Discussion:
Borges on Kane
(too old to reply)
Bryce McQuern
2004-09-21 15:40:36 UTC
Permalink
For your enjoyment:

An Overwhelming Film (1941)

by Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

_Citizen Kane_ (called _The Citizen_ in Argentina) has at least two
plots. The first, pointlessly banal, attempts to milk applause from
dimwits: a vain millionaire collects statues, gardens, palaces,
swimming pools, diamonds, cars, libraries, men, and women. Like and
earlier collector (whose observations are usually ascribed to the Holy
Ghost), he discovers that this cornucopia of miscellany is a vanity of
vanities: all is vanity. At the point of death, he yearns for one
single thing in the universe, the humble sled he played with as a
child!

The second plot is far superior. It links the Koheleth to the memory
of another nihilist, Franz Kafka. A kind of metaphysical detective
story, its subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the
investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought,
the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined. The same
technique was used by Joseph Conrad in _Chance_ (1914) and in that
beautiful film _The Power and the Glory_: a rhapsody of miscellaneous
scenes without chronological order. Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson
Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane,
and invites us to combine them and to reconstruct him. Forms of
multiplicity and incongruity abound in the film: the first scenes
record the treasures amassed by Kane: in one of the last, a poor
woman, luxuriant and suffering, plays with an enormous jigsaw puzzle
on the floor of a palace that is also a museum. At the end we realize
that the fragments are not governed by any secret unity: the detested
Charles Foster Kane is a simulacrum, a chaos of appearances. (A
possible corollary, foreseen by David Hume, Ernst Mach, and our own
Macedonio Fernández: no man knows who he is, no man is anyone.) In a
story by Chesterton—"The Head of Caesar," I think—the hero observes
that nothing is so frightening as a labyrinth with no center. This
film is precisely that labyrinth.

We all know that a party, a palace, a great undertaking, a lunch for
writers and journalists, an atmosphere of cordial and spontaneous
comaradeie, are essentially horrendous. _Citizen Kane_ is the first
film to show such things with an awareness of this truth.

The production is, in general, worthy of its vast subject. The
cinematography has a striking depth, and there are shots whose
farthest planes (like Pre-Raphaelite paintings) are as precise and
detailed as the close-ups.
I venture to guess, nonetheless, that _Citizen Kane_ will endure as
certain Griffith or Pudovkin films have "endured"—films whose
historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again.
It is too gigantic, pedantic, tedious. It is not intelligent, though
it is a work of genius—in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of
that bad word.
monsieurblob
2004-09-22 00:39:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bryce McQuern
An Overwhelming Film (1941)
by Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Suzanne Jill Levine
_Citizen Kane_ (called _The Citizen_ in Argentina) has at least two
plots. The first, pointlessly banal, attempts to milk applause from
dimwits: a vain millionaire collects statues, gardens, palaces,
swimming pools, diamonds, cars, libraries, men, and women. Like and
earlier collector (whose observations are usually ascribed to the Holy
Ghost), he discovers that this cornucopia of miscellany is a vanity of
vanities: all is vanity. At the point of death, he yearns for one
single thing in the universe, the humble sled he played with as a
child!
The second plot is far superior. It links the Koheleth to the memory
of another nihilist, Franz Kafka. A kind of metaphysical detective
story, its subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the
investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought,
the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined. The same
technique was used by Joseph Conrad in _Chance_ (1914) and in that
beautiful film _The Power and the Glory_: a rhapsody of miscellaneous
scenes without chronological order. Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson
Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane,
and invites us to combine them and to reconstruct him. Forms of
multiplicity and incongruity abound in the film: the first scenes
record the treasures amassed by Kane: in one of the last, a poor
woman, luxuriant and suffering, plays with an enormous jigsaw puzzle
on the floor of a palace that is also a museum. At the end we realize
that the fragments are not governed by any secret unity: the detested
Charles Foster Kane is a simulacrum, a chaos of appearances. (A
possible corollary, foreseen by David Hume, Ernst Mach, and our own
Macedonio Fernández: no man knows who he is, no man is anyone.) In a
story by Chesterton?"The Head of Caesar," I think?the hero observes
that nothing is so frightening as a labyrinth with no center. This
film is precisely that labyrinth.
We all know that a party, a palace, a great undertaking, a lunch for
writers and journalists, an atmosphere of cordial and spontaneous
comaradeie, are essentially horrendous. _Citizen Kane_ is the first
film to show such things with an awareness of this truth.
The production is, in general, worthy of its vast subject. The
cinematography has a striking depth, and there are shots whose
farthest planes (like Pre-Raphaelite paintings) are as precise and
detailed as the close-ups.
I venture to guess, nonetheless, that _Citizen Kane_ will endure as
certain Griffith or Pudovkin films have "endured"?films whose
historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again.
It is too gigantic, pedantic, tedious. It is not intelligent, though
it is a work of genius?in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of
that bad word.
borges is as crap as deleuze because lets face it citizen kane is a
shit movie. but one these days if you're that much of a fan, i'll hop
off to my library pick up the borges cinema book they stupidly have
(instead of the manny farber one i'd prefer them to have) and
translate another stupid annotation of his of another stupid film he
may have bothered to see in the rare moments he left his library,
those indeed rare moments when he gave up on the ridiculous expansion
of his hyperbolic intertextual repertoire
Bryce McQuern
2004-09-22 15:45:26 UTC
Permalink
Post by monsieurblob
borges is as crap as deleuze because lets face it citizen kane is a
shit movie. but one these days if you're that much of a fan, i'll hop
off to my library pick up the borges cinema book they stupidly have
(instead of the manny farber one i'd prefer them to have) and
translate another stupid annotation of his of another stupid film he
may have bothered to see in the rare moments he left his library,
those indeed rare moments when he gave up on the ridiculous expansion
of his hyperbolic intertextual repertoire
I am that much of a fan.

