Google celebrates Borges’ 112th birthday with a doodle. Which, incidentally, is resulting in huge traffic to The Quarterly Conversation this week, where we’ve written our share about the author.
There was at least one place, I would discover, where that “instant” of Borges persisted, a land where Borges lived on as both Borges and “I,” legend and life. That place is Texas. Starting in 1961, Borges made five visits to the state—first, to teach for a semester in Austin as a visiting professor; then to lecture on Cervantes and Whitman as a literary celebrity. When Borges died on June 14, 1986, the University of Texas’s main campus lowered its flags to half-mast, a rare tribute for a writer and a perplexing honor for one without deep Texas roots. Why had Texas so embraced Borges? And why had Borges continued to return there throughout the final twenty-five years of his life?
In early January, I began to investigate what seemed a long-forgotten romance. From New York, I emailed the Ransom Center’s staff about my search for Borges, and they replied that they’d be eager to help me. Indeed, there in the Hill Country, they had a treasure trove of Borges’s work. There was a film-script outline on which Borges collaborated! An autographed draft of his classic revenge story “Emma Zunz”! The completed pages of “Los Rivero,” a fragment suspected to be Borges’s never-finished novel! And, most promisingly, five notebooks full of handwritten essays that might shed new light on Borges’s time in Austin. I was convinced that at the Ransom Center, I’d discover the living, breathing Borges who had so enamored Texas. I booked my trip that week.
The Paris Review has just published my interview with Enrique Vila-Matas. It can be read here.
As I’ve said many times, here and elsewhere, Vila-Matas has pioneered what I see as a highly successful vision of what literature is in a post-“anxiety of influence” age. To put it all in a way that doesn’t reduce quite so well into a soundbyte, in The Western Canon Harold Bloom writes of Borges that he “overtly absorbs and then deliberately reflects the entire canonical tradition.” If that’s Borges, then Vila-Matas is overtly absorbed by the canon, which he then mutates from within. Although, that’s not quite it, since Vila-Matas’ canon isn’t your typical canonical canon; it’s more like a canon made from explorers of the abyss (to steal a title of an untranslated Vila-Matas book), a canon that almost entirely existed in inter-war Paris.
If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to associate yourself with, then you can find out more by reading my review of Never Any End to Paris, as well as my essay on Vila-Matas’ two prior books.