Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art That Changed My Life: J.L. Borges

Years back, I saw a photo collection that I should’ve bought. It was full of pictures like the ones displayed here. At the time I was just beginning to examine the work of Jorge Luis Borges and, while impressed, was still not sure which side of the fence was for me. Did I wish to side with the Gombrowicz side and dismiss the hype as ill-founded or did I wish to jump over to the majority and hail the short (and I mean short) stories, essays and poems of J.L.B. as being among the most important work of the 20th century? As I said, I was still not sure.

My relationship with Borges has always been strange. I admire his erudition; I am in awe of the vastness of his interests and the laser sharpness of his imagery. His (to borrow some phrases) micro approach to some goddamn macro material (mysticism, history, labyrinths, the magic of the book, just to trot out the usual terms) is pretty incredible. Still, at the time I first came to Uncle Jorge, I was looking for something else. I wanted some digestible material perhaps populated by more “Latin” characteristics. Sure, there are gauchos galore in Borges, but—being the typical North American gringo dumbass—I was hoping for something more in line with One Hundred Years of Solitude than “The Garden of Forking Paths.” (Not to dis Marquez’s great book, but, while it remains an undeniable classic, it has done some amount of damage to the rest of the Latin American literature, as us here in Gringolandia now think all South American books are rife with magic realism. Indeed, there are realists, magic and mundane, tragic and ethereal, to be found all over the pages from down under the border, but there’s a whole lot more to be read. Anyway, we’re talking about Borges here, who was not afraid of a little magic, though his does not take the typical forms. His magic is slight of hand, not Criss Angel: Mindfreak.)

Maybe a decade has gone by since I picked up all three volumes of the Penguin editions. I started, naturally, with the fiction. Then I peaked at the poems. The selected essays and reviews struck me most, I must say, as it seemed possible to flip through the book at any place and find a musing on damn near ANYTHING. Of course, this is not possible, right? Well… the breadth of Borges’s scope is astonishing, even if his books only come close to the impossible task of cramming all thought into printed and bound material. As expressed by others, the man’s work anticipated the world wide fucking web. And yet, he got screwed out of the Nobel.

So I have been slowly coming back to Borges as of late. I needed time to let the work slip in and be as wondrous as it is. I may take another ten years just to process the scope and try not to sound like the idiot so many of us sound like when trying to answer the questions, “What makes Borges so special?” The answer is, of course, everything and nothing, bitch.