Borges in the Firing Line

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Jorge Luis Borges was interviewed on TV a number of times in later life but most of the available appearances are in un-subtitled Spanish. His 1977 meeting with William F Buckley on Buckley’s long-running debate and discussion show, Firing Line, is an exception, and a welcome one for being almost a whole hour of serious discussion. Buckley’s reputation has been reappraised in recent years. Gore Vidal famously accused him on live TV of being a “crypto-Nazi”, a barb that prompted Buckley to momentarily lose his usual composure. With American politics currently beset by actual Nazis, crypto- or otherwise, as well as people who wouldn’t crack open the spine of a book even if you offered them another tax break, Buckley now looks like an impossible figure: an American conservative who was also a genuine intellectual with a passion for literature.

The discussion on this occasion is less about Borges’ works than about language and literature. If you’ve read any Borges interviews then this is familiar territory, but Borges elaborates here on subjects that were only touched on elsewhere, especially the strengths of English over Spanish as a literary language, and the pros and cons of translation. This latter subject is a sore point for Borges readers such as myself who believe that the current translations (made after Borges’ death) are inferior to the earlier ones, many of which were prepared with the approval of the author. It’s painful to hear him say he thought his stories worked better in English, and it makes me wonder again what he might make of the present state of affairs.

Elsewhere, Buckley tries to lead Borges into a discussion of politics, a subject that he generally avoided because it didn’t interest him, and whenever he did mention the subject he’d usually get into trouble by saying something that would annoy one side of the political spectrum or the other. I was pleased to note a fleeting reference to Arthur Machen, mentioned in relation to the Julio Cortázar short story, Casa Tomada (House Taken Over), which Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo reprinted in their Antología de la Literatura Fantástica (1977).

Previously on { feuilleton }
La Bibliothèque de Babel
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Weekend links 171

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Jeune moine à la Grecque (1771) by Benigno Bossi. Via Monsieur Thombeau.

Victoriana: The Art of Revival is an exhibition which will run throughout the autumn at the Guildhall Art Gallery, London. Some of my steampunk work will be included. Related: Rick Poynor on Soft Machine’s Dysfunctional Mechanism.

• “The egg glows and hovers in the middle of a field of mesmerizing color. The spell is broken when the guard finally says, “Everybody up off the floor.'” Morgan Meis on Aten Reign by the amazing James Turrell.

• Mix of the week: a “heatwave mix” of psychedelic songs compiled by Jaime Williams. Anything that includes Vacuum Cleaner by Tintern Abbey gets my vote.

Because sex is so compartmentalized — it’s often considered separate from the rest of life and hidden away — porn performers, who have sex publicly, are in a unique position to consider and talk about integrating private and public aspects of life.

Writer and porn performer Conner Habib on the issue of nomenclature in the porn business.

• Still Hopscotching: Peter Mendelsund posts some unused cover designs for Julio Cortázar.

A Hymn For Megatron, an hour-long drone work, and a free download, by The Black Dog.

• Vagrancy and drift: Sukhdev Sandhu on the rise of the roaming essay film.

• A Flickr set of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson’s musical instruments.

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“Whether flower-pressing in the garden, hallucinating in the summerhouse, fainting inside stifling sites of historical interest, pirouetting along the promenade, or even sea-cruise thalassophobia complications, barely a moment will pass that isn’t made all the sweeter by obsessively listening to Down to the Silver Sea.”

The TM Research Archive: sate yourself on Swiss graphic design.

• A Lecture on Johnson and Boswell by Jorge Luis Borges.

• Words, sounds and robots from Sarah Angliss.

Never Built Los Angeles

Nautilus (2012) by Anna Meredith | Nature Of Light (2012) by Isnaj Dui | Popcorn (Ealing Feeder Mix) (2012) by SpacedogUK (Sarah Angliss)

Weekend links 89

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A drawing from Bestiario Moderno by Domenico Gnoli (1933–1970).

RIP Russell Hoban. Nina Allan celebrates a favourite writer while David Mitchell, writing in 2005, pays tribute to Riddley Walker. For me the gulf between Hoban and many of his contemporaries could be measured by his entry in the Writer’s Rooms feature the Guardian Review was running for a couple of years: Hoban’s room was the only one that admitted to being cramped and chaotic.

A wristwatch could be “a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air” and still tell time. A short story could take the shape of an instruction manual for the most routine of tasks (crying, singing, winding said dungeon, killing ants in Rome), or a compendium of tales about fantastical but oddly familiar species. A novel didn’t have to progress from the first page to the last, hung on a rigid skeleton of plot: it could proceed in oblong leaps and great steps backward, like a game, say, of hopscotch. “Literature is a form of play,” said Cortázar. […] It is perhaps because he so stubbornly resists categorization, as much as for the ludic complexity of his work, that Cortázar is in these parts more admired than he is read. The Anglophone literary imagination (or perhaps just its material substrate: the market) appears to have room for only one Latin American giant per generation—Borges, García Márquez, the freshly beatified San Bolaño. Cortázar was too weird, too difficult, too joyously slippery to make the cut.

