Ficciones is not the type of book that one usually finds recommended on an Objectivist forum. It doesn't have heroes who overcome injustice and persecution — instead Borges plays with reality within 17 short stories. In almost all his stories he warps, morphs and transforms reality in a very intriguing and imaginative way. In one story ther... (See the whole review)
Jorge Luis Borges is an acquired taste, much like H.P. Lovecraft, but with the absurd as his theme, rather than horror. Sam is right to say that posting a review of him on an Objectivist website qua Objectivist is not what one might expect, but then little that one finds in Borges' short stories is to be expected. (In one story, Sam Erica turns out to be a dog-lover named Paul Hibbert from Santa Fe NM, while I myself am not W.S. Scherk) And his work is art of a sort, perhaps the literary counterpiece to Salvador Dalí.
His writing itself is crystal clear (unlike that of, say, James Joyce, whom no one ever reads) but the worlds he portrays are often a bit bizarre. I must admit that I have not read anything near Borges' complete works. I found the interest level uneven. The stories are more the musings of an academic than the plot-driven works of a true romantic. His style also reminds me of Umberto Eco, yet Eco (Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum) could write a much better page-turner than Bores so far as I am aware. But I did most especially enjoy "Aqbar and Tlon" the first short story to which Sam aluded in his review. In that story, people in a strange world (of which we are aware because a millionaire Tennessean of the 1800's spent his fortune forging "true" encyclopedia articles about it) discover things by burying them in the ground, and then later digging up improved models, as sort of archeology in reverse.
I would caution the would-be reader that due to his popularity with the post-modernists, Borges' works are available in many editions, and most of his short stories can be found in more than one collection. I had to spend an hour looking through some dozen books to make sure I wasn't paying twice to buy all he wrote. While Ficciones is Borges' own selection of his favorite works, one can buy a larger edition of his collected short stories and spend less to obtain more.
Ted Keer has no more reality than Howard Roark, John Galt or Ellsworth Toohey. He is a character existing between the real world and an alternative one populated by all the fictional characters that are currently known. Ted's function is to flit between the two worlds trying to keep the fictional characters alive (i.e. known) by discussing them on forums such as this. He has some similarities to a "Toon" that co-exists between real people and cartoon characters but in his case it is between fictional characters of literature. As far as it is known this bizarre condition is benign.
Paul Hibbert's alter ego, Sam Erica (and vice versa) on the other hand, may not be so innocuous. Little is known about reciprocal alter egos and how they interact. It has been speculated that they may reinforce each other without limit and spin out of control. When this happens near a geological anomaly such as the one hypothesized to exist between Taos, NM and Sedona, AZ the results could prove to be unpredictable. Sensitive people in both Taos and Sedona have reputedly heard the Taos "hum", a low-pitched sound that can continue for days. It is believed that a giant subterranean crystal 500 miles long runs between the two communities and this resonates in response to human psychic vibrations, thus producing the so-called hum. Alter egos, spinning out of control could induce unstable vibrations, perhaps even creating what could be described as self-induced hypnosis in the general population which would cause even insensitive people to believe in the anomaly — and document it in detail. This situation would be similar to the Borges short story of "Aqbar and Tlon" where a hypothetical becomes real.
Well, James, even Picasso could actually paint (here's his mother) when he tried hard enough, so I wouldn't be surprised if Joyce actually did write something of interest. Perhaps I should have said that no one actually reads Ulysses. I had to read Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man as a senior in high school. The first page has such gems as "gaa-gaa gooh-gooh" and "when you wet the bed, first it's warm, then it's cold..."
If you like things Irish, I'd recommend Oscar Wilde and W.B. Yeats instead.
YOU say, as I have often given tongue In praise of what another’s said or sung, ’Twere politic to do the like by these; But was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?
Sam, the problem I have with your review of Borges is that you haven't told us (certainly not me at any event) enough to have any idea whether we'd like him or the exact nature of where he is excellent as a writer. The fact that he twists reality or appeals to pomos won't do it. The examples of his stories or 'plots' seem far-fetched or surreal. But surrealism is certainly not a turn on in fiction any more than it is in painting. Usually it's simply a fashionable, postmodern, pretentious lack of clarity.
