14 March 2008

More on Chesterton and Borges

Guillermo Martínez's Borges y la matemática is such a fun book. The author of Crímenes imperceptibles (aka The Oxford Murders) compiled certain university lectures on the mathematical concepts found in Borges' stories specifically for those of us who "can only count to ten." I've been reading it slowly--each time Martínez discusses a Borges story, I'll stop and reread the story. It's been a wonderful way to rediscover his work and spark new epiphanies (because if anyone should be reread, it's Borges).

In reading El Aleph, I made a little discovery in its epilogue. Borges discusses his story "El muerto," and divulges that the character of Azevedo Bandeira "es también una tosca divinidad, una versión mulata y cimarrona del incomparable Sunday de Chesterton." So The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare inspired Borges--one more for the list of Chesterton-Borges connections.

Back in October, Ed linked to Gilbert Adair's wise consideration of the great GKC and The Club of Queer Trades:
Chesterton sought always to entertain - he was a reader's writer rather than a writer's writer. Yet even these light-textured tales (the members of the titular club must each practise a heretofore unheard-of profession) have, as is often the case with this author, a profoundly unsettling undertow. The Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, a great admirer, once made an intriguing claim. He said that, while Dickens' fiction piled on the agonies of poverty, neglect, violence, solitude and death, the warmth of his style guaranteed that the society he depicted never ceased to be convivial. The ostensibly breezy, life-loving Chesterton, by contrast, tended to write nightmarish fictions full of ominously lurid sunsets and wild-eyed, red-haired young poets. [...]

Even if, in Chesterton's work, crimes that seem to be rooted in the pagan and the supernatural are invariably revealed, come the dénouement, to have had a reassuringly rational basis, an aftertaste of occult perversity lingers, as it does from a proper nightmare. In short, the more one reads him, the more one begins to wonder whether this jolly, God-fearing man might just have been, in today's vulgar parlance, sick. It is, at any rate, his flesh-creeping proximity to Poe and Kafka and indeed Borges that makes him not just still readable but still curiously modern.
Chesterton's sense of humor is by turns black, biting, and playful. He exposes the strangeness and bizarre beauty of the day-to-day that we unthinkingly take for granted. The Club of Queer Trades is an excellent introduction to his work and should probably be read before The Man Who Was Thursday.

Incidentally, someone should do a study of his influence on contemporary writing. I'm pretty sure that both Jesse Ball (in Samedi the Deafness) and Neil Gaiman (in American Gods) are taking a page from Chesterton's book with the characters of Saturday and Wednesday (respectively)...

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