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Jorge Luis Borges

Borges in 1951, by Grete Stern
Born Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo
24 August 1899(1899-08-24)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died 14 June 1986 (aged 86)
Geneva, Switzerland
Occupation Writer, poet, critic, librarian
Language Spanish

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo (August 24, 1899 – June 14, 1986), best known as Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈxorxe ˈlwis ˈborxes]), was an Argentine writer, essayist, and poet born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. In 1955 he was appointed director of the National Public Library (Biblioteca Nacional) and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961 he came to international attention when he received the first International Publishers' Prize, the Prix Formentor. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe. Borges himself was fluent in several languages. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986.

His work embraces the "chaos that rules the world and the character of unreality in all literature."[1] His most famous books, Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949), are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes: dreams, labyrinths, libraries, fictional writers and works, religion, God. His works have contributed significantly to the genre of fantasy literature.[2] Scholars have noted that Borges's progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination since "poets, like the blind, can see in the dark".[3][4] The poems of his late period dialogue with such cultural figures as Spinoza, Luís de Camões, and Virgil.

His international fame was consolidated in the 1960s, aided by the "Latin American boom" and the success of Gabriel García Márquez's Cien Años de Soledad.[2] Writer and essayist J. M. Coetzee said of him: "He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists."[5]

Contents

Early life and education

Jorge Luis Borges was born to an educated middle-class family. Borges's mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, came from a traditional Uruguayan family. His 1929 book Cuaderno San Martín included a poem "Isidoro Acevedo," commemorating his maternal grandfather, Isidoro de Acevedo Laprida, a soldier of the Buenos Aires Army who stood against dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. A descendant of the Argentine lawyer and politician Francisco Narciso de Laprida, Acevedo fought in the battles of Cepeda in 1859, Pavón in 1861, and Los Corrales in 1880. Isidoro de Acevedo Laprida died of pulmonary congestion in the house where his grandson Jorge Luis Borges was born.

Borges's father, Jorge Guillermo Borges Haslam, was a lawyer and psychology teacher with literary aspirations. ("...he tried to become a writer and failed in the attempt," Borges once said, "...[but] composed some very good sonnets"). His father was part Spanish, part Portuguese, and half English; his paternal grandmother was English and maintained a strong spirit of English culture in Borges's home. In this home, both Spanish and English were spoken. From earliest childhood Borges was bilingual, reading Shakespeare in English at the age of twelve. The family lived in a large house with an English library of over one thousand volumes. Borges would later remark that "if I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father's library".[6] They were in comfortable circumstances; but not being wealthy enough to live in downtown Buenos Aires, they resided in Palermo, then a poorer suburb of the city.

His father was forced to give up practicing law due to the failing eyesight that would eventually afflict his son. In 1914 the family moved to Geneva, Switzerland. Borges senior was treated by a Geneva eye specialist, while his son and daughter Norah attended school, where Borges junior learned French and taught himself German. He received his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The Borges family decided that, due to political unrest in Argentina, they would remain in Switzerland. This lasted until 1921 when, after World War I, the family spent three years living in various cities: Lugano, Barcelona, Majorca, Seville, and Madrid.

At that time Borges discovered the writing of Arthur Schopenhauer and Gustav Meyrink's The Golem (1915) which became influential to his work. In Spain, Borges became a member of the avant-garde Ultraist literary movement (anti-Modernism, which ended in 1922 with the cessation of the journal Ultra). His first poem, "Hymn to the Sea", written in the style of Walt Whitman, was published in the magazine Grecia.[7] While in Spain, he met noted Spanish writers, including Rafael Cansinos Assens and Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

Early writing career

Jorge Luis Borges in 1940s, photograph taken from the book "Historia de la Literatura Argentina Vol II" (1968) edited by Centro Editor de América Latina.

In 1921 Borges returned with his family to Buenos Aires, where he imported the doctrine of Ultraism and launched his career, publishing surreal poems and essays in literary journals. In 1930 Nestor Ibarra called Borges the "Great Apostle of Criollismo."[8] His first published collection of poetry was Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923). He contributed to the avant-garde review Martín Fierro (whose "art for art's sake" approach contrasted to that of the more politically involved Boedo group). Borges co-founded the journals Prisma, a broadsheet distributed largely by pasting copies to walls in Buenos Aires, and Proa. Later in life Borges regretted some of these early publications, and attempted to purchase all known copies to ensure their destruction.[9]

By the mid-1930s, he began to explore existential questions. He also worked in a style that Ana María Barrenechea has called "irreality." Borges was not alone in this task. Many other Latin American writers, such as Juan Rulfo, Juan José Arreola, and Alejo Carpentier, investigated these themes, influenced by the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger or the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Even though existentialism saw its apogee during the years of Borges's greatest artistic production, it can be argued that his choice of topics largely ignored existentialism's central tenets. To that point, critic Paul de Man wrote:

"Whatever Borges's existential anxieties may be, they have little in common with Sartre's robustly prosaic view of literature, with the earnestness of Camus' moralism, or with the weighty profundity of German existential thought. Rather, they are the consistent expansion of a purely poetic consciousness to its furthest limits."[10]

From the first issue, Borges was a regular contributor to Sur, founded in 1931 by Victoria Ocampo. It was then Argentina's most important literary journal.[11] Ocampo introduced Borges to Adolfo Bioy Casares, another well-known figure of Argentine literature, who was to become a frequent collaborator and dear friend. Together they wrote a number of works, some under the nom de plume H. Bustos Domecq, including a parody detective series and fantasy stories. During these years a family friend Macedonio Fernández became a major influence on Borges. The two would preside over discussions in cafés, country retreats, or Fernández' tiny apartment in the Balvanera district.

In 1933 Borges gained an editorial appointment at the literary supplement of the newspaper Crítica, where he first published the pieces later collected as the Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of Infamy). This involved two types of pieces. The first lay somewhere between non-fictional essays and short stories, using fictional techniques to tell essentially true stories. The second consisted of literary forgeries, which Borges initially passed off as translations of passages from famous but seldom-read works. In the following years, he served as a literary adviser for the publishing house Emecé Editores and wrote weekly columns for El Hogar, which appeared from 1936 to 1939.

In 1937, Borges found work as first assistant at the Miguel Cané branch of the Buenos Aires Municipal Library. His fellow employees forbade him from cataloguing more than one hundred books per day, a task which took him about an hour. The rest of his time he spent in the basement of the library, writing articles and short stories.

Borges's urbane character allowed him to free himself from the trap of local color. The varying genealogies of characters, settings, and themes in his stories, such as "La muerte y la brújula", used Argentine models without pandering to his readers. In his essay "El escritor argentino y la tradición", Borges notes that the very absence of camels in the Qur'an was proof enough that it was an Arabian work. He suggested that only someone trying to write an "Arab" work would purposefully include a camel. He uses this example to illustrate how his dialogue with universal existential concerns was just as Argentine as writing about gauchos and tangos (subjects he himself used).

Later career

Borges in 1976. With his progressive blindness, he had to use a cane and live with the help of another person to take him to places.

Borges's father died in 1938, a tragedy for the writer, as father and son were very devoted to each other. On Christmas Eve of the same year, Borges suffered a severe head wound; during treatment, he nearly died of septicemia. While recovering from the accident, Borges began tinkering with a new style of writing, for which he would become famous. The first story penned after his accident was "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote" in May 1939. In this story, he examined the relationship between father and son and the nature of authorship.

His first collection of short stories, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) appeared in 1941, composed mostly of works previously published in Sur. Though generally well received, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan failed to garner for him the literary prizes many in his circle expected.[12][13] Ocampo dedicated a large portion of the July 1941 issue of Sur to a "Reparation for Borges"; numerous leading writers and critics from Argentina and throughout the Spanish-speaking world contributed writings to the "reparation" project. The title story is about a Chinese professor in England named Dr. Yu Tsun who spies for Germany during World War I in an attempt to prove to the authorities that an Asian person is able to obtain the information that they seek.

When Juan Perón became President in 1946, Borges was dismissed from the library and "promoted" to the position of poultry inspector for the Buenos Aires municipal market. (He immediately resigned; he always referred to this post as "Poultry and Rabbit Inspector"). His offenses against the Peronistas up to that time consisted of little more than adding his signature to pro-democracy petitions. Shortly after his resignation, Borges addressed the Argentine Society of Letters saying, in his characteristic style, "Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy."

With his vision beginning to fade in his early thirties[14] and unable to support himself as a writer, Borges began a new career as a public lecturer.[15] Despite a certain degree of political persecution, he was reasonably successful. Borges became an increasingly public figure, obtaining appointments as President of the Argentine Society of Writers, and as Professor of English and American Literature at the Argentine Association of English Culture. His short story "Emma Zunz" was turned into a film (under the name of Días de odio (English title: Days of Hate), directed in 1954 by the Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson).[16] Around this time, Borges also began writing screenplays.

In 1955 after the initiative of Ocampo, the new anti-Peronist military government appointed Borges head of the National Library.[17] By that time, he had become completely blind, like one of his best known predecessors, Paul Groussac, for whom Borges wrote an obituary. Neither coincidence nor the irony escaped Borges and he commented on them in his work:

Nadie rebaje a lágrima o reproche
esta declaración de la maestría
de Dios, que con magnífica ironía
me dio a la vez los libros y la noche.
Let neither tear nor reproach besmirch
this declaration of the mastery
of God who, with magnificent irony,
granted me both the gift of books and the night.

The following year Borges was awarded the National Prize for Literature from the University of Cuyo, and the first of many honorary doctorates. From 1956 to 1970, Borges also held a position as a professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires, while frequently holding temporary appointments at other universities.

As his eyesight deteriorated, Borges relied increasingly on his mother's help. When he was not able to read and write anymore (he never learned to read Braille), his mother, to whom he had always been devoted, became his personal secretary.

Later personal life

Quotation by Borges at Buenos Aires Madrid Metro station: "It smacks of fiction that Buenos Aires was ever founded. I judge her to be as eternal as the sea and the wind."

