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Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

The Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), was one of Latin America's most original and influential prose writers and poets. His short stories revealed him as one of the great stylists of the Spanish language.

Jorge Luis Borges was born on August 24, 1899, in Buenos Aires. A few years later his family moved to the northern suburb of Palermo, which he was to celebrate in prose and verse. He received his earliest education at home, where he learned English and read widely in his father's library of English books. When Borges was nine years of age, he began his public schooling in Palermo, and in the same year, published his first literary undertaking—a translation into Spanish of Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince."

In 1914 the Borges family traveled to Europe. When World War I broke out, they settled for the duration in Switzerland where young Borges finished his formal education at the Collège in Geneva. By 1919, when the family moved on to Spain, Borges had learned several languages and had begun to write and translate poetry.

Early Work

In Seville and Madrid he frequented literary gatherings where he absorbed the lessons of new poetical theorists of the time—especially those of Rafael Cansinos Asséns, who headed a group of writers who came to be known as "ultraists." When the family returned to Argentina in 1921, Borges rediscovered his native Buenos Aires and began to write poems dealing with his intimate feelings for the city, its past, and certain fading features of its quiet suburbs. His early poetry was reflective in tone; metaphors dominated, usual linking words were suppressed, and the humble, tranquil aspects of the city that he evoked seemed somehow contaminated by eternity.

With other young Argentine writers, Borges collaborated in the founding of new publications, in which the ultraist mode was cultivated in the New World. In 1923 his first volume of poetry, Fervor of Buenos Aires, was published, and it also made somewhat of a name for him in Spain.

In 1925 his second book of poetry, Moon across the Way, appeared, followed in 1929 by San Martin Notebook—the last new collection of his verse to appear for three decades. Borges gradually developed a keen interest in literary criticism. His critical and philosophical essays began to fill most of the volumes he published during the period 1925-1940: Inquisitions (1925), The Dimensions of My Hope (1926), The Language of the Argentines (1928), Evaristo Carriego (1930), Discussion (1932), and History of Eternity (1938).

Change in Style

In 1938, with his father gravely ill from a heart ailment, Borges obtained an appointment in a municipal library in Buenos Aires. Before year's end, his father died. Borges, himself, came close to death from septicemia, the complication of an infected head injury.

This period of crisis produced an important change in Borges. He began to write prose fiction tales of a curious and highly original character. These pieces seemed to be philosophical essays invested with narrative qualities and tensions. Others were short stories infused with metaphorical concepts. Ten of these concise, well-executed stories were collected in Ficciones (1944). A second volume of similar tales, entitled The Aleph, was published in 1949. Borges's fame as a writer firmly rests on the narratives contained in these two books, to which other stories were added in later editions.

In 1955, following the overthrow of the Peronist regime in Argentina, Borges was named director of the National Library in Buenos Aires. In that same year his sight deteriorated to the point where he became almost totally blind.

After The Aleph, he published an important collection of essays, Other Inquisitions (1952); several collections of poetry and prose sketches, Dreamtigers (1960), In Praise of Darkness (1969), The Deep Rose (1975), and The Iron Coin (1976); and two collections of new short stories, Dr. Brodie's Report (1970) and The Book of Sand (1975). Aside from these works, Borges wrote over a dozen books in collaboration with other persons. Foremost among his collaborators was Adolfo Bioy Casares, an Argentine novelist and short-story writer, who was Borges's closest literary associate for nearly 40 years.

In 1961 Borges shared with Samuel Beckett the $10,000 International Publishers Prize, and world recognition at last began to come his way. He received countless honors and prizes. In 1970 he was the first recipient of the $25,000 Matarazzo Sobrinho Inter-American Literary Prize.

Borges married Elsa Astete Millan in 1967 but was divorced in 1970. He married Maria Kodama in 1986, shortly before his death on June 14, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Further Reading

The only full-length biography of Borges in English is Martin S. Stabb, Jorge Luis Borges (1970). The most valuable biographical information is in "An Autobiographical Essay" included in Borges's The Aleph and Other Stories: 1933-1969 (1970). An interesting discussion with him is in Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann, Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers (1967). A useful profile of Borges is in Selden Rodman, South America of the Poets (1970). Helpful in defining the scope of Borges's achievement are Ana Maria Barrenechea, Borges: The Labyrinth Maker, which also contains a biographical essay, and was edited and translated by Robert Lima (1965); Ronald J. Christ, The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Allusion (1969); and Carter Wheelock, The Mythmaker (1969). □

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Borges, Jorge Luis

Jorge Luis Borges (hôr´hā lōōēs´ bôr´hās), 1899–1986, Argentine poet, critic, and short-story writer, b. Buenos Aires. Borges has been widely hailed as the foremost contemporary Spanish-American writer. He was educated in Switzerland and afterward lived in Spain, where he became an exponent of ultraísmo, a poetic movement that followed the decline of modernismo after World War I. Ultraísmo advocated the use of bold images and daring metaphors in an attempt to create pure poetry, divorced not only from the past but from reality. Borges, who brought the movement to Argentina, never adhered strictly to its tenets. He helped to found three avant-garde journals and was director of the National Library and professor of English at the Univ. of Buenos Aires.

His poems, collected in Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), Luna de enfrente (1925), Cuaderno San Martín (1954), Dreamtigers (tr. 1964), A Personal Anthology (tr. 1967), Selected Poems: 1923–1967 (1972), and In Praise of Darkness (tr. 1974), are often inspired by events of daily life or episodes of Argentine history. Characterized by lyricism, imagination, and boldness, they are, he said, "spiritual adventures." His essays, collected in Inquisiciones (1925), Otras inquisiciones (1960, tr. 1964), and the translations in Selected Nonfictions (1999) generally deal with philosophy and literary criticism. His tales, ranging from metaphysical allegories and fantasies (e.g., The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1967; tr. 1969) to sophisticated detective yarns, reveal a wide variety of influences (Kafka, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf) but are nevertheless strikingly original. Major collections of his short stories include Historia universal de la infamia (1935, tr. 1972), Ficciones (1944, tr. 1962), El Aleph (1949, tr. 1970), Extraordinary Tales (1955, tr. 1971), and Dr. Brodie's Report (tr. 1972). Labyrinths (1962) is a collection of translated works, and Collected Fictions (1998) contains his complete stories in translation.

See biographies by J. Woodall (1997) and E. Williamson (2004); R. Burgin, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (1969); studies by A. M. Barrenechea (tr. 1965), R. J. Christ (1969), C. Wheelock (1969), J. Alazraki (1971), and G. H. Bell-Villada (1981).

