it. The man who made it was a pitiable sort of creature, but found amusement in writing it; It is hoped that some of the echoes of that pleasure may reach its readers." “Friendship, you know, is as mysterious as love and any other state of this confusion we call life.” "I presume that in the Heaven of the blessed there are those who believe that the advantages of that location are much exaggerated by the theologists, who have never been there themselves; and perhaps in Hell, the damned are not always (un?)happy." "In the course of these stories I have interwoven, as is my won't, certain autobiographic features." For myself, I found inspiration for further readings from Borges favourite books. The often mentioned ‘Icelandic Sagas,' the ‘Battle of Maldon,' ‘Schopenhauer's works, Popes' Odysseus, and more. This book is a must-read for any lover of literature, whatever be his preferences.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Fame is a form--perhaps the worst form--of incomprehension. I can recall the first time I discovered the name Borges. That marks a near singular occasion. It was 1990 and I was thoroughly enjoying my Philosophy of Religion course and curious about nihilism. This engendered another retreat to the library and there on the opening page of some text was a quotation from this strange figure. It was a few minutes later when I had culled a number of texts from stacks. Like many a reader and a number of Fame is a form--perhaps the worst form--of incomprehension. I can recall the first time I discovered the name Borges. That marks a near singular occasion. It was 1990 and I was thoroughly enjoying my Philosophy of Religion course and curious about nihilism. This engendered another retreat to the library and there on the opening page of some text was a quotation from this strange figure. It was a few minutes later when I had culled a number of texts from stacks. Like many a reader and a number of Borges characters, I was never the same. A purchase of Labyrinths was soon to follow. Over the years I've maintained an intimacy with many of the stories in the Collected Fictions. Some tales like Pierre Menard and The Aleph I must have read 15-20 times in my life. This reading was thus a wonderful opportunity to discover such jewels as Emma Zunz. While I've maintained my love for such episodes as Death and the Compass (see the film starring Peter Brook) I have cultivated an affection for the subtle Borges, the gnawing uneasiness which is both philosophical and all-too-human. There were certainly times poring over these abstracts of imagined books when I not only felt like an illiterate swindler but also that the text would never cease, both like the Book of Sand as well a paged equivalent of the Blue Tiger, forever multiplying in my grasp, like some curse of abundance. Maybe one day I'll relax on a park bench and find adjacent that 20 year old undergraduate, wild eyed about The Library of Babel: what should I say?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    No one wants to get reading=assignments from a Review. But you’ve got one here. If Borges is not Required Reading, he is Highly Recommended Reading. Which amounts to the same thing. Listen. Borges is one of those masters of the short form, one of those That without which not, as the scholastics may have it. He is pantheonic. Kafka? Beckett? Barthelme? Edgar Allen Poe? Yep. Borges is one of those guys. And you know how you know nothing about the history of English Literature if you don’t know Shak No one wants to get reading=assignments from a Review. But you’ve got one here. If Borges is not Required Reading, he is Highly Recommended Reading. Which amounts to the same thing. Listen. Borges is one of those masters of the short form, one of those That without which not, as the scholastics may have it. He is pantheonic. Kafka? Beckett? Barthelme? Edgar Allen Poe? Yep. Borges is one of those guys. And you know how you know nothing about the history of English Literature if you don’t know Shakespeare? Yeah. Borges is like that ; what happens to Literature in the Twentieth Century won’t make much sense unless and until you might be familiar with people like Borges ; not to say the likes of Joyce, Sybs, and Company. It’s just the way it is. Borges is where it’s at. No getting around. Who is Borges? What you’ll want is the four (three?) volume collection of which I have only two. But Viking/Penguin has done a beautiful job with these books: Collected Fictions Selected Poems Selected Non-Fictions And I swear that I saw a biography which would have been a fourth volume. But that may have been me in one of Borges’ stories. It’s like that. But I do wish I had pick’d up that selection of poems when I pick’d up the essays and the fictions. They are pretty books. Just for a heads up because I wrongly shook my head when I saw other folks reading Borges and not reading this whole-shebang collection of fictions. The thing is, this volume, the one under consideration, collects only the fiction portion of the volumes originally published. Which is to say, some of Borges’ original books contained both poetry and fiction ; so, yes, why didn’t I? Still, if you can have all of Borges’ fiction in one 565 page volume (a short novel), why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you indeed? You’ll want all of it. Every last one. Are they all equally good? How could they be. But you’ll want to do this :: every last time you ever hear anyone mention a title of a Borges short story you will and you must and you will find yourself immediately rushing hither to read that story. If a Borges story is mentioned in even the most passing of fashion, you’ll want to be familiar with it. Things like “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” ; “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” ; “The Library of Babel” ; “Funes, His Memory” ; just to mention the already always mentioned. But too you will find other lovely things that are not spoken of so frequently, right up to Borges’ last days in things like “The Book of Sand” (which I think is about Finnegans Wake) or “Shakespeare’s Memory”. Don’t miss the stories no one talks about. Your mission, should you find that you have already accepted it is to read Borges and to tell others the Good Word and to perhaps become as familiar with the cliché Borgesian as you are with the cliché Kafkaesque.