When Perón returned from exile and was re-elected president in 1973, Borges immediately resigned as director of the National Library. In 1967 Borges married the recently widowed Elsa Astete Millán. Friends believed that his mother, who was 90 and anticipating her own death, wanted to find someone to care for her blind son. The marriage lasted less than three years. After a legal separation, Borges moved back in with his mother, with whom he lived until her death at age 99.[18] Thereafter, he lived alone in the small flat he had shared with her, cared for by Fanny, their housekeeper of many decades.[19] From 1975 until the time of his death, Borges traveled all over the world. He was often accompanied in these travels by his personal assistant María Kodama, an Argentine woman of Japanese and German ancestry. In April 1986, a few months before his death, he married her via an attorney in Paraguay.

Jorge Luis Borges died of liver cancer in 1986 in Geneva. He was buried in the Cimetière des Rois (Plainpalais). After years of legal wrangling about the legality of the marriage, Kodama, as sole inheritor of a significant annual income, gained control over his works. Her administration of his estate has bothered some scholars; she has been denounced by the French publisher Gallimard, by Le Nouvel Observateur, and by intellectuals such as Beatriz Sarlo, as an obstacle to the serious reading of Borges's works.[20] Under Kodama, the Borges estate rescinded all publishing rights for existing collections of his work in English (including the translations by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, in which Borges himself cooperated—and from which di Giovanni received fifty percent of the royalties) and commissioned new translations by Andrew Hurley.[21]

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International renown

Eight of Borges's poems appear in the authoritative 1943 anthology of Spanish American Poets by H. R. Hays.[22] One of Borges's stories was first translated into English in the August 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; the story was "The Garden of Forking Paths", the translator Anthony Boucher.[23] Though several other Borges translations appeared in literary magazines and anthologies during the 1950s,[24] his international fame dates from the early 1960s. In 1961 he received the first International Publishers' Prize, the Prix Formentor, which he shared with Samuel Beckett. While Beckett had garnered a distinguished reputation in Europe and America, Borges was unknown and untranslated in the English-speaking world and the prize stirred interest in his work. The Italian government named Borges Commendatore and the University of Texas at Austin appointed him for one year to the Tinker Chair. This led to his first lecture tour in the United States. In 1962 two major anthologies of Borges's writings were published in English by New York presses: Ficciones and Labyrinths. In that year, Borges began lecture tours of Europe. In 1980 he was awarded the Balzan Prize (for Philology, Linguistics and literary Criticism) and the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca; numerous other honors were to accumulate over the years, such as the French Legion of Honour in 1983, the Cervantes Prize, and even a Special Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, "for distinguished contribution to the mystery genre".[25]

In 1967 Borges began a five-year period of collaboration with the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, thanks to whom he became better known in the English-speaking world. He also continued to publish books, among them El libro de los seres imaginarios (The Book of Imaginary Beings, (1967, co-written with Margarita Guerrero), El informe de Brodie (Dr. Brodie's Report, 1970), and El libro de arena (The Book of Sand, 1975). He also lectured prolifically. Many of these lectures were anthologized in volumes such as Siete noches (Seven Nights) and Nueve ensayos dantescos (Nine Dantesque Essays).

In The New Media Reader, editors Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort argued that Borges "may have been the most important figure in Spanish-language literature since Cervantes. But whatever his particular literary rank, he was clearly of tremendous influence, writing intricate poems, short stories, and essays that instantiated concepts of dizzying power."[26] According to the editors, Borges represented the humanist view of digital media that stressed the social aspect of art driven by emotion. If art represented the tool, then humanists like Borges were more interested about how the tool could be used to relate to people rather than how it could help future generations. For engineers like Vannevar Bush, bettering the future was considered a more scientific view of digital media.[27]

Criticism

Borges's change in style from criollismo to a more cosmopolitan style brought him much criticism from journals such as Contorno, a left-of-center, Sartre-influenced publication founded by the Viñas brothers (Ismael & David), Noé Jitrik, Adolfo Prieto, and other intellectuals. Contorno "met with wide approval among the youth [...] for taking the older writers of the country to task on account of [their] presumed inauthenticity and their legacy of formal experimentation at the expense of responsibility and seriousness in the face of society's problems" (Katra:1988:56).[28]

Borges and Eduardo Mallea were criticized for being "doctors of technique"; their writing presumably "lacked substance due to their lack of interaction with the reality [...] that they inhabited", an existential critique of their refusal to embrace existence and reality in their artwork.[29]

Nobel Prize omission

Borges was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, something which continually distressed the writer.[30] He was one of several distinguished authors who never received the honor.[31] Some observers speculated that Borges did not receive the award because of his conservative political views,[32] more specifically, that he accepted an honor from dictator Augusto Pinochet.[33]

Works

Borges in L'Hôtel, Paris, where Oscar Wilde died and where Borges wanted to die, too.[34]

In addition to his short stories for which he is most famous, Borges also wrote poetry, essays, several screenplays, and a considerable volume of literary criticism, prologues, and reviews, edited numerous anthologies, and was a prominent translator of English-, French- and German-language literature into Spanish (and of Old English and Norse works as well). His blindness (which, like his father's, developed in adulthood) strongly influenced his later writing. Paramount among his intellectual interests are elements of mythology, mathematics, theology, and, as a personal integration of these, Borges's sense of literature as recreation—all of these disciplines are sometimes treated as a writer's playthings and at other times treated very seriously.[citation needed]

Since Borges lived through most of the 20th century, he was rooted in the Modernist period of culture and literature, especially Symbolism.[35] His fiction is profoundly learned, and always concise. Like his contemporary Vladimir Nabokov and the older James Joyce, he combined an interest in his native land with far broader perspectives. He also shared their multilingualism and their playfulness with language—and, coincidentally, being buried in Switzerland—but while Nabokov and Joyce tended toward progressively larger works as they grew older, Borges remained a miniaturist. Furthermore, Borges's work progressed away from what he referred to as "the baroque," while Joyce's and Nabokov's moved towards it: his later style is far more transparent and naturalistic than his earlier works.

Many of his most popular stories concern the nature of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, reality, philosophy, and identity. A number of stories focus on fantastic themes, such as a library containing every possible 410-page text ("The Library of Babel"), a man who forgets nothing he experiences ("Funes, the Memorious"), an artifact through which the user can see everything in the universe ("The Aleph"), and a year of time standing still, given to a man standing before a firing squad ("The Secret Miracle"). The same Borges told more and less realistic stories of South American life, stories of folk heroes, streetfighters, soldiers, gauchos, detectives, historical figures. He mixed the real and the fantastic: fact with fiction. On several occasions, especially early in his career, these mixtures sometimes crossed the line into the realm of hoax or literary forgery.[36]

Borges's abundant nonfiction includes astute film and book reviews, short biographies, and longer philosophical musings on topics such as the nature of dialogue, language, and thought, and the relationships between them. In this respect, and regarding Borges's personal pantheon, he considered the Mexican essayist of similar topics Alfonso Reyes "the best prose-writer in the Spanish language of any time." (In: Siete Noches, p. 156). His non-fiction also explores many of the themes found in his fiction. Essays such as "The History of the Tango" or his writings on the epic poem Martín Fierro explore specifically Argentine themes, such as the identity of the Argentine people and of various Argentine subcultures. His interest in fantasy, philosophy, and the art of translation are evident in articles such as "The Translators of The Thousand and One Nights", while The Book of Imaginary Beings is a thoroughly (and obscurely) researched bestiary of mythical creatures, in the preface of which Borges wrote, "There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition." Borges's interest in fantasy was shared by Adolfo Bioy Casares, with whom Borges coauthored several collections of tales between 1942 and 1967, sometimes under different pseudonyms including H. Bustos Domecq.

Borges composed poetry throughout his life. As his eyesight waned (it came and went, with a struggle between advancing age and advances in eye surgery), he increasingly focused on writing poetry, since he could memorize an entire work in progress. His poems embrace the same wide range of interests as his fiction, along with issues that emerge in his critical works and translations, and from more personal musings. This breadth of interest can be found in his fiction, nonfiction, and poems. For example, his interest in philosophical idealism is reflected in the fictional world of Tlön in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", in his essay "A New Refutation of Time", "On Exactitude in Science", and in his poem "Things". Similarly, a common thread runs through his story "The Circular Ruins" and his poem "El Golem" ("The Golem").

As already mentioned, Borges was notable as a translator. He translated Oscar Wilde's story The Happy Prince into Spanish when he was nine, perhaps an early indication of his literary talent. At the end of his life he produced a Spanish-language version of the Prose Edda. He also translated (while simultaneously subtly transforming) the works of, among others, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, André Gide, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Sir Thomas Browne, and G. K. Chesterton. In a number of essays and lectures, Borges assessed the art of translation, and articulated his own view at the same time. He held the view that a translation may improve upon the original, may even be unfaithful to it, and that alternative and potentially contradictory renderings of the same work can be equally valid. Borges also employed two very unusual literary forms: the literary forgery and the review of an imaginary work. Both constitute a form of modern pseudo-epigrapha.

Borges's best-known set of literary forgeries date from his early work as a translator and literary critic with a regular column in the Argentine magazine El Hogar. Along with publishing numerous legitimate translations, he also published original works after the style of the likes of Emanuel Swedenborg or The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, originally passing them off as translations of things he had come upon in his reading. Several of these are gathered in the Universal History of Infamy. He continued this pattern of literary forgery at several points in his career, for example sneaking three short, falsely attributed pieces into his otherwise legitimate and carefully researched anthology El matrero.

At times, confronted with an idea for a work that bordered on the conceptual, rather than write a piece that fulfilled the concept, he wrote a review of a nonexistent work, as if it had already been created by some other person. The most famous example of this is "Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote", which imagines a twentieth-century Frenchman who tries to write Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote verbatim---not by having memorized Cervantes' work, but as an "original" narrative of his own invention. Initially he tries to immerse himself in sixteenth-century Spain, but dismisses the method as too easy, instead trying to reach Don Quixote through his own experiences. He finally manages to (re)create "the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters of the first part of Don Quixote and a fragment of chapter twenty-two." Borges's "review" of the work of the fictional Menard uses tongue-in-cheek comparisons to discuss the resonances that Don Quixote has picked up over the centuries since it was written, by way of overtly discussing how much "richer" Menard's work is than that of Cervantes, even though the actual words are exactly the same.