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Borges, Jorge Luis

Borges, Jorge Luis (1899–1986) Argentinian short-story writer, poet, and critic. Borges is best known for his short-story collections Dreamtigers (1960), The Book of Imaginary Beings (1967) and Dr Brodie's Report (1970). Dream-like and poetic, they established Borges as one of the most significant figures in 20th-century fiction. Often using intellectual puzzles, they dramatize the extreme difficulty of achieving knowledge

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Borges, Jorge Luis

Jorge Luis Borges

BORN: 1899, Buenos Aires, Argentina

DIED: 1986, Geneva, Switzerland

NATIONALITY: Argentinian

GENRE: Fiction, poetry, and criticism

MAJOR WORKS:
Passion for Buenos Aires (1923)
Ficciones (1944)
The Aleph (1949)
Other Inquisitions (1952)
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (1972)

Overview

Jorge Luis Borges, considered by some as one of the great writers of the twentieth century, was an Argentine writer and poet. Borges was a significant influence on such celebrated Latin American writers as Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, and Marío Vargas Llosa. He is best known for his short stories, but was also an established

critic and translator. His early works were classified as avant-garde, or innovative and daring compared to mainstream literature; later, his style evolved into what can best be described as “post-avant-garde.”

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Jorge Luis Borges was born on August 24, 1899, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A few years later his family moved to the northern suburb of Palermo, which he was to celebrate in prose and verse. He received his earliest education at home, where he learned English and read widely in his father's library of English books. When Borges was nine years of age, he began his public schooling in Palermo, and in the same year, published his first literary undertaking—a translation into Spanish of Oscar Wilde's “The Happy Prince.”

European Education and Influence In 1914 the Borges family traveled to Europe. When World War I broke out, they settled for the duration in Switzerland where young Borges finished his formal education at the Collège in Geneva. During World War I, most of Europe was engaged in the conflict by siding with either the

Allied powers—headed by Great Britain, France, and Russia—or the Central powers, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary. However, a handful of countries remained neutral throughout the four-year war; these countries included Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland—where the Borges family waited out the war. By 1919, when the family moved on to Spain, Borges had learned several languages and had begun to write and translate poetry.

In Seville and Madrid he frequented literary gatherings where he absorbed the lessons of new poetical theorists of the time—especially those of Rafael Cansinos Asséns, who headed a group of writers who came to be known as “Ultraists.” When the family returned to Argentina in 1921, Borges rediscovered his native Buenos Aires and began to write poems dealing with his intimate feelings for the city, its past, and certain fading features of its quiet suburbs.

Back to Argentina With other young Argentine writers, Borges collaborated in the founding of new publications in which the Ultraist mode was cultivated in the New World. His first volume of poetry, Passion for Buenos Aires (Fervor de Buenos Aires), was published in 1923, and it also made somewhat of a name for him in Spain.

In 1925 his second book of poetry, Moon Across the Way (Luna de enfrente), appeared, followed in 1929 by San Martin Copybook (Cuaderno San Martín)—the last new collection of his verse to appear for three decades. Borges gradually developed a keen interest in literary criticism. His critical and philosophical essays began to fill most of the volumes he published during the period 1925–1940.

A New Style In 1938, with his father gravely ill from a heart ailment, Borges obtained an appointment in a municipal library in Buenos Aires. Before year's end, his father died. Borges himself came close to death from complications of an infected head injury.

This period of crisis produced an important change in Borges. He began to write prose fiction tales of a curious and highly original character. These pieces seemed to be philosophical essays invested with narrative qualities and tensions. Others were short stories infused with metaphorical concepts. Ten of these concise, well-executed stories were collected in Ficciones (1944). A second volume of similar tales, entitled The Aleph (El Aleph), was published in 1949. Borges's fame as a writer firmly rests on the narratives contained in these two books, to which other stories were added in later editions.

Writing Under Perón In 1946, the military-led government of Argentina came under the control of Juan Perón, a leader beloved by many lower-class Argentineans but viewed as an anti-intellectual dictator by those skeptical of his policies. Under Perón's regime, Borges was removed from his position at the Buenos Aires Municipal Library. He boldly spoke out against Perón, and remained in Argentina despite the persecution he faced. In 1955, following the overthrow of the Perónist regime in Argentina, Borges was named director of the National Library in Buenos Aires. In that same year his sight deteriorated to the point where he became almost totally blind.

After The Aleph, Borges published an important collection of essays, several collections of poetry and prose sketches, and two collections of new short stories. Aside from these works, Borges wrote over a dozen books in collaboration with other persons. Foremost among his collaborators was Adolfo Bioy Casares, an Argentine novelist and short-story writer, who was Borges's closest literary associate for nearly forty years. A Viking collection of Borges's work began in 1998 with Borges's Collected Fictions and followed by Selected Poems (1999), a bilingual volume of two hundred poems covering the range of Borges's work.

World Recognition In 1961 Borges shared with Samuel Beckett the ten-thousand-dollar International Publishers Prize, and world recognition at last began to come his way. He received countless honors and prizes. In 1970 he was the first recipient of the twenty-five-thousand-dollar Matarazzo Sobrinho Inter-American Literary Prize.

Borges married Elsa Astete Millan in 1967 but divorced in 1970. He married Maria Kodama in 1986, shortly before his death on June 14 in Geneva, Switzerland.

On March 13, 2000, the National Book Critics Circle honored Borges's memory with the criticism award for his collection Selected Non-Fictions. The collection won praise for its sharp criticism and philosophical incisiveness.

Works in Literary Context

In his 1969 study The Narrow Act: Borges's Art of Allusion, Ronald J. Christ offers an important piece of advice to anyone reading Borges for the first time: “The point of origin for most of Borges's fiction is neither character nor plot … but, instead, as in science fiction, a proposition, an idea, a metaphor, which, because of its ingenious or fantastic quality, is perhaps best call[ed] a conceit.”

The Labyrinth Borges's signature in literature is the construct known as the labyrinth. The writer's life is transmuted into images that are reanimated in his work. Reid wrote, “The library becomes the infinite library of Babel, containing all the possible books and turning into nightmares.” In a 1983 interview with Nicomedes Suárez-Aráuz in the Massachusetts Review, Borges discussed his discovery of the labyrinth as a youth in his father's library. A book he found there included a large engraving of a building with many cracks. With his myopic vision, Borges thought that with a magnifying glass he would find a Minotaur—a fierce creature who inhabited a maze in Greek myth—within the seemingly exitless maze. Of the experience he stated, “That labyrinth was, besides a symbol of bewilderment, a symbol of being lost in life. I believe that all of us at one time or another, have felt that we are lost, and I saw in the labyrinth the symbol of that condition.”

