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During the Revolutionary War, Poe’s grandfather had, in Quinn’s words, served as “Assistant Deputy-Quartermaster General of Baltimore with the rank of major. In his 1970 autobiographical essay, Borges recalls that his grandfather, Colonel Borges, was “Commander-in-Chief of the northern and western frontiers of the Province of Buenos Aires” and that in 1874 at the age of 41 he was killed in one of his country’s civil wars when, riding on horseback toward the enemy lines, “he was struck by two Remington rifle bullets.” Ever the chronicler of historical firsts, Borges remarks, “This was the first time Remington rifles were used in the Argentine.” And he adds with evident amusement, “It tickles my fancy that the firm that shaves me every morning bears the same name as the one that killed my grandfather.” The military heroes among Borges’ ancestors were not, however, confined to his father’s side of the family. Another member of my mother’s family was Francisco de Laprida, who, in 1816, in Tucuman, where he presided over the Congress, declared the independence of the Argentine Confederation, and was killed in 1829 in a civil war.In the same 1970 essay, he recalls that his maternal great-grandfather was “Colonel Isidoro Suarez, who, in 1824, at the age of twenty-four, led a famous charge of Peruvian and Colombian cavalry, which turned the tide of the battle of Junin, in Peru. My mother’s father, Isidore Acevedo, though a civilian, took part in the fighting of yet other civil wars in the 1860’s and 1880’s. a leading minor poet and later found his way into the Argentine Academy of Letters.” And of course Borges’ father had written a novel, as well as numerous sonnets and a translation of Omar Khayyam.
Not only is the work in a foreign language (and one which the narrator clearly feels is inferior to French), but it is crude, bawdy, filled with an earthy vitality that makes it seem doubly foreign to the world in which Menard lives.
The narrator goes to some lengths to explain this choice, but we are perhaps in a better position to understand what Cervantes represented for Menard because of our sense of what Poe represented for Borges.
In his note to the English translation of the story Borges accounted for this break in the pattern, commenting that after his “first two exercises of 19” his third effort “became a cross between a permissible detective story and a caricature of one.
The more I worked on it, the more hopeless the plot seemed and the stronger my need to parody.” Borges’ attempt to double the origin of the detective genre by producing three stories that would appear in the centennial years of the originals gives some indication of how seriously he took Poe’s influence on his work, and this naturally raises questions, which I would like to pursue here, about what drew Borges to Poe’s work and why he was able to use Poe both as a point of access to North American literature and as a model of how one could achieve literary self-definition through a kind of antithetical regional identification.
No doubt, Poe, with his Virginia upbringing, felt as well a certain chivalric attraction to military life, and at this point he must have also thought that there would be enough free time in the Army for him to continue his writing. So well known were Major Poe’s services that he became brevetted in the eyes of the public and was known for many years as “General” Poe.” Quinn adds that in his seventies “General” Poe seems to have resumed his military career and “taken part in the defence of Baltimore in 1814 against the British attack.” The memory of his grandfather’s services to the nation may well have influenced Poe’s application to, and acceptance by, West Point, but whatever the reason for his decision, the discipline of West Point soon proved too much for the young man.
Borges Autobiographical Essay
In addition, Poe may have been led to this career by the fact that his paternal grandfather, David Poe, Sr., had been something of a local military hero. Poe decided to leave and in January 1831 managed to get himself court-martialed for “Gross neglect of Duty” and “Disobedience of Orders.” He departed the Academy in February and supported himself for the rest of his life as a writer, but he dedicated his published in April 1831 to “The U. Corps of Cadets.” This passage in Poe’s life must have had a special resonance for Borges, for like Poe he also had a paternal grandfather who was a local military hero, and he seems to have felt an attraction for both the military and the literary life.
It is precisely this yearning of the writer for some epic destiny, for some heroic action which the fates have withheld, that Borges assimilates to Cervantes’ debate between arms and letters, a debate that Don Quixote decides in favor of arms, but which Borges, who was barred from a life of vigorous physical action by his nearsightedness and frailty and who must thus try to turn a fate into a power, sets out to decide in favor of letters.
And what better model for that choice of letters over arms than someone who, like Poe, had rejected a military career for the life of a writer, and what better work of Poe’s to double than one that thematized the dispute between action and intellect, between physical force and mental subtlety, as the difference between a violent crime and its mental solution, between the physicality of the former (the brutality of murder) and the intellectuality of the latter?
For quite clearly the important fact about Cervantes in this context is that he was both a soldier and a writer (and of course compared to the Frenchman Menard, a Southerner), or more precisely a soldier who became a writer when his soldiering days came to an end, a writer who in the created a character who sets out to enact in real life the deeds of chivalrous valor that he has read about in books, which is to say, deeds that are simply literary inventions.
Borges goes out of his way to ensure that the reader registers that the central fact about Cervantes is his being both a soldier and a writer, a man of action and a man of intellect, when he has the narrator remark that one of the three chapters of the which Menard set out to reproduce exactly was “Chapter XXXVIII of Part One “which treats of the curious discourse that Don Quixote delivered on the subject of arms and letters.” As is known,” continues the narrator, “Don Quixote (like Quevedo in a later, analogous passage of and Bertrand Russell—should relapse into these nebulous sophistries!