Borges's Bribe

In reading the Collected Fictions, I was greatly interested in those stories, like Guayaquil, which touched on everyday university politics and the relationships involved in building and maintaining a library. Borges’s The Bribe stood out in this respect. In this story from the 1975 collection The Book of Sand, Borges tells a story of the academic games played amongst professors to move ahead in their fields and garner plum appointments and assignments. In the story the narrator mentions that he met Dr. Erza Winthrop, a professor of Old English, in late 1961 at the University of Texas in Austin. The year is a crucial one for Borges marking his arrival on the literary scene outside of Latin America. He shared the first ever Prix International with Samuel Beckett, which put Borges on the map internationally and the same year the University of Texas appointed him to the one year Tinker Chair and a lecture tour in the United States. The lid on Borges would officially come off in 1962 with the publication of the Ficciones and Labyrinths story collections.

As a professional librarian, Borges knew intimately how canon formation and library acquisition worked and the story behind the story in The Bribe is the tango between the University of Texas and Borges. The University bribes Borges with Chairs, publications, and appointments, and in return, Borges bribes the University by mentioning it in his stories and letting the University bask in the glow of his literary reputation. The 1960s was the Golden Age of acquisition for the Harry Ransom and the Library invested heavily in the Latin American Boom eventually becoming the leading institution for the study of Latin American literature. Not surprisingly the University helped create that Boom. Borges’s arrival in Texas sparked a frenzy of interest and study in the author: the beginnings of the Borges industry. This interest would extend to other Latin American authors. The University of Texas published Borges's Dreamtigers in 1964 in the Texas Pan American Series. What we see here is a University building up both its collection and the importance of that collection. This is the game of speculation with literary reputations that libraries, collectors, and authors play. The game that The Bribe documents both inside and outside the story proper. In a sense the University of Texas is involved in price fixing and insider trading. Yet there is a downside with Borges going public so to speak. Take Dreamtigers for example. The collection was originally titled The Maker when published in 1960, but for distribution by the University the controversial theological element was removed and replaced with a more fantastic element. The true flavor of Borges work is rendered more bland for the tastes of a larger audience. The University’s bribe in 1961 would be the gift that keeps on giving. In 1999, the University would score a major coup with the purchase of an important Borges collection that would provide the cornerstone for its world-renowned Latin American collection.



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