Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, by Jorge Luis Borges (and Adolfo Bioy-Casares)

Reading through Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, one is inclined to wonder why this book is not well-known in the English-speaking world. If it hadn’t been on Ignacio Echevarría’s list of essential Spanish-language books since 1950 (and for Borges at least, with only Death and the Compass for company), I’d probably never have heard of it. Yet, despite his being South American, Borges is a highly-feted, much-discussed writer, is he not? So surely you’d expect all his works to be available (as is the case with, say, Kafka). This book, from what I can ascertain (though the individual stories were originally published in American magazines) has only been published in one American edition – and never in the UK.

Perhaps, though, we may posit a reason aside from our disinterest in Latin-American writers, at which the previous uncommented post may have pointed: Borges has a child’s love of paradox and nonsense; who else would his works best appeal to than critics and readers who like to use those same commodities in lieu of reasoned argument? And Chronicles of Bustos Domecq is just one long onslaught against such people.

The book is comprised of a series of articles about literature and art written by a critic called Bustos Domecq. Bustos Domecq is the kind of critic who sees genius where there is only folly and idiocy and outright charlatanism: the writer who merely publishes other people’s books under his own name; the writer whose novels consist merely of their single-word titles; architecture which no one can live in; clothes which are merely painted on; machines that do nothing. All these are held up as being important artistic achievements and developments, pace the contempt of naysayers. Bustos Domecq often interviews his artists, and writes up the complex thought-processes and the justifications they feed him.

Often this is all very funny; although, since it’s basically a one-joke book, one does begin after a time to tire of it. In fact, for something entirely made-up, it’s remarkable how close this book is to Vilas-Matas’ Bartleby & Co.; but infinitely more enjoyable and entertaining.

Of course, all this could be down to Adolfo Bioy-Casares. One imagines the two of them laughing a lot writing it.

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4 thoughts on “Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, by Jorge Luis Borges (and Adolfo Bioy-Casares)

  1. I haven’t read any of these Bioy Casares/Borges collaborations (well, maybe an apparently non-memorable short story or two), so this is a timely reminder (i.e. maybe I’ll get to it within the next 5 years). What I find interesting about your allegation about the non-interest in Latin American literature is that there’s a certain type of American blogger who loves magical realism almost as much as Victorian literature and seems to think that magical realism is the only type of writing Latin Americans produced before your buddy Bolaño came on the scene. To this type of reader, Borges is probably either too difficult or too non-cookie cutter a writer since he doesn’t focus on the generational family drama soap opera thing. Note: For the record, I’m assuming that these Yankee Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez fans I’ve been describing have even heard of Borges. I think they sometimes get him confused with Paulo Coelho, though.

  2. Bolaño’s non-magic realism is merely a marketing strategy – I suppose one that has proved quite effective. He seems to have learned a lot from Borges, though unfortunately not brevity.

    I noticed yesterday that Coelho had written a book called “Aleph”. Maybe that’s the source of the error.

  3. “unfortunately not brevity” – amen. I can’t summon the will to tackle the last 300 pages of The Savage Detectives. Maybe that’s why his posthumous publications attract so much acclaim – they’re minnows compared to his “main” tomes.

    I read The Invention of Morel: this sounds like it’s in the same spirit, certainly. I wonder how the collaboration worked: did they write together, with a bottle of brandy open on the desk? who had the final say on the formulations and directions?

  4. You read more of Savage Detectives than me.

    I’ve only read one other Bioy-Casares, which wasn’t that good. I think there was probably a lot of drinking and a lot of falling off chairs with laughter.

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