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Editorial Reviews Review

Jorge Luis Borges was our century's greatest miniaturist, perpetually cramming entire universes onto the head of a pin. Yet his splendid economy, along the wafer-thin proportions of such classic volumes as Ficciones and Labyrinths, has given readers the impression that Borges was miserly with his prose. In fact, he was something of a verbal spendthrift. His collected stories alone run to nearly 1,000 pages. And his nonfiction output was even more staggering: the young Borges cranked out hundreds of essays, book notes, cultural polemics, and movie reviews, and even after he lost his sight in 1955, he continued to dictate short pieces by the dozens. Eliot Weinberger has assembled just a fraction of this outpouring in Selected Non-Fictions, and the result is a 559-page Borgesian blowout, in which the Argentinean fabulist takes on being and nothingness, James Joyce and Lana Turner, and (surprisingly) racial hatred and the rise of Nazism. So much for our image of the mandarin bookworm! The very engagé author of this book seems more like a subequatorial Camus, with a dash of Siskel and Ebert on the side.

Selected Non-Fictions demonstrates just how quickly Borges began wrestling with such brainteasers as identity, time, and infinity. Indeed, the very first piece in the collection, "The Nothingness of Personality" (1922), already finds him fiddling with the self: "I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I." There are many such meditations here, including "A History of Eternity" (in which Borges maps out his own, disarmingly empty version of the eternal, "without a God or even a co-proprietor, and entirely devoid of archetypes"). But it's more fun--and more revelatory--to see the author venturing beyond his metaphysical stomping grounds. Borges on King Kong is a hoot, and a cornball masterpiece such as The Petrified Forest elicits this terrific nugget: "Death works in this film like hypnosis or alcohol: it brings the recesses of the soul into the light of day." His capsule biographies are a delight, his critiques of Nazi propaganda are memorably stringent, and nobody should miss him on the tango. True, the sheer variety and mind-boggling erudition of Selected Non-Fictions can be a little forbidding. But, taken as a whole, the collection surely meets the specifications that Borges laid out in a 1927 essay on literary pleasure: "If only some eternal book existed, primed for our enjoyment and whims, no less inventive in the populous morning as in the secluded night, oriented toward all hours of the world." Oh, but it does. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Reviewing a book that seeks to validate the existence of ghosts through testimony by the upper crust of British society, Borges writes: "the Honorable Reginald Fortescue became a firm believer in the existence of 'an alarming spectre.' As for myself, I don't know what to think: for the moment, I refuse to believe in the alarming Reginald Fortescue until an honorable spectre becomes a firm believer in his existence." In this compilation of nonfiction prose, the third of Viking's magisterial three-volume collection of Borges's complete works, a new, fuller Borges emerges, as the writer becomes a joker; the fabulist shows himself to be a rationalistic skeptic; and the alleged conservative skewers upper-class pretensions. We also find the familiar man of letters in such classic essays as "A New Refutation of Time" and "Kafka's Precursors" (which foreshadows the most interesting ideas of Harold Bloom in a mere two and a half pages). Among the gems to appear in English for the first time are slyly brilliant literary essays, such as an appreciation of Flaubert's enigmatic novel, Bouvard and P?cuchet, and an authoritative critical history of the translations of the 1001 Nights. Other newly available aspects of Borges's oeuvre are trenchant critiques of Argentinean anti-Semitism; contemporary reviews of such works as Citizen Kane, Absalom, Absalom and Finnegan's Wake (Borges finds it incomprehensible); and capsule literary biographies for a woman's magazine. While the translations capture Borges's unfailingly elegant style, the editing at times seems overly academic: certain sentences, even paragraphs, are repeated, and certain topics (particularly time and eternity) are overrepresented, a tendency that makes the book rather difficult to read straight through. Even so, this is a volume of inexhaustible delights. First serial to Grand Street. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140290117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140290110
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By david ewing on March 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One of the most cherished items in my ever-expanding library is my dog-eared copy of "Labyrinths", complete with the coffee-, alcohol-, and bath stains which lend it almost as much character as the words within its covers. This new edition of Borges selected non-fiction will no doubt in the fullness of time reach a position of equal prominence on my bookshelves. The debate will forever rage as to whether Borges deserves that grandest(yet often all too hollow and ephemeral) of epithets - "Great Writer", purely by virtue of the fact that he never wrote anything of more than a few pages in length. But the pellucidity and erudition of his prose raises quality above quantity to an altitude from where we lose sight of the debate, thus rendering it redundant. Along with a number of essays already available elsewhere, including the seminal "New Refutation Of Time", this collection ranges in typical Borges style from film reviews (King Kong, The Petrified Forest etc.), through dispassionate yet condemnatory meditations on Fascism, to his well- ploughed but ever-fruitful ground of literary rumination.His series of essays on Dante opened this reader's eyes-and heart- to the true heartbreaking nature of that poet's relationship with Beatrice, prompting a reappraisal of a book I gave up on fifteen years ago, halfway through "Il Purgatorio"; this summer, I've promised myself, I WILL read the whole of "Il Divina Commedia".Not out of a sense of duty, you understand, but because I WANT to.Read more ›
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In one of the pieces contained in this book, Borges claims that more than a writer, what he really was was a great reader. That was his vocation. Indeed, I do not know of anyone who read more widely, with more understanding, and with more contagious enjoyment that Borges. The pieces in this collection shine through with his delight for what has been termed "the aesthetics of intelligence": knowledge and abstract thought as art.
Borges, who never wrote anything long in his life, was the master of the short essay. Every piece is full of profoundest and most unexpected insights, whether it purports to be about Citizen Kane, Argentinian literature, or the Ars Combinatoria of Ramon Llull. I recommend this book very highly.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Fineberg on September 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books you can just pick up, open to a random page, and start reading. His essays, like his stories, are quite short, and he writes on an astonishing variety of subjects. A big movie fan before he went blind, he writes on "Citizen Kane", "King Kong" and "The 39 Steps". He writes on Germany as it descends into barbarism in the 30s and 40s. He shares his thoughts on a wide array of writers, from Virgil to Kierkegaard to Shakespeare, to his wonderful meditations on Dante, and into Dostoevsky, Whitman, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, even Bradbury and H.G. Wells. I've barely even scratched the surface. The companion collection is called "Collected Fictions", which is funny since the line between fiction and non-fiction is often quite blurry for Borges. But both these collections are highly recommended for anyone and everyone, regardless of familiarity with the author.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Flippy on February 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
To read Borges, you become Borges. You see yourself in his mirrors, you regard the books you read as the books he reads. You appreciate what he appreciates, loving the literature he has absorbed, finding your way through the complex interweaving of his passions: Romantic English Poetry, Shakespeare, H.G. Well, Edgar Allan Poe, Dante, Icelandic Sagas, German Idealism, the Kabbala, Schopenhauer, Bergson, English Empiricism, Sufism, etc... All literary roads lead to Borges.