The lost labyrinth is a particularly favored form in the author's work, especially in the story “The Garden of the Forking Paths.” Borges told Suárez-Aráuz that such a construct was something magical to him. He said that the “lost labyrinth seems to me to be something magical because a labyrinth is a place where one loses oneself, a place (in my story) which in turn is lost in time. The idea of a labyrinth which disappears, of a lost labyrinth, is twice as magical. That story is a tale which I imagined to be multiplied or forked in various directions. In that story the reader is presented with all the events leading to the execution of a crime whose intention the reader does not understand.”

Postmodernism Continuing the tradition of fantastic literature established by Edgar Allan Poe in the nineteenth century, Borges transformed the genre into an electric whole that allowed him to explore philosophical ideas and to pose relevant questions. After participating in and observing the development of the avant-garde during the first quarter of the century, Borges created his own type of post-avant-garde literature in order to reveal the formal and intellectual density involved in writing. Borges's influence is seen, especially in Latin American literature, in various writers such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez, his confessed admirers.

The first half of the twentieth century saw an explosion of literary schools, styles, and attitudes espoused and practiced by Argentine poets, novelists, and short-story writers. By the time Borges wrote The Aleph, his country had witnessed the birth and death of several literary movements, all of which surface in the whole of Borges's work.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Borges's famous contemporaries include:

Juan Perón (1895–1974): General and politician, president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again from 1973 to his death a year later. A divisive figure, his ardent supporters praised him for his support of the working classes while his opponents considered him little more than a dictator and Nazi sympathizer.

Eva Perón (1919–1952): Wife of Juan Perón and founder of Argentina's first female political party. She seriously considered a run for the vice presidency before being appointed with the official title of Spiritual Leader of the Nation; a year later, she was dead from cancer at the age of thirty-three.

James Joyce (1882–1941): Irish modernist writer and expatriate. By the time his last novel, Finnegans Wake, was published in 1939, his influence on Latin American writers was firmly established, leading to the later “boom” of Latin American literature by the likes of Borges and Marquez.

H. G. Wells (1866–1946): British author known primarily for such works of science fiction as The Time Machine (1888) and The War of the Worlds (1897). Wells was also an outspoken socialist and pacifist. Borges, an admirer of Wells, was influenced by both his literature and his politics.

Works in Critical Context

Borges is universally regarded as a major and powerful figure in twentieth-century literature; indeed, it is as

difficult to find a negative critique of Borges's work as it is to find an essay on the failures of Shakespeare as a dramatist. Most critics agree with James E. Irby, who boldly states in his preface to the 1962 collection Labyrinths that Borges's work is “one of the most extraordinary expressions in all Western literature of modern man's anguish of time, of space, of the infinite.”

When Borges's collection of short stories The Garden of Forking Paths initially appeared in Argentina in 1941, reviewers were quick to recognize something new. Most critical commentary had concentrated on his poetry, although in 1933 a special issue of the magazine Megafono devoted to a discussion of him reveals that critics had begun to treat him as a writer of prose as well as poetry.

Although Borges's stories garnered critical acclaim, the jury charged with selecting the 1941 National Literary Prize did not choose The Garden of Forking Paths as the recipient of the award. Many Argentinean writers and critics were outraged, and they subsequently dedicated an entire issue of Sur, an important literary magazine, to a consideration of his work. Nevertheless, even among those critics who felt he should have received the award, there was some reservation. Most commonly, these reservations focused on his cerebral style and his esoteric subject matter.

Other critics, however, found Borges's work to be important and original. In his book Jorge Luis Borges, Martin Stabb cites, for instance, Pedro Henriquez Urena's famous comment: “There may be those who think that Borges is original because he proposes to be. I think quite the contrary: Borges would be original even when he might propose not to be.”

In the early 1940s the translation of his work into English began in literary magazines, although it was not until the early 1960s that whole collections were translated and published. However, the work made an immediate impact. John Updike presented an important survey of his work in the New Yorker in 1965, a review in which he noted his fascination with calling attention to a work of literature as a work of literature. Another seminal article on Borges by the novelist John Barth appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1967. In the article, Barth discussed the literature of the 1960s, placing Borges at the center of such literature. In addition, Barth paid careful attention to his use of the labyrinth as an image in his work.

Other critics attempt to trace the influences on Borges's work. Andre Maurois, in a preface to Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby's edition of Labyrinths, directly addresses his sources. He cites H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, G. K. Chesterton, and Franz Kafka as important influences on Borges's writing. Borges himself noted in several places the debt he owed to Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Rudyard Kipling.

“The Aleph” “The Aleph” is conventionally praised as one of Borges's most important stories. In her 1965 study Borges the Labyrinth Maker, Ana Maria Barrenechea argues that “the most important of Borges's concerns is the conviction that the world is a chaos impossible to reduce to any human law.” She specifically praises “The Aleph” as an example of “the economy of Borges's work” in its ability to erase “the limits of reality” and create in the reader “an atmosphere of anxiety.” In his 1969 study, Ronald Christ contends that “The Aleph” stands as wholly representative of Borges's art and his attempts to “abbreviate the universe in literature.” To Christ, the Aleph of the story's title is a symbol of Borges's style and desire to compose another of his “resumes of the universe.” Martin S. Stabb, in his 1970 book Jorge Luis Borges, suggests that “The Aleph” is Borges's attempt to explore his dominant themes in a lighthearted fashion that may not possess the depth of his other work that reads as a “half-philosophical, basically playful composition—generously sprinkled with Borgesian irony and satire.” Perhaps the most effusive praise of the story comes from George R. McMurray, who (in his 1980 study Jorge Luis Borges) states that the story not only reflects the “mystical aura of magic that imbues so many of Borges's works,” but also “emerges as a symbol of all literature, whose purpose … is to subvert objective reality and recreate it through the powers of imagination.”

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Borges's work is often marked by extreme erudition and a concern more with fantastical ideas rather than plot or character. Other such works include:

Foucault's Pendulum (1988) by Umberto Eco. Three friends hatch an occult conspiracy plan that takes on a life of its own in this novel.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) by Milan Kundera. Czech writer Kundera explores the idea of “forgetting” in different contexts in this novel.

Murphy (1939), by Samuel Beckett. Beckett, like Borges, experimented with the short story form and adapts many of the latter's techniques in this novel, especially the incorporation of various types of obscure knowledge as an essential element of the story.

