viernes, 7 de mayo de 2010

Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote

"Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote"
por Jorge Luis Borges
Argentina, 1942

No sé si diría que "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" es mi cuento preferido de Borges, pero sí diría que es uno de sus más "borgesianos".  Según el narrador del relato, un excéntrico que se presenta como un buen académico a pesar de su debilidad por los salones literarios de menos confianza, Pierre Menard fue un novelista y poeta francés cuyo proyecto estético tenía que ver con la re-escritura de dos capítulos y un fragmento de otro de la primera parte de Don Quijote.  "No quería componer otro Quijote --lo cual es fácil-- sino el Quijote.  Inútil agregar que no encaró nunca una transcripción mecánica del original; no se proponía copiarlo.  Su admirable ambición era producir unas páginas que coincidieran  --palabra por palabra y línea por línea-- con las de Miguel de Cervantes" (90).  Que esto sea una tarea asombrosa o sea una especie de locura queda una pregunta abierta, por supuesto, pero el narrador genialmente llama la atención a la manera en cual el Quijote de Menard es más digno de atención al Quijote de Cervantes en cuanto al mensaje y al estilo.  Aunque no quiero decir mucho más sobre esta enorme tomadura de pelo por parte de Borges, es difícil ignorar su posición como un obvio y valioso precursor a novelas como La Vida instrucciones de uso, de Perec, y La literatura nazi en América, de Bolaño, en cuanto a su construcción de una "vida imaginaria" con bibliografías falsas, notas a pie de página ficticias, etc.  Al mismo tiempo, este cuento es un homenaje a la lectura como un acto creativo con guiños literarios exquisitos (el capítulo noveno del Quijote de Cervantes, por ejemplo, tiene que ver con la confesión del supuesto autor de la obra que un tal Cide Hamete Benengeli, "historiador arábigo", era el auténtico autor de la Historia de don Quijote de la Mancha) e irónicos (el narrador de "Pierre Menard", tan absorto en su trabajo ensayístico "factual", no duda en cantar las alabanzas de una obra invisible como la obra maestra de nuestros tiempos).  En resumen, una muy buena diversion llena de encantos metaficcionalizados.
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"Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"
by Jorge Luis Borges [translated by James E. Irby]
Argentina, 1942

While I'm not sure I'd say that "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" is my favorite short story by Borges, it's definitely one of the ones I think of as among his most "Borgesian."  According to the narrator of the piece, an eccentric who tries to hide his taste for crackpot literary salons behind a suspect academic veneer, Pierre Menard was a French novelist and poet whose grand project had to do with the never quite completed rewriting of two chapters and fragments of a third from Book One of Don Quixote.  "He did not want to compose another Quixote--which is easy--but the Quixote itself.  Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it.  His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide--word for word and line for line--with those of Miguel de Cervantes" (39).  Although it's of course open to interpretation whether such a plan would really constitute a signal challenge or just a simple act of lunacy, the narrator rather ingeniously calls attention to the ways in which Menard's Quixote is qualitatively superior to Cervantes' Quixote in terms of its message and its style!  While I don't want to divulge too many more details about Borges' enormous prank here, it's clear that "Pierre Menard" offered up a marvelous blueprint of sorts for novels like Perec's Life A User's Manual and Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas in terms of its "imaginary life" replete with fake bibliographies, fake footnotes, etc.  At the same time, the story positions itself as an homage to reading as a creative act with all sorts of exquisite literary in-jokes (note, for example, that the ninth chapter of Cervantes' Quixote that Menard wishes to rewrite itself has to do with the supposed "original" author's confession that one Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arab historian, was the true author of Don Quixote of La Mancha) and ironies (the narrator of "Pierre Menard," seemingly so absorbed in presenting a "factual" work of essay-writing, doesn't hesitate to sing the praises of an invisible work as the masterpiece of our day and age) attached.  In short, a very entertaining story stocked full of all sorts of nifty, metafictional delights.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis.  "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote".  Narraciones.  Madrid: Cátedra, 2002, 85-96.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis [translated by James E. Irby].  "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."  Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings.  New York: New Directions, 2007, 36-44.
OTROS LECTORES
Claire
E.L. Fay

16 comentarios:

  1. I read this story and was baffled. But you've explained it very nicely so I should try it again.

    I especially like how you linked it to Perec and Bolaño.

