On Jorge Luis Borges

(Lecture given at University of Helsinki, 2003)

There are many ways of introducing Borges. It is usual to start by highlighting his reputation among other writers. And this access leads us to at least two different considerations. In one way, we have the opinion given by some representatives of the South American intellectual pop field like Carlos Fuentes, Vargas Llosa and the more contemporary Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño: they all see Borges as the main figure in 20th century’s prose written in Spanish language. On the other hand, there is the opinion of some readers all around the world -and here we have the Italian Umberto Eco- who consider Borges the most innovative writer in the second half of the last century –without focusing on the language he took for writing. His reputation, in short, generally goes together with the words ”the most” or ”one of the most”.

Other way of introducing him would be by underlining his goals. This is the encyclopedic access to Borges: he wrote these books, he won these prizes, and, finally, the compulsory sentence: ”although his name was mentioned in speculations about the Nobel Prize, he never became a Nobel Laureate”. This last observation has turned into a kind of perverse definition of Borges, he is that guy who didn’t get that thing. However, perversity started with Borges himself declaring that ”not granting me the Nobel Prize has became a Scandinavian tradition”.Something more about this kind of access: if the encyclopedia is written in English, it is extremely necessary to add that Borges loved the United States and that the fact of having spent one year teaching in Harvard defines his importance as a world writer. So by adding this we know that having travelled through a handful of campuses at the age of sixty, taken by the hand by his mother who they all mistook by his wife, explains his passion for libraries and universities.

A third access: not his goals, not his reputation, but his ”concepts”, his originalidad. Here Borges is previously marked as a creator -more than a reader or a critic- of philosophical contents related with the notions of time, the doppelganger, the infinite, etc. This morning, for instance, I found a comic book magazine at the train station of Helsinki, there was a story with the old Borges as a character, in a moment he says something like ”I’d like to meet me at 47th Street, and me at 72nd ”. This is too much of a two-feet-on-the-ground interpretation –maybe a four-feet one- of his short-story ”Borges and I”. I mean, the pop machinery tends to provoke this illusion of a perfect origin, which takes perfect creators to be more credible. Then we have this sort of real state speculations on the field of ideas that, particularly those Borges is more interested in, have no owners at all. For instance, among Argentine scholars who dream of Borges as the only redeemer of a certain cultural inferiority, it is usual to read papers with statements such as ”Borges is clearly behind…” or ”Borges has inspired…”, and then a list of well-known philosophers and artists of every nationality. It is not a question of true or false, it’s that sometimes Borges appears as a kind of ”aleph” in himself, as the first generator of images and senses. And the he becomes the writer who is behind someone else’s work (the work of the movie maker, the comics writer, the graphic designer) as a kind of original source, while for everyone who has read him, he represents everything but an original source. It is easier to see him, after having read his works, as the maker of a new version of a traditional, classical literary question. Which means, in short, that to say ”Borges is behind X” is like saying “This seems to be a literary topic developed through the centuries, then fallen into the mists of the uninteresting (the non modern, reaccionaire, kitsch, trivial) just as a watch-calculator may fall into the uncool, and then taken by Borges”.



4 comentarios to “Visa”

  1. Galois Says:

    Cristian. Hablando de todo un poco, nunca dejaste la pregunta en el foro (la que me hiciste en LLP).
    Veo que, de todas formas, te las arreglaste perfectamente.

    Cuando quieras preguntar algo ahí mandate nomás. Hay un montón de documentación para compartir sobre


  2. salidaalmar Says:

    sí Galois, aquel día recibí al toque un mail explicando el mecanismo.
    seguro voy a pasar con otras preguntas.

  3. Juan Bautista Echegaray Says:

    It`s nice to find and read this comment about JLB when just the last night, me an my girlfriend were talking about him and his work, realizing that my apartment on the first blocks of Garay must be very close to the house of Beatriz Viterbo.
    I introduced her to Borges during the last year. We already know how the gates of such a world are often a kind of thorny, or rather, tricky. But she finally fell in love somewhere through the last weeks and now we can enjoy the treasure together. And as much as he did we also share our love for the language of Bob Dylan.
    Hugs Salida.

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