. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland
where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family travelled widely in Europe, including stays in Spain
. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals.
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.
That one individual should awaken in another memories that belong to still a third is an obvious paradox.
Reading ... is an activity subsequent to writing: more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.
Mir Bahadur Ali is, as we have seen, incapable of evading the most vulgar of art's temptations: that of being a genius.
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.
. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland
where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family travelled widely in Europe, including stays in 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 ever Prix International
, sharing the award with Samuel Beckett
. In 1971 he won the Jerusalem Prize
. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe. Borges himself was fluent in several languages. Borges had dedicated his final work, Los Conjurados (The Conspirators), to the city of Geneva, Switzerland, and it was there, in 1986, that he chose to die.
His work embraces the "character of unreality in all literature". His most famous books, Ficciones
(1944) and The Aleph (1949), are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, animals, fictional writers, religion and God. His works have contributed to the genre of science fiction as well as the genre of magic realism
, a genre that reacted against the realism/naturalism of the nineteenth century. In fact, critic Angel Flores, the first to use the term, set the beginning of this movement with Borges's Historia universal de la infamia (A Universal History of Infamy
). Scholars also have suggested that Borges's progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination. His late poems dialogue with such cultural figures as Spinoza, 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 (One Hundred Years of Solitude
). 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."
Early life and educationJorge Luis Borges was born in an educated middle-class family in August 1899. They were in comfortable circumstances but not wealthy enough to live in downtown Buenos Aires. They resided in Palermo
, then a poorer suburb of the city. Borges's mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, came from a traditional Uruguay
an family of "pure" criollo
(Spanish) descent. Her family had been much involved in the European settling of South America, and she spoke often of their heroic actions. Borges's 1929 book Cuaderno San Martín includes the poem "Isidoro Acevedo," commemorating his grandfather, Isidoro de Acevedo Laprida, a soldier of the Buenos Aires
Army. 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 grew up hearing about the faded family glory. On the other side, Borges's father, Jorge Guillermo Borges Haslam, was part Spanish, part Portuguese, and half English, also the son of a colonel. Borges Haslam, whose mother was English, grew up speaking English at home and took his own family frequently to Europe. England and English pervaded the family home.
At nine, Jorge Luis Borges translated The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde
into Spanish. It was published in a local journal, but his friends thought the real author was his father. Borges Haslam was a lawyer and psychology teacher who harboured literary aspirations. Borges said his father "tried to become a writer and failed in the attempt." He wrote, "as most of my people had been soldiers and I knew I would never be, I felt ashamed, quite early, to be a bookish kind of person and not a man of action."
Borges was taught at home until the age of 11, 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." His father gave up practicing law due to the failing eyesight that would eventually afflict his son. In 1914, the family moved to Geneva
, Switzerland, and spent the next decade in Europe. Borges Haslam was treated by a Geneva eye specialist, while his son and daughter Norah
attended school, where Borges junior learned French. He read Carlyle
in English, and began to read philosophy in German. In 1917, when he was 18, he met Maurice Abramowicz and began a literary friendship that would last the rest of his life. 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 during the war, staying until 1921. After World War I
, the family spent three years living in various cities: Lugano
, 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 fell in with and became a member of the avant-garde
, anti-Modernist Ultraist literary movement, inspired by Apollinaire and Marinetti, close to the Imagists. His first poem, "Hymn to the Sea," written in the style of Walt Whitman
, was published in the magazine Grecia. While in Spain, he met noted Spanish writers, including Rafael Cansinos Assens
and Ramón Gómez de la Serna
Early writing career
and launched his career, publishing surreal poems and essays in literary journals. In 1930, Nestor Ibarra called Borges the "Great Apostle of Criollismo
," celebrating Latin American regionalism
. Borges published his first published collection of poetry, Fervor de Buenos Aires, in 1923 and contributed to the avant-garde review Martín Fierro
. 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.
