Borges famously said that it is a “laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books,” and to that end never wrote anything more than a score pages long. Trending thought it did toward the small, yet his work cannot be labelled minimalist. There are pages, rather, that contain entire worlds, paragraphs as vast as the universe, and sentences that hum with the impossible magic of quantum mechanics as their limit approaches zero. Borges’ stories are profound and playful and the delight he took in the paradoxical palpable. He was a puzzler who knew the value of a puzzle is not in its solution; games of ontological chess were played with adversaries such as Nietzsche, Plato, Zeno of Elea, Bergson, Schopenhauer, & co. With formidable erudition and singular vision it was inevitable that Borges should become as influential as he is. But, lest the reader think this the preface of an article on his greatness, allow me to turn to the matter at hand: a few pale and wanting thoughts on the short fiction of Peter Adolphsen which, it will be noted, exhibits Borgesian traits.
UPDATE: Since posting my review (see below) of The Selected Visions of Jorge Luis Borges: 1958-1986, I have had to defend myself from the attacks of several critics and, though I replied in turn to each of them, I believe it best to air my thoughts publicly.
Selected Visions of Jorge Luis Borges, 1958-1986
by Jorge Luis Borges and Norman Thomas di Giovanni
New Directions, 298 pp., $23.95
The Argentine Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is one of the most revered men of modern letters. He is best known for his volume of fiction Ficciones, particularly for the stories “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Library of Babel,” and “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and for his story “The Aleph,” from the collection of the same name, a story about the titular point of space in an Argentinian basement from which all other points in the universe may be seen. It is not difficult to believe in such a magic mirror as the aleph when one is faced with the plenitude (an infinity!) of learning and erudite curiosity found in Borges’ thousands of pages of fiction and non-fiction: a study of the genre of allegory, essays on Dante, on blindness, on Kafka, ‘capsule biographies’ of Woolf, Valéry, T. S. Eliot, and others, an investigation of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, treatises on translation and time and memory. If Borges has been to all places, he has been to all times, too: there are studies of ancient Scandinavian dialects, a “New Refutation of Time,” essays on immortality, histories of angels, of eternity, of the tango, of the conception of Hell, of the translations of The Thousand and One Nights, of the echoes of a name. It becomes plausible to posit the existence of a moment in time (a beth?) analogous to the aleph, from which all other times may be seen. Such a moment for Borges may have been the instant his eyes finally gave up their struggle with ocular degeneration.i