While Borges was certainly the great popularizer of the review of an imaginary work, it was not his own invention. Borges was already familiar with the idea from Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, a book-length review of a non-existent German transcendentalist philosophical work, and the biography of its equally non-existent author. This Craft of Verse (p. 104) records Borges as saying that in 1916 in Geneva he "discovered -- and was overwhelmed by -- Thomas Carlyle. I read Sartor Resartus, and I can recall many of its pages; I know them by heart." In the introduction to his first published volume of fiction, The Garden of Forking Paths, Borges remarks, "It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books -- setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them." He then cites both Sartor Resartus and Samuel Butler's The Fair Haven, remarking, however, that "those works suffer under the imperfection that they themselves are books, and not a whit less tautological than the others. A more reasonable, more inept, and more lazy man, I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books." [Collected Fictions, p. 67]

Influences, collaborations, and themes

Special two-Argentine pesos coin featuring Borges, 1999

Borges's work maintained a universal perspective that reflected a multi-ethnic Argentina, exposure from an early age to his father's substantial collection of world literature, and lifelong travel experience.[citation needed] As a young man, he visited the frontier pampas where the boundaries of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil blurred. He also lived and studied in Switzerland and Spain as a young student. As Borges matured, he traveled through Argentina as a lecturer and, internationally, as a visiting professor; he continued to tour the world as he grew older, ending his life in Geneva where he had attended high school (he never went to university). Drawing on influences of many times and places, Borges's work belittled nationalism and racism.

Multicultural influences on his writing

Borges's Argentina is a multi-ethnic country, and Buenos Aires, the capital, a cosmopolitan city. At the time of Argentine independence in 1816, the population was predominantly criollo, which in Argentine usage generally means people of Spanish ancestry, although it can allow for a small admixture of other origins. The Argentine national identity diversified, forming over a period of decades after the Argentine Declaration of Independence. During that period, substantial immigration came from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Syria and Lebanon (then parts of the Ottoman Empire), the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, with the Italians and Spanish forming the largest influx. Therefore, Borges grew acquainted with the literature from Argentine, Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, and Northern European/Icelandic sources, including those of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. He also read many translations of Near Eastern and Far Eastern works.

Political influences

As a political conservative, Borges "was repulsed by Marxism in theory and practice. Abhorring sentimentality, he rejected the politics and poetics of cultural identity that held sway in Latin America for so long." [37]

Nonetheless, the universalism that made him interested in world literature reflected an attitude that was not congruent with the Perón government's extreme nationalism. That government's meddling with Borges's job fueled his skepticism of government (he labeled himself a Spencerian anarchist in the blurb of Atlas). When extreme Argentine nationalists sympathetic to the Nazis asserted Borges was Jewish (the implication being that his Argentine identity was inadequate), Borges responded in "Yo Judío" ("I, a Jew"), where he said, while he would be proud to be a Jew, he presented his actual Christian genealogy, along with a backhanded reminder that any "pure" Castilian just might likely have a Jew in their ancestry, stemming from a millennium back.

If Borges often focused on universal themes, he no less composed a substantial body of literature on themes from Argentine folklore, history, and current concerns. Borges's first book, the poetry collection Fervor de Buenos Aires (Passion for Buenos Aires), appeared in 1923. Considering Borges's thorough attention to all things Argentine — ranging from Argentine culture ("History of the Tango"; "Inscriptions on Horse Wagons"), folklore ("Juan Muraña", "Night of the Gifts"), literature ("The Argentine Writer and Tradition", "Almafuerte"; "Evaristo Carriego") and current concerns ("Celebration of The Monster", "Hurry, Hurry", "The Mountebank", "Pedro Salvadores") — it is ironic indeed that ultra-nationalists would have questioned his Argentine identity.

Borges's interest in Argentine themes reflects in part the inspiration of his family tree. Borges had an English paternal grandmother who, around 1870, married the criollo Francisco Borges, a man with a military command and a historic role in the civil wars in what is now Argentina and Uruguay. Spurred by pride in his family's heritage, Borges often used those civil wars as settings in fiction and quasi-fiction (for example, "The Life of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz," "The Dead Man," "Avelino Arredondo") as well as poetry ("General Quiroga Rides to His Death in a Carriage"). Borges's maternal great-grandfather, Manuel Isidoro Suárez , was another military hero, whom Borges immortalized in the poem "A Page to Commemorate Colonel Suárez, Victor at Junín." The city of Coronel Suárez in the south of Buenos Aires Province is named after him.

Collaboration with Adolfo Bioy Casares

The diversity of coexisting cultures characteristic of the Argentine lifestyles is especially pronounced in Six Problems for Don Isidoro Parodi, co-authored with Adolfo Bioy Casares, and in the unnamed multi-ethnic city that's the setting for "Death and the Compass", which may or may not be Buenos Aires.

Martín Fierro and Argentine tradition

Borges contributed to a few avant garde publications in the early 1920s, including one called Martín Fierro, named after the major work of 19th century Argentine literature, Martín Fierro, a gauchesque poem by José Hernández, published in two parts, in 1872 and 1880. Initially, along with other young writers of his generation, Borges rallied around the fictional Martín Fierro as the symbol of a characteristic Argentine sensibility, not tied to European values. As Borges matured, he came to a more nuanced attitude toward the poem. Hernández's central character, Martín Fierro, is a gaucho, a free, poor, pampas-dweller, who is illegally drafted to serve at a border fort to defend against the Indians; he ultimately deserts and becomes a gaucho matrero, the Argentine equivalent of a North American western outlaw. Borges's 1953 book of essays on the poem, El "Martín Fierro", separates his great admiration for the aesthetic virtues of the work from his rather mixed opinion of the moral virtues of its protagonist. He uses the occasion to tweak the noses of arch-nationalist interpreters of the poem, but disdains those (such as Eleuterio Tiscornia) whom he sees as failing to understand its specifically Argentine character.

In "The Argentine Writer and Tradition", Borges celebrates how Hernández expresses that character in the crucial scene in which Martín Fierro and El Moreno compete by improvising songs about universal themes such as time, night, and the sea. The scene clearly reflects the real-world gaucho tradition of payadas, improvised musical dialogues on philosophical themes — as distinct from the type of slang that Hernández uses in the main body of Martín Fierro. Borges points out that therefore, Hernández evidently knew the difference between actual gaucho tradition of composing poetry on universal themes, versus the "gauchesque" fashion among Buenos Aires literati. Borges goes on to deny the possibility that Argentine literature could distinguish itself by making reference to "local color", nor does it need to remain true to the heritage of the literature of Spain, nor to define itself as a rejection of the literature of its colonial founders, nor follow in the footsteps of European literature. He asserts that Argentine writers need to be free to define Argentine literature anew, writing about Argentina and the world from the point of view of someone who has inherited the whole of world literature.

Borges uses Martín Fierro and El Moreno's competition as a theme once again in "El Fin" ("The End"), a story that first appeared in his short story collection Artificios (1944). "El Fin" is a sort of mini-sequel or conclusion to Martín Fierro. In his prologue to Artificios, Borges says of "El Fin," "Everything in the story is implicit in a famous book [Martín Fierro] and I have been the first to decipher it, or at least, to declare it."

Religion

Borges's writing is also steeped by influences and informed by scholarship of Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish faiths, including mainline religious figures, heretics, and mystics. Heretical forms of Christianity, for example, make a dominant appearance in the short story Three Versions of Judas, in which a maverick theologian decides that Judas Iscariot was the Messiah, as the greatest sacrifice for God would not be to sacrifice his son's body, but his son's soul. This curious inversion of mainstream Christian concepts of redemption is characteristic of Borges' approach to theology in his literature.

Mathematics

A book by Argentina mathematician and writer, Guillermo Martínez, was published in 2003, collecting the transcript of a series of talks given by him in the MALBA auditorium, concerning how Borges used concepts from mathematics in his work. Martínez believes that Borges had at the very least a superficial knowledge of set theory and several other topics, as he seems to handle them with great elegance in his stories; an example of this would be Borges's "The Book of Sand", which always has a page in between the others, thus making it infinite, and its pages infinitely thin; this being a very clear nod to Cantor's Set Theory.

Non-linearity

Due to the praise of "The Garden of Forking Paths", the term "Borgesian" has been coined to fulfill the meaning of non-linearity within the world of digital media. This 1941 short story presents the idea that there are forking paths through networks of time — none of which is the same, all of which are equal. In regards to the organization of information, Borges imagines "a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression" making the reader of his Garden of Forking Paths "become aware of all the possible choices we might make." [38]

Borges used the story to show his philosophy of life. The "forking paths" has a recurring circular labyrinth with separate "branches" to represent the user's choices and decisions in their lives that ultimately lead to different endings. Borges saw man's search for meaning in a seemingly infinite universe as fruitless and instead uses the maze as a riddle for time, not space. The story remains relevant well into today, utilized mostly in new media art. In this form of art, the user has control over the piece and the result by selecting different branches that lead the user down different paths.

Sexuality

There has been discussion of Borges's attitudes towards sex and women. It is undeniable that, with a few notable exceptions, women are almost entirely absent from the majority of his fictional output.[39] For instance, the plot of La Intrusa was based on a true story of two friends, but Borges made their fictional counterparts brothers, excluding the possibility of a homosexual relationship.[40] Borges dismissed these suggestions.

There are, however, instances in Borges's writings of heterosexual love and attraction. The story "Ulrikke" from The Book of Sand tells a romantic tale of heterosexual desire, love, trust and sex. The protagonist of "El muerto" clearly relishes and lusts after the "splendid, contemptuous, red-haired woman" of Azevedo Bandeira.[41] Later he "sleeps with the woman with shining hair".[42] "El muerto" ("The Dead Man") contains two separate examples of definitive gaucho heterosexual lust.

Cultural references

The 1970 film Performance, directed by Donald Cammell and starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, is replete with Borgesian references. A photograph of Borges is briefly displayed during a montage sequence, a mirror is destroyed when shot with a gun, and the character played by Mick Jagger mentions the magicians of Orbis Tertius and also reads aloud a short passage from the short story "El sur."

