Friday, March 16, 2007

Blind to the world

Before interrogating Borges about his politics, it is wise, as it were, to go crazy about him first. The beginner with Borges can find a seductive entrance to his enchantment through the short stories collected in Labyrinths (1962), which transmit his poetic magic irresistibly even through translation. Borges on Writing (1974) is a painless introduction to the incidental prose. (As early as that year, his writings had been translated into 21 languages.) The accessibility of the ­story­teller is no illusion—as with Kipling, the stories go to the heart of his vision—and his essays and dialogues turn his vast learning into an intellectual adventure guaranteed to thrill the young, as he meant it to do. But if he created a fairyland, he did not live in one, and even in the exalted last years of his life as a blind icon there were voices among his countrymen ready to remind him that he should have tried harder to use his ears. His apparently detached political position was not regarded as beyond cavil by other Argentine writers, who admired his art but questioned his relaxation into international eminence at a moment when his homeland was in the grip of terror.

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