Kafka and Adolfo Bioy Casares – at the Quarterly Conversation

Scott Esposito has a fascinating article about the literary cross currents in the work of Adolfo Bioy Casares and Franz Kafka. If you are familiar with one and not the other (or Borges for that matter) you should definitely read the article. I like realism in my works, but I also love the approaches fashioned by Casares, Kafka, and Borges.

Realism, with its insistence on mimicking the flow and feel of reality as we construe it, is often declared more rigorous and difficult to write than other novelistic genres. Reality, this argument goes, though perhaps infinite, is also real: is rule-based and thus is difficult to mimic well, whereas fantasy—especially hysterical fantasy—permits anything to happen, and thus the fantastic makes room for the arbitrary and the sloppy. Jorge Luis Borges neatly reversed this: the fantasy novel, he argued, is in fact far more rule-based than most Realist fiction. It may rely on rules that are not of our world, but its rules are very strictly adhered to. Fantasies are in fact far more tightly wound than the chaos of realism, which makes room for big, baggy books likeWar and Peace and Ulysses. These are the books—embracing everything from the Napoleonic Wars to defecation—where anything can happen, even, to Borges’s great chagrin, nothing at all.1

Borges tailored this argument explicitly for his good friend, the novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares. Fifteen years his junior and a consummate heartbreaker, Bioy is generally considered an odd match for the persnickety, mamma’s boy Borges, but Borges took the young writer under his wing and the two forged a genuine, lifelong friendship. They spent long afternoons talking animatedly over coffee in Buenos Aires; they collaborated on some playful but altogether unremarkable detective stories; and Borges even made Bioy the protagonist in his fiction “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”