Borges's Reward, or What Makes a Rewarding Reading Experience

What was Borges’s reward in English for his literary efforts? Some writers consider a Collected Works the summation of their careers. Allen Ginsberg felt this way. In fact, his desire for a proper Collected drove him away from a lifetime publishing relationship with City Lights into the loving arms of Harper & Row. A lifetime of writing stories like The Bribe bought him the honor of a Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, published with much fanfare, publicity, and acclaim. The book was a national bestseller.

In a cover blurb, Ilan Stavans writes, “For decades, his fiction in English was less a unity than a multiplicity, it was fragmented and dispersed, translated by one too many hands, anarchically anthologized. Andrew Hurley’s effort to render it in a single voice and volume is nothing short of heroic. This is reason to rejoice.” Harold Bloom seconds this assessment, noting “a particular satisfaction in having all of the stories in one volume.”

This may be true on one level, but it also seems to be true that it is with the Viking Collected that the spirit of Borges gets lost in the labyrinths of the Piggly-Wiggly. The Collected Fictions is “a black-letter Wyclif” and I find myself yearning of The Book of Sand, maddening as that volume proves to be. Does not the essence of Borges’s fictions lie in multiplicity not unity, in fragmentation and dispersal, in the anarchically anthologized, and schizophrenically translated? Are these not the books that fascinate and stimulate Borges’s imagination and give life to his Fictions?

The “particular satisfaction” of Bloom is the "deep pleasure" of one-stop shopping, of instantaneous gratification. This is the appeal of the Piggly-Wiggly, of corporate publishing and bookselling. Supermarkets of the bibliographic selling carefully packaged products designed for mass consumption. There was something, well, Borgesian about sifting through the fragmented and dispersed bibliography of Borges, digging through bookshops and libraries for the odd volume and the missing story, pursuing the maddening elusive appearance in a hard-to-find little magazine in an indecipherable language. Borges’s printing history before the Viking Collected mirrored that of the books featured in Borges’s stories. The diligent reader of this history became a Borgesian character: a librarian, a collector, an archivist. Such an experience was, like reading The Book of Sand, nightmare to be sure, but it was also an obsessive pleasure.

The Collected Fictions is no doubt a “reason to rejoice,” but it is also provides an opportunity to lament that which is lost.



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