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This article is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

Classics and Classifications: Borges, Calvino John Pilling

'The library, which some call the world' runs the opening of one of the most famous of Borges's stories, 'The Library of Babel'. It must have been in something of the same spirit that Penguin took over the dryly accurate Selected NonFictions from Viking in the USA to give us The Total Library: non-fiction 1922-1986. But as Eliot Weinberger's introduction makes clear, 'total' is a complete misnomer, given that this selection (more than 500 pages) represents only about one-eighth of Borges's non-fictional work over more than sixty years. It would of course have been at best cumbersome, at worst 'inhuman' (Borges's own word for the idea of totality explored in the title essay), to have had absolutely all of him, assuming such a thing to be possible. It seems ironic in this connection that 'The Total Library', a piece first published in 1939 in the Buenos Aires magazine Sur, is not to be found in Borges's so-called Obras Completas, as is also true of some fifty other items translated here. The labyrinthine textual history of Borges - in his biography James Woodall speaks of the 'shame' of there being no uniform edition in Spanish and laments the 'mess' which has resulted - is here taken one step further, as if there really were no end to the forking paths of a garden too large ever to be brought under control.

The Total Library brings together more than a hundred and fifty items, none of which is more ...


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