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    Reading Jorge Luis Borges's Collected Fictions is like being thrown into the ring with a merciless prize fighter, getting the shit kicked out of you, and loving every minute of it. These pieces felt more like punches than short stories. Borges jabs to your head, jarring your brain with damning conversations with his future self, invented libraries of the Universe and stories that make you feel like a lost kid on your way to Algebra class but accidentally ending up in Trigonometry. Then he switche Reading Jorge Luis Borges's Collected Fictions is like being thrown into the ring with a merciless prize fighter, getting the shit kicked out of you, and loving every minute of it. These pieces felt more like punches than short stories. Borges jabs to your head, jarring your brain with damning conversations with his future self, invented libraries of the Universe and stories that make you feel like a lost kid on your way to Algebra class but accidentally ending up in Trigonometry. Then he switches his stance and digs at your body with primal blows. Petty gangsters, simplistic machismo, knife fights, all with such savage bravado that you can taste the cheap liquor and cheaper blood. I said at the top, "loving every minute of it" and perhaps that needs to be tempered. There were times, in certain stories, where my head spun and I wanted to drop to the canvas and not get up. It seemed to be all too much. But I knew if I stayed on my feet and in the ring for the whole 12 rounds I would be rewarded richly. I was. Get in the ring and you will be too.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    When I was at university we had to read this guy. Look, to be honest I didn’t really like him at the time. He seemed pompous and too clever by half. I liked some of his stuff – the story that begins this collection ‘Borges and I’ is marvelous and even that younger version of me could see just how great that was as a piece of writing. I’ll see if I can’t attach it to the end of this. When I tried to read Labyrinths I became increasingly confused and annoyed. He was talking about endless libraries When I was at university we had to read this guy. Look, to be honest I didn’t really like him at the time. He seemed pompous and too clever by half. I liked some of his stuff – the story that begins this collection ‘Borges and I’ is marvelous and even that younger version of me could see just how great that was as a piece of writing. I’ll see if I can’t attach it to the end of this. When I tried to read Labyrinths I became increasingly confused and annoyed. He was talking about endless libraries and languages that only had nouns and no verbs, and I gave up. How strange it is to see younger versions of ourselves in the texts we attempted to read ‘then’ and thereby to see too how we have changed over the years. My opinion of this man changed completely at the start of the year when I read a series of lectures he gave on literature. In those lectures he says something that has stayed with me all year. That he considered himself less of a writer and more a reader. Hard not to like him, then. Borges only ever wrote short fiction – I guess what you could call short-stories. I hesitate to call them that because you might have an idea of what a writer of short-stories would write. Borges doesn’t quite write that – at least, those are rarely the sorts of stories he writes. His stories are complex and Literary (note the capital L). And he is a reader first – and he seems to have read just about everything. Do you know how T S Eliot will slip bits of other people’s poetry into his work – the odd phrase, or just the feel of the thing perhaps – well, Borges doesn’t do that, at least, not that I noticed. Borges is much more up front. His stories read like Lit Crit and it doesn’t take long before the reader finds themselves in the middle of a hall of mirrors. There was a time when I felt that part of the function of literature was to help create myths that would help us understand the world we live in. In the hall of mirrors that Borges creates in these fictions some of the mirrors are shattered into large shards that reflect light in dazzling and confusing patterns. Invariably these patterns are beautiful in the way that light being refracted in a diamond is beautiful. His command of the worlds he creates is godlike and stunning. Time and again I found myself either smiling at the sheer audacity of his prose or chuckling at one of his many literary jokes. You know, the story about the man who has Shakespeare’s memory and offers it up to someone to take off him is just one such fascinating hall of mirrors. There are also more ‘conventional stories’ in this collection – stories set in Argentina where people tango and fight knife fights – but who is fighting, the men or the knives? I really liked these stories. But I have a very guilty confession to make – I’ve never read Robert Louis Stevenson. He turns out to be the favourite writer of both Borges and Calvino. What have I been doing all of my life? http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/... "Borges and I" The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him. I do not know which of us has written this page. I listened to a selection of these printed as a Penguin Audiobook it contained: Man on Pink Corner The Lottery in Babylon The Garden of Forking Paths Death and the Compass The Aleph The Maker Dreamtigers Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote The Story of Rosendo Juarez Borges and I The Zahir August 25, 1983 Shakespeare's Memory The Circular Ruins The Library of Babel The Immortal The Encounter and was read so incredibly well by George Guidall.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    I've reviewed each segment of this collection separately: A Universal History of Iniquity https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Garden of Forking Paths https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Artifices https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Aleph and Other Stories https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... In Praise of Darkness https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Maker https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Brodie's Report https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Book of Sand https:// I've reviewed each segment of this collection separately: A Universal History of Iniquity https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Garden of Forking Paths https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Artifices https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Aleph and Other Stories https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... In Praise of Darkness https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Maker https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Brodie's Report https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... The Book of Sand https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Shakespeare's Memory https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