By the mid-1930s, he began to explore existential questions and fiction. He worked in a style that Ana María Barrenechea has called "Irreality." Many other Latin American writers, such as Juan Rulfo
, Juan José Arreola
, and Alejo Carpentier
, were also investigating these themes, influenced by the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and the existentialism
of Jean-Paul Sartre
. In this vein, his biographer Williamson underlines how careful readers must be not to infer a biographical basis for Borges's work as books, philosophy and imagination were as much a source of real inspiration to him as personal experience, if not more so. From the first issue, Borges was a regular contributor to Sur (South), founded in 1931 by Victoria Ocampo
. It was then Argentina's most important literary journal and helped Borges find his fame. Ocampo introduced Borges to Adolfo Bioy Casares
, another well-known figure of Argentine literature, who was to become a frequent collaborator and close 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. He appears explicitly in Borges's "Dialogue about a Dialogue," in which the two discuss the immortality of the soul.
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
, 1936). The book included two types of writing. 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 1938, Borges found work as first assistant at the Buenos Aires Municipal Library in Miguel Cané, a working class area. There were so few books that cataloguing more than one hundred books per day, he was told, would leave little to do for the other staff and so look bad. The task took him about an hour each day and the rest of his time he spent in the basement of the library, writing articles, short stories and translations.
), appeared in 1941, composed mostly of works previously published in Sur. The title story concerns a Chinese professor in England, 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. A combination of book and maze, it can be read in many ways. Through it, Borges arguably invented the hypertext
novel and went on to describe a theory of the universe based upon the structure of such a novel. Eight stories over sixty pages, the book was generally well received, but El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan failed to garner for him the literary prizes many in his circle expected. Victoria 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.
With his vision beginning to fade in his early thirties and unable to support himself as a writer, Borges began a new career as a public lecturer."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." From , Alberto Manguel
(2006) With Borges, London:Telegram Books pp. 15–16. He 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 made into a film (under the name of Días de odio, Days of Hate, directed in 1954 by the Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson
). Around this time, Borges also began writing screenplays.
By the late 1950s, he had become completely blind. In 1955, he was nominated to the directorship of the National Library. Neither the coincidence nor the irony of his blindness as a writer escaped Borges:
- 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.
- No one should read self-pity or reproach
- Into this statement of the majesty
- Of God; who with such splendid irony,
- Granted me books and blindness at one touch.
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 close, became his personal secretary. When Perón returned from exile and was re-elected president in 1973, Borges immediately resigned as director of the National Library.
International renownEight of Borges's poems appear in the 1943 anthology of Spanish American Poets by H. R. Hays.The Borges poems in H. R. Hays, ed. (1943) 12 Spanish American Poets 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." "The Garden of Forking Paths
", one of the first Borges stories to be translated into English, appeared in the August 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
, translated by Anthony Boucher
. Though several other Borges translations appeared in literary magazines and anthologies during the 1950s, his international fame dates from the early 1960s. In 1961, he received the first Prix International
, which he shared with Samuel Beckett
. While Beckett had garnered a distinguished reputation in Europe and America, Borges had been largely unknown and untranslated in the English-speaking world and the prize stirred great 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
. 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 a Special Edgar Allan Poe Award
from the Mystery Writers of America
, "for distinguished contribution to the mystery genre".
In 1967, Borges began a five-year period of collaboration with the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni
, through whom he became better known in the English-speaking world. He also continued to publish books, among them El libro de los seres imaginarios (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). His presence, also in 1967, on campus at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA) influenced a group of students amongst which was Jared Loewenstein who would later become founder and curator of the Jorge Luis Borges Collection at UVA, one of the largest repositories of documents and manuscripts pertaining to the early works of JLB.
Later personal life
, 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
, in what was then a common practice among Argentines wishing to circumvent the Argentine laws of the time regarding divorce.
Jorge Luis Borges died of liver cancer
in 1986 in Geneva and was buried there in the Cimetière des Rois
. Kodama, his widow and heir on the basis of the marriage and two wills, gained control over his works. Her assertive administration of his estate resulted in a bitter dispute with the French publisher Gallimard regarding the republication of the complete works of Borges in French, with Pierre Assouline
in Le Nouvel Observateur
(August 2006) calling her "an obstacle to the dissemination of the works of Borges." Kodama took legal action against Assouline, considering the remark unjustified and defamatory, asking for a symbolic compensation of one euro. Kodama also rescinded all publishing rights for existing collections of his work in English, including the translations by Norman Thomas di Giovanni
, in which Borges himself collaborated, and from which di Giovanni would have received an unusually high fifty percent of the royalties. Kodama commissioned new translations by Andrew Hurley
which have become the standard translations in English.
