Monday, June 05, 2017


It is possible to overdose on Borges. He becomes quite repetitive after a while. If you have read Ficciones you have read enough. Argentina (and Uruguay) with many knives, deaths, toughs, sufferings, and dreams figures more prominently in the rest of his work, so you will miss that flavor, but you'll get just about everything else.


Galen said...

Yes. The Immortal alone was almost enough for me -- a haunting for life. Borges writes books that are so ingenious, they make you want to throw them down in mid-epiphany. But despite the stunning insights, his is not the kind of art that conceals art. I love The Ficciones; each story is an espresso to be sipped. But I love the incomparable Middlemarch more.

james said...

I see what you mean by overdosing. I picked up Labyrinth and read three (including the Library Of Babel, which I'd forgotten the name of after reading it decades ago), and set it down with a strong sense that the man was deeply into meaninglessness and despair. Some powerful images, but sad.

RichardJohnson said...

Several years ago I read Ficciones in both Spanish and English. One of the translations caught my attention: "gringos" was translated as "wops." The term "gringo" has different meanings in different countries. The term "gringo" is used in Peru to describe anyone of Caucasian descent, so that someone born in Peru whose ancestors came to Peru with Pizarro would be considered a "gringo." At least in the highlands it is used that way. I don't know about Lima. In Argentina, the term "gringo" is used to refer to someone not born in Argentina- though I believe of of Caucasian descent. I never heard someone from Bolivia called a "gringo" in Argentina.

According to the translator, the term "wop" was appropriate because "gringo" was used in a pejorative sense. It could be that Borges, who had criollo/creole ancestors who were in Argentina when the country became independent, had some scorn for the turn-of-the-century European immigrants to Argentina- most of whom were Italians. Or that the turn-of-the-century characters he was writing about had that scorn.

When I worked in Argentina decades later, I detected no pejorative use of the word "gringo." Such as: "Mi abuela era gringa.Nació en Italia." [My grandmother was a gringa. She was born in Italy.] This was probably because by then the descendants of turn-of-the-century immigrants had fully assimilated and were running the country. The cantante/singing accent of Buenos Aires is a consequence of the Italian immigration. Te lo juro. (I swear to you.)

When I was in Argentina, there was some disappointment that Borges didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature. This was most likely because Borgtes had initially supported the military Junta that took over in 1976. Borges's dislike of the Peronistas went back decades, as Perón had kicked Borges out of his job at the National Library and transferred him to a job as an inspector of chickens.

The comic strip Clemente Y Bartolo, the creation of Carlos Loiseau, once had a strip about Borges's not winning the Nobel Prize . Unfortunately, I lost my copy, but it is "seared into my brain." It goes like this:
What a shame that Borges didn't win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
But there are some compensations for Argentina.
After all we recently won the Nobel Prize for Soccer (1978 World Cup)
And for YEARS we have won the Nobel Prize for Inflation.
[Yes, indeed.]

BTW, Borges wasn't the only one to have gotten it wrong about the Junta. Jacobo Timerman, in his capacity as publisher of the newspaper La Opinión, also supported the military coup. The government of Isabel Perón, a.k.a. Evita II (Cristina Kirchner became Evita III), was that bad. After Timerman published notices of "disappeared" persons, and the Junta tortured him for doing so, Timerman changed his mind.

RichardJohnson said...

Unfortunately for Argentina, tolerance for torture was not confined to the military. In a 1972 article in the New York Review of Books,The Corpse at the Iron Gate, V.S. Naipaul interviewed a Peronist trade union leader. (Ironically someone who DID win the Nobel Prize for Literature.)
“There are no internal enemies,” the trade union leader said, with a smile. But at the same time he thought that torture would continue in Argentina. “A world without torture is an ideal world.” And there was torture and torture. “Depende de quién sea torturado. It depends on who is tortured. An evildoer, that’s all right. But a man who’s trying to save the country—that’s something else. Torture isn’t only the electric prod, you know. Poverty is torture, frustration is torture.” He was urbane; I had been told he was the most intellectual of the Peronist trade union leaders. He had been punctual; his office was uncluttered and neat; on his desk, below glass, there was a large photograph of the young Perón.

No, not everyone on the left in Argentina thought that way. Nor did every military man support torture. But that quote indicates that there was a sickness not just in the military, but in Argentine society.

When I look at the 1970s battle in Argentina between the military and the left, or between the "gorilas" (gorillas) and the guerrillas, I hope that both sides lost. And to a big degree, both sides did lose.