Responses to Literature

  1. Look at some of the other writers of the Latin American “boom.” What are some of the countries that produced important writers after World War II? What political or social changes happened in those countries that these writers comment on in their works?
  2. Borges lived during a very tumultuous time in Argentine history. What were the important political events in Argentina from 1900 to 1986? What happened in the 1970s and 1980s? Why do you think many of the Latin American writers who were influenced by Borges criticized his refusal to write about politics?
  3. Research the philosophical puzzles known as the paradoxes of Zeno and Pascal's sphere. How do stories such as “The Aleph” dramatize these paradoxes in narrative form?
  4. Part of what makes “The Aleph” a success is Borges's setting it in an everyday location and describing the fantastic event in everyday language. Compose a story in which a character discovers a fantastic object or event and use Borges's style to describe it. How does the use of everyday language heighten the believability of the event for the reader?
  5. Literary allusions are references within a story to other historical or literary figures, events, or objects. Try to identify at least five allusions in “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Look up the allusions in a dictionary and/or encyclopedia. How does your understanding of the story change with your understanding of these allusions?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Balderston, Daniel. The Literary Universe of Jorge Luis Borges: An Index to References and Allusions to Persons, Titles, and Places in His Writings. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Cheselka, Paul, The Poetry and Poetics of Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

Solé, Carlos A., ed. Latin American Writers, vol. 2. New York: Macmillan, 1989.

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Borges, Jorge Luis

BORGES, Jorge Luis

Nationality: Argentine. Born: Buenos Aires, 24 August 1899. Education: College Calvin, Geneva, Switzerland, 1914-18; also studied at Cambridge University, England, and in Buenos Aires. Family: Married 1) Elsa Astete Millán in 1967 (divorced 1970); 2) María Kodama in 1986. Career: Moved with his family to Geneva, Switzerland, 1914; lived in Spain with his family and associated with Andalusian poet Rafael Cansinos-Asséns and with a new literary circle, the Ultraists, 1919-21; returned to Buenos Aires with his family and associated with the poet Macedonio Fernandéz and his literary circle; cofounder, Prisma (Ultraist magazine); cofounder and editor, Proa, 1924-26, and Sur, 1931; columnist, El Hogar weekly, Buenos Aires, 1936-39; literary advisor, Emecé Editores, Buenos Aires; municipal librarian, Buenos Aires, 1937-46; state poultry inspector, 1946; teacher of English literature at several private institutions and lecturer in Argentina and Uruguay, 1946-55; director, National Library, Buenos Aires, 1955-73; professor of English and U.S. literature, University of Buenos Aires, 1956-70. Norton professor of poetry, Harvard University, 1967-68; visiting lecturer, University of Texas, 1961-62, University of Oklahoma, 1969, University of New Hampshire, 1972, and Dickinson College, 1983. President, Argentine Writers Society, 1950-53. Awards: Buenos Aires municipal literary prize, 1928, for El idioma de los argentinos; Argentine Writers Society prize, 1945, for Ficciones, 1935-1944; National prize for literature, for El Aleph; International Congress of Publishers prize (shared with Samuel Beckett), 1961; Fondo de les Artes, 1963; Ingram Merrill Foundation award, 1966; Bienal Foundation Matarazzo Sobrinho Inter-American literary prize, 1970; Jerusalem prize, 1971; Alfonso Reyes prize (Mexico), 1973; Government of Chile Bernando O'Higgins prize, 1976; French Academy gold medal, 1979; Miguel de Cervantes award (Spain) and Balzan prize (Italy), both 1980; Ollin Yoliztli prize (Mexico), 1981; Ingersoll Foundation and Rockford Institute T.S. Eliot award for creative writing, 1983; Menendez Pelayo University gold medal (Spain), 1983; National Book Critics Circle award for criticism, 1999, for Selected Non-Fictions. Honorary degrees: University of Cuyo, Argentina, 1956; University of the Andes, Colombia, 1963; Oxford University, 1970; University of Jerusalem, 1971; Columbia University, 1971; Michigan State University, 1972; University of Chile, 1976; University of Cincinnati, 1976. Honorary Fellow, Modern Language Association (U.S.), 1961; Commandeur de l'Ordre des Lettres et des Arts (France), 1962; Order of Merit, Italy, 1968; Order of Merit, Federal Republic of Germany, 1979; Icelandic Falcon Cross, 1979; Honorary K.B.E. (Knight Commander, order of the British Empire). Member: Argentine National Academy; Uruguayan Academy of Letters. Died: 14 June 1986.

Publications

Collection

Obras completas, edited by José Edmundo Clemente (10 vols.). 1953-60; in one volume, 1974.

Short Stories

Historia univeral de la infamia. 1935; as A Universal History of Infamy, 1971.

El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan [Garden of the Forking Paths]. 1941.

Seis problemas para Isidro Parodi, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1942; as Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, 1983.

Ficciones, 1935-1944. 1944; revised edition, 1956; translated as Ficciones, 1962; as Fictions, 1965.

Dos fantasías memorables, with Casares, under joint pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq. 1946.

El aleph. 1949; as The Aleph and Other Stories, 1933-1969, 1970.

La muerte y la brújula. 1951.

La hermana de Eloísa [Eloisa's Sister], with Luisa Mercedes Levinson. 1955.

Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. 1962; revised edition, 1964.

Cronicas de Bustos Domecq, with Casares. 1967; as Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, 1979.

El informe de Brodie. 1970; as Dr. Brodie's Report, 1971.

El matrero. 1970.

El congreso. 1971; as The Congress, 1974; as The Congress of the World, 1981.

El libro de arena. 1975; as The Book of Sand, 1977.

Nuevos cuentos de Bustos Domecq, with Casares. 1977.

Novel

Un modelo para la muerte, with Adolfo Bioy Casares. 1946.

Poetry

Fervor de Buenos Aires [Passion for Buenos Aires]. 1923.

Luna de enfrente [Moon across the way]. 1925.

Cuaderno San Martín [San Martin Copybook]. 1929.

Poemas 1923-1943. 1943.

Poemas 1923-1958. 1958.

El hacedor. 1960; as The Dreamtigers, 1963.

Obra poética 1923-1964. 1964.

Para las seis cuerdas. 1965; revised edition, 1970.

Obra poética 1923-1967. 1967.

Nueva antología personal. 1968.

Obra poética (5 vols.). 1969-72.

Elogio de la sombra. 1969; as In Praise of Darkness, 1974.

El otro, el mismo. 1969.

El oro de los tigres. 1972; as The Gold of the Tigers: Selected Later Poems, 1979.

Selected Poems 1923-1967, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. 1972.

La rosa profundo. 1975.

La moneda de hierro. 1976.

Historia de la noche. 1977.

Poemas 1919-1922. 1978.

Obra poética 1923-1976. 1978.

La cifra. 1981.

Antología poética. 1981.

Play

Screenplay:

Los orilleros; El paraíso de los creyentes, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1955.

Other

Inquisiciones [Inquisitions] (essays). 1925.