Anti-CommunismIn an interview with Richard Burgin
during the late 1960s, Borges described himself as an adherent of Classical Liberalism
. He further recalled that his opposition to Marxism
was absorbed in his childhood. "Well, I have been brought up to think that the individual should be strong and the State should be weak. I couldn't be enthusiastic about theories where the State is more important than the individual." After the overthrow via coup d'etat
of President Juan Domingo Perón in 1955, Borges supported efforts to purge Argentina's Government of Peronists and dismantle the former President's welfare state. He was enraged that the Communist Party of Argentina
opposed these measures and sharply criticized them in lectures and in print. Borges' opposition to the Party in this matter ultimately led to a permanent rift with his longtime lover, Argentine Communist Estela Canto
. In later years, Borges frequently expressed contempt for Marxists and Communists within the Latin American intelligentsia. In an interview with Burgin, Borges referred to Chilean
as "a very fine poet," but a "very mean man" for unconditionally supporting the Soviet Union
and demonizing the United States
. During the 1970s, Borges at first expressed support for Argentina's military junta
, but was scandalized by the junta's actions during the Dirty War
. In protest against their support of the regime, Borges ceased publishing in the newspaper La Nación
Anti-FascismIn 1934, Argentine ultra-nationalists, sympathetic to Adolf Hitler
and the Nazi Party, asserted Borges was secretly Jewish, and by implication, not a "true" Argentine. Borges responded with the essay "Yo Judío" ("I, a Jew"), a reference to the old "Yo, Argentino" ("I, an Argentine"), a defensive phrase used during pogrom
s of Argentine Jews to make it clear to attackers that an intended victim was not Jewish.De Costa, René (2000) Humor in Borges (Humor in Life & Letters). Wayne State University Press p49 ISBN 0-8143-2888-1 In the essay he notes, that he would be proud to be a Jew, with a backhanded reminder that any "pure" Castilian might be likely to have Jewish ancestry from a millennium ago.
Both before and during the Second World War, Borges regularly published essays attacking the Nazi police state and its racist ideology. His outrage was fueled by his deep love for German literature
. In an essay published in 1937, Borges attacked the Nazi Party's use of children's books in order to inflame Anti-Semitism. He wrote, " I don't know if the world can do without German civilization, but I do know that its corruption by the teachings of hatred is a crime."
In a 1938 essay, Borges reviewed an anthology which rewrote German authors of the past to fit the Nazi party line. He was disgusted by what he describes as Germany's "chaotic descent into darkness" and the attendant re-writing of history. He argues that such books sacrifice culture, history and honesty in the name of defending German honour. Such practices, he writes, "perfect the criminal arts of barbarians." In a 1944 essay, Borges postulated,
"Nazism suffers from unreality, like Erigena's hell. It is uninhabitable; men can only die for it, lie for it, wound and kill for it. No one, in the intimate depths of his being, can wish it to triumph. I shall risk this conjecture: Hitler wants to be defeated. Hitler is blindly collaborating with the inevitable armies that will annihilate him, as the metal vultures and the dragon, (which must have known that they were monsters), collaborated, mysteriously, with HerculesHerculesHercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...
In 1946, Borges published the short story
, "Deutsches Requiem," which masquerades as the last testament of Otto Dietrich zur Linde, a condemned Nazi war criminal. In a 1967 interview with Burgin, Borges recalled how his interactions with Argentina's Nazi sympathisers led him to create the story.
And then I realized that those people that were on the side of Germany, that they never thought of German victories or the German glory. What they really liked was the idea of the BlitzkriegBlitzkriegFor other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...
, of London being on fire, of the country being destroyed. As to the German fighters, they took no stock in them. Then I thought, well now Germany has lost, now America has saved us from this nightmare, but since nobody can doubt on which side I stood, I'll see what can be done from a literary point of view in favor of the Nazis. And then I created the ideal Nazi.
Opposition to PeronismIn 1946, President Juan Domingo Perón began transforming Argentina into a Justicialist regime with the assistance of his wife Evita
. Almost immediately, the spoils system
was the rule of the day, as ideological critics of the new order were dismissed from government jobs. During this period, Borges was informed that he was being "promoted" from his position at the Miguel Cané Library to a post as inspector of poultry and rabbits at the Buenos Aires municipal market. Upon demanding to know the reason, Borges was told, "Well, you were on the side of the Allies, what do you expect?" The following day, Borges resigned from Government service in response to an insult he would never forget, or forgive.
