Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

Infobox Writer
name = Jorge Luis Borges

birthname = Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges
birthdate = birth date|df=yes|1899|8|24
birthplace = Buenos Aires, Argentina
deathdate = death date and age|df=yes|1986|6|14|1899|8|24
deathplace = Geneva, Switzerland
occupation = writer, poet, critic, librarian
influences =
influenced = Carlos Fuentes, Paul Auster, Stanisław Lem, Giannina Braschi,Thomas Pynchon, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Danilo Kis, Georges Perec,Orhan Pamuk, César Aira, Roberto Bolaño, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Philip K. Dick, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, W.G. Sebald, Enrique Vila-Matas, Julio Cortázar

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (24 August 1899 – 14 June 1986) was an Argentine writer whose work included short stories, essays, poetry, literary criticism, and translations.


Parents and early life

Jorge Luis Borges was born on 24 August 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to an educated family descended from famous military figures in Argentina's history; in accordance with Argentine custom, he never used his entire name. Borges' mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, came from an old Uruguayan family. His 1929 book "Cuaderno San Martín" included a poem "Isidoro Acevedo," commemorating his maternal grandfather, Isidoro de Acevedo Laprida, a soldier of the Buenos Aires Army who fought against Juan Manuel de Rosas. A descendant of the Argentine lawyer and politician Francisco Narciso de Laprida, Acevedo fought in the battles of Cepeda in 1859, Pavón in 1861, and Los Corrales in 1880. He died of pulmonary congestion in the same house in Serrano Street, Buenos Aires, where his grandson Jorge Luis Borges was born.

Borges' father, Jorge Guillermo Borges Haslam, was a lawyer and psychology teacher with literary aspirations. ("...he tried to become a writer and failed in the attempt," Borges once said, "... [but] composed some very good sonnets"). His father was part Spanish, part Portuguese, and half British; his father's mother was British and maintained a strong spirit of English culture in Borges's home. In this home, both Spanish and English were spoken and from earliest childhood Borges was bilingual, reading Shakespeare, in English, at the age of 12. His family was comfortably wealthy, but not quite wealthy enough to live in downtown Buenos Aires. Instead, they lived in the then suburb of Palermo, which was a somewhat poor neighborhood, famous for its knife-fights, where urban space gave way to the countryside, but in a large house equipped with an extensive English library.

Jorge Guillermo Borges was forced into early retirement from the legal profession owing to the same failing eyesight that would eventually afflict his son, and in 1914, the family moved to Geneva, Switzerland. Borges senior was treated by a Geneva eye specialist, while his son and daughter Norah attended school. There Borges junior learned French, initially with some difficulties, and taught himself German. He received his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The Borges family stayed until 1921 because of domestic unrest in neutral Argentina. After World War I ended, the Borges family spent three years living in various cities: Lugano (Switzerland), Barcelona, Majorca, Seville, and Madrid. Borges came into contact with several authors who would impact his writing, the work of Arthur Schopenhauer and Gustav Meyrink's "The Golem" (1915) being key examples. In Spain, Borges became a member of the avant-garde Ultraist literary movement (anti-Modernism, which ended in 1922 with the cessation of the journal "Ultra"). His first poem, "Hymn to the Sea," written in the style of Walt Whitman, was published in the magazine "Greece" ("Grecia", in Spanish)Fact|date=January 2008. There he frequented such notable Spanish writers as Rafael Cansinos Assens and Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

Early writing career

In 1921, Borges returned with his family to Buenos Aires where he imported the doctrine of Ultraism and launched his career as a writer by publishing poems and essays in literary journals in the Criollismo style. In 1930, Nestor Ibarra called Borges the "Great Apostle of Criollismo." [ [ Borges Center - Page title - The University of Iowa ] ] His first published collection of poetry was "Fervor de Buenos Aires" (1923). He contributed to the avant-garde review "Martín Fierro" (whose "art for art's sake" approach contrasted to that of the more politically-involved Boedo group) and co-founded the journals "Prisma", a broadsheet distributed largely by pasting copies to walls in Buenos Aires), and "Proa". Later in life Borges would come to regret some of these early publications, attempting to purchase all known copies to ensure theirdestruction. [ [ Table of Contents and Excerpt, Borges, Other Inquisitions ] ]

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

: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 (22). [de Man, Paul. "A Modern Master." Jorge Luis Borges. Ed. Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea House Pub., 1986. 21-27.]

