An Entirely Different Set of Questions

2019.02.04 by Josh Erb; 669 words.

This was my first introduction to Borges - or as his translator affectionately
refers to him through the footnotes "JLB" - aside from the errant short stories
I read spasmodically on the internet c.2007-11. Back when I had more time to read
random short fiction on the internet.

Borges is a cerebral writer of the first order. Although, somehow that classification
feels too limiting for what he's able to achieve. The prose is sparse and unladen,
though this could be as much due to the standardization that occurs in translation
as to Borges's style itself.[1]

For the most part, the stories in this collection all seemed to orbit the same core ideas of knowledge, memory, and how these to relate to and change a person's identity. The book itself had more stories than I could possible get into here, so I'll just briefly note the few stores that I dog-eared[2] while reading.

The House of Asterion

A common thing when reading Borges, as I discovered via these stories, is finishing a story and immediately flipping back to the beginning to re-read. I felt this most sharply with this short story about a character trapped in a maze, The House of Asterion. I won't go into more detail. It's too great to ruin even sixty years after it's publication. I earnestly encourage you to read it yourself, if you haven't already.

In Memoriam, J.F.K.

This one is almost a free-form poem. Less than one page, and Borges manages to do this amazing. It's hard to put into words what about it spoke to me exactly without ruining some of the magic of the first read. I'll just say that this story had the best opening and closing lines of the entire book. It begins with the explosion of a muzzle and concludes with the inevitable. It is absolute, dark, and beautiful.

The Aleph

The titular story of this collection is one that takes seriously the possibility of knowing everything there is to know. The protagonist is shown an object that contains the entire universe within it. There are so many clever little details in how the story is set up and unfolds. The thing that led to the eventual aforementioned dog-earing of the page, however, is where Borges takes the story in the final movement of the narrative.

It is also a good demonstration of the fact that, for Borges, the premise isn't simply a gimmick to hook the reader into a compelling story. In fact, this final turn, where Borges extrapolates what would actually happen if someone had suddenly seen the entirety of the Universe, hammers home the point that Borges isn't just imaginative as most writers go, he's also is interested in an entirely different set of questions than almost any other author you'll read.

There are some classic authors that you read only to discover, with a bit of heartache, that their work doesn't impact you as a reader in quite the same way that other (more laureled) critics had led you to believe.

It was a pleasure to discover that Borges was not one of these writers.

Title Author Rating
The Aleph and Other Stories Jorge Luis Borges ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻ ✻

  1. One of the things I've found re: reading translated texts is that, no matter how well they're are translated, there is always a lingering doubt of whether or not the stylistic choices are the author's or the translator's. By no means, am I noting this with the intention to discredit the work of Andrew Huxley. It's just a pernicious thought I've never been capable of shaking when reading in translation.

  2. It's worth noting I almost never dog-ear pages of my books. The fact that I have dog-eared pages of this collection is a sign of the impact these stories had while I read them.

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