Peron's treatment of Borges became a cause célèbre
for the Argentine intelligentsia. The Argentine Society of Writers (SADE) held a formal dinner in his honour. At the dinner, a speech was read which Borges had written for the occasion. It said,
"Dictatorships breed oppression, dictatorships breed servility, dictatorships breed cruelty; more loathsome still is the fact that they breed idiocy. Bellboys babbling orders, portraits of caudilloCaudilloCaudillo is a Spanish word for "leader" and usually describes a political-military leader at the head of an authoritarian power. The term translates into English as leader or chief, or more pejoratively as warlord, dictator or strongman. Caudillo was the term used to refer to the charismatic...
s, prearranged cheers or insults, walls covered with names, unanimous ceremonies, mere discipline usurping the place of clear thinking... Fighting these sad monotonies is one of the duties of a writer. Need I remind readers of Martín FierroMartín FierroMartín Fierro is a 2,316 line epic poem by the Argentine writer José Hernández. The poem was originally published in two parts, El Gaucho Martín Fierro and La Vuelta de Martín Fierro . The poem is, in part, a protest against the modernist tendencies of Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento...
or Don Segundo that individualism is an old Argentine virtue."
In the aftermath, Borges found himself much in demand as a lecturer and one of the intellectual leaders of the Argentine opposition. In 1951 he was asked by Anti-Peronist friends to run for president of SADE. Borges, then suffering from depression caused by a failed romance, reluctantly accepted. He later recalled that he would awake every morning and remember that Peron was President and feel deeply depressed and ashamed. Peron's government had seized control of the Argentine mass media and regarded SADE with indifference. Borges later recalled, however, "Many distinguished men of letters did not dare set foot inside its doors."Williamson (2004) p313 Meanwhile, SADE became an increasing refuge for critics of the regime. SADE official Luisa Mercedes Levinson noted, "We would gather every week to tell the latest jokes about the ruling couple and even dared to sing the songs of the French Resistance
, as well as 'La Marseillaise
After Evita's death on July 26, 1952, Borges received a visit from two policemen, who ordered him to put up two portraits of the ruling couple on the premises of SADE. Borges indignantly refused, calling it a ridiculous demand. The policemen icily retorted that he would soon face the consequences. The regime placed Borges under 24-hour surveillance and sent policemen to sit in on his lectures; in September it ordered SADE to be permanently closed down. Like much of the Argentine opposition to Peron, SADE had become marginalized due to persecution by the State and very few active members remained.
According to Edwin Williamson,
Borges had agreed to stand for the presidency of the SADE in order [to] fight for intellectual freedom, but he also wanted to avenge the humiliation he believed he had suffered in 1946, when the Peronists had proposed to make him an inspector of chickens. In his letter of 1950 to Attilio Rossi, he claimed that his infamous promotion had been a clever way the Peronists had found of damaging him and diminishing his reputation. The closure of the SADE meant that the Peronists had damaged him a second time, as was borne out by the visit of the Spanish writer Julián MaríasJulián MaríasJulián Marías Aguilera , was a Spanish philosopher. His History of Philosophy is widely accepted as the greatest work written in Spanish on the subject of the history of philosophy...
, who arrived in Buenos AiresBuenos AiresBuenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina, and the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after São Paulo. It is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent...
shortly after the closure of SADE. It was impossible for Borges, as president, to hold the usual reception for the distinguished visitor; instead, one of Borges' friends brought a lamb from his ranch, and they had it roasted at a tavern across the road from the SADE building on Calle Mexico. After dinner, a friendly janitor let them into the premises, and they showed Marías around by candlelight. That tiny group of writers leading a foreign guest through a dark building by the light of gutering candles was vivid proof of the extent to which the SADE had been diminished under the rule of Juan Peron.
On September 16, 1955, General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu
's "Revolución Libertadora
" forced Peron to flee into exile. Borges was overjoyed and joined demonstrators marching through the streets of Buenos Aires. According to Williamson, Borges shouted, "Viva la Patria," until his voice grew hoarse. At his mother's prompting, the Aramburu regime appointed Borges as the Director of the National Library.