El tamaño de mi esperanza [The Measure of My Hope] (essays). 1926.

El idioma de los argentinos [The Language of the Argentines] (essays). 1928; revised edition, as El lenguaje de Buenos Aires, with José Edmundo Clemente, 1963.

Figari (essays). 1930.

Discusión. 1932.

Las Kennigar (essays). 1933. Historia de la eternidad [History of Eternity] (essays). 1936; revised edition, 1953.

Nueva refutación del tiempo [New Refutation of Time] (essays). 1947.

Aspectos de la literatura gauchesca (essays). 1950.

Antiguas literaturas germánicas, with Delia Ingenieros (essays). 1951; revised edition, with Maria Esther Vázquez, as Literaturas germánicas medievales, 1966.

Otras inquisiciones (essays). 1952; as Other Inquisitions 1937-1952, 1964.

El Martín Fierro, with Margarita Guerrero (essays). 1953.

Leopoldo Lugones, with Bettina Edelberg (essays). 1955.

Manual de zoología fantástica, with Guerrero (essays). 1957; revised edition, as El libro de los seres imaginarios, 1967; translated as The Imaginary Zoo, 1969; revised edition, as The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969.

Antología personal. 1961; as A Personal Anthology, edited by Anthony Kerrigan, 1968.

The Spanish Language in South America: A Literary Problem; El Gaucho Martín Fierro (lectures). 1964.

Introducción a la literatura inglesa, with Vázquez. 1965; as An Introduction to English Literature, 1974.

Introducción a la literatura nortamericana, with Esther Zemborain de Torres. 1967; as An Introduction to American Literature, 1971.

Nueva antología personal. 1968.

Borges on Writing, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, Daniel Halpern, and Frank MacShane. 1973.

Prólogos. 1975.

Qué es el budismo? [What Is Buddhism?], with Alicia Jurado. 1976.

Libros de sueños. 1976.

Adrogué. 1977.

Borges oral (lectures). 1979.

Prosa completa (2 vols.). 1980.

Siete noches (essays). 1980; as Seven Nights, 1984.

Nueve ensayos dantescos [New Dante Essays]. 1982.

Atlas, with María Komada. 1985; translated as Atlas, 1985.

Los conjurados. 1986.

Biblioteca personal: Prólogos. 1988.

Editor, with Pedro Henriques Urena, Antología clasica de la literatura Argentina. 1937.

Editor, with Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Antología de la literatura fantástica. 1940; as The Book of Fantasy, 1988.

Editor, with Ocampo and Casares, Antología poética Argentina. 1941.

Editor, with Casares, Los mejores cuentos policiales (2 vols.). 1943-51. Editor, with Silvina Bullrich Palenque, El Campadrito: Su destino, sus barrios, su música. 1945.

Editor, with Casares, Prosa y verso, by Francisco de Quevedo. 1948.

Editor and translator, with Casares, Poesía gauchesca (2 vols.). 1955.

Editor, with with Casares, Cuentos breves y extraordinarios. 1955; as Extraordinary Tales, 1971.

Editor, with Casares, Libro del cielo y del infierno. 1960.

Editor, Paulino Lucero, Aniceto y gallo, Santos Vega, by Hilario Ascasubi. 1960.

Editor, Macedonia Fernández (selection). 1961.

Editor, Páginas de historia y de autobiografía, by Edward

Gibbon. 1961.

Editor, Versos, by Evaristo Carriego. 1963.

Editor, with María Komada, Breve antología anglosanjona. 1978.

Editor, Micromegas, by Voltaire. 1979.

Editor, Cuentistas y pintores argentinos. 1985.

Translator, La metamorfosis, by Kafka. 1938.

Translator, Bartleby, by Herman Melville. 1944.

Translator, De los héroes; Hombres representativos, by Carlyle and Emerson. 1949.

*

Bibliography:

Borges: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography by David William Foster, 1984; The Literary Universe of Borges: An Index to References and Illusions to Persons, Titles, and Places in His Writing by Daniel Balderston, 1986.

Critical Studies:

Borges, The Labyrinth Maker by Ana María Barrenchea, edited and translated by Robert Lima, 1965; The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Allusion by Ronald J. Christ, 1969; The Mythmaker: A Study of Motif and Symbol in the Short Stories of Borges by Carter Wheelock, 1969; Borges, 1970, and Borges Revisited, 1991, both by Martin S. Stabb; The Cardinal Points of Borges, edited by Lowell Dunham and Ivor Ivask, 1971; Borges by J.M. Cohen, 1973; Prose for Borges, edited by Charles Newman and Mary Kinzie, 1974; Tongues of Fallen Angels: Conversations with Borges by Selden Roman, 1974; Borges: Ficciones by Donald Leslie Shaw, 1976; Paper Tigers: The Ideal Fictions of Borges by John Sturrock, 1977; Borges: Sources and Illumination by Giovanna De Garayalde, 1978; Borges: A Literary Biography by Emir Rodríguez Monegal, 1978; Borges by George R. McMurray, 1980; Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art by Gene H. Bell-Villada, 1981, revised edition, 1999; Borges at Eighty: Conversations, edited by William Barnstone, 1982; The Prose of Borges: Existentialism and the Dynamics of Surprise, 1984, and The Meaning of Experience in the Prose of Borges, 1988, both by Ion Tudro Agheana; Borges, edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; The Poetry and the Poetics of Borges by Paul Cheselka, 1987; The Emperor's Kites: A Morphology of Borges's Tales by Mary Lusky Friedman, 1987; Critical Essays on Borges, edited by Jaime Alazraki, 1987; Borges and the Kaballah by Jaime Alazraki, 1988; In Memory of Borges, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, 1988; Borges and His Successors: The Borges Impact on Literature and the Arts, edited by Edna Aizenberg, 1990; Borges: A Study of the Short Fiction by Naomi Lindstrom, 1990; A Dictionary of Borges by Evelyn Fishburne, 1990; Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge by Beatriz Sarlo Sabajanes, 1993; Readers and Labyrinths: Detective Fiction in Borges, Bustos Domeq, and Eco by Jorge Hernández Martín, 1995; The Man in the Mirror of the Book: A Life of Jorge Borges by James Woodall, 1996; Nightglow: Borges' Poetics of Blindness by Florence L. Yudin, 1997; The Secret of Borges: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry into His Work by Julio Woscoboinik, translated by Dora Carlisky Pozzi, 1998; Humor in Borges by René de Costa, 2000.

