Our new, redesigned website marks the debut of our complete digital archive: now subscribers can read every piece from The Paris Review’s sixty-three-year history. Subscribe now and you can start reading 0ur back issues right away; you can also try a free ten-day trial period.
We’re celebrating by offering a sample of some of our favorite writing from the magazine’s past. Today, a story from our Summer–Fall 1962 issue called “Funes the Memorious,” by some fella named Jorge Luis Borges. And I say “some guy” for the sake of contemporaneity: at the time, Borges was so little-known in the Anglophone world that the Review felt he needed to be introduced—so they tapped André Maurois, of The Silence of Colonel Bramble fame, to tell an early-sixties audience what they were in for:
Jorge Luis Borges is a great writer who has composed only little essays or short narratives. Yet they suffice for us to call him great because of their wonderful intelligence, their wealth of invention, and their tight, almost mathematical style. Argentine by birth and temperament, but nurtured on universal literature, Borges has no spiritual homeland. He creates, outside time and space, imaginary and symbolic worlds. It is a sign of his importance that, in placing him, only strange and perfect works can be called to mind. He is akin to Kafka, Poe, sometimes to Henry James and Wells, always to Valery by the abrupt projection of his paradoxes in what has been called “his private metaphysics.”
His sources are innumerable and unexpected. Borges has read every thing, and especially what nobody reads any more: the Cabalists, the Alexandrine Greeks, medieval philosophers. His erudition is not profound—he asks of it only flashes of lightning and ideas—but it is vast.
All very true, and finely said. But little could’ve prepared readers for Borges’s expansive, labyrinthine prose style, which astonishes from the first paragraph of “Funes”:
I remember him (I have no right to utter this sacred verb, only one man on earth had that right and he is dead) with a dark passion flower in his hand, seeing it as no one has ever seen it, though he might look at it from the twilight of dawn till that of evening, a whole lifetime. I remember him, with his face taciturn and Indian-like and singularly remote, behind the cigarette. I remember (I think) his angular, leather-braiding hands. I remember near those hands a mate gourd bearing the Uruguayan coat of arms; I remember a yellow screen with a vague lake landscape in the window of his house. I clearly remember his voice: the slow, resentful, nasal voice of the old-time dweller of the suburbs, without the Italian sibilants we have today. I never saw him more than three times; the last was in 1887 … I find it very satisfactory that all those who knew him should write about him; my testimony will perhaps be the shortest and no doubt the poorest, but not the most impartial in the volume you will edit. My deplorable status as an Argentine will prevent me from indulging in a dithyramb, an obligatory genre in Uruguay whenever the subject is an Uruguayan. Highbrow, city slicker, dude: Funes never spoke these injurious words, but I am sufficiently certain I represented for him those misfortunes. Pedro Leandro Ipuche has written that Funes was a precursor of the supermen, “a vernacular and rustic Zarathustra”; I shall not debate the point, but one should not forget that he was also a kid from Fray Bentos, with certain incurable limitations.