Wallace on Borges

David Foster Wallace reviews a new critical biography on Jorge Luis Borges:

[excerpt:]

The majority of readers who will be interested in a writer’s bio, especially one as long and exhaustive as Edwin Williamson’s ”Borges: A Life,” will be admirers of the writer’s work. They will therefore usually be idealizers of that writer and perpetrators (consciously or not) of the intentional fallacy. Part of the appeal of the writer’s work for these fans will be the distinctive stamp of that writer’s personality, predilections, style, particular tics and obsessions — the sense that these stories were written by this author and could have been done by no other. And yet it often seems that the person we encounter in the literary biography could not possibly have written the works we admire. And the more intimate and thorough the bio, the stronger this feeling usually is. In the present case, the Jorge Luis Borges who emerges in Williamson’s book — a vain, timid, pompous mama’s boy, given for much of his life to dithery romantic obsessions — is about as different as one can get from the limpid, witty, pansophical, profoundly adult writer we know from his stories. Rightly or no, anyone who reveres Borges as one of the best and most important fiction writers of the last century will resist this dissonance, and will look, as a way to explain and mitigate it, for obvious defects in Williamson’s life study. The book won’t disappoint them.

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