Eels Über Alles: Ben Ehrenreich on Julio Cortázar

• Alfred Jarry is another writer the Anglophone world has often found “too weird, too difficult”. Jarry has been dead for over a century but Alastair Brotchie’s recently-published full-length biography is the first such work in English. Mark Polizzotti reviews a life of “the poster boy for literary cult figures” at Bookforum.

• “A Beautiful Trip”: Frances Morgan interviews David Lynch about music and sound. And Robert Wyatt talks for 95 minutes to Tony Herrington about his favourite music.

• Twilight Science: Paul Schütze presents solo musical work and various collaborative projects in new digital editions.

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Jonathan Barnbrook‘s logo design for Occupy London.

• Winter reads: Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green. Related: What became of illustrations in fiction?

The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen is a new Penguin Classic out in January.

• “This Christmas, why not give Viriconium, city of sex, syphillis & consubstantiation?”

• The Casual Optimist announces its Favourite Book Covers of 2011.

The Collect Call of Cthulhu

Living with Burroughs

Function (2011) by Emptyset | Aftertime (2011) by Roly Porter with Cynthia Miller on the Ondes Martenot.

Weekend links 71

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Manuel Orazi (1860–1934) was one of the best of the many Mucha imitators. An untitled & undated posting at Indigo Asmodel.

The mob now appeared to consider themselves as superior to all authority; they declared their resolution to burn all the remaining public prisons, and demolish the Bank, the Temple, Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, the Mansion House, the Royal palaces, and the arsenal at Woolwich. The attempt upon the Bank of England was actually made twice in the course of one day; but both attacks were but feebly conducted and the rioters easily repulsed, several of them falling by the fire of the military, and many others being severely wounded.

To form an adequate idea of the distress of the inhabitants in every part of the City would be impossible. Six-and-thirty fires were to be seen blazing in the metropolis during the night.

An Account of the Riots in London in 1780, from The Newgate Calendar.

In a week of apparently limitless bloviation, a few comments stood out. Hari Kunzru: “Once, a powerful woman told us there was no such thing as society and set about engineering our country to fit her theory. Well, she got her way. This is where we live now, and if we don’t like it, we ought to make a change.” Howard Jacobson: “One medium-sized banker’s bonus would probably pay for all the trash that’s been looted this past week.” Meanwhile Boff Whalley complained about the predictable misuse of the word “anarchy” by lazy journalists.

• For further historical perspective, a list of rioters and arsonists from The Newgate Calendar (1824), and an account of the looting in London during the Blitz.

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From a selection of works by Max Walter Svanberg (1912–1994) at But Does It Float. There’s more at Cardboard Cutout Sundown.

• NASA posted a gorgeous photo from the surface of the planet Mars. Related: Astronomers have discovered the darkest known exoplanet. Obliquely related: Julio Cortázar’s From the Observatory, a prose poem inspired by the astronomical observatories at Jaipur and New Delhi, India, receives its first English translation.

The Advisory Circle is still in a Kosmische groove. Not Kosmische at all, Haxan Cloak’s mix for FACT has Wolf Eyes, Sunn O))) and Krzysztof Penderecki competing to shatter your nerves.

• The wonderful women (and friends) at Coilhouse magazine are having a Black, White and Red fundraising party in Brooklyn, NYC, on August 21st. Details here.

• Sodom’s ambassador to Paris: the flamboyant Jean Lorrain is profiled at Strange Flowers.

Empire de la Mort: Photographs of charnel houses and ossuaries by Paul Koudounaris.

The Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges: The Norton Lectures, 1967–68.

• Jesse Bering examines The Contorted History of Autofellatio.

Robert Crumb explains why he won’t be visiting Australia.

The Crackdown (1983) by Cabaret Voltaire.

The art of Aloys Zötl, 1803–1887

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Le caïman (1849).

Two things that everyone seems able to tell you about Austrian artist Aloys Zötl is that his idiosyncratic bestiary was hailed by André Breton as a Surrealist precursor, and that Zötl’s paintings were published in a lavish edition by Ricci in 1977 with accompanying text by Julio Cortázar. Typically for a Ricci book, those editions now sell for excessive sums so we’re left to scour the web for his pictures. Considering their age and Surrealist connections its surprising that there isn’t a decent online collection anywhere. A number of prints can be found on those auction sites which blight the pictures they don’t own with watermarks. Better to look at the examples on this blog or this page at the André Breton site where the copies are small but include quotes from the Ricci volume.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fantastic art from Pan Books