    My favorite tidbit about Borges is that he has been written into other authors' stories more than just about any other 20th century author. Neil Gaiman's Destiny and his Garden of Forking Paths, Umberto Eco's mad monk Jorge of Burgos, Zampanò from House of Leaves - and those are just the ones I've come across in my own reading. I'm sure the real Borges (should one miraculously manage to find him distinct from all the "false" Borgeses) would be amused to find that he has become an archetype. But My favorite tidbit about Borges is that he has been written into other authors' stories more than just about any other 20th century author. Neil Gaiman's Destiny and his Garden of Forking Paths, Umberto Eco's mad monk Jorge of Burgos, Zampanò from House of Leaves - and those are just the ones I've come across in my own reading. I'm sure the real Borges (should one miraculously manage to find him distinct from all the "false" Borgeses) would be amused to find that he has become an archetype. But it's his own fault, really - nobody asked him to go blind, or to be a librarian, or to become captivated by labyrinths and books (which are of course the same thing). And above all, nobody asked him to write such profound and haunting stories. But he did, and a flood of blind, literary labyrinth-keepers is only to be expected in his wake. The stories themselves are, in many cases, hardly stories at all in the usual sense; they might better be described as fictional essays. Many are only lightly governed by plot or character, but carry themselves forward through sheer force of ideas. This isn't to say Borges can't write a first-rate character story ("Emma Zunz," off the top of my head) or draw you into the events of the tale ("The Circular Ruins") when he wants to, but he's obviously more interested in engaging the part of you that flips out about infinities and paradoxes. Borges can be difficult, dry, and pretentious, but nobody turns those qualities into virtues as well as he does. Collected Fictions is itself several of the objects described within its pages. In particular, I suspect it is the Zahir (an object that once glanced at eventually consumes all thought) and the Encyclopedia of Tlön (a book describing a fictional world that our own world is beginning to tranform into). Perhaps behind the book we shall see God.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ben Winch

    One of the most famous lines in Spanish literature is this: Nadie lo vio desembarcar an la unanime noche: “No-one saw him slip from the boat in the unanimous night...” (‘A Note on the Translation’, from Selected Stories, by Andrew Hurley) ‘No-one saw him disembark in the unanimous night...’ (‘The Circular Ruins’, from Labyrinths, translated by James E. Irby) Now I’ll admit I don’t know much about translation , nor do I read Spanish, but I feel sure that Hurley’s translation is far from literal. Whe One of the most famous lines in Spanish literature is this: Nadie lo vio desembarcar an la unanime noche: “No-one saw him slip from the boat in the unanimous night...” (‘A Note on the Translation’, from Selected Stories, by Andrew Hurley) ‘No-one saw him disembark in the unanimous night...’ (‘The Circular Ruins’, from Labyrinths, translated by James E. Irby) Now I’ll admit I don’t know much about translation , nor do I read Spanish, but I feel sure that Hurley’s translation is far from literal. Where is ‘the boat’ in the Spanish original? How is Hurley’s version (and yes, as Hurley and Borges both state, there are only ‘versions’) an improvement on Irby’s? Does it help clarify the sense? As the next clause of the sentence states ‘no-one saw the bamboo canoe as it sank into the sacred mud’ (Hurley), I think not. What use that ‘boat’? And ‘slip from’ for ‘desembarcar’? To me, these are adaptations. And while I accept the need for adaptation as an aspect of translation, in this case I don’t see the need. That Hurley then offers this far-from-literal, unhelpful and, to my mind, unpoetic adaptation without comment as an example (a prime example, given how little else he quotes in this brief note) of his work makes me suspicious. Where else has he adapted needlessly, without comment? Music producer Steve Albini has a term for this: ‘dogballing’. (‘Why does a dog lick its balls?’ ‘Because it can.’) For my part, I don’t want Borges dogballed. I’m happy with the translations in Labyrinths and would prefer present and future translators used them as a benchmark. Can they be improved? Then yes, go ahead. But when I compare all manner of recent translations, of all manner of authors, with their 50-100-200 year counterparts, too often all I see is reshuffling: synonyms, inverted sentence structure, minor changes which may or may not improve readability but which, I presume, must fulfill some clause of copyright law thus inventing a new income stream for their publishers – otherwise, why bother? There’s so much to be translated in all languages – why harp on and on the same few writers? Sometimes, as with ‘Man on Pink Corner’, Hurley stands for literalness, and I guess in these instances he’s right, in that literalness is needed/useful where none existed before. But me, I’m for ‘Streetcorner Man’; a footnote explaining those rose-coloured sidings in Buenos Aires is enough. And while I know it’s impossible to be ‘objective’, especially having read the earlier versions tens of times, my impression is that ‘Streetcorner Man’ is by far the more poetic/iconic title. But let’s leave that line of argument: ‘better/worse’. Let’s say it’s possible Hurley’s is the equivalent of the earlier versions. Even if so, Labyrinths is a masterpiece, both of translation and curation, and while I’m reassured it’s still being printed, I think the orange mass-market version is selling it short. Why did I buy Hurley’s tome after waiting so long? Knowing that after El Aleph (whose title-story, absent from Labyrinths, I still maintain is inessential) the master so rarely hit his mark? (Or let’s say he did, but he never aimed so high.) Sad to say, it was duty – I felt I owed it to the old man, though The Book of Sand had disgusted me (a pale imitation, I thought) and every other slim volume I’d picked up I’d abandoned; I would have been stunned to feel the old spirit-shock. So I read Doctor Brodie’s Report, again, dutifully, in the Hurley translation, not dipping in this time, holding on. It’s good, workmanlike, steady, unsurprising. It reaffirms my conviction: Borges burned briefly and brightly, like Poe, like Whitman. This – Hurley’s tome – is a reference book, to be taken down from year to year in a spirit of study, when my tattered copy of Labyrinths, the potboiler, raises too many questions it can’t answer. Those questions aren’t answered here – or rarely. But a brief survey of the landscape around the crater puts the bomb in perspective. Then we crawl back in and sift the ashes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Junta

