I'm pleased with some of the responses to my recent post on Jorge Luis Borges, quoting bits of work that relate in some way to Borges's writing - in fact this proves, as Guiseppe Mazzotta writes in this beautiful piece on Dante, how "all arts are engaged in an endless conversation". With comments like these blogging also becomes a shared endeavour, an endless conversation.
And occasionally a comment happens to jolt one's memory, and things long past return vividly. Yesterday, while responding to a question about Borges, I remembered a book by Borges I'd read many years ago, and a great many other things besides. I thought I'd put up the comment again as a post - it's my personal tribute to Borges.
The Borges book that I like best myself is one that I no longer possess, but often remember with nostalgia.
In the year 1999 I was a college student in Delhi, and two minutes away from our residence in Connaught Place there was a most dusty and smelly bookshop called Twentieth Century Bookshop. (A couple of years later, as if obedient to the boundary line offered by its own name, it shut down, but clearly it was founded at a point when an enormous swathe of the twentieth century stretched out before the proprietor. For him the name was in sync with, even ahead of the times; now it was only a relic of it.)
It was here one afternoon that I joyfully bought, for the sum of fifty rupees, a pink paperback authored by Borges and his longtime friend and collaborator, Adolfo Bioy-Casares, called The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq.
The pompous and gullible H. Bustos Domecq was among the best characters Borges ever created (in fact, his voice always became notably "lighter" when he worked with Bioy-Casares). Bustos Domecq was supposedly a literary journalist, and the book is a collection of highly earnest essays written by him on subjects like modernism, abstract art, and so on.
In truth these pieces were devastating indictments of literary fads and fashions, and in particular the excesses of Modernism. Thrilling things were achieved by the sly wit of Borges and Bioy-Casares, firing away from behind their pedantic and credulous character. I remember this as one of the first books that showed me how much fun could be had with literary criticism, and indeed how literary criticism was itself a branch of literature.
Sadly, in those days I was more youthful, less wise and more kind than I am now, and in zest for somebody to share my enthusiasm for my book I lent it to a friend, who promptly lost it. To my regret I have never been able to find another copy.
I now possess The Chronicles of H. Bustos Domecq only in memory. And often it seems to me as if that book is a symbol of those beautiful days, now lost forever, to use a Borgesian phrase, in the labyrinth of time.