Friday, March 1, 2019

Borges on Shakespeare

I spent three times as much money acquiring permissions to create this book as I got paid to do it. First there was Penguin U.S.A., which owned the rights to the mystical Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges' stories in English. Then there were Penguin, Canada, and Penguin, U.K., who owned the rights to these stories' republication in those realms. And then there was the Borges Estate itself, which owned the rights to everything else: Borges' previously untranslated essays, the records of Borges' lectures, Borges' untranslated essays and poems. Finally, there was the Folger Shakespeare Library, which appeared (they weren't sure) to own rights to an untranscribed tape of one of Borges' late lectures. But everyone finally graciously agreed to sign off -- the Folger did so for free, and a nice man at Penguin U.S.A. who liked the project gave me a permissions deal -- and now there exists this book: Borges on Shakespeare. It presents in one volume, in English, pretty much everything the great Latin American author (of famous, paradoxical short stories like "The Library of Babel," "The Circular Ruins," and "The Zahir") had to say about Shakespeare in Spanish. And a few things which he said in English, because I did listen to that untranscribed, very rough tape about twenty-five times until I was sure I had understood and transcribed 95% of what it said.

That tape is the only record of a talk Borges gave in Washington, D.C., on the occasion of Shakespeare's 412th birthday, in 1976. Borges himself was 77, and mostly blind. He was helped to the microphone, but, unfortunately, not helped close enough to the microphone. According to one eyewitness, the audience was too

Friday, February 1, 2019

More Things People Should Stop Saying Because Shakespeare Wouldn't Like Them

It's once more time for me to complain about words and phrases that I want people to stop using. Instead, people should read Shakespeare and find superior Elizabethan terms, and reintroduce them into our twenty-first century lexicon. Are you ready?

1. "Special ask": I heard this one over the radio during NPR's last pledge fund drive, as I was sitting in my car not pledging money because I assumed someone else would do it in my place. What confirmed me in the wisdom of my decision was the NPR fundraiser's suddenly making "a special ask to everyday listeners." If only she had made a special request, I would have stepped up to the plate. But I could not in conscience respond to a "special ask." In place of this vile term, I recommend what Orlando says in As You Like It

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Shakespeare, "Black Mirror," and Free Will

I recently saw an episode of the British series Black Mirror in which a slightly-on-the-edge 1980s game-designer finds himself controlled by the series' twenty-first-century audience. An interactive function enabled me to select the musical cassette tape the character "chose" to play (the Thompson Twins!), an answer he gave in a job interview, and various other of his minor and major "decisions." At one point, using my remote, I was able to inform him via his clunky 80s computer screen that I was watching him on Netflix, a media-streaming Internet-based entertainment platform. Of course, he found my message incomprehensible, and it increased his frustration and despair. (Sorry, character.)

The idea that all our choices are predetermined, and thus not really choices at all, has acquired currency from recent psychological experiments demonstrating that the conscious experience of the choice to move one of one's body parts follows the neurological reaction that initiates the motion ( In other words, scientists found that before their subjects were aware of having decided to move, something in the subjects' brains had begun preparing for the movement. This is creepy, suggesting that we are robots controlled by somebody or even by nobody (although the experiment doesn't actually prove we are robots. More on this below). Video games have given us, and Netflix, a lively and novel metaphor to express the vision of a reality in which, feeling free, we are actually mysteriously monitored PAC-men and Ms. PAC-men, with the PAC standing (as that Black Mirror episode suggests) for "Program-and-Control." This techy way of thinking is newish.