Out of the five books by Jorge Luis Borges I've read so far, this is probably the one I find hardest to categorize. It is certainly the most autobiogrOut of the five books by Jorge Luis Borges I've read so far, this is probably the one I find hardest to categorize. It is certainly the most autobiographical of his short story collections, yet also the one that is most mythological in character. The overall impression is that it's Borges himself reflecting back upon both his personal life, literary legacy and all of human history that leads up to this with the consideration of what will happen then. Borges' own internal spiritual life then comes to appear as a microcosm of cultural history, as much as his own use of that literary heritage seeming to unfold as a macrocosm of his own life.
The first half of this volume is taken up by short texts that are one or two pages in length each, that are difficult to categorize into any specific genre but somewhere in the borderland between literary essays, autobiography and the magical realist fiction Borges by then had become celebrated for. The imagery and themes used seem to draw upon the author's life and early literary inspirations, often alluding to them in a direct personal manner when compared to the elaborate "mind game"-type narratives found in "Ficciones" or "The Aleph". Indeed, as the anthology's English-language title suggests, the stories are peculiarly dream-like with the symbolism often coming from recurring dream Borges had as a young man especially one revolving around tigers. Others reflect in turn upon his friendships and other relations to people in the Argentine cultural sphere at the time.
The second half contains more mock epic poetry, perhaps following the premise that Borges' blindness having become total at this point making him even more of a Homer of late modernity than before. As a result, Borges' writing style seems here to more focus on the musical and lyrical rhythm as well as exploration of literature's adaptation to the sonic realm when read aloud, a dimension that is somewhat altered when translated into other languages. Indeed, some of the pieces herein deal with linguistic/cultural barriers in the context of learning or exploring languages from a completely oral and audial perspective, in particular those drawing from mythological traditions outside Borges' own cultural background. I've dealt with the oft-neglected continuity of influence from Edgar Allan Poe to Jorge Luis Borges, in the sense of the puzzle-like aspect of Borges' writing being inspired by a similar quality in Poe's stories only extrapolated even further. Here, it seems like Borges instead follows up not just Poe's inclusion of his poetic work in prose fiction to a similar extrapolation but also the "campfire storytelling" aspect... which is no doubt also how the epic mythological poetry Borges alludes to in many of the stories here was originally meant to be read.
Overall, this is not where I would recommend anyone to start with Borges, even if some literary historians most notably Harold Bloom consider "Dreamtigers" his most important work. If anything "Dreamtigers" should be read as a sort of companion piece to his better known work, which it both builds upon and illuminates further by adding an autobiographical angle to Borges' literary oeuvre....more
Read this a couple days ago, and I still have no idea what to think of it. To be specific: I have no idea how much of it is meant as parody, how muchRead this a couple days ago, and I still have no idea what to think of it. To be specific: I have no idea how much of it is meant as parody, how much of it is meant in honesty... and is that intentional or not?...more
It is very interesting to read such a historically important writer in the evolution of world literature before he developed the signature style he isIt is very interesting to read such a historically important writer in the evolution of world literature before he developed the signature style he is best known for today. Jorge Luis Borges is today best remembered as the grandfather of not just Latin American magical realism but also metafiction as we know it today, and while the stories found within "A Universal History of Iniquity" fit neither categorization there is a strong red thread running through them linking to those exact movements.
The "history of iniquity" referred to is the unifying theme of the short stories: They all revolve around man's inhumanity to his fellow man - the main characters con artists, criminals, imperialists, pirates, warlords and other historical scoundrels. Borges' love of not just learning history both cultural and otherwise manifests itself here in the settings spanning many different historical eras from all over the globe, usually drawing upon real life dramatis personae and incidents. There is also a much stronger satirical element here than in the later short story anthologies I've read from the author, the anti-heroic personalities often exploiting their respective context's social structures in ways that come across as darkly comic if not borderline surreal.
Borges' penchant for myth-making and literary mind games can also be seen here in embryonic form. The historical settings of varied cultural background allows him to affect and play around with quite a few different literary styles from history, which also includes the occasional use of decidedly mythological storytelling styles especially the further away from the modern age he goes. Even in the more modernistic stories, though, it feels like as playful with the basics of storytelling Borges might already be there seems to be something universal and allegorical they represent in an archetypical layer.
