Monday, August 29, 2005

Fiction - "Labyrinths"

Labyrinths is a collection of stories and essays by the argentinian write Jorge Luis Borges. I read this book for my local SF discussion group. Borges' stories are not quite science fiction, but they are not quite straight fiction either.

I had read this book one before, years ago, and it was interesting to see which stories I remembered. The main two that impressed me last time were "The Library of Babel" and "Funes the Memorious".

"The Library of Babel" is a description of a nearly infinite library that contains all possible books of 400 pages or less (this number has to be finite of course). The author talks about wondering through this library looking for the special book that describes one's own life. I actually found the story available online here, together with a picture of what the actual library may look like.

The other story I remembered, "Funes the Memorious", was about a man who remembered everything. And I mean everything. He could compare the shape of the clouds on Tuesday,, five years ago, with the shape of the clouds today. He could name every object, every instance with its own unique name.

I wonder if Borges was inspired by a neurological case study by A. Luria, which is described in the book called "The Mind of a Mnemonist". The two stories are strikingly similar.

Reading the book this time, there were other stories that I liked. It appears that Borges like to play with some recursive ideas (i.e. a dream within a dream) or the mathematical ideas of the infinite or nearly so.

There was one essay that was a clear parody of literary criticism. In the essay he reviews a new version of sections of "Don Quixote". These were written by a present day author, and although the text is exactly the same as the original, the meaning is clearly (!) quite different.

I didn't finish all the essay. At times they were little tough to read - especially when I was tired in the evenings.


At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Leonid Tomilchik said...

Borges has been a huge influence on lots of writers, especially from Latin America: see Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I remember being absolutely mesmerized by the "Library" - the story itself, but mostly by the concept. My overall impression from reading Borges was as if I were wandering in a fog, trying to feel my way out of some seriees of rooms... I read Borges in Russian, years ago - would be interesting to see if I get the same feeling now, reading it in English. I think I should learn Spanish just be able to read books like "Labyrinths".

At 4:20 AM, Blogger richieb said...

I've read some Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his writing does have the same dreamy flavor as Borges. Must ahve something to do with South America.


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