In the film Alphaville by Jean-Luc Godard, there are several instances where Borges texts are said, notably by Alpha 60 (the computer that rules Alphaville) in its final moments.

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose alludes to Borges in several ways. The blind librarian Jorge di Burgos is based on Borges. The maze-like structure of the library reflects that of The Library of Babel (La Biblioteca de Babel) while the multiple-murder plot recalls that of Death and the Compass (La muerte y la brújula).

List of themes

Bibliography

References

  1. ^ JOZEF, Bella. "Borges: linguagem e metalinguagem". In: O espaço reconquistado. Petrópolis, RJ: Vozes, 1974, p.43.
  2. ^ a b Masina, Lea. "Murilo Rubião, o mágico do conto". In: O pirotécnico Zacarias e outros contos escolhidos. Porto Alegre: L & PM, 2001, p.5.
  3. ^ From the song "Choro Bandido" ("Crying Bandit", literally) by Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo quoted in FERREIRA, Eliane Fernanda C. "O (In) visível imaginado em Borges". In: Pedro Pires Bessa (ed.). Riqueza Cultural Ibero-Americana. Campus de Divinópolis-UEMG, 1996, p. 313-314. In short, Borges's blindness led him to favour poetry and shorter narratives over novels.
  4. ^ Borges wrote: "When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who knows themselves better than the blind?' - for every thought becomes a tool." In Borges, Jorge Luis. Siete Noches. Obras Completas, vol. III. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1994.
  5. ^ Coetzee, J.M., "Borges's Dark Mirror", New York Review of Books, Volume 45, Number 16 · October 22, 1998
  6. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis, "Autobiographical Notes", The New Yorker, 19 September 1970.
  7. ^ Wilson, Jason (2006). Jorge Luis Borges. Reaktion Books. pp. 37. ISBN 1861892861. 
  8. ^ Borges Center - Page title - The University of Iowa
  9. ^ Table of Contents and Excerpt, Borges, Other Inquisitions, University of Texas
  10. ^ de Man, Paul. "A Modern Master", Jorge Luis Borges, Ed. Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea House Pub., 1986. p.22.
  11. ^ http://www.villaocampo.org Ivonne Bordelois, "The Sur Magazine", Villa Ocampo Website
  12. ^ "Borges, Jorge Luis (Vol.32)". enotes. http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/borges-jorge-luis. Retrieved 2008-12-03. 
  13. ^ Wardrip-Fruin, Noah & Montfort, Nick (2003). The New Media Reader. The MIT Press.
  14. ^ "His was a particular kind of blindness, grown on him gradually since the age of thirty and settled in for good after his fifty-eighth birthday." In Alberto Manguel, With Borges, London:Telegram Books (2006), p. 15-16.
  15. ^ Woodall, J: The Man in Mirror of the Book, A Life of Luis Borges, pg xxx. Hodder and Stoughton 1996
  16. ^ "Days of Hate". Imdb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046947/. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  17. ^ (Spanish) Jorge Luis Borges, Galería de Directores, Biblioteca Nacional (Argentina). Accessed online 23 December 2006.
  18. ^ Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, The Lessons of the Master
  19. ^ "Fanny", El Señor Borges
  20. ^ (Spanish) Octavi Martí, Kodama frente a Borges, El País (Madrid), Edición Impresa, 16 August 2006. Abstract online; full text accessible online by subscription only.
  21. ^ Richard Flanagan, "Writing with Borges", The Age (Australia), 12 July 2003. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/07/12/1057783281684.html
  22. ^ H. R. Hays, ed., 12 Spanish American Poets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 118-139. The poems are "A Patio," "Butcher Shop," "Benares," "The Recoleta," "A Day's Run," "General Quiroga Rides to Death in a Carriage," "July Avenue," and "Natural Flow of Memory."
  23. ^ Anthony Boucher entry, online Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections.
  24. ^ Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Viking Penguin 1998. Translation and notes by Andrew Hurley. Editorial note on page 517.
  25. ^ Mystery Writers of America. Edgar Award Database. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  26. ^ Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort, ed. (2003). The New Media Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press, p. 29. ISBN 0-262-23227-8
  27. ^ Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort (2003). The New Media Reader. Page reference req’d.
  28. ^ Katra, William H. Contorno: Literary Engagement in Post-Perónist Argentina. Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1988.
  29. ^ Katra p. 57
  30. ^ Tóibín, Colm. "Don’t abandon me", London Review of Books, 2006-05-11. Retrieved on 2009-04-19.
  31. ^ Feldman, Burton The Nobel Prize: a History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige, p. 57, Arcade Publishing 2000
  32. ^ James M. Markham: Briton Wins the Nobel Literature Prize, The New York Times 7 October 1983
  33. ^ Feldman p. 81
  34. ^ Borges was a connoisseur English literature: at the age of nine, he translated Wilde's "The Happy Prince" into Castilian and became enamoured of his work; Borges hoped to die in the Hotel d'Alsace where the writer of his childhood also died. The hotel manager, however, took a dim view of the idea and Borges died in Switzerland. Reference: (Portuguese) "Um Enigma". By Hamilton Alves. In: RPC. Consulted on December 28, 2009.
  35. ^ Britton, R (July 1979). "History, Myth, and Archetype in Borges's View of Argentina". The Modern Language Review (Modern Humanities Research Association) 74: 607–616. 
  36. ^ His imitations of Swedenborg and others were originally passed off as translations, in his literary column in Crítica. For example, "El Teólogo" was originally published with the note "Lo anterior...es obra de Manuel Swedenborg, eminente ingeniero y hombre de ciencia, que durante 27 años estuvo en comercio lúcido y familiar con el otro mundo." ("The preceding...is the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, eminent engineer and man of science, who during 27 years was in lucid and familiar commerce with the other world.") Bibliografía cronológica de la obra de Jorge Luis Borges ("Chronological bibliography of the work of Jorge Luis Borges"), Borges Center, University of Iowa. Accessed online 7 November 2006.
  37. ^ [1]
  38. ^ Murray, Janet H. "Inventing the Medium" The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
  39. ^ The Queer Use of Communal Women in Borges's "El muerto" and "La intrusa"], paper presented at XIX Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Congress held in Washington DC in September, 1995.
  40. ^ Keller, Gary; Karen S. Van Hooft (1976). "Jorge Luis Borges's `La intrusa:' The Awakening of Love and Consciousness/The Sacrifice of Love and Consciousness.". in Eds. Lisa E. Davis and Isabel C. Tarán. The Analysis of Hispanic Texts: Current Trends in Methodology. Bilingual P. pp. 300–319. 
  41. ^ Andrew Hurley Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin, 1998. 197.
  42. ^ Hurley 200

Further reading

  • Agheana, Ion (1988). The Meaning of Experience in the Prose of Jorge Luis Borges. Frankfurt Am Main: P. Lang. ISBN 0820405957. 
  • Agheana, Ion (1984). The Prose of Jorge Luis Borges. Frankfurt Am Main: P. Lang. ISBN 0820401307. 
  • Aizenberg, Edna (1984). The Aleph Weaver: Biblical, Kabbalistic and Judaic Elements in Borges. Potomac: Scripta Humanistica. ISBN 0916379124. 
  • Aizenberg, Edna (1990). Borges and His Successors. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 082620712X. 
  • Alazraki, Jaime (1988). Borges and the Kabbalah. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521306841. 
  • Alazraki, Jaime (1987). Critical Essays on Jorge Luis Borges. Boston: G.K. Hall. ISBN 0816188297. 
  • Balderston, Daniel (1993). Out of Context. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822313162. 
  • Barnstone, Willis (1993). With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252018885. 
  • Bell-Villada, Gene (1981). Borges and His Fiction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 080781458X. 
  • Bioy Casares, Adolfo (2006). Borges. City: Destino Ediciones. ISBN 9789507320859. 
  • Bloom, Harold (1986). Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0877547211. 
  • Cowlam, Peter, 'Borges, Dante, Ulysses'
  • De Behar, Block (2003). Borges, the Passion of an Endless Quotation. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 1417520205. 
  • Di Giovanni, Norman Thomas (1995). The Borges Tradition. London: Constable in association with the Anglo-Argentine Society. ISBN 0094738408. 
  • Di Giovanni, Norman Thomas (2003). The Lesson of the Master. London: Continuum. ISBN 0826461107. 
  • Dunham, Lowell (1971). The Cardinal Points of Borges. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806109831. 
  • Fishburn, Evelyn (2002). Borges and Europe Revisited. City: Univ of London. ISBN 1900039214. 
  • Frisch, Mark (2004). You Might Be Able to Get There from Here. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 0838640443. 
  • Kristal, Efraín (2002). Invisible Work. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 0585408033. 
  • Lindstrom, Naomi (1990). Jorge Luis Borges. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 080578327X. 
  • Manguel, Alberto (2006). With Borges. City: Telegram. ISBN 9781846590054. 
  • Manovich, Lev, New Media from Borges to HTML, 2003
  • McMurray, George (1980). Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Ungar. ISBN 0804426082. 
  • Molloy, Sylvia (1994). Signs of Borges. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822314061. 
  • Murray, Janet H., Inventing the Medium, 2003
  • Núñez-Faraco, Humberto (2006). Borges and Dante. Frankfurt Am Main: P. Lang. ISBN 9783039105113. 
  • Racz, Gregary (2003). Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) as Writer and Social Critic. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0773469044. 
  • Rodríguez, Monegal (1978). Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525137483. 
  • Rodríguez-Luis, Julio (1991). The Contemporary Praxis of the Fantastic. New York: Garland. ISBN 0815301014. 
  • Sarlo, Beatriz (2007). Jorge Luis Borges: a Writer on the Edge. London: Verso. ISBN 9781844675883. 
  • Shaw, Donald (1992). Borges' Narrative Strategy. Liverpool: Francis Cairns. ISBN 0905205847. 
  • Stabb, Martin (1991). Borges Revisited. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 080578263X. 
  • Sturrock, John (1977). Paper Tigers. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198157460. 
  • Todorov, Tzvetan (1970). Introduction à la littérature fantastique. Paris: Seuil. 
  • Toro, Alfonso (1999). Jorge Luis Borges. Frankfurt Am Main: Vervuert. ISBN 3893542175. 
  • Volek, Emil (1984). "Aquiles y la Tortuga: Arte, imaginación y realidad según Borges". In: Cuatro claves para la modernidad. Analisis semiótico de textos hispánicos.. Madri. 
  • Waisman, Sergio (2005). Borges and Translation. Lewisburg Pa.: Bucknell University Press. ISBN 0838755925. 
  • Williamson, Edwin (2004). Borges: A Life. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670885797. 
  • Wilson, Jason (2006). Jorge Luis Borges. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 9781861892867. 
  • Woscoboinik, Julio (1998). The Secret of Borges. Washington: University Press of America. ISBN 0761812385. 
  • Yates, Donald (1985). Jorge Luis Borges, Life, Work, and Criticism. Baltimore: York Press. ISBN 0919966470. 

