NABOKV-L post 0017856, Sun, 8 Mar 2009 19:06:46 -0300

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[NABOKOV-L] JL Borges and a whiff of Pnin and Pale Fire academe
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That it's easier to find Borges in Nabokov's writings than the reverse is one of my recent observations. And yet,after reading one or two of J.L.Borges' latest short-stories (sometimes considered his "geriatrica"), with their recurrent elaboration of loss, search for essences instead of cotidian minutiae and an almost didactical approach to some of his passions: ancient poets and language, I was tempted to reconsider my view.
While I was reading "The Bribe" 91975) I began to suspect Borges knew more about Nabokov than he'd admitted in his interviews, even though his references to cosmic jokes, Ultima Thule, Vikings, The Eddas, Elphinston, immigration, German-department policies, and etc, were a part of his normal experience as a teacher of English literature (he learned English before he could speak Spanish).
Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in August 24, 1899 and died in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 14, 1986, two interesting items shared by both authors ( year of birth and the country in which they died) - and I vaguely remember they vaguely met during a series of lectures.


I decided to share this impression with you by a few excerpts from "The Bribe" ( that's not by far my favorite story):

"The story I shall tell is about two men, or rather about an incident in which two men played a part [...] Both were vain, though in very different ways and with very different results. The anedocte [...]took place a short time ago in one of the states of the United States. In my opinion, it couldn't have happened anywhere else [...] Dr. Winthrop was a professor of Old English ( he didn't approve of calling it Anglo-Saxon, which suggests an artifact cobbled together out of two separate pieces).[...] His colleague Herbert Locke [...]gave me a coppy of his book Toward a History of the Kenning[...] He is an integral part of my story.
I come now to the Icelander Eric Einarsson, perhaps the true protagonist. I never saw him [...] In 1970, Yale published his copiously annotated critical edition of the ballad of the Battle of Maldon. The scholarship of the notes was undeniable, but certain hypotheses aroused some controversy in the virtually hermetic shperes of academe [...] He proposed emendations for several reading in Elphinston's edition. In 1969 he had been given an appointment at the University of Texas.As we all know, American universities are forever sponsoring conferences of Germanists [...] Winthrop chaired the previous conference [...] The head of his department [...]asked Winthrop to suggest a person to chair the next one, in Wisonsin. There were really only two candidates to choose between - Herbert Lock and Eric Einarsson.
Einarsson appeared in Ezra Winthrop's office. He had come to say good-bye and thank him. One of the windows overlooked a diagonal, tree-lines wlak and the office was lined with books. Einarsson immediately recognized the parchment-bound first edition of the Edda Islandorum [...] I owe you an explanation, Dr. Winthrop. I left my homeland in late 1967. When a man decides to leave his country and go to a distant land, he inevitably assumes the burden of 'getting ahead' in that new place[...] The ballad (Maldon) records a Scandinavian victory, but as to my claim that it influenced thelater Icelandic sagas, I believe to be an absurd and even unthinkable idea. I included it in order to flatter English readers[...]You and I, my dear friend, know that conferences are silly, that they require pointless expenditures, but that they are invaluable to one's curriculum vitae.
Winthrop looked at him quizzically.He was intelligent, but he tended to take things seriously, including conferences and the universe, which could well be a cosmic joke[...]
"My first Viking," said Winthrop, looking him in the eye.
"Another romantic superstition. It isn't Scandinavian blood that makes a man a Viking [...] In my family, so far as I know, there has never been a man of the sea."[...]
"You've come to my office to throw in my face your ingenious stratagem; I gave you my support so I could boast of my integrity."
"But there is something else, "Einsarsson responded. " Our nationality. I am an American citizen. My destiny lies here, not in Ultima Thule. You will no doubt contend that a passport does not change a man's nature."

[pg.73-79, "The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory", translated by Andrew Hurley (!), Penguin Classics, 2007]

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