Borges cites this approvingly in his essaylet, “On William Beckford’s Vathek,” and he also notes that it is almost impossible to read because of Mallarme’s “etymological dialect.” Belloc also called Beckford one of the “vilest men of all time,” which is quite a compliment, considering. Also, Borges’s remark about the distinction between the atrocious place and the place of atrocity in versions of hell is nice.
You remember Tennyson reading an unpublished poem to Jowett; when he had finished, Jowett said, I shouldn’t publish that if I were you, Tennyson. Tennyson replied, If it comes to that, Master, the sherry you gave us at lunch was downright filthy. As told by Philip Larkin in his Paris Review interview. I also recommend Larkin’s “Who is Jorge Luis Borges?” And I suppose this, also: I suppose everyone has his own dream of America.
I’ve taught some of Borges’s fictions in two out of three of my last classes and am spending this week on “The Immortal,” “The House of Asterion,” “The Zahir,” and “The Aleph.” I’d be interested in hearing from any of you who’ve taught Borges, particularly in an introductory course. How did it go, and how specifically did you handle Borges’s awesome and conspicuous erudition? “Pierre Menard,” which I taught a few weeks ago, is among the commented-upon of all the stories; and I have yet* to read a satisfactory explanation of Menard’s recapitulative bibliography or of the role of the atypical narrator.
I’m teaching “The Library of Babel” tomorrow, and I was pleased to find Quine’s piece from Quiddities (an elegantly written book) online. Dennett, who also mentions the Borges story in his “In Darwin’s Wake, Where Am I?” (citation available in my Citeulike directory), presents yet again the res cogitans as a “skyhook.” Has he ever addressed Chomsky’s response to this, that Newton’s demonstration of action at a distance actually rendered the concept of a body obsolete?
It was subtle of Borges’s prologue to place Louis-Auguste Blanqui among Origen and Augustine in the list of those who refuted the central conceit of The Invention of Morel. I am looking forward to reading the scholarly comment on this book, which I suspect hasn’t been satisfactorily explained. (Clute’s note in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, for instance, calls it a “successful search for immortality,” which requires an unusual definition of “successful” and perhaps even “immortality.”) Chomsky somewhere remarks that bee communicationists have postulated that their dances contain information we can detect, but that the bees themselves cannot.
I’m not sure if this one’s been done yet, but still: _Richard “Dick” Cheney was a friend to the poor. He travelled with a gun in every hand. All alongside this countryside He opened a many a door, But he was never known to hurt an honest man. It was down in Harding County, A time they talk about, With his Service by his side He took a stand. And soon the situation there Was all but straightened out, For he was always known To lend a helping hand.
“One Highlander on the beaches of Dunkirk was overheard telling a comrade: ‘If the English surrender too, it’s going to be a long war’” (318 qtd in. “Hitler’s England: What if Germany Had Invaded Britain in May 1940?” by Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson. In Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. Ed. Niall Ferguson. New York: Basic, 1999. 281-320). I am currently going through Ferguson’s volume on the Rothschilds. “At the Twilight of the Gods the serpent will devour the earth and the wolf the sun.” (Borges “The Uroboros,” Book of Imaginary Beings).