* * *

Over the course of the years literary and cultural critics have warned about politicizing Jorge Luis Borges's oeuvre. It has been suggested time after time that Borges's fiction is both apolitical and ahistorical. Those who defend this position have suggested that Borges was never interested in local color but rather universal topics. Others have accused him of withdrawing from the reality of his country and the rest of the world and hiding in a world of fantasy, dreams, and intellectual games. A closer look at Borges's life and work will show a lesser known aspect of the writer's political views and his strong commitment and determination to fight injustice and oppression both in his native Argentina and abroad.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, a descendant of patrician Argentines and English immigrants, Borges was raised in a bilingual home. In fact, his very language was English. From early on his father inculcated in him a passion for reading and philosophy. Georgie—as he was known to his family and close friends—was intrigued early on by texts like the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Baruch Spinoza. In 1914 Borges traveled with his family to Europe for the first time and was caught in the middle of World War I. At school in Switzerland he befriended two Jewish boys with whom he shared typical adolescent experiences and a wide array of literary readings. During that time Borges became interested in the German language and read Heinrich Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo. It is through the German language that the young Borges became interested in everything Jewish. The simplicity of the lexicon in Heine's text allowed the young Borges to become quite familiar with the language and opened up to him the world of German literature and Jewish culture. It was his reading of the German best-seller of the time, Gustav Meyrink's The Golem (1915), that augmented Borges's fascination with Jewish mysticism and the cabala. Borges's fascination with Jewish thought led him to explore the writings of Martin Buber, Fritz Mauthner, Franz Kafka, and Max Brod, among others.

Back in Argentina after a relatively brief stay in Spain, Borges became a part of the leading intellectual circles in Buenos Aires. He befriended several distinguished Argentine Jewish writers, including Alberto Gerchunoff, Cesar Tiempo, and Carlos Grunberg, and printed some of his works in Manuel Gleizer's press. (Gleizer was one of the first Jewish publishers in the country.) Borges's permanent contact with Argentina's largely cosmopolitan Jewish community thus became apparent in both his poetry and his fiction.

In 1934 the journal Crisol, a right-wing periodical, published an offensive and highly anti-Semitic diatribe accusing Borges of "hiding" his Jewish identity and trying to "coverup" his Jewish past. This prompted Borges to reply with an article of his own that was published in El Hogar, a magazine for which he was the editor of a literary section. He entitled the piece "Yo, judío" ("I, the Jew"). In it Borges "thanked" the magazine for considering him to be a member of such a privileged group and toyed with the possibility that his mother's family may have indeed descended from conversos. If up until that time Borges had been driven to write on Jewish topics by positive ideals, in the years that followed his interests in Jewish culture were to be fueled by the ever-increasing waves of anti-Semitism, the rise of Nazism, and, ultimately, the Holocaust.

During World War II Borges wrote several passionate articles against the Nazi regime, which he saw as a threat not only to Germany but to all Western civilization. In the 1940s he wrote two short stories in which he explicitly condemned Germany's expansionist objectives and its Nazi ideology. In "The Secret Miracle" (Ficciones, 1944) and "Deutsches Requiem" (El aleph, 1949) Borges probes the limits of representation and brings to the surface fundamental issues for the understanding of the Holocaust.

—Alejandro Meter

See the essays on "Deutsches Requiem" and "The Secret Miracle."

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Borges, Jorge Luis

BORGES, Jorge Luis

Nationality: Argentine. Born: Buenos Aires, 24 August 1899. Education: Collège de Genève, Switzerland; Cambridge University. Family: Married 1) Elsa Astete Millán in 1967 (divorced 1970); 2) María Kodama in 1986. Career: Lived in Europe with his family, 1914-21; cofounding editor, Proa, 1924-26, and Sur, 1931; also associated with Prisma; columnist, El Hogar weekly, Buenos Aires, 1936-39; literary adviser, Emecé Editores, Buenos Aires; municipal librarian, Buenos Aires, 1939-43; poultry inspector, 1944-54; became blind, 1955; director, National Library, 1955-73; professor of English literature, University of Buenos Aires, 1955-70; Norton Professor of poetry, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; visiting lecturer, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1969. President, Argentine Writers Society, 1950-53. Awards: Buenos Aires Municipal prize, 1928; Argentine Writers Society prize, 1945; National Prize for Literature, 1957; Ingram Merrill award, 1966; Bienal Foundation Inter-American prize, 1970; Jerusalem prize, 1971; Alfonso Reyes prize, 1973; Cervantes prize, 1980; Yoliztli prize, 1981. Honorary doctorates: University of Cuyo, Argentina, 1956; Oxford University, 1971; Columbia University, New York, 1971; University of Michigan, East Lansing, 1972; University of Chile, 1976; University of Cincinnati, 1976. Honorary Fellow, Modern Language Association (U.S.), 1961. Order of Merit (Italy), 1968; Order of Merit (German Federal Republic), 1979. Icelandic Falcon Cross, 1979. Honorary K.B.E. (Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire). Member: Argentine National Academy; Uruguayan Academy of Letters. Died: 14 June 1986.

Publications

Short Stories

Historia universal de la infamia. 1935; as A Universal History of Infamy, 1971.

El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan. 1941.

Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (with Adolfo Bioy Casares, as H. Bustos Domecq). 1942; as Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, 1981.

Ficciones (1935-1944). 1944; augmented edition, 1956; translated as Ficciones, 1962; as Fictions, 1965.

Dos fantasías memorables, with Adolfo Bioy Casares. 1946.

El Aleph. 1949; as The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969, 1970.

La muerte y la brújula. 1951.

La hermana de Elosía, with Luisa Mercedes Levinson. 1955.

Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, edited by DonaldA. Yates and James E. Irby. 1962; augmented edition, 1964.

Crónicas de Bustos Domecq, with Adolfo Bioy Casares. 1967; asChronicles of Bustos Domecq, 1979.

El informe de Brodie. 1970; as Dr. Brodie's Report, 1972.

El congreso. 1971; as The Congress, 1974.

El libro de arena. 1975; as The Book of Sand, 1977; with The Gold of the Tigers (verse), 1979.

Nuevos cuentos de Bustos Domecq, with Adolfo Bioy Casares. 1977.

Novel

Un modelo para la muerte, with Adolfo Bioy Casares. 1946.

Play

Screenplay:

Los orilleros; El paraíso de los creyentes, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1955.

Poetry

Fervor de Buenos Aires. 1923.

Luna de enfrente. 1925.

Cuaderno San Martín. 1929.

Poemas 1922-1943. 1943.

Poemas 1923-1958. 1958.

El hacedor. 1960; as Dreamtigers, 1963.

Obra poética 1923-1964. 1964.

Para las seis cuerdas. 1965; revised edition, 1970.

Obra poética 1923-1967. 1967.

Nueva antología personal. 1968.

Obra poética. 5 vols., 1969-72.

