How Bioy Casares redeemed himself 25 years after writing a harsh preface

“If a writer live long enough he will discover in his works plenty of mistakes and not to be conformed with this fate is a sign of intellectual presumption.” – Adolfo Bioy Casares

Silvina Ocampo and Bioy Casares

Any reader who have found the works of Adolfo Bioy Casares, Jorge Luís Borges or Silvina Ocampo knows the power contained in the writings of these icons of south American literature. And they themselves read and considered important? According to Bioy, in one of their reunions they decided to gather the best fantastic tales they knew and edit them in a single volume. That’s how in 1940 the “Anthology of Fantastic Literature” was born, a book made famous both by it’s anthologists and the stories it contains.

However, in 1965 a post-scriptum was added to the book in order to fix certain affirmations made in the first preface from 1940, both written by Bioy Casares:

“To console myself, I once argued, if a writer live long enough he will discover in his works plenty of mistakes and not to be conformed with this fate is a sign of intellectual presumption. However, I’ll try not to waste the possibility of rectification.”
 Borges (left) and Bioy Casares (right).

Borges (left) and Bioy Casares (right).

In the first preface he criticized of Kipling’s stories and Marcel Proust’s writing. Joking about a curse in the text and trying to remember the mindset under which he wrote these words he not only denies his attacks but also pays homage to the authors.

“Such critic and not a word about merits configure an opinion that’s not mine. Probably the paragraph in question was cursed. In it I not only attack a favorite story but also find a way, despite the natural rhythm of the language, that do not tolerate such long parentheses, of adding a reference to Proust, as arbitrary as depreciating. I accept when many things remain unsaid, but not saying what I don’t think. Occasional irreverence can be healthy, but to aim it at those we admire the most?  (Now I think I remember that there were a moment in youth when the incomprehensible sacrifice filled me with pride.)”

He also explains his attack were a reflex of an understanding, at that time, that the romance had forgotten the essential to him: to tell stories. However, he himself accepts that the psychological romance wasn’t at risks because of the critics and the same would happen to the fantastic literature:

“The fantastic short stories is also safe against those whose disdain demand a more serious literature, capable of bringing answers to the perplexities of the – do not detain yourself here my nib, write the glorious words – modern man. Hardly the answer will mean a solution, out of the reach of the novelists and writers; probably it will insist in commenting, considering, divagating, maybe comparable to the act of ruminating, about some contemporary theme: politics and economics today and yesterday or tomorrow, the corresponding obsession. The fantastic short story corresponds to an aspiration of a man less obsessed, more permanent along the course of life and history: the unending desire of hearing tales; this satisfies him more than anything, because it’s the story of the stories, those of ancient and oriental collections and, as said by Palmeirin of England, imagination’s golden pommel.”

The preface and the post-scriptum this Anthology are, by themselves, a lesson about critic and respect, a way of redemption lacking for many of us. The texts compiled there are rich and deserving of a full reading. Read also the interview where Borges talks about his love for literature and what it takes to be a great writer.