I cannot find the direct quote, but Haruki Murakami’s translator said something to the effect that you should never learn a second language, because it will make you realise how much your favorite foreign-language books were corrupted in the translation. I don’t think this would be much of an issue with Borges’ writing. There’s a timelessness about his stories, as if they’re not constructed from fragments and morphemes but from ideas. So long as a language recognizes the basic building blocks of logic, Borges’ tales can be translated to and read it in.
This book collects most or all of Borges’ “fiction”. This makes for a varied read, but varied is the rubric of everything Borges’ wrote. This collection is everything at once, all the time. Alternate history runs into proto-Ballardian speculative fiction, which bows out for poetry and fantasy and essays. Erase the front and back cover and this could be an anthology by at least five separate authors.
The first section is A Universal History of Infamy – tales of swashbuckling and adventure that blend history and mythology in the same way as…actual history. These stories are thematically shallow but action-packed and exciting. Borges apparently didn’t think much of this book, but what did he know?
Then we get to the the two legendary collections – Ficciones and The Aleph. What can I say about them? Try to understand them and you will only get part of the truth. Try to describe them and they will sound distorted and ruined on your tongue. Try to imitate them and you will fail. This is partly because of Borges inimitable style – direct, yet coy – but it’s mostly because these stories are about things truly beyond human comprehension. The human figures in his stories seem dwarfed, like ants gathering food in the shade of the Colossus. Even the stories that don’t invoke mathematical infinity have a larger-than-life quality about them, such as the haunting “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, which evokes similar feelings of cosmic dislocation as Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and more gracefully too.
The tales from The Maker are slightly less ambitious but are entertaining and thought provoking. There’s “Borges and I”, probably the only story I’ve read that’s in the both the first and second person simultaneously, and “Toenails”, a disturbing musing on one’s body parts. It’s the sort of thing that might have appeared on Jorge Luis Borges’ blog, had such a thing been possible.
There were better writers of philosophy (numberless), better writers of fantasy (a lot), better writers of horror (a few), and better writers of speculation fiction (one or two), but nobody else was a jack of this many trades. He was even a master of pithy quotes (“a fight between two bald men over a comb” – on the Falklands conflict). Almost everything in this collection is entertaining, and everything is the operational word here. Other writers are like tiles in a floor. Borges is the cement poured between the tiles – connecting everything, joining all. Now come, membership at the Library of Babel awaits.
No Comments »
Starry Wisdom had a story called “Black Static”, by David Conway. It wasn’t the best story in the collection, but it was the defining story – the one that kind of spoke for the others. Then I read Starry Wisdom‘s sequel and “Manta Red” went one better – it was the defining story of the volume and the best one.
Metal Sushi contains both these tales, and four others. Conway’s work could be described as the bang-from-behind bastard children of surrealist literature and those ultra violent 90s anime where the human body is a bag containing about twenty gallons of pressurized blood. He throws a lot at you – lots of themes, lots of ideas, and lots of dense, adjective-stuffed prose.
The first story is “Eloise”, which is like an Oscar Wilde or Edgar Allan Poe story performed in modern dress – very dark and romantic. “Black Static” is more chaotic and challenging, and extracting meaning from it feels more like deciphering tea-leaves than the normal reading of a story. “Manta Red” (the greatest story in this volume, too) is the interstice between the two.
This collection gathers all of Conway’s strengths as a writer, but it gathers all of his weaknesses, too. Metal Sushi suffers from “too much”, particularly “too much writing.” Certain parts sound like the kind of thing they make fun of in the Bulwer-Lytton contest. “His failing metabolism slid further along the steep, declining gradients of encroaching mortality”…he grew old, in other words.
But it also suffers from “not enough.” Despite the purple prose, Metal Sushi feels cold, with not enough energy or passion. It lays out thousands of ideas, but often to little effect. At times it reads like an author writing sentences around interesting words he found in a thesaurus (“A numinous parallax whose focal apex is rooted deep in the reptilian matrix of avatistic consciousness”) – and Michael Gira and James Havoc play that game much better.
But to be honest, I knew what I was getting into. “Black Static” and “Manta Red” were very memorable, but then one has to ask what they were memorable for. David Conway’s writing is a fragmentation bomb of words, blasting you with sensations and ideas, but at the same time blasting other ideas ineffectively away from you. It’s not focused. This is the kind of book that tries to do everything at once, and cram Lovecraft and Akira and Burroughs and Blade Runner into one book. Does it work? Not always. In fact, not even often.
At first, I thought the title was nonsense. Now I see that I was wrong – this book is exactly like metal sushi. Different. Not much nutritional value. Likely to give you tetanus. But eating (or reading) it will be an experience you’ll remember for a while, and I think that was the author’s main intention.
No Comments »
My lawyer wants me to write this as an exercise. I don’t see the point. The verdict has come in, and everyone wants me to go away. I want to go away. No more attention, please. No more idiots shoving microphones in my face, asking if I’m sorry.
Yes, I’m sorry. Very sorry! I’d do it again. I’d do it a hundred times. I’d do worse. But I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?
I’ll write a little, because it beats staring at the wall.
I was born forty two years ago in Brisbane, or so I’m told. I don’t have a birth certificate. I don’t seem to have ended up with the usual accessory of a father, either. I can remember a man picking me up when I was very small, so maybe that was him.
I was raised by my mother, and then by the council when my home situation deteriorated. I hotwired a car at thirteen, and squatted in an abandoned apartment when I was seventeen. I never had a problem with stealing, never thought it made me a bad kid. Now I’m on the hook for a crime to make all the rest look small, so I might as well speak my mind.
The part of my youth I want to tell you about happened when I was nine years old. I don’t remember where mum and I were, but I remember what we did.
We went to see a man.
No Comments »