Monday, September 29, 2008

Fiction, continued

Back to a subject from an older post: the popular theory that all artwork is the logical extension of its maker's personal biography. In that post I described how Salman Rushdie expressed his annoyance at the prevalence of this theory. While reading about the recent death of David Foster Wallace, I came upon a review of his in which he expressed indignation at another writer's crude attempt to "explain" all of Jorge Luis Borges' short stories through the lense of his biography. Wallace found these explanations trite, forced and ridiculous, and asserted that "the stories so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant."

The truth, briefly stated, is that Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty -- a mind turned thus wholly in on itself.‡‡‡ His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything.
And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same.

For the full article, see this link.

No comments: