"Ficciones" by Jorge Luis Borges

Review by Martha Angelo

Title: Ficciones
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Published in: 1962
Read in: Portuguese
Translated by: 
Davi Arrigucci Jr. (from Spanish)

 

Editor's note: The cover depicted here is for the U.S. edition published by Grove Press in 1962, with translations by Anthony Bonner, Anthony Kerrigan, Hellen Temple, Ruthven Todd and Henry Reed.  


I remember the first time I read Jorge Luis Borges. I remember my amazement, the feeling of unfamiliarity and admiration, similar to that of travelers who arrive at new territories after a long journey. As a matter of fact, I wonder if my amazement was not more similar to that of an astronaut who arrives at a new planet. And what a long journey it was until I reached Borges.

From the time I was a child, I've always enjoyed reading. I consumed books of all genres with an insatiable hunger and many of them left a mark in the way I face life and its mysteries, but none other has done so like this author. Until that fateful day, I'd say with conviction that, when it came to fantasy, to fantastic paths and imagination, nothing could surprise me because fantasy had been my second home (second?) since I followed that white rabbit with Alice. I witnessed the wedding between Little Nose and the Scaled Prince, I took a journey to the center of the earth, I went around the world in a balloon in eighty days, and went to Paris and fell in love with a horrible hunchback who lived in a cathedral, and I allowed myself to be seduced by an obscure vampire in a Transylvania castle.

Many other books provided me so many other trips to the outside and the inside, but no author had the same effect as Borges had over me. "Why was that?" you might ask. 

Let's leave aside the impenetrable aspect of my fascination. I believe reading Borges is somewhat similar to entering a house of mirrors; these mirrors would then be able to reflect an enormous literary and philosophical tradition, multiplying it, transforming it, reshaping it, creating and recreating brand new old characters and stories. He does all that while causing some vertigo, a strong sensation of falling into the void, as if we were in a dream and couldn't find the way out of his labyrinth of mirrors, where characters coming from books of every era would visit us, where books talk to each other in strange languages, ancient tongues that have ceased to exist, a true Babel Tower in an endless library. Or, in other words:

“feverish Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity.”  [The Library of Babel, in Ficciones]

For someone who is in love with books, no kingdom could be as wonderful and enchanting as the idea of an endless library! And Borges understood it like no one else would, because behind all his fantastic narratives there is always a reminder that every writer is, above all, a readers. Regardless of how intriguing and mysterious these narratives may be―for they always trigger a little bit of doubt and perplexity―there is always that reminder that brings us the comfort of belonging, of identifying yourself...

Well, going inside this vertiginous labyrinth, this forest of literary and philosophical references―where we can always find a tiger―without knowing the language in which the map has been written would be impossible, to say the list, as well as dangerous and frustrating. That is why I was immensely happy of being able to read Ficciones in Portuguese, as translated by Davi Arrigucci Jr., one of the most well-known scholars of literature in Brazil, who is a retired professor of Literary Theory and Compared Theory with the University of São Paulo, as well as a literary critic and the author of fundamental books on poetry and Brazilian and Hispanic-American fiction.

One day I'd like to be able to read Borges in its original Spanish, but I'm happy I was introduced to his work in Portuguese, my native language. Actually, as the author once said, "Each language is a way of feeling, perceiving the universe."

Translation was certainly a recurring theme in Borges' works. It appears in many texts written by the author, awakening several reflections on authorship, relationship between language and culture, and language complexity, among other interesting topics. 

Well, concluding this tribute to the translation of Borges' books in Portuguese, I'd like to mention a fragment of "The Immortal,"  in which Marco Flamínio Rufo learns about the City of Immortals, where there is a river gives immortality to anyone who bathes in its waters. The character leaves in search of this city and, during his journey, he meets Homer and asks if he could tell him something about the Odyssey:

“Very little, less than these poor rhapsodes. It must have been eleven hundred years since I invented it..."  [The Immortal, in Ficciones]

MARTHA ANGELO was born in São Paulo in 1967. She graduated in Languages and Literature at the São Paulo University and works with projects that promote reading habits among children and teenagers. Her first book, O guardião da floresta [The Forest Keeper] was published by Editora Biblioteca 24 horas. She also writes short stories, chronicles, children's tales and poetry on her blog Mistura de letra  [Mixed Letters] and collaborates with A suprema arte [The Supreme Art] writing chronicles and movie reviews.