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Selected Non-Fictions [Paperback]

Jorge Luis Borges , Eliot Weinberger , Esther Allen , Jill Suzanne Levine
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Nov. 2 2000 0140290117 978-0140290110

It will come as a surprise to some readers that the greater part of Jorge Luis Borges's extraordinary writing was not in the genres of fiction or poetry, but in the various forms of non-fiction prose. His thousands of pages of essays, reviews, prologues, lectures, and notes on politics and culture—though revered in Latin America and Europe as among his finest work—have scarcely been translated into English.


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Jorge Luis Borges was our century's greatest miniaturist, perpetually cramming entire universes onto the head of a pin. Yet his splendid economy, along the wafer-thin proportions of such classic volumes as Ficciones and Labyrinths, has given readers the impression that Borges was miserly with his prose. In fact, he was something of a verbal spendthrift. His collected stories alone run to nearly 1,000 pages. And his nonfiction output was even more staggering: the young Borges cranked out hundreds of essays, book notes, cultural polemics, and movie reviews, and even after he lost his sight in 1955, he continued to dictate short pieces by the dozens. Eliot Weinberger has assembled just a fraction of this outpouring in Selected Non-Fictions, and the result is a 559-page Borgesian blowout, in which the Argentinean fabulist takes on being and nothingness, James Joyce and Lana Turner, and (surprisingly) racial hatred and the rise of Nazism. So much for our image of the mandarin bookworm! The very engagé author of this book seems more like a subequatorial Camus, with a dash of Siskel and Ebert on the side.

Selected Non-Fictions demonstrates just how quickly Borges began wrestling with such brainteasers as identity, time, and infinity. Indeed, the very first piece in the collection, "The Nothingness of Personality" (1922), already finds him fiddling with the self: "I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I." There are many such meditations here, including "A History of Eternity" (in which Borges maps out his own, disarmingly empty version of the eternal, "without a God or even a co-proprietor, and entirely devoid of archetypes"). But it's more fun--and more revelatory--to see the author venturing beyond his metaphysical stomping grounds. Borges on King Kong is a hoot, and a cornball masterpiece such as The Petrified Forest elicits this terrific nugget: "Death works in this film like hypnosis or alcohol: it brings the recesses of the soul into the light of day." His capsule biographies are a delight, his critiques of Nazi propaganda are memorably stringent, and nobody should miss him on the tango. True, the sheer variety and mind-boggling erudition of Selected Non-Fictions can be a little forbidding. But, taken as a whole, the collection surely meets the specifications that Borges laid out in a 1927 essay on literary pleasure: "If only some eternal book existed, primed for our enjoyment and whims, no less inventive in the populous morning as in the secluded night, oriented toward all hours of the world." Oh, but it does. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Reviewing a book that seeks to validate the existence of ghosts through testimony by the upper crust of British society, Borges writes: "the Honorable Reginald Fortescue became a firm believer in the existence of 'an alarming spectre.' As for myself, I don't know what to think: for the moment, I refuse to believe in the alarming Reginald Fortescue until an honorable spectre becomes a firm believer in his existence." In this compilation of nonfiction prose, the third of Viking's magisterial three-volume collection of Borges's complete works, a new, fuller Borges emerges, as the writer becomes a joker; the fabulist shows himself to be a rationalistic skeptic; and the alleged conservative skewers upper-class pretensions. We also find the familiar man of letters in such classic essays as "A New Refutation of Time" and "Kafka's Precursors" (which foreshadows the most interesting ideas of Harold Bloom in a mere two and a half pages). Among the gems to appear in English for the first time are slyly brilliant literary essays, such as an appreciation of Flaubert's enigmatic novel, Bouvard and P?cuchet, and an authoritative critical history of the translations of the 1001 Nights. Other newly available aspects of Borges's oeuvre are trenchant critiques of Argentinean anti-Semitism; contemporary reviews of such works as Citizen Kane, Absalom, Absalom and Finnegan's Wake (Borges finds it incomprehensible); and capsule literary biographies for a woman's magazine. While the translations capture Borges's unfailingly elegant style, the editing at times seems overly academic: certain sentences, even paragraphs, are repeated, and certain topics (particularly time and eternity) are overrepresented, a tendency that makes the book rather difficult to read straight through. Even so, this is a volume of inexhaustible delights. First serial to Grand Street. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Across The Ocean - Another Labyrinth. March 24 2000
Format:Hardcover
One of the most cherished items in my ever-expanding library is my dog-eared copy of "Labyrinths", complete with the coffee-, alcohol-, and bath stains which lend it almost as much character as the words within its covers. This new edition of Borges selected non-fiction will no doubt in the fullness of time reach a position of equal prominence on my bookshelves. The debate will forever rage as to whether Borges deserves that grandest(yet often all too hollow and ephemeral) of epithets - "Great Writer", purely by virtue of the fact that he never wrote anything of more than a few pages in length. But the pellucidity and erudition of his prose raises quality above quantity to an altitude from where we lose sight of the debate, thus rendering it redundant. Along with a number of essays already available elsewhere, including the seminal "New Refutation Of Time", this collection ranges in typical Borges style from film reviews (King Kong, The Petrified Forest etc.), through dispassionate yet condemnatory meditations on Fascism, to his well- ploughed but ever-fruitful ground of literary rumination.His series of essays on Dante opened this reader's eyes-and heart- to the true heartbreaking nature of that poet's relationship with Beatrice, prompting a reappraisal of a book I gave up on fifteen years ago, halfway through "Il Purgatorio"; this summer, I've promised myself, I WILL read the whole of "Il Divina Commedia".Not out of a sense of duty, you understand, but because I WANT to. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone Sept. 17 2003
Format:Paperback
This is one of those books you can just pick up, open to a random page, and start reading. His essays, like his stories, are quite short, and he writes on an astonishing variety of subjects. A big movie fan before he went blind, he writes on "Citizen Kane", "King Kong" and "The 39 Steps". He writes on Germany as it descends into barbarism in the 30s and 40s. He shares his thoughts on a wide array of writers, from Virgil to Kierkegaard to Shakespeare, to his wonderful meditations on Dante, and into Dostoevsky, Whitman, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, even Bradbury and H.G. Wells. I've barely even scratched the surface. The companion collection is called "Collected Fictions", which is funny since the line between fiction and non-fiction is often quite blurry for Borges. But both these collections are highly recommended for anyone and everyone, regardless of familiarity with the author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A sundae of Borges Aug. 21 2002
Format:Paperback
Borges, besides being a poet and short-fiction writer, took his ultra-worldly ideas to "non-fiction" pieces as well. As you can imagine, the mind-bending work in fiction is even more thought provoking when Borges remarks on Shakespeare, the clipping of one's toes, or the nature of art.
Perhaps the best part of this collection are the "non-fictions" from The Chronicles of Bustos Domeqc -- a very cheeky collection of essays which are written about fictive subjects: a poet who is doomed to repeat himself, a new wave of cuisine where taste has devolved to elemental proportions -- salty, sweet, tart, etc.
Borges wrote as a literarist: he knew his work would be collected, read, and re-read. These collection "non-fictions" are finely translated, with a fresh breath and fresh pen by a trio of translaters.
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