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.