    May 13, 2015 I saw by the digital panel on the microwave that it was past eleven. I began walking back towards my room with my glass of water. I experienced, as I had at other times in the past, the resignation and relief we are made to feel several weeks before final exams, and final paper due dates of the semester. For a procrastinator, the rational mind knows that the most important thing is to get some study done each day - however, his natural, or shall we say primal instincts are unmatched May 13, 2015 I saw by the digital panel on the microwave that it was past eleven. I began walking back towards my room with my glass of water. I experienced, as I had at other times in the past, the resignation and relief we are made to feel several weeks before final exams, and final paper due dates of the semester. For a procrastinator, the rational mind knows that the most important thing is to get some study done each day - however, his natural, or shall we say primal instincts are unmatched in their versatility and wit, so the same things happen every time there is still a double-digit number of days between the present and the moment of submission (in every sense of the word). Resignation, that one cannot really change who they are once they have passed their late teens; and relief, that for an undetermined number of days yet, one can wallow in some hours of sheer chillaxing, which will, without exception, be followed by self-loathing and frustration at the world and self. Another evening had passed without a single line typed up in the document titled Final Essay - Essay Proposal and Annotated Bibliography. I reached out to open my room door, and then, as I stepped inside and let my gaze shift from the glass in my hand to the desk, there occurred the first of the many surprises the night would have in store for me - I was already sitting there, with a book in hand. Then I heard the voice. It was not exactly my own; it was the one I occasionally hear in recordings, unpleasant and without modulation. "How odd," it was saying, "we are two yet we are one. But then nothing is odd in dreams." "Then..." I asked fearfully, "all this is a dream?" "It is, I am sure, the last night I will get enough sleep to dream before I finish the last exam in two-and-a-half weeks' time." He gestured towards the empty bottle next to the Kleenex tissue box. "You, however, shall have some dreams before you come to this night. What date is it for you?" "I'm not sure," I said, rattled. "But today was Wednesday of Week 11." "When in your waking state you reach this night again, yesterday will have been Friday of Week 12. Today is May 23, 2015." "Not that long to wait," I murmured. "Not for me," he said shortly. "For me, there's almost no time left. At any moment I may logically deduce that it's too late, at any moment I may feel cold sweat trickle down my back - that this time, I may have really gone too far." I sensed that the theatrical statements were a genuine outburst of self-hate, not some empty stroke of pathos. "Who is dreaming whom? I know I am dreaming you - I do not know whether you are dreaming me." "I am the dreamer", I replied, with a touch of defiance. "Don't you realise that the first thing to find out is whether there is only one man dreaming, or two men dreaming each other?" "I am Junta. I was thirsty and went to get a glass of water." "But I am Junta, and I just finished the bottle of Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky." "But that was supposed to be for when I'd finished the two papers and two exams!" There was a silence, and then he said to me: "Let's try a test. What was the most socially awkward moment this semester?" We stared at each other, and the two of us spoke at once. I know that neither of us spoke the truth. A faint smile lit up the slightly tipsy face. I felt that the smile somehow reflected my own. "We've lied to each other," he said, "because we feel that we are two, not one. The truth is that we are two yet we are one." I was beginning to be irritated by this conversation, and I told him so. Then I added: "And you, there going towards Week 13 - are you not going to tell me anything about the ten days between us?" "What can I tell you, poor Junta? The misfortunes you are already accustomed to will repeat themselves. You will be left alone to cram. You will pick up a certain book from your to-read-and-owned pile, surf Goodreads every night and try to stay up all night, every night, to reset your sleeping patterns - only to fail in the early morning and end up sleeping until noon, again and again. Night owls are not predators; they are a kind of prey. You will write a book review." "A book review! But I told myself not to until June 10, the day after my last exam!" "In Week 12, you will once more skip an important tutorial due to the unbearable sleepiness in the mornings from your currently abominable body clock." "I'm not surprised," I said. "Every procrastinator has a couple of courses where he neglects attendance." "That morning was one of the roads that led me to this night. The others...the humiliation of going through readings from earlier in the semester in the computer lab, the conviction of knowing that it would probably be best to give up reading fiction altogether until after finals, yet reading more and more every day..." "I will not be absorbed in a book until the holidays." "You will, though. My words, which are now your present, will one day be but the vaguest memory of a dream." I found myself annoyed by his dogmatic tone, the tone that I myself no doubt used in my group discussions. I was annoyed by the fact that we resembled each other so much and that he was taking advantage of the impunity lent him by the nearness of finals. "Are you so sure," I said, to get back at him a bit, "that you might actually fail these courses?" "Yes," he replied. "I feel a sort of sweetness and relief I've never felt before. I can't describe it; all words require a shared experience. Why do you seem so annoyed at what I'm saying?" "Because we're too much like each other. I loathe your face, which is a caricature of mine, I loathe your voice, which is a mockery of mine, I loathe your pathetic syntax, which is my own." "So do I," he smiled. "Which is why I decided to procrastinate for another ten days." My cat meowed from the corridor. "It's the last stretch of the semester," the other man said. He motioned me towards him. His hand sought mine. I stepped back; I was afraid the two hands would merge. "The last book I read," he said to me, "was an interesting one - 101 short stories! The first book of nearly a dozen featured in the collection, A Universal History of Iniquity, was rather average, but the works from the next, Ficciones, were impressive. There were such ups and downs throughout, but his unique style has left an indelible impression on me. I think I got a little tired of reading the same prose, the same story structure, the recurring plot elements and the persistently apocryphal anachronisms for 500 pages - I must say that at some moments, I wasn't enjoying it. I suppose this is a necessary evil with short story collections - with some of them, you have some great pieces or ones which stay in your memory, but if you read them all in a short space of time it degrades the enjoyment a little. Perhaps I should have saved it up for the holidays, but maybe it had to be this book that I read before I really grit my teeth and get down to cramming? This book..." He stopped talking; I realised that his time had come. In a way, I disappeared with him - in agitation I reached out towards the hand, but there was no one there anymore. In my future self's hand minutes ago, on the desk lay a pristine copy of Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. Based on the story August 25, 1983, the opening piece of the last book featured in the collection, Shakespeare's Memory.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Szplug

