Saturday, March 29, 2003

Hi, Rod.

As you probably know, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was (and is) the greatest Argentina writer ever, and arguably one of the best 20th Century writers regardless language or nationality.

He was blind (he developed an hereditary condition which lead him to a kind of blurry vision as though amidst a heavy fog) and loved literature and books, which he had different people read to him. He became the president of the National Library in Buenos Aires until Perón ousted him for political reasons in the mid ?50s.

His first language was the English, as his grandfather was an ex-pat from across the pond and English was the language his family spoke at home. His father retired early due to his own vision problems and moved to Switzerland when Borges was 14. Borges attended a secondary school there (where he learned both French and German). After graduating, he moved to Spain where he met the crème of the Spanish poetic Ultraist movement. Back in Buenos Aires, he started his incredible work of poems, essays and short stories (he never wrote a novel or a play).

An excerpt for starters (was he speaking of himself?):

"A librarian wearing dark glasses asked him: 'What are you looking for?' Hladik answered: 'I am looking for God.' The librarian said to him: 'God is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes of the Clementine. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have searched for this letter; I have grown blind seeking it.'

He seemed he had read it all. At least all that was (and still is) worth reading -and in its original language. He mastered Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Greek and Anglo Saxon (he was for several years the only authority on Anglo Saxon in Argentina).

I would like to recommend that you read whatever you can find by Borges, but the fact is that there is a difference between reading Borges in Spanish and in English, although his was very much a British mindset and was highly influenced by the English literature and philosophy. So, make the brave attempt and try and read him in Spanish. Anyway, I have a volume of short stories by Borges in English in the garage; when it turns up (you know), I?ll pass it on to you. Truly speaking, if you only study Spanish in order to read Borges, it will be very worthwhile.

Here?s an essay by Borges about the Cult of the Books, one of the only things I can have in common with this peerless genius. As far as I know, it has been translated into English and included in a collection of non-fiction works by Borges. I reckon it could be rather hard for you to read the essay that follows, but ask Isa, grab a dictionary, or just give me a shout.

José

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