He was, from the first issue, a regular contributor to "Sur", founded in 1931 by Victoria Ocampo, then Argentina's most important literary journalFact|date=June 2008. Ocampo herself introduced Borges to Adolfo Bioy Casares, another well-known figure of Argentine literature, who was to become a frequent collaborator and dear friend. Together they wrote a number of works, some using pseudonyms (H. Bustos Domecq), including a parody detective series and fantasy stories.

Also during these years Macedonio Fernández became a major influence on Borges, who inherited the friendship from his father. The two would [| hold court] in cafés, country retreats, or Macedonio's tiny apartment in the Balvanera district.

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

In 1937, friends of Borges found him working at the Miguel Cané branch of the Buenos Aires Municipal Library as a first assistant. His fellow employees forbade Borges from cataloguing more than 100 books per day, a task which would take him about one hour. The rest of his time he spent in the basement of the library, writing articles and short stories.

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


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

His first collection of short stories, "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan" ("The Garden of Forking Paths") appeared in 1941, composed mostly of works previously published in "Sur". Though generally well receivedFact|date=June 2008, "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan" failed to garner for him the literary prizes many in his circle expected. 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.

When Juan Perón became President in 1946, Borges was dismissed, and "promoted" to the position of poultry inspector for the Buenos Aires municipal market (he immediately resigned; he always referred to the title of the post he never filled as "Poultry and Rabbit Inspector"). His offenses against the Peronistas up to that time had apparently consisted of little more than adding his signature to pro-democratic petitions, but shortly after his resignation he addressed the Argentine Society of Letters saying, in his characteristic style, "Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy."

Without a job, his vision beginning to fade due to hereditary retinal detachment, [Woodall, J: "The Man in Mirror of the Book, A Life of Luis Borges", pg xxx. Hodder and Stoughton 1996] and unable to fully support himself as a writer, Borges began a new career as a public lecturer. Despite a certain degree of political persecution, he was reasonably successful, and became an increasingly public figure, obtaining appointments as President of the Argentine Society of Writers, and as Professor of English and American Literature at the Argentine Association of English Culture. His short story "Emma Zunz" was turned into a film (under the name of "Días de odio" (English title: "Days of Wrath"), directed in 1954, by the Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson). Around this time, Borges also began writing screenplays.

In 1955, and after the initiative of Ocampo, the new anti-Peronist military government appointed him head of the National Library. [es icon [ Jorge Luis Borges] , Galería de Directores, Biblioteca Nacional (Argentina). Accessed online 23 December 2006.] By that time, he had become completely blind, like one of his best known predecessors, Paul Groussac (for whom Borges wrote an obituary). Neither coincidence nor the irony escaped Borges and he commented on them in his work:

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

The following year he received the National Prize for Literature from the University of Cuyo, 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, he relied increasingly on his mother's help. When he was not able to read and write anymore (he never learned the Braille system), his mother, to whom he had always been devoted, became his personal secretary.

International renown

A story of Borges was first translated into English in the August 1948 issue of "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine"; the story was "The Garden of Forking Paths", the translator Anthony Boucher. [Anthony Boucher entry, online [ Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections] .] Though several other Borges translations appeared in literary magazines and anthologies during the 1950s, [Jorge Luis Borges, "Collected Fictions", Viking Penguin 1998, ISBN . (Translation and notes by Andrew Hurley.) Editorial note on page 517.] his international fame dates from the early 1960s. In 1961, he received the first International Publishers' Prize "Prix Formentor", which he shared with Samuel Beckett. While Beckett was well-known and respected in the English-speaking world, and Borges at this time remained unknown and untranslated, English-speaking readers became curious about the other recipient of the prize. 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. The first translations of his work into English followed in 1962, with lecture tours in Europe, and in subsequent years the Andean region of South America. In 1980 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca; numerous other honors were to accumulate over the years, such as the French Legion of Honour in 1983, the Cervantes Prize, and even a Special Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, "for distinguished contribution to the mystery genre". [Mystery Writers of America. [ Edgar Award Database] . Retrieved 24 September 2007.]