Elogio de la sombra. 1969; as In Praise of Darkness, 1974.

El otro, el mismo. 1969.

El oro de los tigres. 1972; as The Gold of the Tigers, with The Book of Sand, 1979.

Selected Poems 1923-1967, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. 1972.

La rosa profundo. 1975.

La moneda de hierro. 1976.

Historia de la noche. 1977.

Poemas 1919-1922. 1978.

Obra poética 1923-1976. 1978.

La cifra. 1981.

Antología poética. 1981.

Uncollected Poetry

"Jorge Luis Borges: Seventeen Poems and Two Prefaces" inAmerican Poetry Review. January/February 1994.

Other

Inquisiciones (essays). 1925.

El tamaño de mi esperanza (essays). 1926.

El idioma de los Argentinos (essays). 1928; enlarged edition, as El lenguaje de Buenos Aires, with José Edmundo Clemente, 1963.

Evaristo Carriego (essays). 1930; as Evaristo Carriego, 1984.

Discusión. 1932.

Las Kennigar. 1933.

Historia de la eternidad (essays). 1936; enlarged edition, 1953.

Nueva refutación del tiempo. 1947.

Aspectos de la literatura gauchesca. 1950.

Antiguas literaturas germánicas, with Delia Ingenieros. 1951.

Otras inquisiciones 1937-1952. 1952; as Other Inquisitions 1937-1952, 1964.

El Martín Fierro, with Margarita Guerrero. 1953.

Obras completas, edited by José Edmundo Clemente. 10 vols., 1953-60; 1 vol., 1974.

Leopoldo Lugones, with Betina Edelberg. 1955.

Manual de zoología fantástica, with Margarita Guerrero. 1957; revised edition, as El libro de los seres imaginarios, 1967; as The Imaginary Zoo, 1969; revised edition, as The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969.

Antología personal. 1961; as A Personal Anthology, edited by Anthony Kerrigan, 1968.

The Spanish Language in South America: A Literary Problem; El Gaucho Martín Fierro (lectures). 1964.

Introducción a la literatura inglesa, with María Esther Vázquez.1965; as An Introduction to English Literature, 1974.

Literaturas germánicas medievales, with María Esther Vázquez. 1966.

Introducción a la literatura norteamericana, with Esther Zemborain de Torres. 1967; as An Introduction to American Literature, 1971.

Nueva antología personal. 1968.

Conversations with Borges, by Richard Burgin. 1968.

Borges on Writing, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, Daniel Halpern, and Frank MacShane. 1973.

Obras completas: 1923-1972, edited by Carlos V. Frías. 1974.

Prólogos. 1975.

Qué es el budismo?, with Alicia Jurado. 1976.

Libros de sueños. 1976.

Adrogué (verse and prose; privately printed). 1977.

Borges oral (lectures). 1979.

Prosa completa. 2 vols., 1980.

Siete noches (essays). 1980; as Seven Nights, 1984.

A Reader, edited by Alastair Reid and Emir Rodríguez Monegal. 1981.

Nueve ensayos dantescos. 1982.

Atlas, with María Komada. 1985; as Atlas, 1985.

Los conjurados. 1985.

Conversaciones con Alicia Moreau de Justo y Borges. 1985.

Borges en dialogo, with Osvaldo Ferrari. 1985.

Conversaciones con Borges, with Roberto Alifano. 1986.

Conversaciones con Borges, with Francisco Tokos. 1986.

Textos Cautivos: Ensayos y reseñas en El Hogar (1936-1939), edited by Enrique Sacerio-Gari and Emir Rodríguez Monegal. 1987.

Paginas escogidas, edited by Roberto Fernandez Retamar. 1988.

Biblioteca personal: Prólogos. 1988.

Ultimas conversaciones con Borges, with Roberto Alifano. 1988.

Editor, with Pedro Henriques Urena, Antología clasica de la literatura argentina. 1937.

Editor, with Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Antología de la literatura fantástica. 1940; as The Book of Fantasy, 1988.

Editor, with Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Antología poética argentina. 1941.

Editor, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Los mejores cuentos policiales.2 vols., 1943-51.

Editor, with Silvina Bullrich Palenque, El Campadrito: Su destino, sus barrios, su música. 1945.

Editor, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Prosa y verso, by Francisco de Quevedo. 1948.

Editor and translator, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Poesía gauchesca. 2 vols., 1955.

Editor, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Cuentos breves y extraordinarios.1955; as Extraordinary Tales, 1971.

Editor, with Adolfo Bioy Casares, Libro del cielo y del infierno. 1960.

Editor, Paulino Lucero, Aniceto y gallo, Santos Vega, by Hilario Ascasubi. 1960.

Editor, Macedonia Fernández (selection). 1961.

Editor, Páginas de historia y de autobiografía, by Edward Gibbon. 1961.

Editor, Prosa y poesía, by Almafuerte. 1962.

Editor, Versos, by Evaristo Carriego. 1963.

Editor, with María Komada, Breve antología anglosajona. 1978.

Editor, Micromegas, by Voltaire. 1979.

Editor, Cuentistas y pintores argentinos. 1985.

Translator, La metamorfosis, by Kafka. 1938.

Translator, Bartleby, by Herman Melville. 1944.

Translator, De los héroes; Hombres representativos, by Carlyle and Emerson. 1949.

*

Bibliography:

Borges: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography by David William Foster, 1984; The Literary Universe of Borges: An Index to References and Illusions to Persons, Titles, and Places in His Writings by Daniel Balderston, 1986.

Critical Studies:

