by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares
In his commentary on Crónicas de Bustos Domecq [Chronicles of Bustos Domecq] for Los libros esenciales de la literatura en español: narrativa de 1950 a nuestros días, the critic Ignacio Echevarría claims that "quién acerca este libro a su oído puede todavía escuchar los ecos de las carcajadas con que fue escrito a cuatro manos" ["whoever holds this book up close to his ears will still be able to hear the echoes of the peals of laughter with which it was written by the four hands who penned it"] (Barcelona: Lunwerg Editores, 2011, 57). In his commentary on the work for the great blog Obooki's Obloquy, the critic and title character and Spanish Lit Month 2014 participant Obooki claims that "one imagines [Borges and Bioy Casares] laughing a lot writing it." Who the hell am I to argue with these second four hands? In other words, Crónicas de Bustos Domecq is a delightful and laugh out loud funny book not to mention a particularly lively specimen of the fake essay genre. "Homenaje a César Paladión" ["Homage to César Paladión"], sort of a four-page takeoff on Borges' classic short story "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ["Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"], is an excellent introduction to the fun and games here: a defense of a serial plagiarist, one César Paladión, whose life's work revolves around publishing exact repros of texts as diverse as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Goethe's Egmont, and Virgil's Georgics--all under his own name. Bustos Domecq, a would be avant-garde art critic given to flights of grandiloquence and prone to peppering his Spanish with copious amounts of show-off French and Latin, takes great pains to extol Paladión, celebrating the "writer"'s excesses because "ya había ido más lejos" ["he had already gone further"] than his contemporaries in matters of style; where Ezra Pound had merely led off one of his Cantos by including a "copioso fragmento" ["copious fragment"] of Homer's Odyssey, for example, Paladión clearly surpassed him because "anexó, por decirlo así, un opus completo, Los parques abandonados, de Herrera y Reissig" ["he annexed, so to speak, a complete opus, Herrera y Reissig's Los parques abandonados"] (25). Paladión, we are told, "le otorgó su nombre y lo pasó a la imprenta, sin quitar ni agregar una sola coma, norma a la que siempre fiel" ["claimed authorship of the work and passed it on to the printer without adding or removing a single comma, a standard to which he was always faithful"]--a great achievement when compared to "el libro homónimo de Herrera" ["Herrera's homonymous book"] because the original Los parques abandonados "no repetía un libro anterior" ["didn't repeat an earlier book"] (Ibid.). Late in in life, Paladión, with no knowledge of "las lenguas muertas" ["dead languages"] according to his chronicler (26), ambitiously set his sights on the classics of antiquity. His The Gospel According to Luke, "obra de corte bíblico" ["a work biblical in nature"] as it's devilishly described (24), is unfortunately interrupted by the wordsmith's death; however, not to fear because Paladión still had time to grace us with The Georgics "según la versión española de Ochoa" ["in Ochoa's Spanish translation"] and, a year later, "ya consciente de su magnitud espiritual, dio a la imprenta el De divinatione en latín" ["now conscious of his spiritual magnitude, he submitted the De divinatione in Latin to the printer"]. Bustos Domecq, a true believer as an aesthete, can barely restrain himself, and neither could I when I read the irrepressible outburst that follows: "¡Y qué latín! "El de Cicerón" ["And what Latin! Ciceronian Latin!"] (26). In her prologue to this winning Borges and Bioy collaboration, Julià Guillamon notes that "la vulgaridad barroca" ["baroque vulgarity"] of Bustos Domecq and the fact that the character's writing offers something far removed from that which you'd expect from a "crítico coherente" ["coherent critic"] (13-14), make him "encarna los valores a los que se opusieron toda su vida. Es católico, nacionalista, pronazi, peronista, mercantil e interesado" ["incarnate all the values which (Borges and Bioy Casares) opposed throughout their lives. He's Catholic, a nationalist, pro-Nazi, a Perón supporter, money-grubbing, and self-promoting"] (Ibid.). In other words, a great character! Some of these flaws produce some truly inspired comedy. In "El ojo selectivo" ["The Selective Eye"], an essay on a sculptor who's a practitioner of what BD refers to as "la escultura cóncava" ["concave sculpture"] (96) or what in reality is the open spaces or plain old air to be found in between the charlatan's generic busts and casts, Bustos Domecq interrupts his reminiscence about a fancy cultural night dedicated to agape and the muses to lash out at a waiter whom he describes as "ese Tántalo de gallego con frac" ["that Spanish Tantalus in tails"] (95). The reason for this obscure mythological insult? The waiter had forgotten to bring dessert to the critic's side of the table. Quelle horreur! Later in the same piece, Bustos Domecq confesses to having been the "boletero" or ticket seller at one of the concave sculptor's expositions on an evening that saw an incensed public take to physically abusing the artist. Bustos Domecq escapes to a nearby hotel, where he says he gathered information for a "estudio detectivesco" ["detective study"] of his by the name of La víctima de Tadeo Limardo ["Tadeo Limardo's Victim"] (97). What does this really have to do with the sculptor? Using the royal "we," Bustos Domecq is all too happy to explain via a footnote at the bottom of the same page: "Dato importante: Aprovechamos la ocasión para remitir a los compradores a la adquisición inmediata de Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi, de H. Bustos Domecq. (Nota de H.B.D)" ["Important fact: We take advantage of the occasion to suggest customers make an immediate purchase of Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi by H. Bustos Domecq. (Note by H.B.D.)"]. For non-Borges and -Bioy Casares fans, suffice it to say that the footnote joke gets better once you understand that the Isidro Parodi book was a detective parody pseudonymously attributed to H. Bustos Domecq way back in 1942. For confirmed Borges and Bioy Casares fans, suffice it to say that the footnote joke gets a lot of play here including one footnote attributed to the proofreader (70, pedantic genius!) and, in a fitting encore, another H.B.D. clarification in which readers are encouraged to consult a study by the name of Una tarde con Ramón Bonavena ["An Evening with Ramón Bonavena"]. Where can one get a hold of this study? Don't be silly. Naturally, it's to be found "inserto en el indispensable vademecum Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Buenos Aires, 1966)" ["inserted in the indispensable vade mecum Chronicles of Bustos Domecq (Buenos Aires, 1966)"] (110) which is on sale now!
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) & Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999)