In his subsequent essay l'Illusion Comique
, Borges denounced the conspiracy theories which the Peronist State had spread through the press and speeches. In conclusion, he wrote,
...one can only denounce the duplicity of the fictions of the former regime, which can't be believed and were believed. It will be said that the public's lack of sophistication is enough to explain the contradiction; I believe that the cause is more profound. ColeridgeColeridgeColeridge may refer to:People* Samuel Taylor Coleridge , English poet and philosopher* Coleridge , other people with the surname ColeridgePlaces* Coleridge, Cambridgeshire, a ward in the City of Cambridge...
spoke of the "willing suspension of disbeliefSuspension of disbeliefSuspension of disbelief or "willing suspension of disbelief" is a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literary works of fiction...
," that is, poetic faith; Samuel JohnsonSamuel JohnsonSamuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...
said, in defense of Shakespeare, that the spectators at a tragedy do not believe they are in AlexandriaAlexandriaAlexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...
in the first act and RomeRomeRome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
in the second, but submit to the pleasure of a fiction. Similarly, the lies of a dictatorship are neither believed nor disbelieved; they pertain to an intermediate plane, and their purpose is to conceal or justify sordid or atrocious realities.
In a 1967 interview, Borges said, "Peron was a humbug
, and he knew it, and everybody knew it. But Peron could be very cruel. I mean, he had people tortured, killed. And his wife was a common prostitute."
When Peron returned from exile in 1973 and regained the Presidency, Borges was enraged. In a 1975 interview for National Geographic, he said "Damn, the snobs are back in the saddle. If their posters and slogans again defile the city, I'll be glad I've lost my sight. Well, they can't humilate me as they did before my books sold well."National Geographic, March 1975. p303. After being accused of being unforgiving, Borges quipped, "I resented Peron's making Argentina look ridiculous to the world... as in 1951, when he announced control over thermonuclear fusion, which still hasn't happened anywhere but in the sun and the stars. For a time, Argentinians hesitated to wear bandaids for fear friends would ask, 'Did the Atomic Bomb go off in your hand?' A shame, because Argentina really has world class scientists."
After Borges' death in 1986, the Peronist Partido Justicialista declined to send a delegate to the writer's memorial service in Buenos Aires. A spokesman for the Party stated that this was in reaction to, "certain declarations he had made about the country."Williamson (2004) p491 One Peronist declared that Borges had made statements about Evita Peron which were, "unacceptable." Later, at the City Council of Buenos Aires, a storm raged when Peronist politicians decided to give only conditional support for a condolence on the writer's death.
argue 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."Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort, ed. (2003). The New Media Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press, p29. ISBN 0-262-23227-8
In addition to short stories for which he is most noted, Borges also wrote poetry, essays, screenplays, literary criticism, and edited numerous anthologies. His longest work of fiction was a 14-page story, "The Congress", first published in 1971. His late-onset blindness strongly influenced his later writing. Borges wrote: "When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who know themselves better than the blind?' – for every thought becomes a tool." Paramount among his intellectual interests are elements of mythology, mathematics, theology, integrating these through literature, sometimes playfully, sometimes with great seriousness.
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. For example, his interest 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").
Borges was a notable translator. He translated works of literature in English, French, German, Old English
, and Old Norse
into Spanish. His first publication, for a Buenos Aires newspaper, was a translation of Oscar Wilde
's story The Happy Prince
into Spanish when he was nine. At the end of his life he produced a Spanish-language version of a part of Snorri Sturluson
's Prose Edda
. He also translated (while simultaneously subtly transforming) the works of, among others, Edgar Allan Poe
.Notable translations also include work by Melville
, Sir Thomas Browne
, and G. K. Chesterton
. Borges wrote and lectured extensively on the art of translation, holding 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 the devices of literary forgery and the review of an imaginary work, both forms of modern pseudo-epigrapha
Hoaxes and forgeriesBorges'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, for example, in the style of Emanuel Swedenborg
or One Thousand and One Nights, originally claiming them to be translations of works he had chanced upon. In another case, he added three short, falsely attributed pieces into his otherwise legitimate and carefully researched anthology El matrero. Several of these are gathered in the A Universal History of Infamy
At times he wrote reviews of nonexistent writings by some other person. The key 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 the Frenchman 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 explore the resonances which Don Quixote has picked up over the centuries since it was written. He discusses how much "richer" Menard's work is than that of Cervantes, even though the actual text is exactly the same.
