Cantos: A New Directions Blog

When Borges first arrived at ND…

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This summer we held a contest. A quiz question, “In which New Directions publication did Borges first appear?” was answered correctly by Ben B. of Chicago. His answer, New Directions in Prose and Poetry 11 which featured two stories: “Investigations on the Death of Herbert Quian” and “The Circular Ruins”.

Another reader to correctly answer this question was the translator of Borges’s Labyrinths, Donald Yates (who was very pleased to know that someone else correctly answered the question). He told me a bit more about the history of New Direction’s acquirement of Borges’s work:

“This early appearance of Borges’s fiction was the result of James Laughlin’s recognition of Borges’s importance, and no doubt influenced his decision to offer a contract when the manuscript of Labyrinths came across his desk — after it had been rejected by other publishers, including Barney Rosset at Grove Press, who immediately rushed ahead with a translation — by Anthony Kerrigan, et al., — of Borges’s Ficciones — immediately after Borges shared with Samuel Beckett the First International Editors in 1961.

“In a sense, I think it helped in Borges’ critical reception here. A lot of reviewers sat up and paid attention when two Borges collections came across their desk and often (New York Times, e.g.) both were reviewed together. If I had it all to do over again, since we had access to all of Borges’s prose published through 1960, I would have also included `El sur,’ `El aleph.’ and as you point out, `Herbert Quain.’”

“I was properly scolded by my friend Anthony Boucher, who reviewed mystery fiction for the NYTBR, for leaving out that story that touched on a subject close to both our hearts — detective literature. He, by the way, did the first translation ever of a Borges tale in English: `The Garden of Forking Paths,’ which appeared in the August, 1948, issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In early 1963, Time magazine selected Labyrinths as one of the top ten fiction titles published in 1962. And in 2008 The Authors Society of London named Labyrinths as one of 50 outstanding English-language translations of the previous 50 years.” –Donald Yates

Mr. Yates is currently working on a memoir of his friendship and working relationship with Borges underling “the importance of the detective literature genre in the shaping of Borges’s creative attitude toward fiction” along with Bioy Casares, Manuel Peyrou, Rodolfo Jorge Walsh, Enrique Anderson Imbert, Anthony Boucher, and Yates himself.


It’s interesting to note the importance of the detective literature genre in another highly acclaimed Latin American author of ours, Roberto Bolaño. Not surprising from a writer who once claimed “I could live under a table reading Borges.” (My eyes brows are bobbing up and down and my finger is tapping my nose). The Skating Rink is as close to a who-dun-it, as one might get with Bolaño. It’s a murder mystery with a surprising twist ending written in a round-robin frenzy between three narrators. I am glad we didn’t place bets on the murderer, or the murdered, when the staff was reading The Skating Rink galleys. I would have become a poorer man.



Written by New Directions

July 17, 2009 at 6:22 pm

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