Borges, The Labyrinth Maker by Ana María Barrenchea, edited and translated by Robert Lima, 1965; The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Illusion by Ronald J. Christ, 1969; The Mythmaker: A Study of Motif and Symbol in the Short Stories of Borges by Carter Wheelock, 1969; Borges, 1970, and Borges Revisted, 1991, both by Martin S. Stabb; The Cardinal Points of Borges edited Lowell Dunham and Ivor Ivask, 1971; Borges by J.M. Cohen, 1973; Prose for Borges edited by Charles Newman and Mary Kinzie, 1974; Tongues of Fallen Angels: Conversations with Borges by Selden Roman, 1974; The Literature of Exhaustion: Borges, Nabokov and Barth by John O. Stark, 1974; Borges: Ficciones by Donald Leslie Shaw, 1976; Raid on the Articulate: Comic Eschatology in Jesus and Borges by John Dominic Crossan, 1976; Paper Tigers: The Ideal Fictions of Borges by John Sturrock, 1977; Borges: Sources and Illumination by Giovanna De Garayalde, 1978; Borges: A Literary Biography by Emir Rodríguez Monegal, 1978; Borges by George R. McMurray, 1980; Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art by Gene H. Bell-Villada, 1981; The German Response to Latin American Literature, And the Reception of Borges and Pablo Neruda by Yolanda Julia Broyles, 1981; Borges at Eighty: Conversations edited by William Barnstone, 1982; The Prose of Borges: Existentialism and the Dynamics of Surprise, 1984, and The Meaning of Experience in the Prose of Borges, 1988, both by Ion Tudro Agheana; Borges edited by Harold Bloom, 1986; The Poetry and Poetics of Borges by Paul Cheselka, 1987; The Emperor's Kites: A Morphology of Borges's Tales by Mary Lusky Friedman, 1987; Critical Essays on Borges edited by Jaime Alazraki, 1987, and Borges and the Kaballah by Alazraki, 1988; In Memory of Borges edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, 1988; Borges and His Successors: The Borges Impact on Literature and the Arts edited by Edna Aizenberg, 1990; Borges: A Study of the Short Fiction by Naomi Lindstrom, 1990; A Dictionary of Borges by Evelyn Fishburne, 1990; Borges and Artificial Intelligence: An Analysis in the Style of Pierre Menard by Ema Lapidot, 1991; The Contemporary Praxis of the Fantastic: Borges and Cortázar by Julio Rodríquez-Luis, 1991; Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge by Beatriz Sarlo Sabajanes, 1993; Jorge Luis Borges and Dino Buzzati: In the Context of Fantastic Literature by Susan Cook-Abdallah, 1993; Readers and Labyrinths: Detective Fiction in Borges, Bustos Domecq, and Eco by Jorge Hernández Martín, 1995; The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Allusion by Ronald J. Christ, 1995; The Man in the Mirror of the Book: A Life of Jorge Borges by James Woodall, 1996; The Critical Poem: Borges, Paz, and Other Language-Centered Poets in Latin America by Thorpe Running, 1996.

* * *

In the Spanish-speaking world Jorge Luis Borges is almost as well known for his highly evocative verse and essays as he is for his fantastical short stories. Indeed, he began as a poet in the 1920s when he set out to be the Walt Whitman of Buenos Aires. The rise of local fascists during the 1930s, however, soured him on nationalism of any stripe. He thereafter assumed a cosmopolitan stance and turned to writing narratives instead. It is these brief fictions that eventually gained Borges his international reputation. Verbally dense and often bookish, his stories can put off a casual browser, though their erudite, otherworldly atmosphere is often commingled with touches of nostalgic warmth and a wry, subtle humor.

Borges's three dozen best stories all date from the period 1939 to 1955, a time of personal and political torment for the author. They first appeared in the relatively slim volumes Ficciones and El Aleph. And yet the artistic power, originality, and influence of these two books vastly exceeds their physical meagerness. Their terse, restrained prose style constitutes a distinct break from three centuries of Hispanic rhetoric and bombast. More important for writers of fiction the world over, the stories present alternatives both to traditional realism and to Modernist psychologism and "inwardness." What Borges does, in brief, is to emphasize the fantastical and imaginary, to foreground unreality itself as the essential stuff of storytelling, thereby making these traits prime movers of plot and character. The intrusion of the unreal into our everyday existence is precisely what Borges's fiction is about.

Hence, in several Borges stories, dreams and visions can occupy center stage. To the writer-protagonist of "The Secret Miracle," time seems to have stopped for exactly a year, though it may well be a vivid last-minute hallucination occurring within his head. Similarly, the jailed Mayan priest in "The God's Script" believes he has unlocked the divine secret of the universe; yet he could also be experiencing a classically religious-mystical seizure. By contrast, in "The Other Death" a one-time military coward's deathbed fantasies of battlefield courage somehow succeed in altering the historical record; and in "The Aleph" the narrator descends into a seedy basement, where he really does contemplate a wondrous one-inch square containing everything on planet Earth.

In the same way that it finds its way into daily life, the fantastical in Borges can intrude upon and affect our very sense of self, our personal identity. His protagonists are frequently depicted as finding out that they are actually somebody else ("The Theologians"). Or conversely, two seemingly separate life-stories become fused and, through Borgesian artifice, are shown to be just one, as in "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" and "Story of the Warrior and the Captive," titles whose dual referents are then psychologically subverted in the ensuing narrative.

Another special side of Borges is his detective stories and crime fiction, a genre he raised to the level of a high art. "The Dead Man," "The Waiting," and "Emma Zunz" are hauntingly beautiful narratives of crime in which the author brings into play his suggestive, fanciful notions concerning the role of mind and the nature of truth. On the other hand, "Death and the Compass"—one of Borges's greatest single pieces—is itself a dazzling spoof of the detective-story formula, depicting a world in which everything is upsidedown: the criminal captures the detective and preempts the latter's final role, and a bureaucratic "dumb cop" is proved right every time while a bookish, would-be Sherlock is proved sadly wrong.

Borges also can be credited with having invented an entire new genre: what we might call "essay-fiction," combining aspects of both. Many of Borges's best stories look like and have the feel of essays—yet are complete fictions. The narrator of "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" actually refers to its text as an "article," and its mixture of "hard" fact with unsettling fantasy serves to reinforce the essayistic impression. "Three Versions of Judas" presents itself as a learned article on theological disputes, with footnotes and all. Similarly, "The Sect of the Phoenix" seems to be an ethnographic account of an elusive tribe; it turns out to be a cosmic riddle and an elaborate sex joke.

Many of Borges's inventions have become standard items in our cultural lexicon. "Funes the Memorious" is now an obligatory reference in any psychological disquisition on the problem of absolute memory. The vast and bewildering information systems of our time are often likened to "The Library of Babel," and the notion of identical texts somehow possessing different meanings inevitably conjures up "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." Borges's influence has also been felt in the arts worldwide. Bernardo Bertolucci and Nicholas Roeg both have feature films based on his stories, and Jean-Luc Godard in his more visionary movies quotes lines from Borges's essays. Short novels like John Gardner's Grendel and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 take their cues directly from the Argentine master, and the works of Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover are in part the U.S. literary offspring of Borges's high artifice.

Borges in the 1960s became a world-renowned public figure, giving lectures and receiving accolades across the globe. One unfortunate result was that he lost much of his critical edge and started to repeat himself. Hence the narratives in the subsequent El informe de Brodie (Doctor Brodie's Report) and El libro de arena (The Book of Sand) are mostly pale imitations of the great writings from his middle period. So long as readers of short stories exist, however, the tales from Ficciones, El Aleph, and the English-language anthology Labyrinths will remain part of our literary repertoire.

—Gene H. Bell-Villada

See the essays on "The Circular Ruins," "The Library of Babel," and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote."

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