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  2. I agree, this story is great fun, and a sort of pure, distilled Borges. He's a writer whom I love but who makes me rather nervous as a reader; my wishy-washy own post on this story is finally up too. Thanks again for hosting this readalong; I feel much better with some company.

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  3. As I've said elsewhere, I think the Perec to Borges transition is pretty genius - I'm really enjoying tracing the influences as well, although, as Borges points out in this story, the influences I see could be all in my head (not that that makes them any less interesting to him)! If this is "Borgesian," sign me up for more. :-)

    Thanks for organizing this little side-trip, as well.

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  4. *E.L. Fay: Not to worry--that's an all too common first reaction to many Borges stories in my experience. The flipside of that is Borges' stories reward rereadings way more than many other authors' creations do!

    *Nicole: I think Borges' rep for making people nervous was one of the main reasons we thought reading him in small doses en masse as a weekly shared read might be a good idea! Glad you could join us (we all like the company, too), esp. since your post was great fun. See you next week!

    *Emily: No thanks necessary--it was a collaborative effort all around! I was a little worried that Perec would be a tough act to follow this month, but I'm breathing a little easier after seeing the initial responses to the Borges stories. Of course, what you say about the possibility of "influences" being all in one's head is one of the funnier aspects of "Pierre Menard"...AND a preview of what Claire and Frances are going to see up close and personal on a massive scale during their Don Quixote readalong this summer. How fortunate is that???

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  5. This is a weird little story, and I didn't really like or appreciate it till after I'd read Don Quixote (not only the first novel-as-we-know-it as many people claim, but a metafictional one at that).

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  6. Still trying to decide what I think about this story. It definitely made me laugh, but it made my brain hurt too. I think I'll read it again right now and get back to you all. :)

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  7. Funes el memorioso también es un gran cuento tocado con gran ironía. Pierre Menard es como ese grupo de cartógrofos que quiso perfeccionar sus mapas y el mapa de Barcelona tenía el mismo tamaño que la ciudad.
    Tengo que ponerme en campaña para leer a Perec, saludos patagónicos

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  8. I really really like it. Much more than when I first read it some time ago. I saw it as an attempt at a translation, but a failed one.

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  9. *Isabella: How interesting that reading Don Quixote upgraded "Pierre Menard" from "a weird little story" to something you could appreciate. Do you attribute that to Cervantes, Borges, or Pierre Menard?

    *Sarah: Ha ha, you and Isabella are providing E.L. Fay with a little company with the quasi-WTF style initial reactions! Look forward to your "final" (or at least latest) impressions!

    *Mario: Ha sido un rato desde que leí "Funes el memorioso", pero estoy de acuerdo contigo que es otro cuento muy elegantemente perfeccionado por parte de Borges. Y lo que dices sobre los cartógrafos monomaniacos: ¡perfecto! La novela de Perec es uno de los mejores libros que he leído en algún tiempo (junto con La literatura nazi en América, claro), y por eso hay que leerlo dentro de poco. Es un golazo. ¡Saludos!

    *Rise: I think "Pierre Menard" is a tale that really grows on you, partly because there's so much going on under the surface. Loved your post (thanks again for reading along with us) and forgot to mention over at your blog that I particularly enjoyed your description of the crackpot academic as a "fanboy narrator." Too, too funny!

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  10. Richard, I agree with what you just said to Rise - this story definitely grows on you! I read it again today, got my post up, and can state confidently that I like it so much more the second time through than I did initially - and would also agree that "WTF" describes my initial feeling after the first read! Can't wait to see what EL Fay thinks. :)

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  11. *Sarah: Glad you liked it more the second time around! About to head off to see what discussions are taking place elsewhere, but the fact that there a few stragglers left might mean more fun Borges reading tomorrow...

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  12. To answer your question, Richard, I attribute the change in attitude entirely to myself. Reading DQ had changed me (first-hand knowledge of and appreciation for that story); I GOT it, and so became part of the dialectic. It's as much about what the reader (or critic) brings to table as does the writer (or re-writer).

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  13. Not even reading the post as I plan on playing catch up this week. Please forgive? Am anticipating being on friendly terms with Borges but our introduction has been delayed. :(

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  14. *Frances: No worries, Book Temptress. In true "Pierre Menard" fashion, I invite you to reconstruct/imagine my post as if you were the author of it anyway!

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  15. Excelente libro el de Borges

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