Hey, /lit/. I need your opinion on a thought.
So I'm currently going through Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, and, other than having the time of my life, I can't stop noticing the obvious Borgean influences the book has. It feels like it plays perfectly just what made Borges so great, from the prose, to the plot developments and their presentation, to how imaginative Wolfe's world building is, down to the development of the protagonist and how it makes the reader think about it, it's as if someone had took Borge's great devices and weaved them into a great novel.
And that's just it, a novel. Borges never wrote one, and if I remember correctly in one of his introductions he lamented (if only in jest) never have been capable of. Was he lacking in some way? I remember someone commenting on here that he was the most influential writer of the 20th century alongside Joyce and Kafka. Were those other great writers lacking as well?
In one of his essays Borges makes it a point to reject defend a great work from its own flaws; he cites the Quixote specially, and criticizes its defenders for disregarding its clear flaws, or even placing praise were there was nothing to praise. For him a great book wasn't one that was perfect in every aspect, but one whose greatness overcome its own flaws, which made it something more than perfect. Thinking of /lit/, Dostoyevsky is brought to mind, and how often his detractors seem to miss exactly what people see in him.
So tell me /lit/, is what makes a writer truly great... what they lack? Is it the fact that their work is, so to say, incomplete, that makes people think of and be inspired by it, perhaps in hopes of completing it?
That is a wonderful post, OP: the best I've seen here in a long while. I'm glad there are some on /lit/ who still enjoy reading books.
Personally, I doubt I could pontificate very coherently about Borges' influence on Wolfe, since I started with the latter and am only now starting to trawl the Argentine heresiarch's oeuvre. I will say, however, that this sentiment:
>So tell me /lit/, is what makes a writer truly great... what they lack? Is it the fact that their work is, so to say, incomplete, that makes people think of and be inspired by it, perhaps in hopes of completing it?
might pretty well encapsulate the nature of what literary dialogue exists between the two great authors, Borges and Wolfe (while I say so at a risk of sounding impious toward Gene's spiritual forbear, I do not mean to minimize Borges' imagination with this notion of metaphorical genealogy, by any means).
It may be that Borges greatest "oversight", his inability to write long works (and that foible's underpinning hyperactivity of focus) was in many ways not a flaw in his work at all, but an occult virtue; not only did it allow for such wonderful eclecticism as we read today in his collections, but it may also have been the very thing that made Gene Wolfe, his distant student, "possible" as a writer (synthesis, antithesis, etc).
You're asking if Kafka and Borges are lacking something due to their ability to do in two thousand words what other writers need many tens of thousands to accomplish. Why do you presume that bigger, bloated bloviation is better than succinct concision?
I say nothing so that you may say everything in the endless lacuna of my palimpsest :-DDDDD
>Anyway, the best work seems to have people feeling in spaces, hypothesizing, even looking for things that are not there.
Could it be that looking for things which are not, and that faith ex nihilo which ordains something must... could it be this act is the truest essence of creation?
This is a very funny phrase that I'm sure Wittgenstein would smirk at for a while.
I'll say this. I read some authors like McCarthy and DeLillo and felt so in awe, I never wanted to write again.
Reading Wolfe inspires me, made me feel joy when I figured out his pattern. I want to write as I'm reading him.
I don't think he ever wanted to write a novel.
>It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books – setting out in 500 pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes.
>This is what separates great work to myth and legend imo
Perhaps this is why we find works like Hamlet referenced more today than those entries in the Western Canon which mint from antiquity, such as the Illiad; Shakespeare and the like have supplanted older bards, like Homer or Sophocles, in the cultural consciousness as the preeminent crafters of legend (that is not to imply superiority of Shakespeare over the Greco-Romans; merely that, as all empires great and small tend ultimately toward oblivion, so does what reverence we render unto the enduring scribes of the ages). Perhaps all that is required for something to become legend is that it inspires questing, in the heart of its reader, for what Elysiums it may imply.
You're absolutely right; the novel was never his interest or forte, and I don't think he had any misgivings about that (surely Borges must have known his own genius). However, I think the more didactic line of questioning may lie in Borges' understanding for that "madness" of novelists; the theme of the artists' folly, and overwhelming futility runs through all his work, so much so that I doubt he really grudged loquacious writers their indulgences any more than he did the follies of imaginary Arabic scholars or heresiarchs.
I think the sticking point is that he appreciated the more extravagant indulgences. To write a long novel is commonplace. To lead a medieval cult based on some crazy kabbalistic reading is not. If "There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless", then you should at least go for a really fantastic exercise.
>The metaphysicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding. They judge that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature.
>If "There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless", then you should at least go for a really fantastic exercise.
Perhaps the really Borgesian sentiment regarding art is that of the Zen scholars, who believe all acts of passion or creation to be serendipitous only insofar as they are "pointless"; indeed, to ascribe a teleological end, or purpose to a play or novel, aside from the intrinsic beauty of its own tautologies, is the most reprehensible orthodoxy in all literature. And maybe the fact Borges acknowledged his own work meant essentially "nothing" was in this way a tacit admission that they meant Everything, if we want to wax transcendental.
Why do you presume all meanings can be passed concisely, or that it would necessarily be a virtue for them to be? If for example, I wanted to give an aesthetic sense of pleasure, wouldn't it be better for it to be as long as it can be, in the mean it doesn't become bloated? If I wanted to exemplify a concept, wouldn't it be preferable to actually see it in action and variety of results, rather than simply explaining it once? If I wanted to make the reader understand something, wouldn't it be better for them to come to the conclusion slowly and by themselves, rather than just telling them?
I'm not saying Borges et al. were "flawed" or worse for it, but it's pretty obvious they didn't do absolutely everything that could be done with the written word, by virtue of them being simply human and having their days counted. When I'm saying they might lack something, I'm not criticizing them for it or being judgemental, rather I get the feeling that it is that same ellipsis in their work that makes them appealing, because it permits us to extrapolate on their techniques and their way of seeing the world; if they were absolutely perfect then that would be it, there would be nothing more to be said or thought, and literature would be over.
>When I'm saying they might lack something, I'm not criticizing them for it or being judgemental, rather I get the feeling that it is that same ellipsis in their work that makes them appealing, because it permits us to extrapolate on their techniques and their way of seeing the world; if they were absolutely perfect then that would be it, there would be nothing more to be said or thought, and literature would be over.
This was so well said that there is no more room for further discussion.