Documentaries

  • Montes-Bradley, Eduardo. (2004) (Documentary). Harto The Borges. Argentina. 
  • Willicher, Ricardo (Documentary). Borges para millones. Argentina. 

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-08-241986-06-14) was an Argentine writer who is considered one of the foremost literary figures of the 20th century. Best-known in the English speaking world for his short stories and fictive essays, Borges was also a poet, critic, translator and man of letters.

Contents

Sourced

In these selections the quotes from a story or essay are listed among the earliest collections which are known to contain it.
Our nothingness differs little; it is a trivial and chance circumstance that you should be the reader of these exercises and I their author.
  • If the pages of this book contain some successful verse, the reader must excuse me the discourtesy of having usurped it first. Our nothingness differs little; it is a trivial and chance circumstance that you should be the reader of these exercises and I their author.
    • "To the Reader" ["A quien leyere"], preface to Fervor of Buenos Aires [Fervor de Buenos Aires] (1923)
  • Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels; I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work.
    • "The Argentine Writer and Tradition", Fervor of Buenos Aires (1923)
  • Wilde was not a great poet nor a consummate prose writer. He was a very astute Irishman who encompassed in epigrams an esthetic credo which others before him scattered in the space of long pages. He was an enfant terrible.
  • That one individual should awaken in another memories that belong to still a third is an obvious paradox.
    • Evaristo Carriego (1930) Ch. 2
  • It is worth remembering that every writer begins with a naively physical notion of what art is. A book for him or her is not an expression or a series of expressions, but literally a volume, a prism with six rectangular sides made of thin sheets of papers which should include a cover, an inside cover, an epigraph in italics, a preface, nine or ten parts with some verses at the beginning, a table of contents, an ex libris with an hourglass and a Latin phrase, a brief list of errata, some blank pages, a colophon and a publication notice: objects that are known to constitute the art of writing.
    • Evaristo Carriego (1930) Ch. 3
May Heaven exist, even if my place is Hell.
  • Reading ... is an activity subsequent to writing: more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.
    • Universal History of Infamy [Historia universal de la infamia] (1935) Preface
  • Mir Bahadur Ali is, as we have seen, incapable of evading the most vulgar of art's temptations: that of being a genius.
    • "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" (1935)
  • Your unforgivable sins do not allow you to see my splendor.
    • "The masked dyer Hakim of Merv" [El tintorero enmascarado Hakim de Merv] Universal History of Infamy (1935); also translated as "Hakim, Masked Dyer of Merv" (review of "Hakim, Masked Dyer of Merv")
  • The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.
    • "The Library of Babel" ["La Biblioteca de Babel"] (1941) First lines
  • Que el cielo exista, aunque mi lugar sea el infierno.
    • May Heaven exist, even if my place is Hell.
    • "The Library of Babel" (1941)
      • Variant (and more extensive) translation: I cannot think it unlikely that there is such a total book on some shelf in the universe. I pray to the unknown gods that some man — even a single man, tens of centuries ago — has perused and read this book. If the honor and wisdom and joy of such a reading are not to be my own, then let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my own place may be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, wherein thy enormous Library may find its justification.
  • May Heaven exist, even if our place is Hell.
    • Que el cielo exista, aunque nuestro lugar sea el infierno.
    • "Deutsches Requiem". (Emece edition, 1974).
Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.
  • El original es infiel a la traducción.
    • The original is unfaithful to the translation.
    • On William Thomas Beckford's Vathek (1782) and Samuel Henley's 1786 translation, in "Sobre el Vathek de William Beckford" (1943)
  • I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out post cards. . . I saw the oblique shadow of some ferns on the floor of a hot-house; I saw tigers, emboli, bison, ground swells and armies; I saw all the ants in the world.
    • "The Aleph" ["El Aleph"] (1945)
  • Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.
    • Statement to the Argentine Society of Letters (c.1946)
  • There are no moral or intellectual merits. Homer composed the Odyssey; if we postulate an infinite period of time, with infinite circumstances and changes, the impossible thing is not to compose the Odyssey, at least once.
    • "The Immortal" (1949)
I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.
  • No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men. Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.
    • "The Immortal" (1949)
  • Besides, time, which despoils castles, enriches verses . . . Time broadens the scope of verses and I know of some which, like music, are everything for all men.
  • To die for a religion is easier than to live it absolutely.
    • "Deutsches Requiem" as translated by Julian Palley (1958)
  • Villari took no notice of them because the idea of a coincidence between art and reality was alien to him. Unlike people who read novels, he never saw himself as a character in a work of art.
    • "The Waiting" translated by James E. Irby (1959)
Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen? Look at the moon...
  • Years of solitude had taught him that, in one's memory, all days tend to be the same, but that there is not a day, not even in jail or in the hospital, which does not bring surprises, which is not a translucent network of minimal surprises.
    • "The Waiting" translated by James E. Irby (1959)
  • Every novel is an ideal plane inserted into the realm of reality.
    • "Partial Magic in the Quixote", Labyrinths (1964)
  • The heresies we should fear are those which can be confused with orthodoxy.
    • The Theologians, translated by James E. Irby (1964)
  • Like all those possessing a library, Aurelian was aware that he was guilty of not knowing his in its entirety.
    • The Theologians, translated by James E. Irby (1964)
  • Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen? Look at the moon. Do you want to hear what ears have never heard? Listen to the bird's cry. Do you want to touch what hands have never touched? Touch the earth. Verily I say that God is about to create the world.
    • The Theologians, translated by James E. Irby (1964)
Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.
  • Arrasado el jardín, profanados los cálices y las aras, entraron a caballo los hunos en la biblioteca monástica y rompieron los libros incomprensibles y los vituperaron y los quemaron, acaso temerosos de que las letras encubrieran blasfemias contra su dios, que era una cimitarra de hierro.
    • Razed the garden, profaned the chalices and the altars, by horse the Huns broke into the Monastic library and they tore the incomprehensible books and they vituperated them and they burnt them, fearing their symbols and characters might be concealing secret blasphemies against their God, who was an iron scimitar...
    • The Theologians [Los Teólogos]
  • Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.
    • Preface to Dr. Brodie's Report [El informe de Brodie] (1970)
  • My advanced age has taught me the resignation of being Borges.
    • Dr. Brodie's Report [El informe de Brodie] (1970)
  • Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.
    • "The Threatened", The Book of Sand [El Libro de arena] (1975)
  • El hecho ocurrió en el mes de febrero de 1969, al norte de Boston, en Cambridge. No lo escribí inmediatamente porque mi primer propósito fue olvidarlo, para no perder la razón.
    • The event took place in the month of February of 1969, to the north of Boston, in Cambridge. I didn't write it right away because my first intention was to forget it, not to loose reason.
    • "The Other" ["El Otro"], The Book of Sand (1975)
The fact is that poetry is not the books in the library . . . Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book.
  • Truly fine poetry must be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.
    • "The Divine Comedy" (1977)
  • Films are even stranger, for what we are seeing are not disguised people but photographs of disguised people, and yet we believe them while the film is being shown.
    • Comparing film and stage theatre in "The Divine Comedy" (1977)
  • The fact is that poetry is not the books in the library . . . Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book.
    • "Poetry" (1977)
The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb.
  • The aesthetic event is something as evident, as immediate, as indefinable as love, the taste of fruit, of water. We feel poetry as we feel the closeness of a woman, or as we feel a mountain or a bay. If we feel it immediately, why dilute it with other words, which no doubt will be weaker than our feelings?
    • "Poetry" (1977)
  • There are people who barely feel poetry, and they are generally dedicated to teaching it.
    • "Poetry" (1977)
  • As I think of the many myths, there is one that is very harmful, and that is the myth of countries. I mean, why should I think of myself as being an Argentine, and not a Chilean, and not an Uruguayan. I don't know really. All of those myths that we impose on ourselves — and they make for hatred, for war, for enmity — are very harmful. Well, I suppose in the long run, governments and countries will die out and we'll be just, well, cosmopolitans.
  • A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
    • Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems: Interviews by Roberto Alifano, 1981–1983 (1984)
  • Life itself is a quotation.
    • Quoted in Cool Memories (1987) by Jean Baudrillard, (trans. 1990) Ch. 5; heard by Baudrillard at a lecture given in Paris.
  • Reality is not always probable, or likely. But if you're writing a story, you have to make it as plausible as you can, because if not, the reader's imagination will reject it.
    • Discussion published in the Columbia Forum and later quoted in Worldwide Laws of Life : 200 Eternal Spiritual Principles (1998) by John Templeton

Discussion (1932)

