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Valverde, Estela, ed.: A Universal Argentine: Jorge Luis Borges, English Literature, and Other Inquisitions.

Valverde, Estela, ed. A Universal Argentine: Jorge Luis Borges, English Literature, and Other Inquisitions. Sydney: Southern Highlands Press, 2009. xvi + 146 pp.

This collection of essays consists of presentations given at an international Borges symposium held in Sydney (Australia) on August 23 and 24, 2007. Despite the title of the volume, only four of the essays revisit Borges's well-documented appreciation of English literature, while the rest engage in "other inquisitions" related to the Argentine author's work. The opening piece, Stephen Gregory's "Anglophilia and Argentinity: The Eccentric Politics of Jorge Luis Borges," offers a complex and wide-ranging exploration of Borges's Englishness in order to explain the writer's controversial political views. He analyzes Borges's critical introductions to English and American literature as almost autobiographical works that codify, under the guise of scholarly arguments, his conception of Argentine national identity as well as his social and political ideas. The other three articles dealing with Borges's English connection look at his conception of British Romanticism, his engagement with Thomas De Quincey's writings, and his interpretation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, respectively. in "Borges's Lesson on Romantic Origins," Jeronimo Ledesma presents Borges's literary criticism as an ambivalent type of discourse, caught between artistic freedom and academic rigor. Focusing on his definition of Romanticism as a "feeling of loss," Ledesma argues that Borges's criticism stresses the primacy of affect, emotion, and individual myth-making over impersonal social and political forces in the shaping of literary history. "De Quincey's image in Borges's Literature," also by Ledesma (and, incidentally, not referenced in the volume's table of contents), demonstrates that Borges's allusions to the British author configure a "mask to assume his own identity" (121). Rather than stressing his notorious addiction to opium or his interest in autobiographical writing, aspects that Borges can hardly identify with, the Argentine writer presents De Quincey as a precursor to his intellectual labyrinths and his passion for marginal and alternative forms of knowledge. Carmel Bendon Davis shifts our attention from Borges's views on British Romanticism to his appreciation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Davis provides a detailed analysis of Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in order to illustrate Borges's contention that it marks the shift from allegory to novel. She concludes with an analysis of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, a novel that, as Davis points out, expands on Borges's contributions to the nominalist-realist debate through the enigmatic Jorge de Burgos, a character inspired by the Argentine fabulist.

Under the rubric "other inquisitions" we can place the remaining articles, which include papers on Borges's poetry, his notion of infinity, his connection with Ruben Dario's modernismo, as well as a brief biographical piece on his vexed sentimental relationships with women. Alejandro G. Roemmers' "Reflections on Borges's Concept of Poetry Twenty Years After His Death" combines the author's personal recollections of Borges with a general discussion of his literary theory and praxis. Rex Butler reconsiders Borges's ideas about infinity, a topic that has been thoroughly discussed in key works such as N. Katherine Hayles's The Cosmic Web (1986) and Floyd Merrell's Unthinking Thinking (1991). Butler contends that these commentators have failed to identify what is truly original in Borges's articulation of the concept, that is "the equivalence" that he implicitly establishes between "infinity and one" (71)--between the boundless immensity of the universe and one of the elements that it contains. Jeff Browitt takes a more historically-informed approach to Borges's work, which he connects with Dario's modernismo and, more generally, with the aesthetic and ideological currents that crisscrossed the Atlantic during the first half of the twentieth century. Gary Maller's essay also revisits issues that have received extensive critical attention within the ever-expanding field of Borges studies. Through a reading of "The Golem," a famous poem by Borges, Maller discusses salient aspects of his work such as intertextuality, textual indeterminacy, and language's incapacity to grasp reality. The book closes with a brief biographical note by Alejandro Vaccaro, who discusses a number of letters by Leonor Acevedo, Borges's mother, in which she expresses her opinions about some of her son's lovers.

Given that one of the main objectives of the conference and the volume is, as the editor Estela Valverde puts it, to strengthen "the cultural ties between Argentina and Australia," it would have been appropriate to include an essay on the presence of the Asia-Pacific region in Borges's writing, an intriguing topic that remains largely unexplored. Although Australia does not feature prominently in his fiction, one can still find references that can warrant a sustained reflection on the matter. As Pedro Villagra Delgado states in his opening remarks, Tom Castro, the "implausible impostor" in "A Universal History of infamy," hails from Sydney, and the aboriginals of Australia are mentioned in some of Borges's essays (xiii).

Despite some typographical mistakes that even hasty revision could have avoided, this collective volume contains a number of insightful essays that deepen our understanding of Borges's creative reception of the English literary tradition. While some of the contributors simply restate established critical views on Borges, most of them provide original studies that take existing scholarly debates in new directions. The volume's most valuable contribution is perhaps its invitation to further reflect on the relevance of Borges's Anglophilia not only for his criticism and his literary production, but also for his rarely discussed political views. These essays will be of interest not only to Borges scholars, but also to those interested in comparative approaches to English and Latin American literatures and cultures.


Wake Forest University
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Author:Luis Venegas, Jose
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2012
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