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Reading Bioy Casares

By Arnon Grunberg

I had never heard the name Adolfo Bioy Casares until I read a lengthy review of his diaries in Times Literary Supplement

What Eckermann was to Goethe, Mr. Bioy was to Jorge Luis Borges. He aspired to be him.

Mr. Bioy's diaries are 1644 pages (even in the edited version), but based on the review, I decided to order the book right away.

Among other reasons, I bought it because Mr. Bioy and Mr. Borges seemed to have spoken openly about fellow authors.

Some authors write about other authors, which is called criticism; some authors speak about their fellow authors at book parties and weddings, which is called gossip; and some authors decide to be silent on this matter, which is called diplomacy.

While having dinner together, Mr. Bioy and Mr. Borges discussed literature in no uncertain terms.

Rabelais is described as "abominable." Borges declares: "Anyone who admires Baudelaire is an imbecile."

But neither Baudelaire nor his admires should take this personally. Borges is generous when it comes to labeling books and persons as imbecile. "Maybe every writer read with care reveals his imbecility," he states.

This might be true; it all comes down to how exactly you define being an imbecile.

One has to respect Messrs. Borges and Bioy for bashing mainly dead authors.

Generally speaking authors tend to love bashing their living competitors, when they bash at all. Probably because most publishers believe that publishing dead authors is an "uphill battle." Which is a polite euphemism for "waste of time."

For this reason I'm very happy to see that my fellow blogger Chad Post tries to find readers for Georges Simenon, an author who deserves as much praise as let's say Kafka.

Back to the Messrs. Borges and Bioy, after they are done eating and discussing the imbecility of life in general and the imbecility of literature in particular they recite bad poetry to each other; lines they invent on the spot. To give an example: "The light remained trapped in the lift, like a bard in a cage."

I'm afraid that many poetry readers would find this acceptable poetry nowadays. And to be honest if I found this line in a novel I'm not sure that I would be upset about it.

That's why I bought Mr. Bioy's diaries; to remind myself that the sin of bad poetry and lousy metaphors is nearby.

And also to remind myself that it is better to be outspoken and unloved, than to be a liar with many literary friends.

Published Oct 1, 2007   Copyright 2007 Arnon Grunberg

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