Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

Argentine writer
Date of Birth: 24.08.1899
Country: Argentina

Biography of Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine writer, not only embraced but also transformed his difficult fate into creative material. The accumulation of cultural images and symbols is a consequence of this transformation, with the reason lying in his feeling of being the last descendant of his lineage, a dead-end branch that will never escape.

Jorge Luis Borges

Born on August 24, 1899, in Buenos Aires, in a family of lawyer Jorge Guillermo Borges (1874-1938) and Leonor Acevedo de Borges (1876-1975), who lived on Tucuman Street, between Suipacha and Esmeralda, in a house that belonged to Leonor's parents, a child named Jorge Luis was born. He spent most of his childhood in a domestic environment. His father published one novel and wrote three more books before destroying them. His father, who was an agnostic philosopher, was also connected by his maternal line to the Hazlitt family from Staffordshire, England. He had a vast library of English literature. Fanny Hazlitt, Jorge Luis's grandmother, taught the children and grandchildren English. Borges was fluent in the language, and at the age of 8, he translated a story by Wilde so well that it was published in the magazine "Sur". Later, Borges translated Virginia Woolf, excerpts from Faulkner, Kipling's stories, and chapters from Joyce's "Finnegans Wake". Perhaps from the English, he acquired a love for paradoxes, an essayistic lightness, and an engaging narrative. Many writers pointed out that Borges was an English writer who wrote in Spanish. "From my childhood, when my father was struck blind, it was silently understood in our family that it was my duty to accomplish in literature what circumstances prevented my father from accomplishing. This was taken for granted (and such convictions are much stronger than mere expressed wishes). It was expected that I would be a writer. I started writing when I was six or seven years old," he said.

Jorge Luis Borges

In 1914, his family went to Europe. In the autumn, Jorge Luis started attending the Geneva College. In 1919, the family moved to Spain, and on December 31, 1919, the first poem by Jorge Luis was published in the magazine "Grecia," in which the author "strived to be Walt Whitman." Soon, he joined the group of "ultraists," which was described in Soviet literary studies as an "anarchic rebellion of the petite bourgeoisie intelligentsia against bourgeois mediocrity and limitations." Borges himself did not write anything coherent about his "ultraism." In general, it resembles a young Mayakovsky: "The deck reshaped life. // Colored cardboard talismans // wiped away everyday fate, // and a new smiling world // transformed the abducted time...". In Buenos Aires in 1921, our hero returned as a poet. By 1930, he had written and published seven books, founded three journals, collaborated with twelve more, and in the late 1920s, he began writing short stories. "The period from 1921 to 1930 was filled with intense activity for me, but, perhaps, essentially reckless and even purposeless," he would later say.

Around 1937, he began working permanently at the library, where he spent "nine deeply unhappy years." Here, leading a quiet life as a bookworm, he wrote a series of masterpieces: "Pierre Menard," "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," "The Lottery in Babylon," "The Library of Babel," "The Garden of Forking Paths." There was little work, and they paid him little money. He had to fake his work activity - it was all very much like the Soviet Union.

"I did all my library work in the first hour, and then quietly went to the basement storage and spent the remaining five hours reading or writing... The male employees were only interested in horse racing, football competitions, and dirty stories. One of the female readers was raped while going to the women's room. Everyone said that it was bound to happen since the women's room was next to the men's." His work "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" (1938) Borges defined as something between an essay and a "real story." However, the classic Borges concepts are fully visible here. The fictional writer Pierre Menard, although bibliographically described as real (his archive is listed in great detail), tries to compose "Don Quixote."

"He did not want to write a second 'Don Quixote' - that would have been easy - but specifically 'Don Quixote.' Needless to say, he did not mean mechanical copying, nor did he intend to rewrite the novel. His daring design was to create a few pages that would coincide - word for word and line for line - with those written by Miguel de Cervantes." The method was as follows: "Master the Spanish language well, revive the Catholic faith in oneself, fight the Moors or the Turks, forget the history of Europe between 1602 and 1918..." However, this method was rejected as too easy. Menard had to remain Pierre Menard and still come to "Don Quixote." It is revealed later that Menard did come to "Don Quixote," i.e., the texts coincide verbatim, although, as Borges claims, the meanings they express are completely different. The entire narrative is built around this paradox. For Borges, it was a game of the mind, a kind of amusement.

