Saturday, May 06, 2006

Three good things for free

at the London Review of Books: Ian Hacking on two new books about autism (this one's going to get a lot of distressed letters in response to his opening paragraph); a rather lovely piece by Thomas Nagel on Bernard Williams; and a rich long essay by Colm Toibin on Borges. It's a very thorough report on the recent biography and on Borges's life itself, and includes appealing quotations from others who've written about the Argentine writer:

The real world came to Borges in the guise of the young men who visited his apartment to read to him. Buenos Aires is now full of them. The best account of that experience is by Alberto Manguel in A History of Reading (1996) and With Borges (2004):

In that sitting-room, under a Piranesi engraving of circular Roman ruins, I read Kipling, Stevenson, Henry James, several entries of the Brockhaus German encyclopedia, verses of Marino, of Enrique Banchs, of Heine (but these last ones he knew by heart, so I would barely have begun my reading when his hesitant voice picked up and recited from memory; the hesitation was only in the cadence, not in the words themselves, which he remembered unerringly) . . . I was the driver, but the landscape, the unfurling space, belonged to the one being driven . . . Borges chose the book, Borges stopped me or asked me to continue, Borges interrupted to comment, Borges allowed the words to come to him. I was invisible.

Paul Theroux in The Old Patagonian Express (1979) remembered reading Kipling ballads to the blind old man, being stopped after every few stanzas as Borges exclaimed how beautiful they were, his favourite being ‘The Ballad of East and West’. Evita, he told Theroux, was ‘a common prostitute’, as the writer, taking a more benign view than Naipaul, went back to see him again and again.

He stayed up late, eager to talk, eager to be read to; and he was good company. By degrees, he turned me into Boswell . . . There was something of the charlatan in him – he had a way of speechifying, and I knew he was repeating something he had said a hundred times before. He had the beginnings of a stutter, but he calmed that with his hands. He was occasionally magisterial, but he could be the opposite, a kind of student, his face elfin with attentiveness, his fingers locked together. His face became aristocratic in repose, and when he bared his yellow teeth in the exaggerated grin he used to show pleasure – he laughed hard at his own jokes – his face came alight and he looked like a French actor who has realised that he has successfully stolen the show.

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