Every writer has changed these stories, and I have changed them, and I’m sure someone else in I don’t know how many years will change them. These stories refuse to die—they are always expanding and shrinking, they have an organic life of their own. Usually, Arab women writers look down on Shahrazad, saying “Oh, she became a prisoner of the Shah, the bloodthirsty king.” No, in my opinion, she was stronger, he became her prisoner. He needed her stories; he depended on her to humanize him. She wasn’t doing it to save her life, but to educate him. That was what she set out to do, to humanize him.
I just loved doing this Q&A, having this amazing conversation with a writer and woman I admire a lot. Hanan al-Shaykh’s new retelling of One Thousand and One Nights (with an intro by Mary Gaitskill!) comes out next month.
[Renaming is] also a profound expression of power, a way for a new group of people to claim ownership. The erosion of the name of the place I write about in the story, which here I’ll call Nacotchtank, is a testament to this effect. Even though the village was a very important trading center in its day, no firm or authoritative version of its name exists today, just various Anglicizations. But just as (re)naming is an enormously powerful tool for any kind of encroaching force, its also a potent instrument for fighting back against that encroachment. It is a way to say this is who I am; know me.
Borges was famous for his love of British literature and especially its Anglo-Saxon guts, the thorny, Germanic, Viking-inflected language he learned in his childhood. Here Borges scholars Arias and Hadis have collected 25 of his lectures on English literature, covering Beowulf to Robert Louis Stevenson, which he delivered at the University of Buenos Aires in 1966. The book’s thorough notes prove Arias’s assertion that “editing this book was like running after a Borges who was constantly getting lost among the books in a library.” As much as these lectures are shaped by Borges’s wide-ranging, omnivorous mind, they are also a demonstration of the great pleasure he found in these works of literature. This dense thicket of allusions (as only Borges could perform them) is also a profound testament of love.
I am really genuinely excited to have taken over LJ’s “Classic Returns” column, where I’ll get to talk about my favorite old books that are coming back into print. Above is a little snippet on a new collection of Borges’s lectures on English literature from New Directions.
Not knowing Chillingsworth’s true identity or purpose (which is—guess what—revenge!), Dimmesdale has let the shrunken older man become his roommate (bad idea), resulting in the longest and most effective guilt trip in all of literature.
This is what happens when you let me recap old books.