But it is from this text, written in the basement of the library in 1938, that an entire literary movement later emerged. The story "Pierre Menard" was useful 30-40 years after its creation when Borges's fame, especially in the United States, was very powerful. I am, of course, referring to postmodernism, calculated by Borges, modeled by him in this story.

In the context of postmodernism, the story is about the impossibility of new texts, that the number of texts is limited, and moreover, they have already been written. There are so many books that writing new ones is simply not possible or even meaningful. However, "Don Quixote" is more real than Pierre Menard, who does not exist in reality, i.e., literature is more real than the writer himself. Therefore, it is not the writer who writes books, but the ready-made books from the Universal Library (whose image Borges gave in "The Library of Babel," written in the same basement) write themselves as writers, and the writer turns out to be a "repeater," as the example of Pierre Menard proves. Following the written, foreign word, foreign thought has a kind of fatalism and a sense of the end of literature. "By me," says Pierre Menard, "a mysterious duty is guided to reproduce his (Cervantes's) spontaneously created novel literally."

Essentially, Jorge Luis, desiring to reach India, discovered America. Undoubtedly, the librarian-writer, whose writing desk was in close proximity to the bookshelf, also keenly felt his dependence as a writer on what had already been published. The books pressed on him, urging him not to assimilate or dissociate from the foreign word but to preserve it in its natural peculiarity.

In the collection "El oro de los tigres" (1972), Borges published the novella "Four Circles." The idea is simple: "There are only four stories." The first is about a fortified city that is stormed and defended by heroes. The second is about a return. The third is about searching. The fourth is about the suicide of God. "There are only four stories," Borges repeats at the end. "No matter how much time we have left, we will retell them - in one form or another." Essentially, this is the ideology of the reader transposed into the technology of the writer's work. And it is this transposition that can be considered Borges's main and epochal invention.

He invented a "writing machine" (resembling the logical machine of Raymond Lull, invented in the 13th century, about which he liked to write), an uninterrupted text generator that produces new texts from old ones and thus prevents literature from dying. "As an instrument of philosophical investigation, the logical machine is nonsense. However, it would not be nonsense as an instrument of literary and poetic creation," Borges notes.

Thanks to his invention, literary activities became accessible to everyone, including people without talent or even ability. You just had to be a reader. So Borges greatly contributed to ensuring democracy and equality principles in literature by introducing the corresponding technology of "legitimizing plagiarism."

Although in practice, it turns out that only Borges could give brilliance to detailed bibliographical references and only he could animate the secondary, giving it a second life. The imitators (especially in the post-Soviet period) of his literature do not even stir the literary corpses. Recently, someone tried to publish a series of long-forgotten marginal books in our country, which Borges only remembered. The project showed that it is boring and unnecessary to read them. The historical and cultural role of this material is only to serve as enamel for Borges. Without his enchanting mosaic, the marginal works are meaningless and dead.

Borges, of course, was a reader and a bibliographer who turned both activities into literature. But it was also the fact that he had a knack for choosing material that corresponded to the philosophical and scientific-methodological spirit of the time. Without having a place to delve into the details, I will only say that, for example, "The Garden of Forking Paths" corresponds to structuralism as a whole, as well as to Gadamer's hermeneutics and the works of the Baden school of neo-Kantianism (H. Rickert, W. Windelband), which were relevant in the second half of the 20th century.

In 1946, a dictatorship of President Peron was established in Argentina. Borges was immediately expelled from the library since the new regime was not happy with his writings and statements. As Borges himself recalled, he was "honored with a promotion" when he was transferred from the library to the position of an inspector of bird and rabbit trading at city markets. So Borges miserably existed as an unemployed person from 1946 until 1955, when the dictatorship was overthrown by a revolution.

However, in 1950, he was elected president of the Argentine Society of Writers, which was one of the few strongholds of resistance to the dictatorship, but this society was soon dissolved. In 1955, a revolution took place, and Borges was appointed director of the National Library and a professor of English and American literature at the University of Buenos Aires.