He lived a long, rich life. He is the Librarian you might meet in heaven. If only he were still alive to guide the reading public. If only he lived today and had a website, to think of all the books he might recommend. And wouldn't it be wonderful, to learn about his opinions on modern writers.

With the Collected Fictions, this book is a testament to the literary critic/philosphical wanderer in us all. Each essay is a delicate delicacy. This book is for you if you're a gourmand of good writing, great thinking and the pleasure of exploring the vast expanding world of literature. This book is rich, complex and wondrous. His writings on Dante and Shakespeare, his reviews, his philosophical essays... just read the book and become Borges becoming you.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on May 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Eliot Weinberger has done a real service to the world of literature by selecting, and translating these pieces. They show the range of interest, the incredible ability to make inventive creative cross- connections of one of Modern Literature's true masters, Borges.

Borges covers worlds in his writing, worlds of Literature , worlds of the Argentinean society he and some of his ancestors grew up in, worlds given in a universal encycopediac reading, which seems to cover all continents and all cultures.

Borges greatest work is considered to be his ' Ficciones'. But his signature is present in all , in a single page of a book- review or a philosphical meditation.

For him worlds mingle and combine, and are retranslated in such a way as to reappear as Literature.

He also in this work reveals himself to be a decent and courageous opponent of Fascism.

He confounds and surprises us at times with these strange mixings of things, but the poetic and parable- like element is so strong in this work that it engages us, and forces us to question our own small pictures of reality.

What a great and interesting writer. What a pleasure to have this work to enrich our minds with.
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