Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius/El Sur.
Jorge Luis Borges. Ed. Michel Lafon
Paris: Presses Universitaires de France/Geneva: Fondation Martin Bodmer, 20l0. 267 pp.
2010 was a year of three important publications in Borges studies: Laura Rosato and German Alvarez's Borges, libros y lecturas (reviewed in our last issue by Ariel de la Fuente), the revised Pleiade edition (reviewed in this issue by Lies Wijnterp) and Michel Lafon's edition of the manuscripts of "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and "E1 Sur" that have recently been acquired by the Bodmer Library in Geneva. Lafon's edition of these two crucial manuscripts adds importantly to what we know about Borges's compositional practices (which the Rosato and Alvarez book did in a different way, by collecting thousands of his marginalia). A facsimile edition of the manuscript of "El Aleph" was published some years ago by Julio Ortega and Elena del Rio Parra; unfortunately, that edition was terribly flawed, as Cristina Parodi noted in her review in Variaciones Borges 13 (2002). This one is much better, with color reproductions of the manuscripts (including the verso pages), an extensive introduction with an intelligent commentary on the stories and, particularly, on the compositional cruxes faced by Borges as he wrote them, and a careful transcription of the manuscripts with a French translation.
Lafon's introduction reveals that the Bodmer manuscript of "Tlon" is not the only surviving manuscript, and contains fascinating information on a partial earlier manuscript (consulted by Lafon in Buenos Aires in an unnamed private collection) which shows that some of Borges's revision process in the Bodmer manuscript actually consisted of rejecting an earlier version and then coming around to accepting it (a bit like Pierre Menard's proposal for changes in the rules of chess). As in some other surviving Borges manuscripts, this one shows that he wrote on graph paper, entertaining various possibilities, writing alternatives above and below the line, occasionally making insertions were made upside-down at the top of the manuscript pages. A particularly useful part of the commentary focuses on those portions of the manuscript that Borges reworked most intensely, with incisive observations on why these passages were of particular importance. Lafon notes Borges's blottings are very dark (as we know from other manuscripts), but he is able to piece together the words that are blotted out, making this edition an important resource for genetic criticism.
The edition of "El Sur," one of the last stories Borges wrote before his blindness, shows a quite different compositional strategy, with a range of alternatives arrayed above one another but without any indication in the manuscript about which reading Borges would prefer. Lafon of course confronts this manuscript, in its odd multiplicity of possible readings, with the final published text, but the compositional process is fascinating in its simultaneous presentation of many alternatives.
Lafon's introduction and commentaries reveal once again his attention to detail, and his ability to relate textual fragments to larger unities in Borges's work. In particular, he uses the occasion of commenting on these two manuscripts (one of the earliest stories in Ficciones and one of the latest ones) to show how the two stories relate to each other in unsuspected ways. His French translations stick very dose to the original Spanish text (unlike some of the other French versions), and show Lafon's concern for precise nuance and shading in Borges's use of language. There are also useful endnotes on a variety of references in the stories. An edition of unparalleled importance in our field.
University of Pittsburgh