    There are few other writers whose work has lingered in my mind to the same degree as has Borges. His short stories are a metaphysical perfume whose aroma, so startling and heady upon the first inhalation, arises, unbidden, at certain points of thought or recollection, working its peculiar and powerful transformative and transfigurative memes upon the seemingly stolid principles that order our universe. The Library of Babel wrenches the brain like a sudden stop upon a dreamy hexagonal rollercoast There are few other writers whose work has lingered in my mind to the same degree as has Borges. His short stories are a metaphysical perfume whose aroma, so startling and heady upon the first inhalation, arises, unbidden, at certain points of thought or recollection, working its peculiar and powerful transformative and transfigurative memes upon the seemingly stolid principles that order our universe. The Library of Babel wrenches the brain like a sudden stop upon a dreamy hexagonal rollercoaster; The Immortal, with its revoltingly abnormal architecture and gibbon men of Homeric lineage, an inky nightmare asleep in the vast, scorched wastes of the desert, haunts tessellated thoughts and turns them to dusty interludes. They exist to be read and reread, magical literary beans that invite whatever Jack dares them to clamber up the stalk their taut text weaves. Andrew Hurley's translations are simply pitch perfect - Yates and Irby would be proud - and to have the entire compendium of icy and precise Escherian sorcery at hand in one tome is a godsend. The highest recommendation.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vince

    I once watched a documentary about Borges and,at a certain point, it resonated with me. His father told him if you're bored with a book, put it aside. Ever since then I've been dnfing books left and right. This book is my prize possession. Whenever I'm suffering from a reading slump, this is the book I turn to when I want to reignite the reason why I love reading. If you're into knife fights, mirrors, labyrinths, surreal detective stories, or you want to stave off boredom, pick up this collectio I once watched a documentary about Borges and,at a certain point, it resonated with me. His father told him if you're bored with a book, put it aside. Ever since then I've been dnfing books left and right. This book is my prize possession. Whenever I'm suffering from a reading slump, this is the book I turn to when I want to reignite the reason why I love reading. If you're into knife fights, mirrors, labyrinths, surreal detective stories, or you want to stave off boredom, pick up this collection.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Yulia

    Borges is a literary mathematician but he has no understanding of the human heart. Still, it's impossible not to be curious what his equations create. Borges is a literary mathematician but he has no understanding of the human heart. Still, it's impossible not to be curious what his equations create.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Santiago Llach

    El puto amo.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    One of those books that gets a five on principle. I don't feel that Borges' entire bibliography is worth five stars on a story-by-story or book-by-book basis, but that's got more to do with the fact that nobody's is (and the fact La memoria de Shakespeare that is mostly Borges retreading The Book of Sand-era Borges - "August 25, 1983" reminds me too much of "The Other," and "Blue Tigers" swipes its central concept from "The Book of Sand" - the title story is amazing, but the rest is worth skippi One of those books that gets a five on principle. I don't feel that Borges' entire bibliography is worth five stars on a story-by-story or book-by-book basis, but that's got more to do with the fact that nobody's is (and the fact La memoria de Shakespeare that is mostly Borges retreading The Book of Sand-era Borges - "August 25, 1983" reminds me too much of "The Other," and "Blue Tigers" swipes its central concept from "The Book of Sand" - the title story is amazing, but the rest is worth skipping) than anything else. Besides, there's something about having every single Borges short to make it into his seven collections in a single book. That's over a hundred stories, of which around fifty are terrific even by Borges' standards and a further... oh, forty, we'll say? blow pretty much everything else out of the water. In the three or so weeks I spent reading this, it came to vie with Infinite Jest as my number-one desert island book. The individual collections all have a lot of character, which is why I rated them individually in addition to lump-rating them here. But reading them as a whole gives you a sense of how capable Borges was of working with his favorite themes, symbols, and images - memory, ancestry, immortality, dreams, mirrors, knife fights, the South, and of course, the labyrinth. These cut across the hit-or-miss biographical sketches in A Universal History of Iniquity; Ficciones, perhaps the most overtly philosophical of Borges' works; the globe-trotting The Aleph and Other Stories, which furthers the argument from the famous "Two Kings and Their Two Labyrinths" that there's no better place to get lost in than the wide-open world; the deeply personal sketches of Dreamtigers; the surprising realism of Brodie's Report; the nostalgia and mortality of The Book of Sand; hell, even La memoria de Shakespeare is all sorts of reflective. Themes of death would come up in Borges' later poetry (some of which is as good as his best short stories), but the preoccupation of it on the Book of Sand makes it one of Borges' most lingering and unjustly overlooked works. See, this is what these sorts of compilations are for. I do have one complaint, though: the handling of Dreamtigers, a prose-poetry Frankenstein. I get that this is the collected Ficcionces, but Selected Poems contains both the short stories and the poems that make up that minor classic, where this contains only the stories. I hope later editions of that book rectifies the mistake, because the book just doesn't have the same impact presented as a strictly prose work. Minor quibble, though. The simple fact that this book exists is cause for celebration. You should read it sometime.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    "Hey guys, what's going on?" "The party's over. That, Justin, is how late to the party you are. It is over." I have no idea why it took me so long to get to Borges. Perhaps because I mostly read second hand books, and nobody trades in his books? Perhaps because I spent a solid portion of my youth believing that only tremendously depressing books could be interesting? Perhaps because, had I read him before now, I would have been enraged at his disinterest in politics and then his proud 'liberalism "Hey guys, what's going on?" "The party's over. That, Justin, is how late to the party you are. It is over." I have no idea why it took me so long to get to Borges. Perhaps because I mostly read second hand books, and nobody trades in his books? Perhaps because I spent a solid portion of my youth believing that only tremendously depressing books could be interesting? Perhaps because, had I read him before now, I would have been enraged at his disinterest in politics and then his proud 'liberalism'? In any case, I found a copy at a thrift store, have realized that funny/joyous books can be