This anthology is in a sense much lighter reading than "Ficciones" or "The Aleph", probably more accessible to mainstream audiences but also less representative of his work. It is still very much worth reading, as even though "History of Inquity" feels nowhere as magical to me as Borges' later collections when reading it I feel like I'm drawing upon some new insight from humanity's shared cultural even when it's something as low-down in the dirt as people doublecrossing and doing wrong to each other for ideals or sheer material gain. Like I said earlier in this review, there's something satirical and almost sadistic to the stories here. This is a dark side of Borges that he moved further away from as he got older and some might say more mature, but it represents one that I find worthy of not neglecting....more
Note: My review is for the Danish-language omnibus version of the Cosmicomics, which also contains stories written after the publication of the originNote: My review is for the Danish-language omnibus version of the Cosmicomics, which also contains stories written after the publication of the original collection but using the same style and characters.
This is a collection of literal "space-age fairy tales", a bunch of (usually humorous) fables that are metaphors for the creation of the universe with the main characters often being personifications of various natural forces, laws of nature etc. Others describe key events in the evolution of life on Earth... the best of these is a truly hilarious tragicomic tale of the last living dinosaur, which ends with one of the finest "what the hell was THAT?" endings I've ever read. How far on the literal/abstract level the metaphors are, well that depends between the stories, and sometimes they swing wildly.
As you can guess, the stories are rather odd but I think out of the three books by Italo Calvino I've read this is the one that's easiest to get into for the average person. Something interesting is that the stories are usually weird in ways that also characterize actual fairy tales and folklore before they're sanitized for modern audiences: Obviously unreliable narrators, ultra-anachronistic mixtures of different eras for the setting, bawdy humour in stories apparently written for children to explain why things are the way they are... I don't think this is unintentional, since the author has also collected authentic Italian folk tales. It should also be mentioned that especially in the later stories, the prose is absolutely beautiful.
Like I say in my other reviews of Italo Calvino books: The common stereotype about experimental literature in general, and post-modernist literature in particular, is that it's too detached and cerebral to be really fun. This is a sentiment that Calvino must have made his mission to prove wrong. "The Complete Cosmicomics" contain probably the best demonstrations of his writing's appeal, even though there are unfortunately also a couple stories that feel a bit too gimmicky and others where I might have missed some of the layers of meaning because I don't know that much about astrophysics....more
Behind the cryptic title lies a short novel about Marco Polo's travels to China. Most of it is narrated by a fictionalized Marco Polo in first person,Behind the cryptic title lies a short novel about Marco Polo's travels to China. Most of it is narrated by a fictionalized Marco Polo in first person, but other chapters are written in third person and describe Polo's philosophical conversations with Kublai Khan.
The descriptions of the cities and cultures Polo has allegedly visited are rather fanciful, occasionally downright surrealistic, but always thoroughly beautifully written. Calvino definitely shows a talent for creating strange yet convincing fictional medieval cultures that many "proper" fantasy novelists would ill for. The weird thing is that if you've read even short excerpts from actual medieval travelogues, you'll notice that they are just as utterly bonkers if not more so!
Halfways through, Calvino starts going beyond pastiche of the medieval travelogue genre and starts examining its hows and whys. The cities become stranger and stranger, with more overt anachronisms if sparingly used, and the narrative begins to explore the psychology behind why a man would travel across half the world in an era where that is so difficult that a 20th century reader could not easily grasp it, as well as the role worldviews have in shaping the course of history.
Everything I've just described likely makes "Invisible Cities" sound rather clunky, but it definitely isn't. Italo Calvino knew exactly how to keep the Jorge Luis Borges-style post-modernist thought experiments around to the exact levels of subtlety that they add to the stories told... instead of overpowering them and turning them more into commentaries on literature than, well, actual literature. (even writers as talented as Paul Auster occasionally fall into this trap)...more
This was... a very different read than I expected, but I liked it. I already knew that Gibson's a writer who really divides readers, and even though IThis was... a very different read than I expected, but I liked it. I already knew that Gibson's a writer who really divides readers, and even though I generally prefer the New Wave/cyberpunk school of science-fiction over the genre's "golden age" (for reasons related to writing style rather than political ideology might I add) there were still several surprises.
