Do You Want To Read Fantastic Literature? Start With Borges' Selection
A short story writer and admirer of the fantastic genre: two qualities for which Borges is the ideal person to guide us through such territory.
Sometimes when one looks at the history of literature, and especially its curiosities, it is often the case that the ability to write manifests itself in capricious forms, even in authors that we consider portentous. Octavio Paz, for example, was above all a poet, and an outstanding essayist, but hardly ventured into prose fiction; something similar happened with Julio Cortázar, whose stories are extraordinary but who, according to the critics, was less fortunate with the novel (Hopscotch would be the exception because, it is said, it has the structure of a collection of short stories).
It may be that these limitations are not necessarily casual but rather tell us of the inclination and the personal taste that little by little and through experience become masterful and lead to a domination of a genre. Perhaps a poet cannot write a novel but will show great talent when tackling poetry.
This is somewhat the case with Jorge Luis Borges, who, on the other hand, took great pleasure in drawing up lists and creating a hierarchy of the works of others. For Borges an important part of literature was exercising criticism but from a wholly personal, subjective perspective, and which could sound pompous, but the reality is simple: the perspective is one of personal taste. As the writer said on a couple of occasions, for him reading should always be simply a hedonistic pursuit, that is undertaken for pleasure and never by obligation, and the only thing we should read are the things that really please us.
And what did Borges like? His preferences are well known and they recurred frequently in his works. However, as part of his editorial work with Franco Maria Ricci, Borges selected and wrote prologues to some of the works that formed part of The Library of Babel, a collection dedicated exclusively to fantastic literature and, in particularly, short stories within that genre.
The combination could not be more appropriate: Borges choosing fantastic stories for someone else to read and, in the collection we find, among others:
“The Concentric Deaths” by Jack London
“The Mirror that Fled” by Giovanni Papini
“The Guest of the Last Parties” by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam
“The Door in the Wall” by H. G. Wells
“The Shining Pyramid” by Arthur Machen
“The Eye of Apollo” by G. K. Chesterton
“The Statue of Salt” by Leopoldo Lugones
“Micromégas” by Voltaire
“Idle Days on the Yann” by Lord Dunsany
In addition to the abovementioned collection, the prologues are collected in Prologues to the Library of Babel, a list that, as Roberto Calasso said of the bibliography of Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti, is a kind of route map, an invitation to follow the path of somebody who has found in the short story one of he best vehicles for the awe that literature can inspire in us.
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