important and fascinating, and, luckily, the fiction isn't as open to self-congratulatory critics saying things like "Borges knew all along that trying to help poor people results in evil, see?" He wrote three kinds of story: metaphysical tales, which take place in an imaginary world or in which someone has a super-power or Arabian Nights style trinket (special bonus: Borges convinced me to start on the 1001 Nights, and it is *fabulous*); literary critical tales in which the same kinds of things happen, but in a book that somebody's reading; and stories about gauchos. In his non-fiction, Borges states, repeatedly, the obvious but often ignored fact that all literature relies on context for its power; he goes so far as to imply that great works are read as great works only because that's how they've previously been read--and that that's okay. The point is: I have *no* context whatsoever for the gaucho stories. I know nothing about the revolutions in South America, or the civil wars, or, indeed, any of the history there until the twentieth century. Nor have I read Martin Fierro. So it has to be taken with a grain of salt, but, I don't think the gaucho tales are worth reading, and I certainly won't be re-reading them. The metaphysical and literary critical tales, particularly those in 'Fictions,' 'The Aleph,' 'The Book of Sand,' and 'Shakespeare's Memory,' on the other hand, have made me think I should read more short stories. I'll be disappointed, because I'll read some Cheever knock-off that will bore me silly, and then I'll return to these books. They're a fabulous example of why everything people say about literature in high school is wrong. You don't need developing characters; you don't need deep psychological insights; you don't need wondrous epiphanies. You can do without all of that if you have a story worth telling, and the story can come in any form. In Borges' case, that means you can write the most Alexandrine, hermetic kinds of things possible--but if you do it with joy and a good tale, people will fall over themselves to shower you with praise and awards, and your books will pass down from parents to children for generations.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    I had to return this to the library before I could fully finish it, but it gave me some real "food for thought" as they say, when it comes to writing. Borges breaks every writing rule in the book, "Show don't tell", "Center on your protagonist" "Begin with action, not exposition" and shows that the rules are for neophytes to "tolerable-up" their writing, not for a master whose rare gift transcends any finger-waggling from stuffy rule-makers. Borges writes like a fascinating dinner party guest wh I had to return this to the library before I could fully finish it, but it gave me some real "food for thought" as they say, when it comes to writing. Borges breaks every writing rule in the book, "Show don't tell", "Center on your protagonist" "Begin with action, not exposition" and shows that the rules are for neophytes to "tolerable-up" their writing, not for a master whose rare gift transcends any finger-waggling from stuffy rule-makers. Borges writes like a fascinating dinner party guest who has been everywhere and seen the most amazing events, recounted in loving, glorious detail and all the more wondrous for being from the point of view of someone humble. He is also so well-read himself, you'll feel there isn't a subject in the world he couldn't discourse on delightfully. I've been taking some risks with my own writing since I read this and I'm grateful to him for rubbing some of the didactic sheen off my eyes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    The absolute bible...a twisting labryinth that changes everytime you read it and slowly infects all you read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vishy

    I was in a reading slump for a while. Then one day I watched a video by an American navy admiral, a commencement speech he was giving to new cadets. In that speech he said that we should focus on small tasks. Like when we get up in the morning, we should make our bed. That will lead to a sense of accomplishment and then we can go and work on the next small task. I found that speech very inspiring. I thought I will try to get out of my reading slump by focusing on a small thing. Like picking up a I was in a reading slump for a while. Then one day I watched a video by an American navy admiral, a commencement speech he was giving to new cadets. In that speech he said that we should focus on small tasks. Like when we get up in the morning, we should make our bed. That will lead to a sense of accomplishment and then we can go and work on the next small task. I found that speech very inspiring. I thought I will try to get out of my reading slump by focusing on a small thing. Like picking up a book of short stories and reading one story. If things go well, I will read the next story. And take things one story at a time. When I thought of short stories, Jorge Luis Borges' 'Collected Fictions' leapt at me. Borges' stories were mostly short - the shortest ones were less than a page while the longest one ran to sixteen pages. I thought it would be perfect. Of course, I didn't know at that time, what I was getting into. I first discovered Borges years back, when I read a review of one of his books, probably this one. I have always wanted to read his stories since then. Across the years, I have dipped into this volume and others, and read a few short stories of his. I have always wanted to come back and read this collection properly from the first page to the last, but had been postponing that. Now I am happy that I have finally been able to do that. The first Borges story I ever read was 'The Other'. In that story, Borges himself is the main character. He is sitting on a bench in a park, enjoying the evening, when a stranger comes and sits at the other end of the bench. What happens after that is strange and amazing and mindblowing. When I read 'The Other' the first time, I was amazed and my mind was bursting with energy and I was thinking about it and couldn't sleep the whole night. It is there in this collection, in the book, 'The Book of Sand'. The second Borges story that I ever read was 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius'. In that story the narrator and his friend read about a new country in the encyclopedia. But they don't find those pages in other copies of that encyclopedia. Then they discover a volume of another encyclopedia which is about a whole new planet. As they investigate more into this, the surprises they discover are mind-boggling. This was one of my favourite stories in the book, because it reveals new secrets with every new re-read and the ending is brilliant everytime. Some of the other stories that I loved from the book were : 'The Circular Ruins', in which a strange man ends up in the ruins of a temple and he tries to dream of a human and bring that human into the real world. The ending of the story is unexpected and mindblowing and brilliant. 'The Garden of Forking Paths' - I don't know how to describe it other than to say that it is about mazes and labyrinths, which really doesn't say much. 