While Borges was the great popularizer of the review of an imaginary work, he had developed the idea from Thomas Carlyle
's Sartor Resartus
, a book-length review of a non-existent German transcendentalist
work, and the biography of its equally non-existent author. In This Craft of Verse, Borges says that in 1916 in Geneva "[I] 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."
On the other hand, Borges was wrongly attributed some works, like the poem Instantes
Criticism of Borges' workBorges's change in style from regionalist criollismo
to a more cosmopolitan style brought him much criticism from journals such as Contorno, a left-of-centre, Sartre
-influenced Argentine publication founded by the Viñas brothers, Noé Jitrik
, Adolfo Prieto, and other intellectuals. In the post-Peronist Argentina of the early 1960s, Contorno met with wide approval from the youth who challenged the authenticity of older writers such as Borges and questioned their legacy of experimentation. Magic realism
and exploration of universal truths, they argued, had come at the cost of responsibility and seriousness in the face of society's problems.Katra, William H. (1988) Contorno: Literary Engagement in Post-Perónist Argentina. Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, pp. 56–57 The Contorno writers acknowledged Borges and Eduardo Mallea
for being "doctors of technique" but argued that their work lacked substance due to their lack of interaction with the reality that they inhabited, an existentialist critique of their refusal to embrace existence and reality in their artwork.
SexualityWith a few notable exceptions, women are almost entirely absent from the majority of Borges's fictional output. There are, however, some instances in Borges's writings of romantic love, for example the story "Ulrikke
" from The Book of Sand
. The protagonist of the story "El muerto" also lusts after the "splendid, contemptuous, red-haired woman" of Azevedo Bandeira and later "sleeps with the woman with shining hair". Although they do not appear in the stories, women are significantly discussed as objects of unrequited love in his short stories The Zahir and The Aleph. The plot of La Intrusa was based on a true story of two friends. Borges turned their fictional counterparts into brothers, excluding the possibility of a homosexual relationship.
Nobel Prize omissionBorges was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
, something which continually distressed the writer."Don’t abandon me" Tóibín, Colm London Review of Books 2006-05-11. Retrieved 2009-04-19 He was one of several distinguished authors who never received the honour. Borges commented "Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me." Some observers speculated that Borges did not receive the award because of his conservative political views; or more specifically, because he had accepted an honour from dictator Augusto Pinochet
Fact, fantasy and non-linearityMany of Borges's most popular stories concern the nature of time ("The Secret Miracle
"), infinity ("The Aleph"), mirrors ("Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
") and Labyrinths ("The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths
", "The House of Asterion
", The Immortal, "The Garden of Forking Paths
"). Williamson writes, "His basic contention was that fiction did not depend on the illusion of reality; what mattered ultimately was an author’s ability to generate 'poetic faith' in his reader." His stories often have fantastical 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 still time given to a man standing before a firing squad ("The Secret Miracle
"). Borges also told realistic stories of South American life, of folk heroes, streetfighters, soldiers, gaucho
s, detectives, historical figures. He mixed the real and the fantastic: fact with fiction. His interest in compounding fantasy, philosophy, and the art of translation are evident in articles such as "The Translators of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights". In the Book of Imaginary Beings
, a thoroughly (and obscurely) researched bestiary
of mythical creatures, Borges wrote, "There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition."Borges, Luis Borges (1979) Book of Imaginary Beings Penguin Books Australia p.11 ISBN 0-525-47538-9 Borges's interest in fantasy was shared by Adolfo Bioy Casares
, with whom he coauthored several collections of tales between 1942 and 1967, often under different pseudonyms including H. Bustos Domecq
. Often, especially early in his career, the mixture of fact and fantasy crossed the line into the realm of hoax or literary forgery.His imitations of Swedenborg and others were originally passed off as translations, in his literary column in Crítica. "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.") See "Borges y Revista multicolor de los sábados: confabulados en una escritura de la infamia" by Raquel Atena Green in Wor(l)ds of Change: Latin American and Iberian Literature Volume 32 2010 Peter Lang publishers, ISBN 9780820434674
"The Garden of Forking Paths
" (1941) presents the idea of forking paths through networks of time, none of which is the same, all of which are equal. Borges uses the recurring image of "a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression" so we "become aware of all the possible choices we might make."Murray, Janet H. "Inventing the Medium" The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. The forking paths have branches to represent these choices 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. Borges also examined the themes of universal randomness and madness (The Lottery in Babylon
) and (The Zahir
). Due to the success of the "Forking Paths" story, the term "Borgesian" came to reflect a quality of narrative non-linearity.Non-linearity was key to the development of digital media
. See Murray, Janet H. "Inventing the Medium" The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press
Martín Fierro and Argentine traditionAlong with other young Argentine writers of his generation, Borges initially rallied around the fictional character of Martín Fierro. Martín Fierro
, a poem by José Hernández, was a dominant work of 19th century Argentine literature. Its eponymous hero became a symbol of Argentine sensibility, untied from European values – a gaucho
, free, poor, pampas-dwelling. The character Fierro is illegally drafted to serve at a border fort to defend against the Indians but ultimately deserts to become a gaucho matrero, the Argentine equivalent of a North American western outlaw. Borges contributed keenly to the avant garde Martín Fierro magazine
in the early 1920s.
