Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, August 29, 2011

LABYRINTHS by JORGE LUIS BORGES

BOOK REVIEW
Labyrinths
by Jorge Luis Borges
A New Directions Paperback
This edition published 2007
Original English translation 1962

  Borges is one of those lucky cats who saw his reputation rise to match his talent DURING HIS OWN LIFE TIME.  He wrote his hits, basically a series of short stories that pre-figured most of what is considered "post-modern" in literature, during the 40s, i.e. waaaaayyyy before literary post-modernism  was in vogue.  For those who have heard the name but not read the book, here are some literary themes that Borges more or less invented:

  1.  The labyrinth as a metaphor for existence.
  2.  Using Kabbalah and Gnosticism as a source for fiction.
  3.  Blending genre fiction (detective stories) with philosophical musing.

   Amazingly, there was a twenty year gap between the time when Borges wrote his most enduring work and the time when it "made it" in English translation.  The first English translation of Labyrinths arrived in the mid 1960s, and the subsequent rise of Latin American novelists gave Borges an admirable position as fore-runner of "Magical Realism."  Borges work went on to influence the next fifty years of undergraduates.  I'm friends with at least one person who claims Labyrinths as his favorite book, and I'm sure I've met others and just not talked about that particular subject.

  It occurs to me that Borges' themes are no also self-evidently timeless, but that the enduring success of the work has proved that these same subjects: esoteric knowledge, sci-fish mumbo jumbo and, of course, the Labyrinth itself, have enduring popularity as a set of symbols that will elicit a strong, but unself conscious reaction, from many segments of the general audience.

   Borges has directly influenced a generation of purveyors of pop culture- it's hard not to see Borges reflected in David Lynch's Twin Peaks television show, and the foreword to this edition of Labyrinths is written by sci-fi author William Gibson.

  I imagine the Kabbalah/Gnosticism references were otherworldly in the milieu of 40s Argentina- certainly into the mid 1960s there couldn't have been other, if any- authors working with the same send of reference points.  Now of course, Madonna is into Kabbalah and Elaine Pagels sold a bazillion copies of the Gnostic Gospels, so neither subject is as fresh as it was a half century ago.



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