'The Library of Babel' - a brilliant story about an infinite library 'The Immortal' - a story about a man who goes in search of immortals. Brilliant story with a brilliant ending. 'The House of Asterion' - in which a prince narrates his story and it all goes nicely till we discover in the end that the prince is no ordinary prince and the story is no ordinary story. 'The Shape of the Sword' - an amazing story. I don't want to say more. I didn't see that ending coming. 'Deutsches Requiem' - a story with an unusual narrator and a fascinating point of view. 'The Zahir' - an incredibly scary story. 'The Maker' - when we discover the identity of the narrator in the end - wow! 'Everything and Nothing' - a mindblowing surprise in the end. 'Unworthy' - a story about gangsters 'The Gospel According to Mark' - in which a young man reads the gospel to a family everyday - a family who don't know how to read. This leads to some unexpected results. 'A Weary Man's Utopia' - Borges' attempt at science fiction. He pulls it off brilliantly. There were also three stories set in India, or which had an Indian theme, which I liked very much - 'The Man on the Threshold', 'The Book of Sand' and 'Blue Tigers'. Though I have mentioned the names of a few of my favourite stories above, the book has nearly a hundred stories and I loved them all. There were two things that I felt were recurring elements in a Borges story. The first was the surprise ending. In two of his early books, 'Fictions' ('Ficciones') and 'The Aleph', the surprise ending keeps coming again and again and stuns the reader. It is not a regular surprise, like we would encounter in a murder mystery, like the identity of the murderer. The surprise ending that Borges delivers, is mindblowing. It turns the story upside down in unexpected ways. It makes us go back to the first page of the story, look for clues, and wonder how we missed it. Sometimes the story is just a couple of pages long and we don't suspect what is coming. The second recurring element that I found in a Borges story is the fact that he plays with form. For example, a detective story is not a straightforward detective story. For example, 'Death and the Compass' reads like a Dan Brown / Robert Langdon mystery. There is a murder and there are clues which are related to religion. Our detective uses the clues in the investigation and comes close to finding the murderer. But then Borges turns the story upside down there! Borges keeps doing this again and again - he takes a traditional form of a story from a particular genre, and applies his inventive genius to it and creates something unexpected and new and beautiful out of it. Some of the recurring themes that I noticed in many of the stories were labyrinths, libraries, infinities. There are stories of all kinds in the collection. There are gangster stories, detective stories, science fiction, fantasy, horror, literary fiction, mythology and every other kind. Though many of the stories are set in Argentina and Latin America, many other stories are set across the world, in other times, or in mythical or imaginary worlds. Borges, it seems, didn't want to be tied down by artificial restraints that lesser writers impose on themselves. There was a story in the collection called 'The Story of the Two Dreamers' which was very similar to Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist'. I am wondering whether Coelho was inspired by that. There is also another story in the collection called 'The Zahir'. There is a Paulo Coelho novel which is also called 'The Zahir'! I don't know whether they have similar plots. Many of the books in the collection have a foreword by Borges in which he elaborates on some aspect of the stories. Some of the books have an afterword because Borges doesn't want to reveal any surprises. I loved that. There is a note on the translation in the end, in which the translator, Andrew Hurley, talks about the pleasures and challenges of translating Borges into English. When I finished reading the book, my heart leapt with joy. Because I had finally read this book from cover to cover. But soon a deep wave of sadness and melancholy enveloped my heart. Because I had read my last story by the Master. There was no new Borges story left. Jorge Luis Borges was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. And probably the greatest ever Argentinian writer. But though he wrote for more than half a century, his literary output is very thin. His entire collection of fiction, which his original readers enjoyed over half a century, has been compiled into this one book. This is all there is. It is sad. I wish there was more. But instead of mourning for what is not there, it is time to celebrate what is there. I am glad the Master wrote these fantastic stories. I loved them and I will be re-reading them again and again and try to unearth new truths and surprises that they choose to reveal. I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book. "...when one confesses to an act, one ceases to be an actor in it and becomes its witness, becomes a man that observes and narrates it and no longer the man that performed it." (from 'Guayaquil') "Your father, rest his soul, told us once that time can't be measured in days the way money is measured in pesos and centavos, because all pesos are equal, while every day, perhaps every hour, is different. I didn't fully understand what he meant then, but the phrase stayed in my mind." (from 'Juan Muraña') "Fate is partial to repetitions, variations, symmetries." (from 'The Plot') "His many years had reduced and polished him the way water smooths and polishes a stone or generations of men polish a proverb." (from 'The Man on the Threshold') "...like every writer, he measured other men's virtues by what they had accomplished, yet asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do." (from 'The Secret Miracle') "It is generally understood that a modern-day book may honorably be based upon an older one, especially since, as Dr.Johnson observed, no man likes owing anything to his contemporaries." (from 'The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim') "Tennyson said that if we could but understand a single flower we might know who we are and what the world is. Perhaps he was trying to say that there is nothing, however humble, that does not imply the history of the world and its infinite concatenation of causes and effects. Perhaps he was trying to say that the visible world can be seen entire in every image, just as Schopenhauer tells us that the Will expresses itself entire in every man and woman. The Kabbalists believed that man is a microcosm, a symbolic mirror of the universe; if one were to believe Tennyson, everything would be - everything, even the unbearable Zahir." (from 'The Zahir') Have you read 'Collected Fictions' or any other collections of Borges' stories? Which is / are your favourite stories?