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Heroes, victims or villains? Irish Presentations and Representations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Morelia, Mexico, 15-18 July 2009

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Jorge Luis Borges y Los Otros: James Joyce, Flann O'Brien y Samuel Beckett

Vela, David (Diablo Valley College, California, USA)

Jorge Luis Borges was uncanny in adopting and in adapting, and assimilating the literature of other traditions. Borges provided an example to Latin Americans of a polyglot and voracious polycultural writer who could mine and treasure literature in English, French, German, Latin, and in the Spanish literary traditions. While creating a sense of Argentine literature, Borges borrowed from the languages he knew, but English dominated in his reading. Much has been written about the American authors and the English and Scottish authors who influenced Borges’ innovations in language and in fiction. The Irish, especially James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Bishop George Berkeley, and Dun Scotus, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and Flann O’Brien influenced Borges’ writing and thinking to a degree that outstrips all other authors. The Irish are unique influences, and it is their influence which this paper seeks to address through the special lenses of Borges’ essays and fiction. Borges’ essay “When Fiction Lives in Fiction”, a book review of Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) he wrote just two weeks before reviewing the labyrinth of words, James Joyce’s last novel, Finnegans Wake, and before he left a runic, Orientalist fable “Story of Two Kings and of Two Labyrinths”. Never one to miss the significance of dates, Borges’ review of Joyce’s last novel was on Bloomsday of 1939, and his review of O’Brien’s was a fortnight earlier. In these reviews, and in the fable, Borges lays out what he admires – and what he was to do in his own fiction in a brilliant spate after Joyce’s death, demonstrating that his response was the straight line, the eleatic line, to Joyce’s verbal labyrinth. Samuel Beckett not only shared the Formentor Prize with Borges; he, like Borges, reacted to Joyce’s epics Ulysses and Finnegans Wake with pared-down language, but with a density of ideas that only Borges has matched.


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