Discusión (1932)
From that correct application of the law of causality it follows that the slightest event presupposes the inconceivable universe and, conversely, that the universe needs even the slightest of events.
  • Life and death have been lacking in my life.
    • Prologue
  • Imprecision is tolerable and verisimilar in literature, because we always tend towards it in life.
    • "The Postulation of Reality" ["La postulación de la realidad"] (1931)
We (the indivisible divinity that works in us) have dreamed the world...
  • The exercise of letters is sometimes linked to the ambition to contruct an absolute book, a book of books that includes the others like a Platonic archetype, an object whose virtues are not diminished by the passage of time.
  • Art always opts for the individual, the concrete; art is not Platonic.
    • "Gauchesque Poetry" ["La poesía gauchesca"]
  • It is known that Whistler when asked how long it took him to paint one of his "nocturnes" answered: "All of my life." With the same rigor he could have said that all of the centuries that preceded the moment when he painted were necessary. From that correct application of the law of causality it follows that the slightest event presupposes the inconceivable universe and, conversely, that the universe needs even the slightest of events.
    • "Gauchesque Poetry"
  • We (the indivisible divinity that works in us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it resistant, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and firm in time, but we have allowed slight, and eternal, bits of the irrational to form part of its architecture so as to know that it is false.
    • "Avatars of the Tortoise" ["Avatares de la tortuga"]
It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much...
  • Hay un concepto que es el corruptor y el desatinador de los otros. No hablo del mal cuyo limitado imperio es la ética; hablo del infinito.
    • There is a concept which corrupts and upsets all others. I refer not to Evil, whose limited realm is that of ethics; I refer to the infinite.
    • "Avatars of the tortoise"
      • Variant translations:
      • One concept corrupts and confuses the others. I am not speaking of the Evil whose limited sphere is ethics; I am speaking of the infinite.
      • There is a concept that is the corruptor and dazzler of others. I'm not talking about the evil whose limited empire is the ethic; I'm talking about infinity.
      • There is a concept that is the corrupter and destroyer of all others. I speak not of Evil, whose limited empire is that of ethics; I speak of the infinite.
  • He transforms all concepts into incommunicable, solidified objects. To refute him is to become contaminated with unreality.
    • "Avatars of the Tortoise"
    • On F. H. Bradley in "Avatars of the Tortoise"
It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious coordinations, one of them — at least in an infinitesimal way — does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others.
  • It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much. It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious coordinations, one of them — at least in an infinitesimal way — does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others.
  • The central problem of novel-writing is causality.
    • "Narrative Art and Magic" ["El arte narrativo y la magia"]
  • The possibilities of the art of combination are not infinite, but they tend to be frightful. The Greeks engendered the chimera, a monster with heads of the lion, the dragon and the goat; the theologians of the second century, the Trinity, in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are inextricably tied; the Chinese zoologists, the ti-yiang, a vermilion supernatural bird, endowed with six feet and four wings, but without a face or eyes; the geometers of the nineteenth century, the hypercube, a figure with four dimensions, which encloses an infinite number of cubes and has as its faces eight cubes and twenty-four squares. Hollywood has just enriched this vain museum of horrors: by means of an artistic malignity called dubbing, it proposes monsters that combine the illustrious features of Greta Garbo with the voice of Aldonza Lorenzo.
    • "On Dubbing" ["Sobre el doblaje"]

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)

First translated by James E. Irby (1961)
Their language and the derivations of their language — religion, letters, metaphysics — all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial.
  • I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.
    • First lines
  • One of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had stated that mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of man.
    • Variant translation: Mirrors and copulation are obscene, for they increase the numbers of mankind.
  • Para uno de esos gnosticos, el visible universo era una ilusion o (mas precisamente) un sofisma. Los espejos y la paternidad son abominables porque lo multiplican y lo divulgan.
    • For one of those gnostics, the visible universe was an illusion or, more precisely, a sophism. Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable because they multiply it and extend it.
  • In life, he suffered from a sense of unreality, as do many Englishmen.
    • Variant: In his lifetime, he suffered from unreality, as do so many Englishmen; once dead, he is not even the ghost he was then.
This felicitous supposition declared that there is only one Individual, and that this indivisible Individual is every one of the separate beings in the universe, and that these beings are the instruments and masks of divinity itself.
  • Who are the inventors of Tlön? The plural is inevitable, because the hypothesis of a lone inventor — an infinite Leibniz laboring away darkly and modestly — has been unanimously discounted. It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers... directed by an obscure man of genius. Individuals mastering these diverse disciplines are abundant, but not so those capable of inventiveness and less so those capable of subordinating that inventiveness to a rigorous and systematic plan. This plan is so vast that each writer's contribution is infinitesimal. At first it was believed that Tlön was a mere chaos, and irresponsible license of the imagination; now it is known that it is a cosmos and that the intimate laws which govern it have been formulated, at least provisionally. Let it suffice for me to recall that the apparent contradictions of the Eleventh Volume are the fundamental basis for the proof that the other volumes exist, so lucid and exact is the order observed in it.
  • Hume noted for all time that Berkeley's arguments did not admit the slightest refutation nor did they cause the slightest conviction. This dictum is entirely correct in its application to the earth, but entirely false in Tlön. The nations of this planet are congenitally idealist. Their language and the derivations of their language — religion, letters, metaphysics — all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial.
  • This felicitous supposition declared that there is only one Individual, and that this indivisible Individual is every one of the separate beings in the universe, and that these beings are the instruments and masks of divinity itself.
    • Variant: This happy conjecture affirmed that there is only one subject, that this indivisible subject is every being in the universe and that these beings are the organs and masks of the divinity.
The metaphysicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding.
  • The geometry of Tlön comprises two somewhat different disciplines: the visual and the tactile. The latter corresponds to our own geometry and is subordinated to the first.
  • It is no exaggeration to state that the classic culture of Tlön comprises only one discipline: psychology. All others are subordinated to it. I have said that the men of this planet conceive the universe as a series of mental processes which do not develop in space but successively in time.
  • The metaphysicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding. They judge that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature. They know that a system is nothing more than the subordination of all aspects of the universe to any one such aspect. Even the phrase "all aspects" is rejectable, for it supposes the impossible addition of the present and of all past moments.
  • One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time; it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory. Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified an mutilated memory or reflection of an irrecoverable process. Another, that the history of the universe — and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives — is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon. Another, that the universe is comparable to those cryptographs in which not all the symbols are valid and that only what happens every three hundred nights is true. Another, that while we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and that in this way every man is two men.
    • Variants: One of the schools in Tlön has reached the point of denying time. It reasons that the present is undefined, that the future has no other reality than as present hope, that past is no more than present memory . . . Another maintains that the universe is comparable to those code systems in which not all the symbols have meaning, and in which only that which happens every three hundredth night is true...
      • The history of the universe... is the handwriting produced by a minor god in order to communicate with a demon.
  • Nowadays, one of the churches of Tlön maintains platonically that such and such a pain, such and such a greenish-yellow colour, such and such a temperature, such and such a sound, etc., make up the only reality there is. All men, in the climactic instant of coitus, are the same man. All men who repeat one line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare.
    • Variant: Today, one of the churches of Tlön Platonically maintains that a certain pain, a certain greenish tint of yellow, a certain temperature, a certain sound, are the only reality. All men, in the vertiginous moment of coitus, are the same man. All men who repeat a line from Shakespeare are William Shakespeare.

The Garden of Forking Paths (1942)

El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1942) is a collection of short stories, taking its title from one of them.
  • Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary.
    • Preface; Variant translations:
      • It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books — setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them... A more reasonable, more inept, and more lazy man, I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books.
      • The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.
Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case.
  • My undertaking is not difficult, essentially... I should only have to be immortal to carry it out.
    • "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote" ["Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote"]
  • There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter — if not a paragraph or a name — in the history of philosophy.
    • "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote"
      • Variant: There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.
  • Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case.
    • "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote"

The Garden of Forking Paths

This short story was first translated by Donald A. Yates (1958)
A labyrinth of symbols... An invisible labyrinth of time.
  • It seemed incredible to me that day without premonitions or symbols should be the one of my inexorable death.
    • Variant translation: It seemed incredible that this day, a day without warnings or omens, might be that of my implacable death.
  • I reflected that everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me . . .
  • I foresee that man will resign himself each day to more atrocious undertakings; soon there will be no one but warriors and brigands; I give them this counsel: The author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.
    • Variant translation: I foresee that man will resign himself each day to new abominations, and soon that only bandits and soldiers will be left... Whosoever would undertake some atrocious enterprise should act as if it were already accomplished, should impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.
I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.
  • I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.
  • I thought that a man can be an enemy of other men, of the moments of other men, but not of a country: not of fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.
  • A labyrinth of symbols... An invisible labyrinth of time.
  • Ts'ui Pe must have said once: I am withdrawing to write a book. And another time: I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth. Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.
  • I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.
  • In the work of Ts'ui Pên, all possible outcomes occur; each one is the point of departure for other forkings. Sometimes, the paths of this labyrinth converge: for example, you arrive at this house, but in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another, my friend.
This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time.
  • Thus fought the heroes, tranquil their admirable hearts, violent their swords, resigned to kill and to die.
  • In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?
  • The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts'ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us.
    • Variant translation: This web of time — the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries — embrace every posibility.
  • Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy.

