viernes, 21 de mayo de 2010

El Sur

"El Sur"
por Jorge Luis Borges
Argentina, 1944

Uno de mis cuentos preferidos de Borges debido a su exquisita manipulación del tiempo y de la "realidad".  En este relato, Juan Dahlmann, el nieto patriótico de inmigrantes recientes, sufre un accidente en su depto bonaerense después de conseguir un ejemplar descabalado de Las mil y una noches más temprano en la tarde.  Luego de una visita prolongada en un sanitario, donde casi se muere de septicemia, el personaje viaja al Sur para visitar la estancia de sus abuelos como parte de su convalecencia.  En un viaje tratado como un regreso a su pasado familiar, la historia acaba con Dahlmann preparando a morirse en una acuchillada que parece tener lugar en un Sur mítico poblado de gauchos y rufianes decimonónicos.  ¿Ciencia ficción a la argentina?  Probablemente no.  Aunque nunca se habla de la muerte de Dahlmann con precisión, la genilidad del cuento de Borges es que se ha escrito de manera que el viaje del trén también probablemente se debe leer como un sueño-viaje soñado por el personaje.  Como la historia avanza, las pistas vienen a todo pitoto.  "Mañana me despertaré en la estancia, pensaba, y era como si a un tiempo fuera dos hombres: el que avanzaba por el día otoñal y por la geografía de la patria, y el otro, encarcelado en un sanatorio y sujeto a metodicos servidumbres" (564).  En la frase final, la realidad oneirica del viaje de Dahlmann y la realidad "de verdad" de la muerte del personaje se une como el "pretérito" del pasado se convierte en el "presente".  Un cuento estructuralmente perfecto que también juega con la historia argentina mitificada con respecto a las alusiones al épico gaucho Martín Fierro, los pensamientos de Sarmiento sobre la civilización o barbarie, y las guerras contra los indios.  Copado.
"The South"
by Jorge Luis Borges [translated from the Spanish by Anthony Kerrigan]
Argentina, 1944

One of my favorite shorts by Borges owing to its exquisite manipulation of time and "reality."  In this tale, Juan Dahlmann, the patriotic grandson of recent immigrants to Argentina, suffers an accident in his Buenos Aires apartment not too long after obtaining an incomplete copy of The 1,001 Nights earlier in the afternoon.  After a prolonged stay at a sanitarium where he almost dies from a blood infection, the character travels to the South to visit his grandparents' estancia as part of his convalescence.  In a trip portrayed as a return to his family roots, the story concludes with Dahlmann preparing to meet his end in a knife-fight that seems to take place in a mythical South peopled by 19th-century gauchos and thugs.  Argentinean science fiction?  Probably not.  Although Dahlmann's death is never specifically mentioned, the genius of Borges' story is that it's been written in such a way that the train trip probably ought to be read as a dream voyage that's only imagined by the dying character.  As the story progresses, the hints about Dahlmann's fate come fast and furious.  "Tomorrow I'll wake up at the ranch, he thought, and it was as if he were two men at a time: the man who traveled through the autumn day and across his native geography, and the other one, locked up in a sanitarium and subject to methodical servitude" (254-255).  In the final sentence, the dream reality of Dahlmann's trip and the actual reality of Dahlmann's death merge seamlessly as the past tense narration of the past shifts to the present tense of eternity.  A structurally perfect story that also riffs on Argentinean history and myth in its deployment of allusions to the gaucho epic Martín Fierro, Sarmiento-spawned notions of civilization and barbarism, and the Indian wars of the past.  Cool.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis.  Obras completas I, 1923-1949.  Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 2005, 562-567.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis [translated by Anthony Kerrigan].  Borges: A Reader.  New York: E.P. Dutton, 1981, 252-257.
E.L. Fay

8 comentarios:

  1. Very cool, even. I found this one different from the Borges I am more familiar with but I really liked it. Your description of "exquisite manipulation" seems just right.

    Oh, and my post is up too.

