Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Approach to Al Mu'tasim - Jorge Luis Borges

I first learnt about Jorge Luis Borges from Chandrahas Choudhry at Middle Stage. I read his essay on Shakespeare linked in that post and was bowled over.

I borrowed Ficciones, English Translation of his stories from British Council Library yesterday. I just read the first two stories and am already in a trance. Especially the story The Approach to Al Mu'tasim. It is difficult to classify Borges short stories. Al Mu'tasim is Borges notes on the imaginary novel Al Mu'tasim written by an imaginary author Mir Bahadur Ali. The imaginary novel is set in Bombay, where the protagonist commits a muder during a communal riot. Then he feels remorse about the killing and travels across India in search of the perfect being Al Mu'tasim. Borges writes about the novel, the metaphysical questions it asks, the author's use of allegory, and also comments on earlier works that are similar to this novel. It is so real with footnotes and all, that you think it is a true book review. It is a book review, but there is no book. The book is imagined by Borges. And all this in a couple of pages.

As Borges said in his foreword to a collection of his stories, "It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books � setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them". You might not agree with it, but do read The Approach to Al Mu'tasim, it is a pleasure.


Anand said...

I must read it... kinda reminds me of Nabakov's Pale Fire, though there the purpose of the commentary on the imaginary poetry (actually not quite imaginary) is entirely different.

tilotamma said...

lemme see if i can lay my hands on it.

Anonymous said...

I had a strong suspicion that Jorge Luis Borges you mention was the same one who was the author of the short story "The Library of Babel". I googled and found out that it was indeed so.

Haven't read "The Library of Babel", but have read "The Name of the Rose" that pays tribute to both "Babel" and Jorge Luis Borges.

Chenthil said...

Yes Krithika. Library of Babel is also in this collection. I just completed it. Writing a review of the entire book will be difficult, each story is worth a review.

Ramjee Swaminathan said...

Revisiting your blog after a while. :-)

Since you also read Tamil: In the same ficciones anthology, there is a story of mindboggling and delirious intensity called 'circular ruins' - with a very startling recurive theme. One of the best translations of this story (in Tamil) has been done by Dharumu Aroop Sivaram - may be three decades back or so; if you can find it, please read it.

After reading these two versions - the original is in spanish - I actually felt that I was fortunate enough to reasonably know two languages at least so that I could savour the story in two ways. And this made me wonder how *nice* it will be to read up Borges in spanish...

In fact all stories in this collection are great - and the next best story that comes to my mind is this 'garden of the forking paths.'

Borges is also a great poet. (I vaguely remember that Sundara Ramasamy did translate a few of his poems)

So much for random rambling.

Enjoy the book and please do post your thoughts!

Chenthil said...

Ramjee, I am savouring the book. I was discussing the "Circular Ruins" with one of my blog friends yesterday. The last paragraph was just awesome. Garden of Forking Paths, The South, Library of Babel, each of them deserve a post :-).

When I read Marquez, I had this urge to read him in Spanish. I have not been a regular reader of the Tamil small magazine groups. Only in the last five years have I read Su Raa, La Sa Raa, Aadhavan,Nanjil Naadan, et al. I am yet to read people like Pa. Singaram, Piramil(a)Dharumu Sivaramu, G. Nagarajan, Konangi and many more.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry if i am butting in. But as a translator of "Borges Kathaikal"(2000) in tamil i can refer a blog where I have reposted my intro on the author which I wrote for my book. My book contains 20 stories+2 essays of Borges.The book is not in print

Brammarajan said...

Some lead stories in my collection of borges:
The Approach to Al Mutasim,Ciruclar Ruins,The Garden of Forking Paths, The Secret Miracle,Shape of the sword,Emma Zunz,Aleph and Death and the Compass, Ciruclar Ruins are some of the lead stories included in the tamil anthology+couple of poems borges
Please try his "Book of Imaginary Beings" if you are keen.
It is a dictionary cum encyclopaedia of animals and myths-very absorbing(e.g.garudan)

Brammarajan said...

I have already posted the tamil translation of "The Approach to Al Mu'tasim" by Jorge Luis Borges.Please read and post your opinion. There are also translations of "Emma Zunz", "Garden of Forking Paths", "The Secret Miracle". I may post further stories of Borges and an introduction to his poetry.