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Thursday
Jun302011

Borges, "Prólogo a 'La invención de Morel'"

An introduction by this Argentine to this famous work ("The Morel Invention") by his countryman.  You can read the original here.

Around 1882 Stevenson observed that British readers tended somewhat to disdain peripeties and believe that writing a novel bereft of story line was an act of great skill; writing a novel with an infinite story line, however, they deemed degenerate.  In 1925 in The Dehumanization of Art, José Ortega y Gasset tries to rationalize the disdain noted by Stevenson and declares on page 96, "that someone today might invent an adventure capable of interesting our higher sensibility seems to be difficult," then, on page 97, that this invention "is practically impossible."  On other pages on almost all the other pages he champions the "psychological" novel and believes that taking pleasure in adventures is non-existent or puerile.  Such was, doubtless, the common impression in 1882, in 1925, and still in 1940.  Certain writers (among whom I am pleased to count Adolfo Bioy Casares) believe it reasonable to dissent.  I will summarize, here, the motives for this dissension.

The first (whose air of paradox I wish neither to underscore or attenuate) is the intrinsic rigor of the adventure novel.  The typical "psychological" novel tends to be a report.  The Russians and the disciples of the Russians have demonstrated ad nauseam that nothing is impossible: suicides out of happiness, murders out of benevolence, people who adore one another to the point of splitting up forever, informers out of fervor and humility ... This complete liberty results in complete disorder.  What is more, the "psychological" novel also seeks to be the "realist" novel: it prefers that we forget its character of verbal artifice and applies a new coat of plausibility with all vain precision (or with all languid vagueness).  There are pages, there are chapters of Marcel Proust which are unacceptable as inventions, to such an extent that, without knowing it, we resign ourselves to the idle and insipid of the everyday.  The adventure novel, on the other hand, does not pretend to be a transcription of reality: it is an artificial object that permits no part of it to remain unjustified.  The fear of incurring the mere successive variety of The Golden Ass, of The Seven Voyages of Sinbad or of Don Quixote, imposes upon it a rigorous story line.

I have cited an intellectual motive; there are others of an empirical character.  Everyone whispers sadly that our century is not capable of weaving interesting plots; no one dares verify whether, if this century possesses any primacy over prior centuries, it lies in the primacy of plots.  Stevenson is more impassioned, more diverse, more lucid, and perhaps more worthy of our absolute friendship than is Chesterton; yet the story lines he produces are inferior.  De Quincey, on nights of grave terror, fled into the heart of labyrinths; but he never managed to stamp his impression of unutterable and self-repeating infinities in fables comparable to those of Kafka.  Quite rightly Ortega y Gasset observes that the "psychology" of Balzac may not satisfy us; the same might be said of his story lines.  Both Shakespeare and Cervantes liked the antinomian idea of the girl who, without diminishing her beauty, manages to pass for a man; such a conceit does not work with us.  I believe myself free of every superstition of modernity, of any illusion that yesterday differed intimately from today or that yesterday will differ from tomorrow; but I do think that no other era possesses novels of such admirable story lines as The Turn of the Screw, The  Trial, The Invisible Man, or Le Voyageur sur la terre, or the book achieved in Buenos Aires by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

So-called police or crime novels yet another of our century's genres that cannot invent story lines recur to mysterious facts that one reasonable fact will later justify and illustrate.  On these pages, Adolfo Bioy Casares happens to resolve successfully a most difficult problem.  He unfurls an odyssey of wonders which do not seem to admit for any code other than hallucination or symbols, then deciphers them fully by means of a single fantastic, but not supernatural postulate.  The fear of incurring premature or partial revelations prohibits me from examining the story line and the many delicate wisdoms of its execution.  Suffice it to say that Bioy renews in literature a concept that St. Augustine and Origen refuted, that Louis Auguste Blanqui rationalized, and that Dante Gabriel Rossetti stated with memorable lyricism: 

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore...

In Spanish, infrequent if not rare are those works of reasoned imagination.  The classics utilized allegory, exaggeration and satire and, sometimes, mere verbal incoherence; of late I recall only a certain story from Las fuerzas extrañas and one by Santiago Dabove, unjustly forgotten. The Morel Invention (whose title alludes fraternally to another island inventor, Dr. Moreau) brings a new genre to our lands and our language.

I have discussed the details of the plot with the author, and I have reread the novel.  To me it seems neither imprecise nor hyperbolic to call this work perfect. 

Prólogo a "La invención de Morel"

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