Robert Stone, Jorge Luis Borges, and... Parade Magazine?

Robert Stone turns 70 today, as Dwight Garner has noted over at Paper Cuts. Seven years ago, Stone spoke at a PEN tribute to Jorge Luis Borges-- who, as it happens, was born 108 years ago this Friday-- and his words were published in the inaugural issue of PEN America. Borges does not immediately come to mind as an influence for the author of A Hall of Mirrors and Dog Soldiers, but Stone found him “tremendously liberating and inspiring.” In his tribute, he cites a passage from A Universal History of Iniquity that one can imagine Stone reading during his travels with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters:
The Mississippi is a broad-chested river, a dark and infinite brother of the Parani, the Uruguay, the Amazon, and the Orinoco. It is a river of mulatto-hued water; more than four hundred million tons of mud, carried by that water, insult the Gulf of Mexico each year. All that venerable and ancient waste has created a delta where gigantic swamp cypresses grow from the slough of a continent in perpetual dissolution and where labyrinths of clay, dead fish, and swamp reeds push out the borders and extend the peace of their fetid empire. Upstream, Arkansas and Ohio have their bottomlands, too, populated by a jaundiced and hungry-looking race, prone to fevers, whose eyes gleam at the sight of stone and iron, for they know only sand and driftwood and muddy water.
Stone later taught a fiction course that "included an examination of Borges's work." As the semester was approaching, he had a distinctly "Borgesian" experience:
Just before the course began, for unfathomable Borgesian reasons, an article appeared in Parade magazine, the popular Sunday supplement. It was a short history of the western outlaw Sam Bess by Jorge Luis Borges, and my students, who did not look to Parade for exemplars in contemporary prose, were puzzled.
Those students could have talked to Eliot Weinberger, who also spoke at the Borges tribute. He would have explained that "Borges was an immensely prolific writer" who wrote "something like twelve hundred pieces of nonfiction," on everything from "Hollywood movies to detective stories to sci-fi," not to mention "tango lyrics and the inscriptions painted on horse-drawn carts in Buenos Aires." Weinberger, who edited the Selected Non-Fictions of Borges in English (and "could easily," he says, "do a few more books of equal size"), also notes that "Borges worked, amazingly, for El Hogar, the Argentine equivalent of Ladies’ Home Journal." So perhaps an appearance in Parade is not so puzzling.

But back to Robert Stone: Did you know that he was first given On the Road by his mother? He recounted the experience ten years ago in The New York Times. With all the Kerouac celebrations going around, it's fascinating to see him throwing cold water on the plaudits: "People once said that Jack Kerouac's name would be remembered when those of his contemporaries are forgotten. They may well be right, and for filial and patriotic reasons I say let it be so. But, on the whole, I think On the Road was more Mom's kind of book than mine."

For those of us who failed to read Prime Green back in January, now seems like a good time to pick it up. Happy Birthday, Mr. Stone.

1 comment:

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