Is he a master of dialogue? A fast paced page turner? A creator of alive and memorable characters? Does he make you think somehow? . . . In other words, what's the attraction you have to him or the cardinal virtue he has as a writer -exactly-?
Philip: All my aesthetic pleasure comes from an "endorphin rush" brought on by a different way of looking at things or a new understanding. In the case of Borges it is the turning upside down of conventional thinking and his great ability, in the last few lines of a story, to reveal the solution to a seemingly unresolvable stream of events that preceded it. A large part of my admiration for his writing is just based on his huge imagination, and much of his imagination is surreal. I'm not about to get into an argument about the validity of surreal art but I appreciate much of surrealist art — and cubism, and art deco and art nouveau, as well as the old masters.
I think that Objectivists, in general, tend to analyse art too much. Words are inadequate to convey why one prefers Kim Novak to Marilyn Monroe, for instance and it is pointless to try. I can walk into an art gallery with 30 painting on the wall and instantly be attracted to only a few of them. I get my endorphin rush as the feeling washes over me and I want more. Words are inadequate to describe that process. I've understood immediately what the artist wants to convey but I have never understood why one would want to sit down and ponder a piece for half an hour.
I consider myself an Objectivist but I disagree with much of the criticism of non-objective art. Certainly, the works of an artist who habitually depicts scenes of depravity reveals a defect in his personality but a depiction of a limp watch does nothing of the sort. Some of the most realistic, objective, heroic sculptures and paintings came from Marxist Russia, extolling the virtues of the sacrifices of the peasants for the "greater good". Now, that is depravity. The best I can do to motivate you to read "Ficciones" is to compare Borges to Rod Serling who also exhibited elements of surrealism in his episodes of "The Twilight Zone." Somewhat strangely, Rand considered Serling to be the best TV writer of the time.
I was the only one in my book discussion group who liked "Ficciones". As Ted mentioned, it's an acquired taste and, I think, will appeal to only certain personalities.
I'd compare Borges as a writer to some of the more esoteric jazz artists, in so far as their music is music for musicians, rather than for audiences, his writing is scholarship for the scholarly, rather than the general audience. He is not a teller of stories as vehicles for plots, but an explorer of conceits. Like Umberto Eco, he is as much a broad-minded academic and literary critic as he is a writer, and it is obvious that he followed Rand's dictum of writing the sort of stories that he himself would like to read. I find that both Eco and Borges are hit and miss in both their fiction and non-fiction writing, but when they are good, like Orwell, they are very good. I realize that this is just an impressionistic statement, rather than a rigorous Objectivistic argument. I suppose the best that I can say is that if you've already read everybody you like, and are looking for something new, Borges is worth checking out. After all, Rand spoils us.
This is just a comment on a bit of eerie coincidence with my post #3 where I characterized Ted Keer as "a character existing between the real world and an alternative one populated by all the fictional characters that are currently known." After all, no one on this board has actually seen him in person.
A friend recommended the movie, "Stranger Than Fiction" with Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Will Ferrell plays a character who exists in the real world yet is also a character in a novel in the process of being written and is controlled by the whims of the author.
In the prologue, the author states that he consulted with various antiquarians, particularly one Argentinian scholar, whom he "declined" to name. One of the characters in the book is named Jorge de Burgos, elderly and blind as was Borges at the end of his life. I am about half way through my rereading, and Burgos seems not to be too flattering a representation if he is indeed based on Borges - he's certainly no free thinker. In any case, here's the review.
I know exactly what you mean. I've often wondered what motivated Picasso, since he had so much real talent. Many years ago I had a sculptor friend in NY who said very authoritatively that Picasso was just a plain con man. That's as good an explanation as I can provide and seems the most likely to me.
Sorry about the link/jpg. I checked both the photo and link the day I posted it, but apparently they've locked it down. That's odd since I've been to that site many times and never had that trouble before.
As to posting more often, I'm simply hugely busy with freelance work, trying to sell a recently completed novel, and working on a new one.
When I find something that is irresistible, I'll generally comment. Otherwise, the level isn't likely to increase anytime soon.
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