Ficciones (1944)

Ficciones is a collection of stories that includes all those of The Garden of Forking Paths, first English translation by Anthony Kerrigan (1962)
What one man does is something done, in some measure, by all men...
  • The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.
    • "Funes the Memorious" ["Funes El Memorioso"] (1944); also published in Labyrinths (1964)
  • That history should have imitated history was already sufficiently marvellous; that history should imitate literature is inconceivable....
    • "Theme of the Traitor and Hero"
  • What one man does is something done, in some measure, by all men. For that reason a disobedience committed in a garden contaminates the human race; for that reason it is not unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew suffices to save it.
    • "The Form of the Sword"
You will reply that reality hasn't the slightest need to be of interest. And I'll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not.
  • "It's possible, but not interesting," Lonnrot answered. "You will reply that reality hasn't the slightest need to be of interest. And I'll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not. In the hypothesis you have postulated, chance intervenes largely. Here lies a dead rabbi; I should prefer a purely rabbinical explanation; not the imaginary mischances of an imaginary robber."
  • "Maybe this crime belongs to the history of Jewish superstitions," murmmured Lönnrot.
    "Like Christianity," the editor put in.
    • "Death and the Compass"
The time for your labor has been granted.
  • The execution was set for the 29th of March, at nine in the morning. This delay was due to a desire on the part of the authorities to act slowly and impersonally, in the manner of planets or vegetables.
  • Like every writer, he measured the virtues of other writers by their performance, and asked that they measure him by what he conjectured or planned.
    • "The Secret Miracle"; Variant: Like all writers, he measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned.
  • The time for your labor has been granted.
    • "The Secret Miracle"
  • Toward dawn, he dreamed that he was in hiding, in one of the naves of the Clementine Library. What are you looking for? a librarian wearing dark glasses asked him. I'm looking for God, Hladik replied. God, the librarian said, is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes in the Clementine. My parents and my parents' parents searched for that letter; I myself have gone blind searching for it.
    • "The Secret Miracle"
  • In adultery, there is usually tenderness and self-sacrifice; in murder, courage; in profanation and blasphemy, a certain satanic splendour. Judas elected those offences unvisited by any virtues: abuse of confidence and informing.
    • "Three Versions of Judas"
  • On the floor, and hanging on to the bar, squatted an old man, immobile as an object. His years had reduced and polished him as water does a stone or the generations of men do a sentence. He was dark, dried up , diminutive, and seemed outside time, situated in eternity.
    • "The South"
  • If Dahlmann was without hope, he was also without fear. As he crossed the threshold, he felt that to die in a knife fight, under the open sky, and going forward to the attack, would have been a liberation, a joy, and a festive occasion, on the first night in the sanitarium, when they stuck him with the needle. He felt that if he had been able to choose, then, or to dream his death, this would have been the death he would have chosen or dreamt. Firmly clutching his knife, which he perhaps would not know how to wield, Dahlmann went out into the plain.
    • "The South"

Other Inquisitions (1952)

Otras inquisiciones (1952); first translated by Ruth L. C. Simms as Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952 (1964)
Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.
  • And yet, and yet … Negar la sucesión temporal, negar el yo, negar el universo astronómico, son desesperaciones aparentes y consuelos secretos. Nuestro destino no es espantoso por irreal: es espantoso porque es irreversible y de hierro. El tiempo es la sustancia de que estoy hecho. El tiempo es un río que me arrebata, pero yo soy el río; es un tigre que me destroza, pero yo soy el tigre; es un fuego que me consume, pero yo soy el fuego. El mundo desgraciadamente es real; yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges.
    • And yet, and yet . . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.
    • "A New Refutation of Time" (1946) ["Nueva refutación del tiempo"]
    • Variant translations:
      • And yet, and yet... Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are obvious acts of desperation and secret consolation. Our fate (unlike the hell of Swedenborg or the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful because it is unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and ironclad. Time is the thing I am made of. Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that tears me apart, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.
      • Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
Universal history is the history of a few metaphors.
  • I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does.
    • "New Refutation of Time"
  • Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.
    • "The Wall and the Books" ["La muralla y los libros"] (1950)
      • Variant translation: Music, feelings of happiness, mythology, faces worn by time, certain twilights and certain places, want to tell us something, or they told us something that we should not have missed, or they are about to tell us something; this imminence of a revelation that is not produced is, perhaps, the esthetic event.
  • Universal history is the history of a few metaphors.
    • "Pascal’s Sphere" ["La esfera de Pascal"] (1951)
      • Variant translations: Perhaps universal history is the history of the diverse intonation of some metaphors.
      • It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.
  • In the course of a life devoted less to living than to reading, I have verified many times that literary intentions and theories are nothing more than stimuli and that the final work usually ignores or even contradicts them.
One literature differs from another, either before or after it, not so much because of the text as for the manner in which it is read.
  • "Wakefield" prefigures Franz Kafka, but the latter modifies, and sharpens, the reading of "Wakefield." The debt is mutual; a great writer creates his or her precursors. He or she creates them and in some fashion justifies them.
    • "Nathaniel Hawthorne"
  • In the critic's vocabulary, the word "precursor" is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.
    • "Kafka and His Precursors" ["Kafka y sus precursores"], as translated in Labyrinths (1964)
      • Variant translation: The fact is that all writers create their precursors. Their work modifies our conception of the past, just as it is bound to modify the future.
  • A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.
    • "Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw" ["Nota sobre (hacia) Bernard Shaw"] (1951)
  • Literature is not exhaustible, for the sufficient and simple reason that a single book is not. A book is not an isolated entity: it is a narration, an axis of innumerable narrations. One literature differs from another, either before or after it, not so much because of the text as for the manner in which it is read.
    • "Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw"
      • Variant translation: A book is not an autonomous entity: it is a relation, an axis of innumerable relations. One literature differs from another, be it earlier or later, not because of the texts but because of the way they are read: if I could read any page from the present time — this one, for instance — as it will be read in the year 2000, I would know what the literature of the year 2000 would be like.
There is no act that is not the coronation of an infinite series of causes and the source of an infinite series of effects.
  • The future is inevitable and precise, but it may not occur. God lurks in the gaps.
    • "Creation and P.H. Gosse" ["La creacin y P.H. Gosse"]
  • To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.
    • "The Meeting in a Dream"
  • In the order of literature, as in others, there is no act that is not the coronation of an infinite series of causes and the source of an infinite series of effects.
    • "The Flower of Coleridge" ["La flor de Coleridge"] — The title of this work makes reference to a line by Samuel Coleridge in Anima Poetæ : From the Unpublished Note-books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1895), p. 282 : "If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake — Aye, what then?"
  • Coleridge observes that all men are born Aristotelians or Platonists. The latter feel that classes, orders, and genres are realities; the former, that they are generalizations. For the latter, language is nothing but an approximative set of symbols; for the former, it is the map of the universe. The Platonist knows that the universe is somehow a cosmos, an order; that order, for the Aristotelian, can be an error or a fiction of our partial knowledge. Across the latitudes and the epochs, the two immortal antagonists change their name and language: one is Parmenides, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Francis Bradley; the other, Heraclitus, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, William James.
    • "The Nightingale of Keats"

The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

"El idioma analítico de John Wilkins" (in Spanish & English)
It is clear that there is no classification of the Universe that is not arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what kind of thing the universe is.
  • These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiences recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.
  • It is clear that there is no classification of the Universe that is not arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what kind of thing the universe is.
    • As translated by Will Fitzgerald
  • Cabe ir más lejos; cabe sospechar que no hay universo en el sentido orgánico, unificador, que tiene esa ambiciosa palabra. Si lo hay, falta conjeturar su propósito; falta conjeturar las palabras, las definiciones, las etimologías, las sinonimias, del secreto diccionario de Dios.
    • We can suspect that there is no universe in the organic, unifying sense, that this ambitious term has. If there is a universe, its aim is not conjectured yet; we have not yet conjectured the words, the definitions, the etymologies, the synonyms, from the secret dictionary of God.
      • As translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez
      • Variant: We can go further; we suspect that there is no universe in the organic, unifying sense of that ambitious word. If there is, we must conjecture its purpose; we must conjecture the words, the definitions, the etymologies, the synonyms, from the secret dictionary of God.
  • The impossibility of penetrating the divine pattern of the universe cannot stop us from planning human patterns, even though we are concious they are not definitive. The analytic language of Wilkins is not the least admirable of such patterns.
    • As translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez
    • Variant: The impossibility of penetrating the divine scheme of the universe does not, however, dissuade us from planning human schemes, even though we know they must be provisional. The Analytic Language of Wilkins is not the least admirable of these schemes.
      • As translated by Will Fitzgerald

The Modesty of History

A Chinese prose writer has observed that the unicorn, because of its own anomaly, will pass unnoticed. Our eyes see what they are accustomed to seeing.
  • On September 20, 1792, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (who had accompanied the Duke of Weimar on a military expedition to Paris) saw the finest army of Europe inexplicably repulsed at Valmy by some French militiamen, and said to his disconcerted friends: "In this place and on this day, a new epoch in the history of the world is beginning, and we shall be able to say that we have been present at its origin." Since that time historic days have been numerous, and one of the tasks of governments (especially in Italy, Germany, and Russia) has been to fabricate them or to simulate them with an abundance of preconditioning propaganda followed by relentless publicity.
  • I have suspected that history, real history, is more modest and that its essential dates may be, for a long time, secret. A Chinese prose writer has observed that the unicorn, because of its own anomaly, will pass unnoticed. Our eyes see what they are accustomed to seeing. Tacitus did not perceive the Crucifixion, although his book recorded it.
  • There is a flavor that our time (perhaps surfeited by the clumsy imitations of professional patriots) does not usually perceive without some suspicion: the fundamental flavor of the heroic.
  • Only one thing is more admirable than the admirable reply of the Saxon king: that an Icelander, a man of the lineage of the vanquished, has perpetuated the reply. It is as if a Carthaginian had bequeathed to us the memory of the exploit of Regulus. Saxo Grammaticus wrote with justification in his Gesta Danorum: "The men of Thule [Iceland] are very fond of learning and of recording the history of all peoples and they are equally pleased to reveal the excellences of others or of themselves."
    Not the day when the Saxon said the words, but the day when an enemy perpetuated them, was the historic date. A date that is a prophecy of something still in the future: the day when races and nations will be cast into oblivion, and the solidarity of all mankind will be established.

Dreamtigers (1960)

El hacedor : literal translation: The Maker; first translated as Dreamtigers (1964)
Myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at its end.
  • Myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at its end.
    • "Parable of Cervantes and Don Quixote"
  • I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
    • "Poem of the Gifts" ["Poema de los Dones"]
  • The flattery of posterity is not worth much more than contemporary flattery, which is worth nothing.
    • "Dead Men’s Dialogue"
  • A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.
    • Afterword

Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (1968)

On Federico Garcia Lorca.