One thing that struck me very much was how unlike the cyberpunk stereotypes the stories found in "Burning Chrome" actually are. Less than half even qualify as tangential to that sub-genre, with a few being closer to hallucinatory magical realism and "New Rose Hotel" having so few science-fiction elements that it could just as well pass for an offbeat film noir-style crime story. Another interesting thing is how Gibson's writing contains primordial forms of the most annoying tendencies in today's Western high culture (overtly fragmented surrealistic manner of expression, a rather cynical worldview, fascination with the most dysfunctional parts of Japanese culture) but here they're actually used successfully and not at all annoying.
This brings me to my main point: I think many people, even some of his fans, misunderstand William Gibson. While he on the surface appears as self-consciously futuristic and technophiliac as the vintage futurists mocked in "The Gernsback Continuum", in ethos he's more a Bill Burroughs/Tom Pynchon-style psychedelic post-modernist mind-bender than a "proper" science-fiction writer. Since that's the angle I read Gibson's work from, I find the so-called flaws many readers find to be my favourite things about his writing style. Likewise, the "nerd-macho" fascination with the power of technology is actually for the most part secondary to other and much more interesting themes.
Basically, what I like about the stories collected in "Burning Chrome" is that down to fine details in the prose styles they seem to written by and for people living in the fictional worlds they describe, rather than a real-life audience contemporary to the author. It's like the readers have to "re-program" their own ways of thinking in order to get what's going on. That's a really cool way to approach fantastic/speculative literature when done right, and I think Gibson for the most part succeeds here....more
There are few authors in the canon of world literature I consider literary soulmates as much as J. L. Borges, despite me being almost a hundred yearsThere are few authors in the canon of world literature I consider literary soulmates as much as J. L. Borges, despite me being almost a hundred years younger and Danish instead of Argentine in cultural background. Not only do I find the oeuvres of few others to encapsulate the sheer joy of not just learning and reading as he does, but his pet obsessions overlap so much with mine: All sorts of obscure mythological, occult, philosophical and religious traditions; the rise and fall of historical cultures and the human fates caught up in them; the development of literary storytelling techniques and the exuberance at interpretation, analysis and synthesis of the themes and literary craft at work as well as the cultural factors behind why they turned out that way.
Then you have the "what if?" aspect, where Borges creates new thought experiments around those philosophical and occult concepts gathered from all new, creating new stories and mythologies to illustrate them using his knowledge and familiarity with all those literary traditions he has read and studied inside out. One thing is my awe at Borges probably being one of the most well-read people who have ever lived, but his ability to pick apart what appears to be that total sum of cultural history and put it back together in ways that come across as totally seamless. This brings us to what I think separates him from much of the post-modernism he helped inspire, and what usually appears to be the sore thumb sticking out among the nascent meta-fiction and magical realism: The rural adventure stories of harsh men in farway parts of his home country fighting each others with knives over matters of honour, love and martial virtue.
As intellectually detached and overtly dry as many of Borges' stories found within this collection might come across, they never strike me as ironically distanced or smug in a negative manner as the popular stereotype of post-modernist literature. Indeed, there seems to be a subtle reverence through for the entire history of literature and intellectual human pursuit up to and including Borges himself, including a sort of humility at aknowledging the humility that he only could see so far as a result of standing on the shoulders of giants. This sort of awe I in turn myself feel while reading his work. That disenchantment and estrangement from the transcendent which I nominate as perhaps the defining aspect of the modern age or the post-modern for that matter, this is one thing I actually find a feeling of overcoming when reading Borges. The gaucho stories become relevant here as being the most obvious link to the traditional world, and in terms of using the entire lexicon of mythology and religion to explain his new theorizings derived from that whole corpus of philosophical thought Borges has absorbed he in a sense creates a new mythology for an era standing at the apparent end of history - perhaps at the beginning of that era which comes next, contemplating in a sense the next eternity to derive from this one to paraphrase a famous quote of his.
Indeed, it feels like Borges at the end only deconstructs literary traditions so he can either reconstruct them or create new ones. The way he uses historical, often mythological literary styles from many different sources all across the globe shows an internal understanding of them and their history, the internal logic of why they developed the way they did so he can continue them into the 20th century where they otherwise feel alien. I suspect this is the key to understanding Borges' idiosyncratic cosmopolitan conservatism for a contemporary reader whom that combination might look self-contradictory: Borges is conservative in the sense of preserving the sum total of recorded human intellectual traditions as they have developed over time in art and philosophy, the insight and enjoyment we can derive from them in the future with the awareness that we are reaching across that abyss of displacement in time and place.
