Monday, August 24, 2009

Readings 2K9: Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges

Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges
by Richard Burgin

A book-length transcript of a series of interviews with Borges, conducted by Burgin. They’re interesting, but seem to have relatively little focus — each ‘chapter’ skips around a fair bit. Unsurprisingly, the interviews focus mainly on literature, and Borges’ favourite authors. But there are also some insightful thoughts on politics and war; on the nature of fascism and violence, for example (if Hitler preached strength and the goodness of violence, then does it follow that to exert one’s will through strength is necessarily to partake of the nature of Nazism?).

There’s a palpable sense here that Borges is not really caught in the book, for all that he talks candidly about major events and themes in his life. It’s as if he’s too subtle to be caught so directly; there’s some quality to him which comes out really only in his writing, and of which one has only an intimation when reading the interviews. While it’s not surprising that the writer can’t be depicted in a series of conversations, the presence of that intimation — the hint that there’s something more to the man than what we’re reading — is perhaps the most Borgesian thing about the book: if the interview reduces the man to language, this hint is the sense that he has yet other books within him than this one, books that are far more important than the book that comes out of his life and speech. Which is to say, the sense that Borges is a major writer.

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