clunky psychoanalytical readings of the fictions themselves nearly as if they are autobiographically factual, or maybe transcripts from sessions on the couch. This is a little reminiscent of the trap that Richard Ellman was charged with falling into in his biography of Joyce, though here the erring seems more awkward than that. It’s almost the product of a startlingly naive misunderstanding of what exactly fiction as a genre is, even if the boundaries of the genre do at times get redefined a bit in Borges and other postmodernists. He also uses much reporting from a rather tell-all book by a woman Borges had a rocky affair with when younger, the journalist/ writer Estela Canto, Williamson buying her version of their time together close to whole and with scant questioning of the validity of the source. All of which is to say, the research and sheer amount of information here make Borges: A Life worth reading. But for a more intimate sense of the unique character of the man, delivered with narration far more engaging too, I suggest supplementing it with either of the earlier biographies in English, despite the occasional factual slips. Published prior to Borges’ death, the one by Rodriguez Monegal, a Uruguayan who knew Borges, is admittedly dated, but its critical readings of Borges’ stories are particularly insightful. Finally, I might loop back to the topic with which I began, that of Borges and Texas. It’s all but completely overlooked by Williamson, yet does receive some attention from both Rodriguez Monegal and Woodall. Borges’ stay in the Lone Star state in 1961-1962 was his first visit to the U.S., his elderly mother accompanying him. As said, he was quite taken by the experience. When the novelist Paul Theroux journeyed virtually entirely by rail from Boston to Argentina and interviewed Borges in Buenos Aires in 1978, as described in Theroux’s travel book The Old Patagonia Express, Borges started talking about Texas almost as soon as Theroux got through the door to his apartment. Borges asked him if he was familiar with Austin, Theroux said no, and Borges chided him for hav ing missed it on his trip: “You should have gone to Austin.” In the hefty, posthumously published Selected Poems of book so that the very last poem, a place of honor, is given to “The Web,” where an aging Borges speculates on which of the several cities throughout the world that he’s known intimately \(what he in: “Austin, Texas, where my mother and I/ In the autumn of ’61 discovered America?”; in another poem, “Elegy,” he looks back on his past and mentions having been “part of” Texas. Of course, there’s the sonnet titled “Texas” that has been beautifully translated by the former American Poet Laureate Mark Strand. The entire setting of one anecdotal short story about some complicated scholarly intrigue, “The Bribe,” is the UT campus, specifically Parlin Hall, home of the English departmentas a faculty member in Spanish, Borges himself taught and was officed in Batts Hall, on the South Mall. \(The story has a reminiscence-triggering allusion to the wonderful old Night Hawk Restauat UT, Borges granted translation rights for a miscellany of assorted poems and brief prose pieces titled Dreamtigers originally El Hacedor in Spanishto the university’s press, a veritable windfall. A note on its cover says that Mortimer J. Adler, the guru of the Great Books Foundation, considered it one of the major works of its time; dubbed by Borges his most “personal” writing, it’s always been a popular Borges book in the United States and has gone through 10 printings since its first issuing in 1964. Besides the residency in Austin, Borges returned for short visits to lecture in 1969, 1976, and 1982, speaking to overflowing audiences. Serving as the introduction to Dreamtigers is a critical essay that contains significant memoir material about Borges at UT in 1961-1962, written by the late Miguel Enguidanos, a professor of Spanish and a colleague of Borges in Batts Hall. Enguidanos tells of the excitement afoot when Borges arrived, just about everybody in Batts metamorphosing into a, well, Borges nut: “With in a week there was talk about Borges, with Borges, because of Borges, and for Borges in every corridor of Batts Hall. Scholars felt obliged to write studies and theses on Borges’ work. Poets wasn’t it inevitable?fired dithyrambic salvos at him.” The essay itself is touching and elegantly written, and it’s been used as a source and quoted more than once elsewhere, including the following passage: But how can I express the accents of his voice grave and sweet, the flight of an extraordinary intelligence and imagination, the candor of a good and innocent soul, the quiet ache of a darkness and a loneliness we sensed, the magic of the poet who makes dreams come to life? Many times I guided his uncertain steps through halls and down stairways, over the rough places of the island that is this out-of-the-way university. His poor sight allowed his friends the paradoxical taskmisfortunate fortuneof guiding the best seer among modern poets in the Spanish language. To walk beside Borges, the great peripatetic conversationalist, was to enter and live in his world. The guide soon discovered, by the light that matters, that he himself was the blind one, and not the poet leaning on his arm. That’s really nice, isn’t it? And it gets one to thinking. Lately, you hear a lot of repetitive, boosterism-style puffery from the UT administration about the institution’s supposed “excellence” today and its being “world class.” But with Borges on campus there might have actually been a moment when the university in the city where he himself dreamed so well was genuinely of that statureand then some. Peter LaSalle teaches creative writing at UT-Austin. His essay on Borges’ Buenos Aireswhich appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the literary magazine Agni, from Boston Universityis cited in a list of the year’s “Notable Travel Writing” in The Best American Travel Writing 2004. 1/7/05 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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