Archive for January, 2019

‘BORGES’ POE”: Emron Esplin’s ground-breaking intercultural study reviewed

Now published in: ES Review: Spanish Journal of English Studies (Valladolid, Spain), No 39, 2018, pp. 307-311 (on-line at: https://doi.org/10.24197/ersjes.39.2018.307-311)

is my review of:

Emron Esplin, Borges’s  Poe:  The  Influence  and  Reinvention  of  Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America, The New Southern Studies, University of Georgia Press, 2016, pp. xi+239, ISBN: 9780820349053.

This is a fascinating and groundbreaking study of the convergence of two of the Americas’ most important writers in the fantastic, detective and essayistic genres, and brings together in one place information on Borges’ readings of Poe that was previously available only in dispersed or summary form.

Extract:

Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote, speaking of Franz Kafka, that writers are the creators of their precursors, and certainly it is all but impossible today for anyone who has read Borges to read Edgar Allan Poe without the looming shadow of the great Argentinian. Poe’s presence in Borges is at the same time but a part of a wider phenomenon of the US author’s influence in Spanish America, extending to other celebrated writers such as Rubén Darío, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. Equally, the Borges-Poe link is of a strength and solidity sufficient to justify the appearance, in the shape of the volume under review, of a book-length study.

The relationship between the two writers has been the subject of critical attention over time, the academic state of play as at the end of last century being summarised in a contribution by Graciela E. Tissera to the multi-author work Poe Abroad, edited by Lois Davis Vines and published in 1999. The extension and detail of Emron Esplin’s study reflect the multidirectionality of existing and potential Poe-Borges scholarship, in the light of the ceaseless revisits to Poe made by Borges across his writing career. The author is more than qualified for such a task, as coeditor of the collective volume of 2014, Translated Poe, which, as its title suggests, takes the internationalisation of Poe as its watchword.

There are multiple obvious similarities between the respective literary productions of Poe and Borges. Shared characteristics that might come to mind include: a cerebral and rational fascination with the bizarre and the fantastic; an emphasis on the literary work as made object or construct; and a career-long preference for brevity, for the short poem, the short story, the short nonfictional text (essay, prologue, review). At the same time, Borges’s comments on and use of Poe exhibit a marked selectivity. His interest in the American writer focuses primarily on three aspects: Poe’s detective fiction; his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; and his texts of literary theory, notably “The Philosophy of Composition.” (…)

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In a caged world – reflections on Suzanne Bier’s film BIRD BOX

Bird Box by Suzanne Bier – Netflix film, 2018, with Sandra Bullock

Suzanne Bier’s film Bird Box shows us the collapse of civilisation into human-made chaos and the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis which begins in Romania and spreads to Russia and then via Alaska to the US. Those touched by the psychosis become suicidal and self-destructive, as symbolised by multiple car crashes.

The US President decrees a state of emergency, closes the borders and advises not using social networks. At one point a character declares: ‘Let’s make the end of the world great again’. These are virtually the only ‘political’ references in the film. It is in no way a direct allegory of Trump’s America, but it does symbolise dangerous tendencies in the contemporary world as a whole. The internet is not present and is scarcely mentioned in the film, and indeed the social networks are not used. Eventually the internet goes down altogether. Mobile phones appear only to witness failed communications. There is no-one at the other end of the phone.

The collective psychosis is not a stand-in for the internet as such, nor should it be seen other than superficially as something external or non-human evil. We can see it as representing the current trend to irrationality which manifests itself across the globe in different forms of fanaticism and extremism – political, religious or around group identity.

The caged birds appear first when found in a supermarket; until the end they seem more a symbol than a part of the plot. Finally when they are released we can see them as emblems of the spirit of freedom that is blocked by the psychosis and can only express itself if humanity once again becomes closer to nature. The return to nature is symbolised by water (the river; crossing the rapids reminds us of the difficulty of the challenge), by the children (whose anonymity as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ signifies that only on the other side can they fully become themselves), and by the calm space, surrounded by nature, of the school for the blind, in which paradoxically it is possible to see what those who appeared to see have been blind to.

In this film we see humanity tearing itself apart in demented self-harm, in a process to which technology is not the solution. Only through the eyes of a child or of a blind person can the return be glimpsed to more natural and less destructive forms of human communication.