Are you suggesting that he read compusively or purposelessly? I
always thought of him as very down-to-earth, and not a bit pedantic.

I like Welles a great deal, too (he's another hero of mine), but I've
only seen Citizen Kane once. I liked it, but I had no other lasting
impression other than it was a little dry. I'm a sometimes
lackadaisical movie watcher.

I think you're an interesting fellow. I would really like to know
more about you.

Respectfully,
Bryce
monsieurblob
2004-09-30 00:12:55 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bryce McQuern
Post by monsieurblob
borges is as crap as deleuze because lets face it citizen kane is a
shit movie. but one these days if you're that much of a fan, i'll hop
off to my library pick up the borges cinema book they stupidly have
(instead of the manny farber one i'd prefer them to have) and
translate another stupid annotation of his of another stupid film he
may have bothered to see in the rare moments he left his library,
those indeed rare moments when he gave up on the ridiculous expansion
of his hyperbolic intertextual repertoire
I am that much of a fan.
Are you suggesting that he read compusively or purposelessly? I
always thought of him as very down-to-earth, and not a bit pedantic.
I like Welles a great deal, too (he's another hero of mine), but I've
only seen Citizen Kane once. I liked it, but I had no other lasting
impression other than it was a little dry. I'm a sometimes
lackadaisical movie watcher.
I think you're an interesting fellow. I would really like to know
more about you.
Respectfully,
Bryce
i have always loved the modern, but for me this didnt take the form of
endless bifurcations but rather the tedium of a pessoa, the fragility-
mistakenly labled alienation- of an antonioni, or leopold bloom
shitting, or late pasolini's adaptations of literary sources like his
astounding sheredhaze one. what can i say, types like borges, k dick
or marquez or kafka just dont impress me.

Jess Askin
2004-09-22 01:10:22 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bryce McQuern
An Overwhelming Film (1941)
by Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Suzanne Jill Levine
_Citizen Kane_ (called _The Citizen_ in Argentina) has at least two
plots. The first, pointlessly banal, attempts to milk applause from
dimwits: a vain millionaire collects statues, gardens, palaces,
swimming pools, diamonds, cars, libraries, men, and women. Like and
earlier collector (whose observations are usually ascribed to the Holy
Ghost), he discovers that this cornucopia of miscellany is a vanity of
vanities: all is vanity. At the point of death, he yearns for one
single thing in the universe, the humble sled he played with as a
child!
I don't think anyone, since about maybe halfway through 1942, has really
thought that Rosebud was the key to Kane.
Post by Bryce McQuern
The second plot is far superior. It links the Koheleth to the memory
of another nihilist, Franz Kafka. A kind of metaphysical detective
story, its subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the
investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought,
the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined. The same
technique was used by Joseph Conrad in _Chance_ (1914) and in that
beautiful film _The Power and the Glory_: a rhapsody of miscellaneous
scenes without chronological order. Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson
Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane,
and invites us to combine them and to reconstruct him.
But that's exactly what people (or me, anyway) love about the movie, that it
can't be resolved into one definitive interpretation. Surely Welles
intended that -- he was fascinated by ambiguity throughout his career.
frank habets
2004-09-28 00:04:52 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bryce McQuern
An Overwhelming Film (1941)
by Jorge Luis Borges, as translated by Suzanne Jill Levine
SNIP

It is not intelligent, though
Post by Bryce McQuern
it is a work of genius in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of
that bad word.
Whaa?
"Genius' is a bad word, and it has a nocturnal and Germanic sense too?
WTF is that supposed to mean???

Just for the hell of it, and disagree. I'll claim that CK is intelligent,
and the work of a genius in the most diurnal and Latin sense of that good
word.
Whatever.

Methinks Borges wrote this with the pen held in his ass.
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