Case of ‘fattened’ Jorge Luis Borges story heads to court in Argentina

From The Guardian:

One of the best-known stories by the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges takes the form of a fake literary essay about a Frenchman who rewrites a section of Don Quixote word for word and is showered with praise for his daring.

It is probably safe to say that Borges’s 79-year-old widow, María Kodama – sole heir and literary custodian of his oeuvre – takes a dimmer view of such rewrites.

The novelist and poet Pablo Katchadjian is facing trial for “intellectual property fraud” after publishing a reworking of Borges’s 1945 story The Aleph. The Fattened Aleph – originally published by a small press in 2009 – extended Borges’s work from its original 4,000 words to 9,600.

Most of the alterations consist of the addition of adjectives and descriptive passages and do not change the original plot, which revolves around a “a small iridescent sphere” in a Buenos Aires basement, through which a person can see the entirety of creation.

. . . .

After five years, a court hearing has finally been set for 14 February, and the judge in the case appears to be leaning in Kodama’s favour. “The alteration of the text of the work by Borges is evident,” Judge Guillermo Carvajal stated in his ruling for a trial.

Kodama’s lawyer Fernando Soto dismissed Katchadjian’s claims that the work was a literary experiment. “Only Katchadjian’s name appears on the cover. It doesn’t say ‘The Aleph by Borges, altered by Katchadjian’. Borges is not mentioned in the index or the copyright page either. The only place Borges appears is in a brief postscript at the end of the text,” Soto said.

. . . .

Katchadjian has rarely spoken in public about the case (and did not respond to an interview request), but he did discuss it at at an event last year at the National Library in Buenos Aires.

“The Fattened Aleph is not plagiarism because no plagiarism is open about its source,” Katchadjian said. “Neither is it a joke that went wrong, or one that went right. It is a book I wrote based on a previous text.”

. . . .

Katchadjian’s laywer, Ricardo Strafacce, said he was confident the lawsuit would not prosper. “Legal forensic experts have already established that The Fattened Aleph is a new work of art. Secondly, the court will also take into account that there was no intent by Katchadjian to deceive the reader as to Borges’s authorship of the original The Aleph, which is clearly stated in Katchadjian’s book.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

16 thoughts on “Case of ‘fattened’ Jorge Luis Borges story heads to court in Argentina”

  1. I hope this one goes for Borges’ widow – or there will be a LOT more of this kind of misappropriation.

    Pretending you are as good as Borges, or better than Borges, and can ‘improve’ his writing by inserting a few more words proves only a lack of originality.

    And is technically plagiarism: the entire Borges work was used. No ‘fair use’ invoked here.

    Create your own characters. Put them out there with your own stories, to compete with all other stories.

    Nothing wrong with a nod to a model – if your character reminds people of Sherlock Holmes, so be it.

    But if your story is worth posterity, at least it will be because it’s your story and characters.

    • Me, too. It sounds like the original text was simply repeated almost word for word, just larded with description.

      The funny part being I’m typically in favor of giving the widest possible interpretation to fair use for things like fan fiction or parody (Think The Wind Done Gone), but this seems to go far beyond that.

      I’m surprised commenters at the Guardian seem to be lining up the other way, though.

      • Like having a really bad editor, one who wishes he could write. So he messes with your work.

        I’m curious what the argentines will decide. Some of them are very progressive. And I don’t even know what I mean by progressives in this context!

    • Yep. I’m glad I was only into the first act of Gilgamesh with Zombies before reading this. Time to put it on the shelf…

      • Why?
        Gilgamesh is PD and he did fight zombies. 🙂
        A modern take would be interesting. Besides, why should the mean-drunk greek guy get all the action?

        • There’s a lady at the bus stop down the street who claims to be the author’s widow but she insists the original title was Bilgamesh. Apparently, this Gil fellow had a better PR rep…
          I mentioned that the epic was believed to have been written by many authors over a few centuries. She merely shrugged and said she ‘got around a lot back in those days’.
          She tried to offer me one of her cats, which creeped me out a little so I decided to leave.
          Still, she might cause problems. She said she licensed the rights to Time Warner…

  2. I have a story based on Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Ninety percent is my own work, then there’s a long quote from Cyrano right at the end. The original author is credited. There is no attempt to deceive. Once a story is in the public domain, you can do anything you want with it. You need to give proper credit. The thing is, the readers are fairly literate and sooner or later, someone is going to remark upon the similarities. No one ever asks a question–they prefer pointing fingers and making accusations. They’ll scream it from the rooftops.

    It’s all about disapproval and moral superiority, largely imaginary. This justifies much in the opinion of some.

    • Giving proper credit, even on PD material is good form.

      It does not appear this particular story is in the PD.
      Borges only died in 1986 so his works should still be under copyright. So, unless the story somehow fell out of copyright it won’t be fair game for another 40 years.
      Permission was required.

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