The Streetcorner Man
When thinking of hard-boiled fiction, things like knife fights,
deadbeats, and dames are often involved in some fashion or another.
Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “Streetcorner Man” has all three
elements, each one intertwined with the other. The story opens with an
unknown man telling Borges about the night Francisco Real (better known
as the Butcher) and Rosendo Juárez (a.k.a The Slasher) met at Julia’s
dance hall, between the Gauna road and the river. The elements of
hard-boiled fiction start to come into play when Francisco challenges
Rosendo to a knife fight right in the middle of the dance hall. “Word’s
going around there’s someone out in these lousy mudflats supposed to be
pretty good with a knife . . . Maybe he can teach a nobody like me how a
man with guts handles himself” (Giovanni, p. 36-37). Yet Rosendo’s
challenge is met with deaf ears, Francisco does nothing to Rosendo and
is humiliated in front of the entire crowd. What’s interesting to note
in the next couple of sequences is the use of descriptive colors like
yellow, red, and black. These particular colors often dominated the
images on the cover of pulp magazines. What follows in the story is
classic hard-boiled fiction, and Borges does it masterfully. To find out
what happens, you’ll just have to read the story.
“The Challenge” is another one of Borges’ gritty, hard-boiled fiction
stories involving beatniks committing horrendous acts. While “The
Challenge” doesn’t follow the conventional rules of a mystery story, the
mystery involves uncovering the man named Wenceslao Suárez and the
legend that surround him. What separates the man from the myth though is
one single instance in his life that might not have happened. Don
Wenceslao is challenged to a friendly game of knife fight with a
stranger that has kept him company for most of the day. It isn’t long
before Wenceslao feels that the stranger is actually out to kill him.
What Wenceslao does next is true hard-boiled fiction; he allows the
stranger to slice his wrist so that his hand dangles loose. Wenceslao
proceeds to tear his hand off, lay it bleeding on the ground and kill
the stranger by slicing his belly open (p.142). The gruesomeness of this
particular scene works in many of the ways that pulp art worked,
creating images that containing lurid subject matter.
Death & The Compass
Jorge Luis Borges’ famous short story contains all
the elements of the classic pulp magazines, mystery, suspense,
hard-boiled action mixed with despicable characters. Instead of
providing a detailed summary of the story, let us look at the ways in
which “Death & The Compass,” works in the same ways as pulp images do.
Like pulp images, Borges gives us that “flash” of the story within the
first paragraph of the story, “It is true that Lönnrot failed to prevent
the last of the murders, but it is undeniable that he foresaw it”
(Giovanni, p. 65). Pulp images worked because they told a story in a
flash, and the “flash” that Borges provides lets the reader know half of
the story. The trick of pulp images was to get the customer interested
in the story with the cover, and then let him uncover the story by
reading it, Borges uses this same technique. Much like the nightmarish
images of pulp art, Borges views the city in “Death & The Compass” as,
“a kind of nightmare, a nightmare in which there are elements of Buenos
Aires, deformed by the horror of the nightmare” (Bloom, p. 30). What is
also worth noticing in “Death & The Compass,” is the constant mention of
colors like, red, yellow, black, blue. These colors were the exclusive
colors of the pulp artist to convey the intensity, horror, and
gruesomeness found on many of the covers. To see a few examples of pulp
Giovanni, Norman Thomas Di.
“Streetcorner Man,” “The Challenge,” “Death and The Compass.” The
Aleph and Other Stories: 1933-1969. New York: Ingram Merrill
Foundation. PP. 33-42, 65-78, 139-143.
Bloom, Harold. “Carlos Fuentes on City and Fiction.”Bloom’s Major
Short Story Writers: Jorge Luis Borges. Broomall: Chelsea House
Publishers. PP. 29-31.
Stewart, Doug. “Guys and Molls.”Smithsonian. Vol. 43, No. 5, PP.
Lillis, Richard. A Straw for the Thirsty.1933. Online image. 18 October
“Doubling in Murder.” Online
image. thepulp.net. 18 October 2004.
“Walk Over My Grade.” Online image. thepulp.net. 18 October 2004.
“Trail of the Octopus.” Online image. thepulp.net. 18 October 2004.
“Medieval Murders.” Online image. thepulp.net. 18 October 2004.
“Pulp Art Bars.” Online image. Site Bulder. 18 October 2004.