A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland

By John Sutherland

This little historical past takes on a truly substantial topic: the wonderful span of literature from Greek delusion to image novels, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. He introduces nice classics in his personal impossible to resist manner, enlivening his choices with humour in addition to studying: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, the Romantics, Dickens, Moby Dick, The Waste Land, Woolf, 1984, and dozens of others.

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To ignore these philosophical and theological dimensions would mean to deny his texts the integral amplitude which attests to his thinking, his preoccupations, his textual passions and obsessions. 23 Paoli focuses on two of Schopenhauer’s maxims: 1. that what we commonly perceive as chance is really necessity or causality; and 2. that the Will, as opposed to the free will, operates in both our successes and failures. Paoli poses the question whether Borges actually does believe in Schopenhauer’s philosophy which states that time multiplies that which is essentially one, or whether it serves him a merely literary purpose, an idea to be exploited literarily (1992, 201): A Borges le parece una imagen asombrosa la que brinda la filosofía de Schopenhauer, cuando afirma que el mundo no es tal como aparece y que el tiempo y el espacio multiplican y varían ante nuestros ojos alucinados lo que en la esencia es uno y lo mismo: es muy probable que Borges también crea que el mundo es así, pero más cierto es que él ha hallado en esta idea del mundo una imagen explotable literariamente al infinito.

In his view, Borges ‘translates’ philosophy into fiction, and in so doing avoids using philosophical terms; instead, Borges invents new narrative means to serve his ‘translation’ and Nuño suggests that in order to fully appreciate Borges one need not, indeed one must not limit oneself to a purely philosophical reading (1986, 138–139, my emphasis): Entre mentalismo y temporalidad se contiene el arco apretado de recursos metafísicos de Borges: los mundos posibles, las paradojas como grietas de irracionalidad, los espejos abominables por multiplicadores de las fugaces copias.

El tiempo es la substancia de que estoy hecho. [. ] El mundo, desgraciadamente, es real; yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges. (‘Nueva refutación del tiempo, B’) It is after this desperate resignation to the inescapability of his own being, which concludes the essay, that Borges, six years later in a new ‘Nota al prólogo’ to the re-edition of the text in 1952, introduces the Buddhist tale of King Milinda (also known as Menandro). Again, he makes an almost desperate, intellectual attempt at offering himself alternatives to the nothingness, and at the same time the inescapability, of his own being.

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