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On Writing by Jorge Luis Borges - A Review

April 12, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 181

I picked up this book looking for an introduction to Borges and instead I received an assortment of his short essays with no central theme other than to convey what a brilliant and well read man he was.

Borges traverses a wide canvas in this book: the exploration of words, metaphors, translation, narrative, reading, critical reviewing and a section for his favourite genre, the detective story. His sources are wide and varied; from Whitman to Woolf, James (Henry) to Joyce (James), Kafka to Melville, Flaubert to Wells, Poe to Conan Doyle, he plucks examples with confidence, losing us in his complex sentences and thought patterns.

I picked up a few of his insights which I thought might be useful to mention:

1. "Art happens, it cannot be crafted" (this was a quote from Walt Whitman - one of Borges's brilliant pluckings). 2. All meaningful metaphors have already been created.3. Economy of words is better than lavishness.4. All poetry is confession.5. Immortality is sometimes achieved by association of place (e.g. Burns of Scotland). 6. The domain of passion is still open to claim. No single poet can lay claim to it. 7. A writer creates his precursors because his latest work dates what has come before 8. Conan Doyle cheated on the detective story by not concealing who-done-it.9. The integrity of the novel lies in prophecy, in magic, not in cause and effect. 10. Kafka's writing is like a moving body that never reaches its destination, an expedition to the North Pole.

I found Borges's handful of short reviews that were included in this book to place more emphasis on the writer than on the work. And here too Borges draws from a wide selection of sources outside the writer and his work to make his points.

A whole section is dedicated to the detective story, from its origins with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" to its evolution since. Borges posits six principles for the crafting of the perfect detective story and elevates the genre to high art, an intellectual exercise for the reader. He observes that England still promotes the intellectual detective novel while in America the genre has drifted towards sex and violence.

This is a book that will send you on a goose hunt for other books mentioned within. Borges generates curiosity in the reader with his astute observations. He is a writer who makes you think, and work, and think again, as you read. Suffice to say that I went out and bought the collected works of Jorge Luis Borges which I will look forward to reading in the days ahead.

Shane Joseph is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories. His work After the Flood won the best futuristic/fantasy novel award at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2010. His short fiction has appeared in international literary journals and anthologies. His latest novel The Ulysses Man has just been released. For details see

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