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


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

Borges and Eduardo Mallea were criticized for being "doctors of technique"; their writing presumably "lacked substance due to their lack of interaction with the reality [...] that they inhabited", an existential critique of their refusal to embrace existence and reality in their artwork. [Katra p. 57]

Later personal life

When Perón returned from exile and was re-elected president in 1973, Borges immediately resigned as director of the National Library. In 1967 Borges married the recently-widowed Elsa Astete Millán. It was commonly believed that his mother, who was 90, and anticipating her own death, wanted to find someone to care for her blind son. The marriage lasted less than three years. After a legal separation, Borges moved back in with his mother, with whom he lived until her death at age 99. [Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, "The Lessons of the Master" ] Thereafter, he lived alone in the small flat he had shared with her, cared for by Fanny, their housekeeper of many decades. ["Fanny", "El Señor Borges" ]

After 1975, the year his mother died, Borges began to travel all over the world, up to the time of his death. He was often accompanied in these travels by his personal assistant María Kodama, an Argentine woman of Japanese and German ancestry.

Jorge Luis Borges died of liver cancer in 1986 in Geneva and is buried in the Cimetière des Rois (Plainpalais). A few months before his death, via an attorney in Paraguay, he married Kodama. After years of legal wrangling about the legality of the marriage, Kodama, as sole inheritor of a significant annual income, has control over his works. Her administration of his estate has bothered some scholars; she has been denounced by the French publisher Gallimard, by "Le Nouvel Observateur", and by intellectuals such as Beatriz Sarlo, as an obstacle to the serious reading of Borges' works. [es icon Octavi Martí, Kodama frente a Borges, "El País" (Madrid), Edición Impresa, 16 August 2006. [ Abstract online] ; full text accessible online by subscription only.]

Tribute of J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee said of Borges: "He more than anyone renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists."Fact|date=May 2008

Nobel Prize omission

Though reputed to be a perennial contender, Borges was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature - one of the several distinguished authors who were never awarded one. [Feldman, Burton "The Nobel Prize: a History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige", p. 57, Arcade Publishing 2000] It was speculated that he was considered unfit to receive the award for his political views. [James M. Markham: [ Briton Wins the Nobel Literature Prize] , "The New York Times" 7 October 1983]

Other works

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

Since Borges lived through most of the 20th century, he was rooted in the Modernist period of culture and literature, especially SymbolismFact|date=June 2008. His fiction is profoundly learnéd, and always concise. Like his contemporary Vladimir Nabokov and the older James Joyce, he combined an interest in his native land with far broader perspectives. He also shared their multilingualism and their playfulness with language, but while Nabokov and Joyce tended--as their lives went on--toward progressively larger works, Borges remained a miniaturist. Also in contrast to Joyce and Nabokov, Borges' work progressed "away" from what he referred to as "the baroque," while theirs moved towards it: Borges' later writing style is far more transparent and naturalistic than his earlier works.

Many of his most popular stories concern the nature of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, reality, philosophy, and identity. A number of stories focus on fantastic themes, such as a library containing every possible 410-page text ("The Library of Babel"), a man who forgets nothing he experiences ("Funes, the Memorious"), an artifact through which the user can see everything in the universe ("The Aleph"), and a year of time standing still, given to a man standing before a firing squad ("The Secret Miracle"). The same Borges told more and less realistic stories of South American life, stories of folk heroes, streetfighters, soldiers, gauchos, detectives, historical figures. He mixed the real and the fantastic: fact with fiction. On several occasions, especially early in his career, these mixtures sometimes crossed the line into the realm of hoax or literary forgery. [His imitations of Swedenborg and others were originallypassed off as translations, in his literary column in "Crítica". For example, "El Teólogo" was originally published with the note "Lo 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 the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, eminent engineer and man of science, who during 27 years was in lucid and familiar commerce with the other world.") [ Bibliografía cronológica de la obra de Jorge Luis Borges] ("Chronological bibliography of the work of Jorge Luis Borges"), Borges Center, University of Iowa. Accessed online 7 November 2006.]