  2. Hi Richard, just wanted to say, how I've enjoyed following this shared short-story read. I haven't been able to do much blogging lately, but did want to say how "wowed" I was by "The South". Besides the amazing writing, the shifting from reality to dream, past and present, I loved how at the end I felt I had experienced so much of an emotional experience with this character. Feeling fear and anxiety for him in the sanatorium, relief at his leaving, anger at the taunting by the men in the diner and finally, cracking up at his last thought, before finally braving death..."They'd never have allowed this sort of thing happen in the sanatorium." Amazing story.

  3. This really is a very different Borges piece. I had no idea what to make of it at first, the plot seemed so simple.

  4. Definitely a much different side of Borges, although E.L. Fay's point about the linking themes is well taken. This one didn't make me as giddy with delight as the other two, but for such a short piece it's stuck with me to a surprising degree over the past two days (hopefully not just because I'm tired & mildly feverish myself at the moment & can relate to Dahlmann!). That moment in the train when he puts down the book & just lets himself live seems like a good counterpoint to Borges's own bookishness & the critics who claim all he ever wrote was metafiction. Although I suppose you could argue that a Borges character needs to be hallucinating his own death before he stops reading... :-)

    Sorry I got sick/tired at the wrong moment to post on this guy, but I've really enjoyed this little intro to Borges!

  5. This Borges story provides part of the secret subtext to my recent post about Argentinean literature.

    Some key incidents in Roberto Arlt's Mad Toy take place on Rivadavia Street - "the South begins at the other side of Rivadavia" - but I don't think Arlt specifies the side!

  6. *Nicole: I think "Pierre Menard" and "The Library of Babel" are more provocative in some ways, but I really like this story for how deftly Borges uses language. Very cool indeed.

    *Lourdes: Thanks a bunch, great to hear from you (was starting to get worried that you had dropped blogging altogether)! Aside from Borges' writing itself, one of the exciting things about the readalong for me is that everybody brought such interesting perspectives on the stories to the table. That quote you mention ("They'd never have allowed this sort of thing to happen in the sanatarium") is a perfect example--and a fine illustration of how crafty Borges' craftsmanship is in this story. Anyway, thanks for reading along with Borges and us!

    *E.L. Fay: I like how Borges' pieces often feel similar even though they are different as you say. I had a really poor recollection of "The South," so it was nice to read it again in such fine company.

    *Emily: I don't think I've mentioned this anywhere else yet, but "The South" also bears some slight resemblances to Borges' "Man on Pink Corner" and some of his tango poetry (thematically, at least). As for that fine moment on the train you mention, I also find it ironic that that copy of the book that has caused so much trouble really never gets read in the story: it's as "incomplete" as Dahlmann's own story in a way! Sorry you're not feeling too well these days, but I hope you're able to enjoy the rest of Ficciones once you recover.

    *Amateur Reader: Thanks for sharing that "secret subtext"--very interesting! Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? Amazing city! In other news, I think a guy could be perfectly happy alternating Arlt and Borges pieces for quite some time (mixing in other authors on occasion only as needed).

  7. I was also reading Dreamtigers (alternating it with Labyrinths & A Personal Anthology) and the correspondence with knife fight in "Martín Fierro" also did not escape me! I find the shorter prose poem-like pieces in Dreamtigers just as much "novelistic" as in the longer short stories. There's really no need to fault Borges with not writing a full-length novel. He compacts an infinite universe in just a short space.

    Thanks for this group reading and for all the wonderful participants. The different perspectives to one story are overwhelming. I've just become a Borgesite, or Borgesista (Borges-phile?). I’d like to even borrow this discussion format of one story a week to my Shelfari group.

  8. *Rise: I'm not all that familiar with Dreamtigers, but I'm glad to hear about all the connections you noted. Also stoked to hear that you've become a "Borgesista" (love that one!) and that you had a good time with the readalong--I agree that the level of interaction and insights were wonderful. Anyway, thanks so much for reading along with the gang and best of luck carrying the Borges thing over to your Shelfari group. P.S. I don't think I could have handled a Borges novel. Too much stuff going on in just a little 5-10 page story!