Book Notes: “Textos Cautivos”

Textos cautivos (2da edición)
By Jorge Luis Borges
Alizanza Editorial, 1998

Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers. His short stories The Garden of Forking Paths and The Library of Babel are required reading for information architects, and are as effective in their (excellent) English translations as in the original Spanish. (These and other key short works have been collected in a volume titled Labyrinths, which I highly recommend.) While I’ve long been familiar with Borges’s stories, I’ve had less exposure to his less famous works. Looking to correct this oversight, I recently read a book titled Textos cautivos (English: Captive Texts), a collection of writings published in the Argentinian magazine El Hogar between 1936 and 1939.

During this time, Borges was responsible for a page in the magazine that highlighted contemporary (and especially foreign) works of literature and their authors. Recurring sections included essays, book reviews, and short biographies. Textos cautivos presents this material with an interesting structure: Instead of preserving the original context, the book breaks out the essays, reviews, biographies, and short takes on “the literary life” into separate sections. Individual entries within each category are presented in chronological order.

The selection of material — authors, books, etc. — reflects Borges’s interests (crime novels, fantasy, poetry, etc.) and contemporary events (the struggle between fascism and communism, the rise of anti-semitism, etc.) This, coupled with the format/chronological structure of the book, gives the reader the impression of reading a blog written in the years leading up to World War II. As with a good blog, one comes away with a new perspective of the times, as filtered through the lens of an individual’s obsessions. (In this case, the times were a prelude to global catastrophe, and the individual a man who lived life through books.)

I detected curiosity and dread towards the currents of history swirling around Borges, something I believe many of us can relate to. (But perhaps this reveals more about me than it does about the author?) Of course, Borges’s writing is witty and erudite as always. If you like Borges and can read Spanish (sorry, I don’t know of an English translation), this collection brings him to life in a way that feels strangely contemporary.

Buy it on Amazon.com