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

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

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

Borges also employed two very unusual literary forms: the literary forgery and the review of an imaginary work. Both constitute a form of modern pseudo-epigrapha.

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

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

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

Borges as Argentine and as world citizen

Borges' work maintained a universal perspective that reflected a multi-ethnic Argentina, exposure from an early age to his father's substantial collection of world literature, and lifelong travel experience. As a young man, he visited the frontier "pampas" where the boundaries of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil blurred, and lived and studied in Switzerland and Spain; in middle age he traveled through Argentina as a lecturer and, internationally, as a visiting professor; he continued to tour the world as he grew older, ending his life in Geneva where he had attended high school (he never went to university). Drawing on influences of many times and places, Borges' work belittled nationalism and racism. An Argentinian, Borges set some of his historical fiction in Uruguay.He grew acquainted with the literature from Argentine, Spanish, North American, English, French, German, Italian, and Northern European/Icelandic sources, including those of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. He also read many translations of Near Eastern and Far Eastern works. The universalism that made him interested in world literature reflected an attitude that was not congruent with the Perón government's extreme nationalism. That government's meddling with Borges' job fueled his skepticism of government (he labeled himself a "Spencerian anarchist" in the blurb of "Atlas"). When extreme Argentine nationalists sympathetic to the Nazis asserted Borges was Jewish (the implication being that his Argentine identity was inadequate), Borges responded in "Yo Judío" ("I, aJew"), where he said, while he would be proud to be a Jew, he presented his actual Christian genealogy, along with a backhanded reminder that any "pure" Castilian just might likely have a Jew in their ancestry, stemming from a millennium back.

Multicultural influences on Borges' writing

Borges' Argentina is a multi-ethnic country, and Buenos Aires, the capital, a cosmopolitan city. At the time of Argentine independence in 1816, the population was predominantly "criollo", which in Argentine usage generally means people of Spanish ancestry, although it can allow for a small admixture of other origins. The Argentine national identity diversified, forming over a period of decades after the Argentine Declaration of Independence. During that period substantial immigration came from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Syria and Lebanon (then parts of the Ottoman Empire), the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, North America, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and China, with the Italians and Spanish forming the largest influx.

Collaboration with Adolfo Bioy Casares

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

Religious influences

Borges' writing is also steeped by influences and informed by scholarship of Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish faiths, including mainline religious figures, heretics, and mystics.

Borges as specialist in the history, culture, and literature of Argentina and Uruguay

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

Borges' 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' 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.

Uruguay: recent literary criticism by Pedro Bordaberry

Uruguayan Colorado Presidential front-runner Pedro Bordaberry has published literary criticism of Borges, testifying to the live nature and wide readership of his writings in Uruguay [ [] ] . Bordaberry has notably discussed Borges's theme of the complexity of memory.

Borges, "Martín Fierro", and tradition

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

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

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

exuality and sexual orientation

There has been discussion of Borges' attitudes towards sex and women. It is undeniable that, with a few notable exceptions, women are almost entirely absent from the majority of his fictional output. Herbert J. Brant's essay "The Queer Use of Communal Women in Borges' 'El muerto' and 'La intrusa'", has argued that Borges employed women as intermediaries of male affection, allowing men to engage each other romantically without resorting to direct, homosexual contact. [Herbert J. Brant, [ The Queer Use of Communal Women in Borges' "El muerto" and "La intrusa"] , paper presented at XIX Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Congress held in Washington DC in September, 1995.] For instance, the plot of "La Intrusa" was based on a true story of two friends,Facts|date=February 2007 but Borges made their fictional counterparts brothers, excluding the possibility of a homosexual relationship. Borges dismissed these suggestions.

There are, however, instances in Borges writings of heterosexual love and attraction. The story "Ulrikke" from "The Book of Sand" tells a romantic tale of heterosexual desire, love, trust and sex. The protagonist of "El muerto" clearly relishes and lusts after the "splendid, contemptuous, red-haired woman" of Azevedo Bandeira. [Andrew Hurley "Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions". New York: Penguin, 1998. 197.] Later he "sleeps with the woman with shining hair". ["ibid." 200] "El muerto" ("The Dead Man") contains two separate examples of definitive gaucho heterosexual lust.