But everything came too late, following the French saying: "When we get the pants, we no longer have an ass." By 1955, Borges had completely lost his eyesight. "Fame, like blindness, came to me gradually. I never sought it," he said. His first books in the 1930s and 1940s were failures, and his book "The History of Eternity," published in 1936, sold only 37 copies in a year, and the author planned to visit all the buyers' homes to apologize and say thank you. In the 1950s, Borges became internationally known, and by the 1960s, he was considered a classic.

Perhaps Borges's sudden fame was due to the success of the "nouveau roman," the manifesto of which, "The Era of Suspicion," by Nathalie Sarraute, was published precisely in 1950. "...When a writer intends to tell a story and imagines himself having to write 'The Marquise Went Out at Five' and how the reader will derisively look at it, doubts arise, and the hand hesitates..." To this, we can add disappointment in the reality described in the novel and a sense of boredom from traditional descriptive means ("The Marquise Went Out at Five").

What the evolution of the European novel had come to, Borges already had in a ready-made form. It is not surprising that in the mid-1970s, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. However, he did not receive it due to his approving statement about the Pinochet coup. The liberal terror of the Swedish Social Democrats, who controlled the awarding of prizes, is a harsh reality. Like any social democrat, they think about literature last.

In 1974, he retired from the position of director of the National Library and started to live in seclusion in a small apartment in Buenos Aires. A modest, lonely old man. The author of books such as "The History of Eternity" (1936), "Fictions" (1944), "The Aleph" (1949), "New Investigations" (1952), "The Maker" (1960), "The Brodie Report" (1970), "The Book of Sand" (1975), and others. Commander of the Italian Republic, Commander of the Legion of Honour "For Merit in Literature and Art," Knight of the Order of the British Empire "For Outstanding Merit," and the Spanish Order of Alfonso X "El Sabio," honorary doctor of the Sorbonne, Oxford, and Columbia University, winner of the Cervantes Prize. And this is only part of his titles.

In 1981, he stated, "And yet I don't have the feeling that I have exhausted myself. In a sense, the young ardor seems closer to me now than when I was a young man. Now I no longer consider happiness unattainable..."

In 1986, he died of liver cancer. He was buried in Geneva. An immigrant reported that at first, no one could not only decipher the content of the epitaph but even determine the language it was written in. Mailing to the philological departments of Geneva yielded results: a quote from "Beowulf." "Clearly an epitaph," concluded the immigrant, "carefully chosen and designed for years of exegesis." However, the text of the inscription is not known in Russia.

In a lecture titled "Blindness" in 1982, Borges stated, "If we consider that darkness can be a heavenly good, who is "living himself" more blind? Who can better study himself? Using Socrates' phrase, who can better know himself than the blind?"

Borges not only knew but also transformed his difficult fate into creative material. The accumulation of cultural images and symbols is a consequence of this transformation, with the reason lying in his feeling of being the last descendant of his lineage, a dead-end branch that will never escape. The writer had neither a wife nor children; he longed for his sister Nora and his mother, who partly fulfilled the role of a writer's wife.

"She has always been my companion in everything, especially in recent years when I began to go blind, and an understanding, indulgent friend. For many years, until the very last years, she performed all the secretarial work for me... She... calmly and successfully contributed to my literary career."

The feeling of being "completed," which squeezes my heart, gave birth to a tragic worldview (with motifs of loneliness and confinement) and an inclination towards collecting an anthology, a compendium of world thought and culture, a "sum." Hence the alienated view of culture, the view of a traveler or an impartial evaluator looking at what does not belong to him, and hence the fundamental characteristic of Borges, which he taught, or rather infected, world literature after the 1970s and later years: the free play with cultural deposits, the presentation of cultural smaltos as mosaics. The most notable manifestation of this play is the description of virtual reality. The pinnacle of Borges's activity in this direction is two books: "Fictions" and "The Aleph." Imitating these two books spawned and continues to produce a colossal amount of imitative literary production. Borges attributes everything invented to ordinary reality, interweaving it, but according to a certain principle.

The principle lies in replenishing reality to logical completeness: in advance.

© BIOGRAPHS