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This book is the complete fiction writings of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. My initial disclaimer is that there is no way to do justice to a work of this magnitude in a single review, just as there is no way to do it justice after only a first reading. Anyone who has read Borges will recognize common objects that show up continually in his writings such as labyrinths, gauchos, knife fights, war, jaguars, and books (some of which are fabricated). For those with little knowlege of the history This book is the complete fiction writings of Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. My initial disclaimer is that there is no way to do justice to a work of this magnitude in a single review, just as there is no way to do it justice after only a first reading. Anyone who has read Borges will recognize common objects that show up continually in his writings such as labyrinths, gauchos, knife fights, war, jaguars, and books (some of which are fabricated). For those with little knowlege of the history of South America, the 19th Century seemed to be a time of constant political turmoil and warfare. Borges addresses this in several stories. The sheer brutality and nihilism that are portrayed in these stories tend to make the modern reader feel like he has been dropped into the land of post apocalypse, not historical fiction. Obviously these stories give some insight into man's ruminations on mortality at its end. Many of Borges' other tales involve the magic of the intellectual life. This is where things such as labyrinths, dopplegangers, jaguars, mysterious books and secret names of God figure prominently. Overall, the stories that fell into this category were probably my favorites. This is the category that I would include what is probably the most anthologized story in the collection, 'The Garden of Forking Paths'. SOme of these stories do not seem engaging initially, but usually the last couple of paragraphs provide a nice twist or missing puzzle piece that makes it all worthwhile. Essentially, what I think Borges does with his fiction is to present the things that an armchair intellectual thinks about when the mundane, daily world recedes from his vision. I'm not saying this in a negative way, because I greatly enjoyed those visions and believe that there is room for everyone at the dinner table. Notice that I have been very gender bias in this review. The reason for this is that I noticed a distinct lack of women presented throughout most of these works. It's all gauchos, soldiers, and male intellectuals, with very few women and very little in the way of normal social interactions. I don't know, but I would assume that this is because Borges was writing what he knew. Whether this would effect how a female reader views his fiction is a question that I find interesting. Another enlightening moment for me while reading this book were the translation notes by this volume's translator, Andrew Hurley, where he discusses the pitfalls of translation. He reveals that his idea of a translation is the same as Borges', who was also a translator during his career. That idea is that a translator does not produce a replacement for the original work, but instead merely produces another version in a continuing body of work. What this means is that although every translation of a non-English work may have a few subtle problems, they all provide a legitimacy in understanding the original work. Prior to being presented with this idea, I was always suspicious of any translation (as I may have mentioned in a Kafka review some time back). I believe the reason for this had to do with all of the translations that I have read over the years where the translator feels the need to write a Forward that basically said "...the last guy's version sucked, here's my version, which is totally accurate...". With my new found insight, I will now read translations of non-English works in a new way. As for future translators who want to be scornful of their predecessors, I offer the words of a thinkerof the late 20th Century, Rodney King, who said "Can't we all just get along?".

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    My great-great grandparents built a cottage in Lake Charter Twp., Michigan during WWI. Father sold the thirty acres in the middle of the eighties. The payments were to be in three parts, over three years. I took this information to the township supervisor and negotiated deal that I'd be allowed use of the property during the interim in exchange for some services. Then, when the final payment was made, I approached the supervisor again, offering to continue working on their behalf if they'd let m My great-great grandparents built a cottage in Lake Charter Twp., Michigan during WWI. Father sold the thirty acres in the middle of the eighties. The payments were to be in three parts, over three years. I took this information to the township supervisor and negotiated deal that I'd be allowed use of the property during the interim in exchange for some services. Then, when the final payment was made, I approached the supervisor again, offering to continue working on their behalf if they'd let me use the cottage. After some argument and some support from neighbors, he agreed. This arrangement continued until about 2000 when a new township supervisor, concerned about liability issues, was appointed. Mike Miley was a friend since high school and had been visiting the Michigan property since soon after our graduations. Indeed, he was so close to the family that he used the house himself on occasion. Even after he moved to California, he made a point of visiting yearly during the warmer months in order to visit the cottage. Therefore, our last visit there together in 1999 was very important to both of us. As ever, Michael brought what the ancients refer to as a "shitload" of books, more than he could possibly read in a couple of weeks, along with him. One of them was Borges' 'Collected Fictions'. I'd read several of Borges' collections over the years, having probably been introduced to him to begin with by Michael. I'd even, yawn!, read some of the gaucho poetry. Many of the collections overlapped, but this book promised to be complete: all of his short fiction. I couldn't resist. It was fall and it was chilly in the evenings, so I read this book in the living room near the wood-burning stove. Many of the stories were familiar, but Borges is one of the very few authors I can bear reading more than once, so I reread and read them all with familiar pleasure. Most striking in this reading was his short piece on Shakespeare.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I was hesitant to post anything about this book. Given the stature of Borges it would have been easier just to pretend that I'd never read it. Well, the truth is I hardly did read it. I found his style impenetrable. For me there was no way into these stories, I was just stuck on the outside, with a book full of words on my lap. I was hesitant to post anything about this book. Given the stature of Borges it would have been easier just to pretend that I'd never read it. Well, the truth is I hardly did read it. I found his style impenetrable. For me there was no way into these stories, I was just stuck on the outside, with a book full of words on my lap.

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