Writer’s Blog: Tom Heaton – Misunderstanding Borges

Tom Heaton’s short story The Last Roman is published in Breve New Stories Issue Three. Read it now!

I think I must have read Borges’ Labyrinths just before I wrote ‘The Last Roman’. Certainly I read it around that time. I was taken with the Borges’ demonstration that a story didn’t have to be contemporary, didn’t have to ‘relate’, could be quite abstract and cold, could appeal to the intellect rather than the gut, and yet still be compelling.
Critically, a story could create its own world, governed by its own laws, and that autonomy could extend to the structure of the story itself, to the rules of its own construction, its use or abuse or ignorance of familiar techniques, its implicit rejection of the idea of #writingtips, though Borges of course missed out on that most blockable of hashtags.
(Digression. It’s worth spending a few minutes working out what #writingtips as dispensed by Borges might look like. I think he’d stress the importance of alienating the casual reader, the need for ridiculously portentous titles, the necessity to confuse, baffle and then frustrate.1)
Due to Borges’ dense allusive and playful style, many of the stories in Labyrinths are almost impossible to read, and yet contain ideas that are utterly unforgettable. They reveal a difficult path to knowledge. Labyrinths are designed to confuse, of course, to entrap, to house secrets at their core.
I can’t claim that my little story is Borgesian. Borges is inimitable. But I think I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t read Borges. I took Borges as permission. My story borrows the trick of starting with a bold and even unsustainable metaphor, then sustaining it, rationalising it, making it concrete. And it also hides2 somewhere in its labyrinth of scenes whatever truth it may contain.

1 Aha, it seems that Borges himself has already beaten me at this game. http://www.openculture.com/2016/09/jorge-luis-borges-creates-a-list-of-16-ironic-rules-for-writing-fiction.html

2Even from its author.

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