This third Penguin volume marking the centenary of the birth of Jorge Luis Borges follows the publication of the Collected Fictions
and Selected Poems
: editor Eliot Weinberger's choice of Borges' non-fiction writings in The Total Library
gives readers the necessary corollary to the work for which the Argentine author became most famous--and for which he became lauded as one of the great writers of the 20th century. Predominantly celebrated for the stories published variously in Fictions
, Borges was nevertheless equally at ease writing about an extraordinary variety of subjects--this huge volume presents a mere 161 pieces out of over 1,200 extant non-fiction texts--ranging from mathematics to 'A History of the Tango', from meditations on blindness (he himself lost his sight in 1955) to reviews of films such as King Kong
, from essays on Dante to responses to the rise of Nazism. What surprises, for even the Borges aficionado, is the breadth and idiosyncrasy of his topics and the singular intelligence that animates his work, and the fact that, despite his staggering erudition, Borges did not inhabit a world of arcane knowledge but a world in which popular culture and deeply felt responses to the stupidities of fascism and the propaganda of dictators found equal place. The world of the book here becomes the book of the world, and if Borges' texts are invariably short, they contain multitudes.
It would be easy to make a case for the inseparability of Borges' literary output, for interleaving one's reading of the three collections. Coming to these essays one can see themes that appear elsewhere reworked as fiction or poetry: the nature of time, of eternity and infinity find their places in many of his best-known stories, and are illuminated by the discussions and speculations contained herein. What is also apparent, however, is how long-lasting many of his preoccupations were: themes which appear in his earliest essays recur throughout a lifetime of thinking and writing, lending this book, despite its admitted omissions, a deeply intimate sense of a mind working. Among his earliest essays we read: "there is no whole self. He who defines personal identity as the private possession of some depository of memories is mistaken". And later: "My postulate is that all literature, in the end, is autobiographical. Everything is poetic that confesses, that gives us a glimpse of a destiny". If these help mark a few of the philosophical kernels of Borges' work, then one final quotation illuminates his generosity: "I don't know if I am a good writer, but I think I am an excellent reader, or in any case a sensitive and grateful one". He more than deserves the same from those who come to his own extraordinary work. --Burhan Tufail
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) lived in Buenes Aires. His COLLECTED FICTIONS was published in Allen Lane in January 1999.