(partial list)


* Antología personal (1961)
* Labyrinths (1962, anthology, in English)
* Libro de sueños (1976)
* Nueva antología personal (1980)

Essays and criticism

* Inquisiciones (1925)
* El tamaño de mi esperanza (1926)
* El idioma de los argentinos (1928)
* Evaristo Carriego (1930)
* Discusión (1932)
* Historia de la eternidad (1936)
* Otras inquisiciones (1952)
* Libro del cielo y del infierno (1960), with Bioy Casares
* Prólogos (1975)
* Siete Noches (1980)
* Nueve ensayos dantescos (1982)
* Atlas (1985)


* Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)
* Luna de enfrente (1925)
* Cuaderno San Martin (1929)
* El otro, el mismo (1969)
* La rosa profunda (1975)
* La moneda de hierro (1976)
* Historia de la noche (1977)
* La Cifra (1981)

Poetry and prose

* El hacedor (1960)
* Elogio de la sombra (1969)
* El oro de los tigres (1972)
* La moneda de hierro (1976)
* Los Conjurados (1985)

hort stories

* El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) (1941; published in Ficciones, 1944)
* Historia universal de la infamia (1935, short stories)
* Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (1942)
* Ficciones (1944)
* Dos fantasías memorables (1946, as H. Bustos Domecq)
* Un modelo para la muerte (1946)
* El Aleph (1949)
* La muerte y la brújula (1951)
* Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (1967, as H. Bustos Domecq)
* El informe de Brodie (1970)
* El libro de arena (1975)
* Nuevos cuentos de Bustos Domecq (1977), con Bioy Casares
* La memoria de Shakespeare (1983)


* Bibliography of Jorge Luis Borges


* "Harto de Borges", dir. Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Argentina, 2004. (Documentary)
* "Borges para millones", dir. Ricardo Willicher. Argentina (Documentary)


Further reading

* "Labryinths"/published by New Directions., 1967 and reissued in 2007
* "Jorge Luis Borges (Critical Lives)" / Jason Wilson., 2006
* "With Borges" / Alberto Manguel., 2006
* "Borges and Dante : echoes of a literary friendship" / Humberto Núñez-Faraco., 2006
* "Borges and translation : the irreverence of the periphery" / Sergio Gabriel Waisman., 2005
* "Borges : a life" / Edwin Williamson., 2005
* "You might be able to get there from here: reconsidering Borges and the postmodern" / Frisch, Mark F., 2004
* "Jorge Luis Borges" (Bloom's BioCritiques) / Bloom, Harold., 2004
* "Jorge Luis Borges as writer and social critic" / Racz, Gregary Joseph., 2003
* "The lesson of the master: on Borges and his work" / Di Giovanni, Norman Thomas., 2003
* "Borges, the passion of an endless quotation" / Block de Behar, Lisa., 2003
* "Jorge Luis Borges" (Bloom's Major Short Story Writers) / Bloom, Harold., 2002
* "Invisible work: Borges and translation" / Kristal, Efraín., 2002
* "Borges and his fiction: a guide to his mind and art" / Bell-Villada, Gene., 1999
* "Jorge Luis Borges: thought and knowledge in the XXth century" / Toro, Alfonso de., 1999
* "The secret of Borges: a psychoanalytic inquiry into his work" / Woscoboinik, Julio., 1998
* "Borges and Europe revisited" / Fishburn, Evelyn., 1998
* "Nightglow: Borges' poetics of blindness" / Yudin, Florence., 1997
* "The Borges tradition" / Di Giovanni, Norman Thomas., 1995
* "Signs of Borges" / Molloy, Sylvia., 1994
* "Cervantes and the modernists: the question of influence" / Williamson, Edwin., 1994
* "Out of context: historical reference and the representation of reality in Borges" / Balderston, Daniel., 1993
* "Jorge Luis Borges: a writer on the edge" / Sarlo, Beatriz., 1993
* "Borges' Narrative Strategy" / Shaw, Donald L., 1992
* "Borges revisited" / Stabb, Martin S., 1991
* "The contemporary praxis of the fantastic: Borges and Cortázar" / Rodríguez-Luis, Julio., 1991
* "Borges and his successors: the Borgesian impact on literature and the arts" / Aizenberg, Edna., 1990
* "Jorge Luis Borges: a study of the short fiction" / Lindstrom, Naomi., 1990
* "Borges and the Kabbalah: and other essays on his fiction and poetry" / Alazraki, Jaime., 1988
* "The meaning of experience in the prose of Jorge Luis Borges" / Agheana, Ion Tudro., 1988
* "Critical essays on Jorge Luis Borges" / Alazraki, Jaime., 1987
* "Jorge Luis Borges" (Modern Critical Views) / Bloom, Harold., 1986
* "Jorge Luis Borges, life, work, and criticism" / Yates, Donald A., 1985
* "The prose of Jorge Luis Borges: existentialism and the dynamics of surprise" / Agheana, Ion Tudro., 1984
* "The aleph weaver: biblical, kabbalistic and Judaic elements in Borges" / Aizenberg, Edna., 1984
* "Borges and his fiction: a guide to his mind and art" / Bell-Villada, Gene H., 1981
* "Jorge Luis Borges" / McMurray, George R., 1980
* "Jorge Luis Borges, A Literary Biography" / Monegal, Emir Rodriguez, 1978
* "Paper tigers: the ideal fictions of Jorge Luis Borges" / Sturrock, John., 1977
* "The Cardinal points of Borges" / Dunham, Lowell., 1971