That is perhaps the crux of why I like to read Jorge Luis Borges, and what "The Aleph" encapsulates so well, I think I at the end of the day prefer "Ficciones" but possibly just because I read that first: Awe and wonder at all of human history, the diverse literary traditions it has produced and the continued insight into culture and humanity as this synthesis can produce, the unique perspective that I have at my perch on my step of history's ladder into all that development and hope for what the future generations might appreciate in this continuum of our shared cultural heritage....more
"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is best known as one of the very few novels ever written in second-person narration. It is not surprising that the"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is best known as one of the very few novels ever written in second-person narration. It is not surprising that the author cheats a little: Large parts of it are narrated in first person by several of the characters (which includes the author himself), or consist of stories-within-the-story.
Actually, it is off to a rather rocky start with Calvino sounding a bit too impressed with himself for toying around so much with the basic structures of literature, when Jorge Luis Borges was doing the same basic thing decades before. Fortunately, it quickly picks up and creates a really entertaining plot involving literary forgeries and conspiracies to brainwash people through hidden coded messages in books. This is where Calvino goes beyond mere hero-worship in his inspiration from Borges and takes the literary mind-games to new heights, inventing entire fictional countries with their own cultural/literary histories. He has a lot of fun with in the process pastiching and satirizing various literary movements and genres in world history this way. Best of all, it never veers into the tryhard smugness that even the better Anglo-American post-modernist writers do on their off days.
Many people think of avant-garde/experimental literature in general, and post-modernism in particular, as something that has to be dry and formal, if not also academic and hard to read. Italo Calvino happily avoided all of these pitfalls, once you get over the shock of the weird format. "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is in all likelyhood the best "book about how awesome books are" that I have read....more
This anthology contains several short stories set in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995, though none of the stThis anthology contains several short stories set in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe in 1995, though none of the stories involve the earthquake itself. The stories are a curious mixture of down-to-earth stories about the lives of people who are usually in some way profoundly dysfunctional (even if it doesn't always show), with the occasional supernatural or paranormal element thrown into the story. The supernatural stuff is not really handled in a fantastic or science-fictional manner, though, and when it appears to be there are strong hints it's hallucinatory or dreamed.
Murakami's writing style is in all likelyhood the most minimalistic I have ever encountered in fiction. It makes Ernest Hemingway look like H. P. Lovecraft in comparison. The weird thing is that Murakami knows exactly when to throw in some ornamentation in the prose, which results in some rather beautiful writing. His sense of humour is rather dry and occasionally dark, but unlike much literature with that kind of humour it never gets cynical in a Louis-Ferdinand Céline way. This lends a rather unique feel to the humour, and there is no doubt that Murakami can be quite a funny man.
Despite the unity in style and theme, the stories vary much in quality. None of them are really bad as such, but they vary between just being okay and somewhat clever to absolutely brilliant and poignantly funny. Even the lesser stories will suddenly erupt from competence to genius.
I'm curious to read a full-length novel of Murakami now, since that is a different format in many ways and might better suit his strengths as a writer....more
A rather strange, really self-consciously meta-fictional pisstake on the detective novel genre. Heavily indebted to Jorge Luis Borges and to some exteA rather strange, really self-consciously meta-fictional pisstake on the detective novel genre. Heavily indebted to Jorge Luis Borges and to some extent Thomas Pynchon, but I don't think it's that deep. However, it IS pretty funny if your sense of humor is well aligned with the author's....more
Jorge Luis Borges was the grand-daddy of magical realism, metafiction and the "secret history" genres. This one is a collection of short stories oftenJorge Luis Borges was the grand-daddy of magical realism, metafiction and the "secret history" genres. This one is a collection of short stories often concerning elaborate literary hoaxes, strange forgotten cultural/religious practices, entire countries that might or might not actually have existed - often written as factual documents or based on metaphysical thought experiments. The stories are a lot more subtle in their handling of those ideas compared to many of Borges' imitators (Umberto Eco, Paul Auster etc.), and some of the historical inside jokes even I didn't completely get. Amusingly enough, several of the more down-to-earth of the stories end with the main character getting killed in a bar fight for no real reason!...more