Jorge Luis Borges’s primary contribution to the detective genre is his recognition and exploitation of the fact that the genre is the quintessential model for pattern and plot in fiction. An admirer of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe since childhood, Borges saw that Poe’s development of the detective story was closely related to his theories of the highly patterned short-story genre in general; he also knew very early in his career that G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories were built on the paradoxical union of a highly rational plot with a mystic undercurrent.
Although few of Borges’s short fictions are detective stories in the conventional sense, many of them make specific reference to the genre and use detective-story conventions to focus on the nature of reality as a highly patterned fictional construct. Borges was influential in showing that detective fiction is more fundamental, more complex, and thus more worthy of serious notice than critics in the past had thought it to be.
Though most famous for his work in short fiction, Jorge Luis Borges also holds a significant place in Latino literature for his work in poetry and the essay. In fact, Borges would be considered a major writer in Latino letters for his work in these two genres (the vast majority of which was produced before the Argentine writer branched into short fiction) even had he never written a single short story. Borges’s early poetry (that for which he earned his reputation as a poet) is of the ultraist school, an avant-grade brand of poetry influenced by expressionism and Dadaism and intended by its Latino practitioners as a reaction to Latino modernism. Borges’s essays, as readers familiar with his fiction might expect, are imaginative and witty and usually deal with topics in literature or philosophy. Interestingly, because of the writer’s playful imagination, many of his essays read more like fiction than essay, while, because of his propensity both for toying with philosophical concepts and for fusing the fictitious and the real, much of his fiction reads more like essay than fiction. It seems only fitting, however, that for a writer for whom the line between fiction and reality is almost nonexistent the line between fiction and essay should be almost nonexistent as well.
It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of Jorge Luis Borges within the context of Latino fiction, for he is, quite simply, the single most important writer of short fiction in the history of Latino literature. This is true not only because of his stories themselves, and chiefly those published in Ficciones, 1935-1944 and El Aleph, but also, just as important, because of how his stories contributed to the evolution of Latino fiction, both short and long, in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Borges was the father of Latino’s “new narrative,” the type of narrative practiced by the likes of Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and others. Latino fiction prior to Borges was chiefly concerned with painting a realistic and detailed picture of external Latino reality. Borges’s imaginative ficciones (or fictions) almost single-handedly changed this, teaching Latino writers to be creative, to use their imagination, to treat fiction as fiction, to allow the fictional world to be just that: fictional. Borges’s works also taught Latino writers to deal with universal themes and to write for an intellectual reader. Without Borges, not only would the literary world be without some superb stories, but also Latino narrative in the second half of the twentieth century would have been radically different from what it evolved to be.
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