As Borges matured, he came to a more nuanced attitude toward the Hernández poem. In his book of essays on the poem
, Borges separates his admiration for the aesthetic virtues of the work from his mixed opinion of the moral virtues of its protagonist. In his essay "The Argentine Writer and Tradition" (1951), Borges celebrates how Hernández expresses the Argentine character. In a key scene in the poem, Martín Fierro and El Moreno compete by improvising songs on universal themes such as time, night, and the sea, reflecting the real-world gaucho tradition of payadas, improvised musical dialogues on philosophical themes.Gabriel Waisman, Sergio (2005) Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery Bucknell University Press pp. 126–9 ISBN 0-8387-5592-5Borges, Jorge Luis and Lanuza, Eduardo González (1961) "The Argentine writer and tradition" Latin American and European Literary Society Borges points out that Hernández evidently knew the difference between actual gaucho tradition of composing poetry, versus the "gauchesque" fashion among Buenos Aires literati.
In his works he refutes the arch-nationalist interpreters of the poem, and disdains others as critic Eleuterio Tiscornia, for their Europeanising approach. Borges denies that Argentine literature should distinguish itself by limiting itself to "local colour", which he equates with cultural nationalism. Racine
and Shakespeare's work, he says, looked beyond their countries' borders. Neither, he argues, need the literature be bound to the heritage of old world Spanish or European tradition. Nor should it define itself by the conscious rejection of its colonial past. 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 those who have inherited the whole of world literature. Williamson says "Borges's main argument is that the very fact of writing from the margins provides Argentine writers with a special opportunity to innovate without being bound to the canons of the centre, [...] at once a part of and apart from the centre which gives them much potential freedom".
Argentine cultureBorges focused on universal themes, but also composed a substantial body of literature on themes from Argentine folklore and history. His first book, the poetry collection Fervor de Buenos Aires (Passion for Buenos Aires), appeared in 1923. Borges's writings on things Argentine, include 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 national concerns ("Celebration of The Monster", "Hurry, Hurry", "The Mountebank", "Pedro Salvadores"). Ultra-nationalists, however, continued to question 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.
His non-fiction 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 Argentine themes, such as the identity of the Argentine people and of various Argentine subcultures. 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 or framing Argentine culture as 'exotic'. 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.Takolander, Maria (2007) Catching butterflies: bringing magical realism to ground Peter Lang Pub Inc pp. 55–60 ISBN 3-03911-193-0 He uses this example to illustrate how his dialogue with universal existential concerns was just as Argentine as writing about gauchos and tangos.
Multicultural InfluencesAt the time of Argentine independence in 1816, the population was predominantly criollo
(of Spanish ancestry). The Argentine Declaration of Independence
in 1816 led to waves of immigration from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and in the following decades and the Argentine national identity diversified. Borges therefore was writing in a strongly European literary context, and worked immersed in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Anglo-Saxon
and Old Norse literature. He also read translations of Near Eastern and Far Eastern works. Borges's writing is also informed by scholarship of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, including prominent religious figures, heretics, and mystics. Bell-Villada, Gene Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art University of Texas Press ISBN 978-0-292-70878-5 Religion and heresy are explored in such stories as "Averroes's Search
", "The Writing of the God
", "The Theologians
" and "Three Versions of Judas
". The curious inversion of mainstream Christian concepts of redemption
in the latter story is characteristic of Borges's approach to theology in his literature.
