Does anyone come close to Borges in the field of very short fiction?
May 16, 2006 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone written and published very brief, dense prose works akin to Borges' ficciones, and are they any good?

I'm not really fussed about style or content, but other than Bolesław Prus, I can't think of anyone else who has succesfully used the very short form (and he went on a bit, comparatively speaking).

To clarify: epigrams, vignettes and extremely short fiction (like Hemingway's For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.) don't count. And I'm not sure about 'flash fiction' which, in my experience, tends to be overly concerned with squeezing the usual elements of a short story into a shorter word count, though that sort of thing might count if it can bear the weight of a comparison to Borges... if you've read him, you'll know what I'm after, I suppose.
posted by jack_mo to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You might try the Encyclopedia of the Dead by Danilo Kis. His short story style was heavily influenced by Borges, and the stuff in this book is quite good, particularly the title story and "the Sleepers."
posted by sophie at 5:55 PM on May 16, 2006

Kafka wrote excellent, very short and vaguely allegorical pieces, which were certainly influential to Borges. They're also by far my favourite of Kafka's works.
posted by Marquis at 6:00 PM on May 16, 2006

You might like the work of Luisa Valenzuela, another Argentine.

If you read Spanish, try "Brevs," which collects all of her short fiction.
posted by anjamu at 6:19 PM on May 16, 2006

Italo Calvino
- If On A Winter's Night a Traveler
- Invisible Cities
Stanislaw Lem
- Tales of Pirx The Pilot
Alasdair Grey
- Unlikely Stories, Mostly [some short, some not so short]

They're not very short, but they are short. I'm also partial to Donald Barthelme who writes short and long stories. Here are two short ones that I enjoy: The Great Hug and The Game. His topics are more human interest and less language-of-the-mind.

I also think Richard Brautigan is good at short stories dense with meaning, but they have an airiness to them that is not at all like Borges.
posted by jessamyn at 7:01 PM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Posted this in the other thread before I saw this, but Fredric Brown's quite good, if you like science fiction.
posted by EarBucket at 7:14 PM on May 16, 2006

I would recommend some of the Oulipo writers, specifically Harry Mathews (maybe his Singular Pleasures ?).

Also, Lydia Davis is very good at producing the kind of dense, short stories you are thinking of.
posted by mattbucher at 7:20 PM on May 16, 2006

Donald Barthelme!

Also, seconded on the Kafka.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:33 PM on May 16, 2006

Cortazar's Cronopios and Famas is less widely available in translation than many of his other books, but it's brilliant, and I think close to what you're looking for. The first third of the book consists in more- and less-fantastic 'instructions' for everyday actions, such as 'how to cry.' Always surprising, Cortazar can enliven anything.

I second the Alasdair Gray recommendation, though I'm not sure it meets your request as well as some other books suggested here. Read Lanark if you haven't, even though it's quite the opposite of what you're looking for. Then 1982, Janine. Then everything else.
posted by scarylarry at 8:34 PM on May 16, 2006

posted by signal at 9:01 PM on May 16, 2006

It's a little obscure, but The Complete Butcher's Tales by Rikki Ducornet is in a similar vein.
posted by zadcat at 9:17 PM on May 16, 2006

Some of the pieces in the collection The Second Book by the Bosnian writer Muharem Bazdulj are both influenced by Borges, and have a Borgesian weight to them. Very different, but brief and intense, are the pieces in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition.
posted by misteraitch at 12:37 AM on May 17, 2006

You might look at Maurice Blanchot, especially The Writing of the Disaster or The Gaze of Orpheus. However, both of those are literary/philosophical/critical, so maybe you'd prefer Thomas the Obscure or Vicious Circles, which are straight prose pieces in small dollops.

I second Lydia Davis (who translates Blanchot, so there you go) and I'll third, fourth, and fifth Italo Calvino. His Cosmicomics is a mix of Borges and quantum physics, but Invisible Cities is an exquisite piece of literature.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:18 AM on May 17, 2006

Stanislaw Lem is often considered to be influenced by Borges. I'm partial to The Cyberiad and The Star Diaries, one of the books based on the Ijon Tichy character.
posted by EiderDuck at 6:14 AM on May 17, 2006

angela carter is renowned for her short work. largely magical realist stuff.

should I mention bradbury? i'm a fan, but dense doesn't describe his work.
posted by shmegegge at 7:34 AM on May 17, 2006

How odd, most of this page bears a striking resemblance to my bookshelves. Perhaps I've already found what I was looking for without realising it (silly of me to forget Lem, inexcusable to forget Calvino and Kafka.)

Read Lanark if you haven't, even though it's quite the opposite of what you're looking for. Then 1982, Janine. Then everything else.

Have done, even the dry pamphlets on Scottish independence! (I live in the West End of Glasgow, where you are practically required by law to read the complete works of Mr. Grey, and can't turn a corner without bumping into him and his wife, or one of his murals. Truly a remarkable man, and a lovely bloke, too - can't think of many authors who'd take such delight in talking about art and ideas with passers-by who say hello.)

Anyway, thanks awfully for all the suggestions - I'm off to investigate, especially Bazdulj, Cortazar and Mathews, who all sound right up my street.
posted by jack_mo at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2006

Oop - and Blanchot, too.
posted by jack_mo at 9:46 AM on May 17, 2006

Diane Williams and Ben Marcus (The Age of Wire and String) both have books that meet this description published by Dalkey Archive Press. In both cases their writing is very precise and it often takes attention to understand what is going on.
posted by OmieWise at 6:12 AM on May 18, 2006

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