External links

Labyrinths Published by New Directions in 1967 and then re-issued in 2007
* [ Borges Center, University of Pittsburgh] : important internet resources including bibliographies, chronologies, full text articles and books, and information on the journal Variaciones Borges
* [ Literatis] : a complete course in Spanish with selects readings of his opus, personal thinks and philosophical ideas that he wrote.
* [ BBC Radio 4: "In Our Time"] Archive page for edition about Borges in a series on the 'History of Ideas'. Includes link to streaming audio.
* [ The Modern Word: The Garden of Forking Paths] . A comprehensive Web site dedicated to exploring Borges and his work, including pages that discuss writers that Borges influenced.
* [ Internetaleph] . Fully bilingual (English/Spanish) portal dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges. Links, recent news, reading suggestions and an introduction for beginners.
* [ The Borgesian Cyclopaedia] . "Being a Virtual Reference to the World of Jorge Luis Borges".
* [ Hallucinating Spaces, or the Aleph] An essay from "Borgesland" by Susana Medina
* [ The Friends of Jorge Luis Borges Worldwide Society & Associates] A non-Governmental and not for profit organization with four distinctive entities that aim to promote artistic and intellectual talents along with civic virtues in new generations of mankind. Borges' works ("a writer of writers" for his extensive and insightful readings) are celebrated as a thread of Ariadne to walk the labyrinths of Philosophy and Literature and all fields of knowledge in quest of wisdom.
* [ Fundación San Telmo's Jorge Luis Borges Collection]
* [ The Norton Lectures, delivered at Harvard University in the fall of 1967, by Jorge Luis Borges]
* [ Borges' Bad Politics] presents a revisionist essay by Clive James arguing that Borges could have done more to engage with Argentina's political situation
* [ "El Tango"] on audio MP3 (in Spanish)
* [ Rend(er)ing L.C.: Susan Daitch Meets Borges & Borges, Delacroix, Marx, Derrida, Daumier, and Other Textualized Bodies] William A. Nericcio (1993); [ pdf full-text]
* [ Poem of Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires, Argentina, about the 'soul' and the mythical foundation his beloved city]
* [ interview with Borges at the University of Buenos Aires from "Habitus: A Diaspora Journal"]

NAME=Borges, Jorge Luis
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Argentine writer
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|df=yes|1899|8|24
PLACE OF BIRTH=Buenos Aires, Argentina
DATE OF DEATH=death date|df=yes|1986|6|14
PLACE OF DEATH=Geneva, Switzerland

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