In describing himself, he said, "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." As a young man, he visited the frontier pampas which extend beyond Argentina into Uruguay
. Borges said that his father wished him "to become a citizen of the world, a great cosmopolitan," in the way of Henry
and William James
. Borges 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, finally settling in Geneva
where he had spent some of his youth. Drawing on the influence of many times and places, Borges's work belittled nationalism and racism. Portraits of diverse coexisting cultures characteristic of Argentina are especially pronounced in the book Six Problems for don Isidoro Parodi (co-authored with Adolfo Bioy Casares
) and the story "Death and the Compass
", which may or may not be set in Buenos Aires. Borges wrote that he considered Mexican essayist Alfonso Reyes
"the best prose-writer in the Spanish language of any time."
Borges was also an admirer of some Oriental culture, e.g. the ancient Chinese board game of Go, about which he penned some verses.
ModernismBorges lived through most of the 20th century, and was rooted in the Modernism
pre-dominant in its early years. He was especially influenced by Symbolism
. Like contemporary novelist Vladimir Nabokov
and the older James Joyce
, he combined an interest in his native culture with broader perspectives. He also shared their multilingualism and their inventiveness with language. However, while Nabokov and Joyce tended toward progressively larger works as they grew older, Borges remained a miniaturist. 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. Borges represented the humanist view of media that stressed the social aspect of art driven by emotion. If art represented the tool, then Borges was more interested in how the tool could be used to relate to people.
saw its apogee during the years of Borges's greatest artistic production. It has been argued that his choice of topics largely ignored existentialism's central tenets. Critic Paul de Man
notes, "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."
Political influencesAs 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." As a universalist, his interest in world literature reflected an attitude that was also incongruent with the Perónist
Populist nationalism. That government's confiscation of Borges's job at the Miguel Cané Library fueled his skepticism of government. He labeled himself a Spencerian
, following his father.
MathematicsThe essay collection Borges y la Matemática (Borges and Mathematics, 2003) by Argentine mathematician and writer Guillermo Martínez
, outlines how Borges used concepts from mathematics in his work. Martínez states that Borges had, for example, at least a superficial knowledge of set theory
, which he handles with elegance in stories such as "The Book of Sand
". Other books such as The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel by William Goldbloom Bloch (2008) and Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics, and the New Physics by Floyd Merrell (1991) also explore this relationship.
Further readingIllustrated by Donato Grima
- Burgin, Richard (1969) Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges. Holt Rhinehart Winston
- Laín Corona, Guillermo. "Borges and Cervantes: Truth and Falsehood in the Narration”. Neophilologus, 93 (2009): 421-37.
- Laín Corona, Guillermo. "Teoría y práctica de la metáfora en torno a Fervor de Buenos Aires, de Borges”. Cuadernos de Aleph. Revista de literatura hispánica, 2 (2007): 79-93. http://cuadernosdealeph.com/revista_2007/A2007_pdf/06%20Teor%C3%ADa.pdf
- Manovich, Lev, New Media from Borges to HTML, 2003
- Murray, Janet H., Inventing the Medium, 2003
- BBC Radio 4 discussion programme from In our timeIn Our Time (BBC Radio 4)In Our Time is a live BBC radio discussion series exploring the history of ideas, presented by Melvyn Bragg since 15 October 1998.. It is one of BBC radio's most successful discussion programmes, acknowledged to have "transformed the landscape for serious ideas at peak listening time"...
. (Audio 45 mins)
- The Norton Lectures, delivered at Harvard University in the fall of 1967, by Borges
- Jorge Luis Borges at The Modern Word
- Borges Center, University of Pittsburgh.
- The Friends of Jorge Luis Borges Worldwide Society & Associates
- "Jorge Luis Borges: Can a great writer be blind to the world around him?" February 7, 2007. Slate.
- 02/14/08 "A Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges". University of Buenos Aires from Habitus: A Diaspora Journal. 14 February 2008
- Small Iridescent Sphere of Brilliance: Describing Jorge Luis Borges". Sounds and colours 7 April 2011