  • "I suppose he had the good luck to be executed, no? I had an hour's chat with him in Buenos Aires. He struck me as a kind of play actor, no? Living up to a certain role. I mean, being a professional Andalusian... But in the case of Lorca, it was very strange bcause I lived in Andalusia and the Andalusians aren't a bit like that. His were stage Andalusians. Maybe he thought that in Buenos Aires he had to live up to that character, but in Andalusia, people are not like that. In fact, if you are in Andalusia, if you are talking to a man of letters and you speak to him about bullfights, he'll say, 'Oh well, that sort of this pleases people, I suppose, but really the torero works in no danger whatsoever. Because they are bored by these things, because every writer is bored by the local color in his own country. Well, when I met Lorca, he was being a professional Andalusian... Besides, Lorca wanted to astonish us. He said to me that he was very troubled about a very important figure in the contemporary world. A character in whom he could see all the tragedy of American life. And then he went on in this way until I asked him who was this character and it turned out this character was Mickey Mouse. I suppose he was trying to be clever. And I thought, 'That's the kind of thing you say when you are very, very young and you want to astonish somebody.' But after all, he was a grown man, he had no need, he could have talked in a different way. But when he started in about Mickey Mouse being a symbol of America, there was a friend of mine there and he looked at me and I looked at him and we both walked away because we were too old for that kind of game, no? Even at that time."
    • Richard Burgin, Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges, pages 92-93.
  • "Well, [Lorca had] a gift for gab. For example, he makes striking metaphors, but I think he makes striking metaphors for him, because I think that his world was mostly verbal.I think that he was fond of playing words against each other, the contrast of words, but I wonder if he knew what he was doing."
    • Richard Burgin, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, Holt, Rhinehart, & Winston, 1968. Pages 93-94.

On Pablo Neruda

  • "Well, he wrote a book -- well, maybe here I'm being political -- he wrote a book about the tyrants of South America, and then he had several stanzas against the United States. Now he knows that that's rubbish. And he had not a word against Perón. Because he had a law suit in Buenos Aires, that was explained to me afterwards, and he didn't care to risk anything. And so, when he was supposed to be writing at the top of his voice, full of noble indignation, he had not a word to say against Perón. And he was married to an Argentine lady, he knew that many of his friends had been sent to jail. He knew all about the state of our country, but not a word against him. At the same time, he was speaking against the United States, knowing the whole thing was a lie, no? But, of course, that doesn't mean anything against his poetry. Neruda is a very fine poet, a great poet in fact. And when they gave Miguel de Asturias the Nobel Prize, I said that it should have been given to Neruda! Now when I was in Chile, and we were on different political sides, I think he did the best thing to do. He went on a holiday during the three or four days I was there so there was no occasion for our meeting. But I think he was acting politely, no? Because he knew that people would be playing him up against me, no? I mean, I was an Argentine, poet, he was a Chilean poet, he's on the side of the Communists, I'm against them. So I felt he was behaving very wisely in avoiding a meeting that would have been quite uncomfortable for both of us."
    • Page 96.

Autobiographical Notes (1970)

Published in The New Yorker, 1970-09-11
  • This was the first time Remington rifles were used in the Argentine, and it tickles my fancy to think that the firm that shaves me every morning bears the same name as the one that killed my grandfather.
  • Of course, like all young men, I tried to be as unhappy as I could — a kind of Hamlet and Raskolnikov rolled into one.
  • I found America the friendliest, most forgiving, and most generous nation I had ever visited. We South Americans tend to think of things in terms of convenience, whereas people in the United States approach things ethically. This — amateur Protestant that I am — I admired above all. It even helped me overlook skyscrapers, paper bags, television, plastics, and the unholy jungle of gadgets.
  • Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself.
    • Cada vez que leo algo que han escrito contra mi, no sólo comparto el sentimiento sino que pienso que yo mismo podría hacer mejor el trabajo, quizá debería aconsejar a los aspirantes a enemigos que me envíen sus criticas de antemano, con la seguridad de que recibirán toda mi ayuda y mi apoyo. Hasta he deseado secretamente escribir con seudónimo, una larga invectiva contra mí mismo.
    • "Jorge Luis Borges visto por él mismo" (Jorge Luis Borges seen by himself) In the case of this work, the Spanish version seems to have been published after the English version.

Unsourced

Heaven and hell seem out of proportion to me: the actions of men do not deserve so much.
  • ¿De qué otra forma se puede amenazar que no sea de muerte? Lo interesante, lo original, sería que alguien lo amenace a uno con la inmortalidad.
    • How else can one threaten, other than with death? The interesting, the original thing, would be to threaten someone with immortality.
  • El fútbol es popular porque la estupidez es popular.
    • Football [soccer] is popular because stupidity is popular.
  • En mi juventud probé la mescalina y la cocaína pero enseguida me pasé a los pastillas de menta que me parecieron más estimulantes. Si las drogas producen el mismo efecto que el alcohol, no me interesan. Un borracho es evidentemente ridículo. He estado borracho algunas veces y lo recuerdo como una experiencia muy desagradable para los demás y para mí.
    • I tried mescaline and cocaine in my youth, but i immediately switched to mint candy, which was more stimulating. I am not interested in drugs if they produce the same effects as alcohol. A drunkard is evidently ridiculous. I have been drunk some times, and I remember them as horrible experiences for me and everyone else.
  • El infierno y el paraíso me parecen desproporcionados. Los actos de los hombres no merecen tanto.
    • Heaven and hell seem out of proportion to me: the actions of men do not deserve so much.
  • Hay que tener cuidado al elegir a los enemigos porque uno termina pareciéndose a ellos.
    • One must choose one's enemies carefully, as one ends up resembling them.
  • He cometido el peor pecado que uno puede cometer. No he sido feliz.
    • I have committed the worst sin that can be committed. I have not been happy.
  • He sospechado alguna vez que la única cosa sin misterio es la felicidad, porque se justifica por sí sola.
    • I have thought from time to time that the only thing without mystery is happiness, since it justifies itself.
  • La duda es uno de los nombres de la inteligencia.
    • Doubt is one of the names of intelligence.
  • Que cada hombre construya su propia catedral. ¿Para qué vivir de obras de arte ajenas y antiguas?
    • Let each one build their own cathedral. Why live from alien and ancient works of art?
  • Que otros se jacten de las páginas que han escrito; a mi me enorgullecen las que he leído.
    • Let others brag about the pages they have written; I'm proud of those I've read.
    • Variant: Uno no es lo que es por lo que escribe, sino por lo que ha leído.
      • You are what you are not for what you've written, but for what you've read.
  • Sólo aquello que se ha ido es lo que nos pertenece.
    • Only that which is gone belongs to us.
  • Uno está enamorado cuando se da cuenta de que otra persona es única.
    • One is in love when one realizes that the other person is unique.
  • Yo no hablo de venganzas ni perdones, el olvido es la única venganza y el único perdón.
    • I don't speak of revenge or forgiveness; forgetting is the only revenge and the only forgiveness.

  • Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be, is made up of a single moment — the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.
  • I think I understood love better when I had no love.
  • Death (or its allusion) makes men precious and pathetic. They are moving because of their phantom condition; every act they execute may be their last; there is not a face that is not on the verge of dissolving like a face in a dream.
  • Democracy is an abuse of statistics.
  • I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors . . . Perhaps I would have liked to be my father, who wrote and had the decency of not publishing. Nothing, nothing, my friend; what I have told you: I am not sure of anything, I know nothing. . . Can you imagine that I not even know the date of my death?
  • I have known uncertainty: a state unknown to the Greeks.
  • Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born — August 24, 1899 — they have not been granting it to me.
  • Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
  • The image of the Lord had been replaced by a mirror.
  • Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.
  • To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is immortal. (1962)
  • "The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." — (dogma of a fictional religion in "Hakim, the masked dyer of Merv". Part of this quote is also attributed to a heresiarch of Uqbar in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius".)
  • "The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry."
  • "I do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that adulated platonic entity known as 'The Masses'. Both abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time." — Introduction to The Book of Sand
  • "I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library."

Quotes about Borges

Extremes of fantastic hope and skepticism paradoxically coexist in Borges' thought. ~ James Irby
  • Extremes of fantastic hope and skepticism paradoxically coexist in Borges' thought. In "Pascal's Sphere" he examines an image which is not only paradoxical in itself — the universe as an infinite sphere, in other words, a boundless form perfectly circumscribed — but which has also served to express diametrically opposite emotions: Bruno's elation and Pascal's anguish. But the other basic symmetry to note here is Borges' history of the metaphor. Not only paradoxes are found throughout this collection, but also various listings of ideas or themes or images which though diverse in origin and detail are essentially the same. In "The Flower of Coleridge" the coincidence of Valéry's, Emerson's, and Shelley's conceptions of all literature as the product of one Author seems itself to bear out that conception. At the beginning of the essay on Hawthorne, Borges again briefly traces the history of a metaphor — the likening of our dreams to a theatrical performance — and adds that true metaphors cannot be invented, since they have always existed. Such "avatars" point beyond the flux and diversity of history to a realm of eternal archetypes, which, though limited in number, "can be all things for all people, like the Apostle." While the paradox upsets our common notions of reality and suggests that irreducible elements are actually one, recurrence negates history and the separateness of individuals. Of course, this too is a paradox, as "New Refutation of Time" shows: time must exist in order to provide the successive identities with which it is to be "refuted." The two symmetries noted above, if we pursue their implications far enough, finally coalesce, with something of the same dizzying sense, so frequent in Borges' stories, of infinite permutations lurking at every turn. Both are uses of what he calls a pantheist extension of the principle of identity — God is all things: a suitably heterogeneous selection of these may allude to Totality — which has, as he notes in the essay on Whitman, unlimited rhetorical possibilities.
    • James Irby in the Introduction to Other Inquisitions 1937-1952 (1952) as translated by Translated by Ruth L. C. Simms (1964)

External links

Wikipedia
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Simple English

Jorge Luis Borges
Occupation writer, poet, critic, librarian
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899June 14, 1986) was an Argentine writer. He was best-known in the English-speaking world for his short stories and fictive essays. Borges was also a poet, critic, translator and man of wisdom.

He was influenced by authors such as Dante Alighieri, Miguel de Cervantes, Franz Kafka, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Schopenhauer and G. K. Chesterton.

Quotations

  • "The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." — (dogma of a fictional religion in "Hakim, the masked dyer of Merv". Part of this quote is also attributed to a heresiarch of Uqbar in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius".)
  • "The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry."
  • "I do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that adulated platonic entity known as 'The Masses'. Both abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time." — Introduction to The Book of Sand
  • "I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library."

Other websites

rue:Хорхе Луїс Борхес


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