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Jorge Luis Borges
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Jorge Luis Borges

, author of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"]]

Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899 - June 14, 1986) was an Argentine writer who is considered to be one of the foremost South American writers of the 20th century. A poet and an essayist, Borges is generally best-known for his fictional short stories.

Table of contents
1 Life
2 Work
3 Borges as Argentine
4 Borges as World Citizen
5 Works
6 External links and references

Life

Borges was born in Buenos Aires. His father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, was a lawyer and a psychology teacher, who also had literary aspirations ("he tried to become a writer and failed in the attempt," Borges once said. "He composed some very good sonnets"). Borges's mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, was a translator. His father's family was part Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and British; his mother's Spanish, Catalan, and possibly Portuguese. At his home, both Spanish and English were spoken, so from earliest childhood Borges was effectively bilingual, and learned to read in English before Spanish. He grew up in the suburban neighborhood of Palermo in a large house with an extensive library.

The "full" form of Borges's name is Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, but he never used this form.

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, where Borges senior was treated by a Geneva eye specialist while Borges and his sister Norah (born 1902) attended school. There Borges learned French and taught himself German, receiving his BA from the Collège of Geneva in 1918.

After World War I ended, three years took the Borges family to Lugano, Barcelona, Majorca, Sevilla, and Madrid. In Spain, Borges became a member of avant-garde Ultraist literary movement. His first poem, "Hymn to the Sea," written in the style of Walt Whitman, was published in the magazine Grecia (Spanish: Greece).

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. Borges's first 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" of Roberto Arlt), co-founded the journals Prisma (1921 - 1922, a broadsheet distributed largely by pasting copies to walls in Buenos Aires) and Proa (1922 - 1926). He was, from the first issue, a regular contributor to Sur, founded in 1931, by Victoria Ocampo, which became Argentina's most important literary journal. Ocampo herself introduced Borges to Adolfo Bioy Casares, who was to become Borges's frequent collaborator and Ocampo's brother-in-law, as well as a well-known Argentine writer of fiction in his own right.

In 1933 he was appointed editor of the literary supplement of the newspaper Crítica, and it was there that the pieces that would later be published in the grandly titled Historia universal de la infamia (Universal History of Infamy) appeared. These pieces laid somewhere between non-fictional essays and fictional short stories, using fictional techniques to tell essentially true stories, and literary forgeries, which typically claimed to be translations of passages from famous but seldom-read works. In the following years, he served as literary adviser for the publishing house Emecé Editores and wrote weekly columns for El Hogar, which appeared from 1936 to 1939.

Borges's father died in 1938, a great blow to him because the two had been unusually close. At New Year's 1939, Borges suffered a severe head wound in an accident; during treatment for that wound, he nearly died of blood poisoning. While he recovered from the accident, he started writing traditional fiction, and his first collection of short stories, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) appeared in 1941. The book included 'El sur', a piece that incorporated some autobiographical elements, notably the accident, and which the writer regarded as his personal favorite. Though generally well received, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan failed to garner the literary prizes many in his circle expected for it. 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 project.

Starting in 1937, Borges had been working at the Miguel Cané branch of the Buenos Aires Municipal Library as the first assistant. When Juan Perón came to power in 1946 he was effectively fired, being "promoted" to the job of poultry and rabbit inspector for the Buenos Aires municipal market (which he immediately resigned). 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."

Left without a job, his vision beginning to fade, and not able to fully support himself as a writer, Borges began a new career as a public lecturer. Despite a certain amount of political persecution, he was reasonably successful in this, and became an increasingly public figure, obtaining appointments as President (1950 - 1953) of the Argentine Society of Writers and as Professor of English and American Literature (1950 - 1955) at the Argentine Association of English Culture. His short story Emma Zunz was turned into a film (under the name of Días de odio, which in English became Days of Wrath) in 1954 by Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson. Around this time, Borges began writing screenplays.

In 1955, and after the initiative of Ocampo, the new anti-Peronist military government appointed him head of the National Library. By that time, he had become fully blind. Sarcastically, he wrote,

Nadie rebaje a lágrima o reproche,
Esta demostración de la maestría,
De Dios, que con magnífica ironía,
Me dio a la vez los libros y la noche.''

Nobody should think that I, by tear or reproach, make light
Of the mastery of God who,
With excellent irony,
Gave me at once both books and night.[1]

The following year he received the National Prize for Literature and the first of many honorary doctorates, this one from the University of Cuyo (Argentina). 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.

Being unable to read and write, he relied on his mother, with whom he had always been personally close, and who began to work with him as his personal secretary.

Borges's international fame dates approximately from the early 1960s. In 1961, he received the Formentor Prize, which he shared with Samuel Beckett; the Italian government named him Commendatore; and the University of Texas at Austin appointed him for one year to the Tinker chair. This led to his first lecture tour of the United States. The first translations of his work into English were to follow in 1962, with lecture tours of Europe and the Andean region of South America in subsequent years. In 1965, the United Kingdom granted him an O.B.E. Dozens of other honors were to accumulate over the years.

In 1967, Borges began a five-year period of collaboration with the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, thanks to which 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), 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 gathered in volumes such as Siete noches (Seven Nights) and Nueve ensayos dantescos.

When Perón returned from exile and was re-elected president in 1973, Borges resigned as director of the National Library.

In 1975, after the death of his mother, Borges started his series of visits to countries all over the world, and continued traveling until his death.

Borges was married twice. In 1967 he married an old friend, the recently widowed Elsa Astete Millán. The marriage lasted three years. After the divorce, Borges moved back in with his mother. During his last years, Borges lived with María Kodama, with whom he had been studying Anglo-Saxon for a number of years, and who also served as his personal secretary. In 1984, they produced an account of their journeys in different places of the world under the name Atlas, with text by Borges and photographs by Kodama. They married in 1986, months before his death.

Borges died of liver cancer in Geneva in 1986, having chosen to return at the end of his life to the city in which he had studied as an undergraduate.

Work

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- and 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, philosophy, 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.

Borges lived through most of the twentieth century, and so was rooted in the Modernist period of culture and literature. His fiction is profoundly learned, and always concise. Like his contemporary Vladimir Nabokov and the somewhat older James Joyce, he combined an interest in his native land with far broader interests. 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's work progressed away from what he referred to as "the baroque," while theirs moved towards it: Borges's later writing style is far more transparent and naturalistic than his early style.

Many of his most popular stories concern the nature of time, infinity, mirrors, labyrinths, reality, 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 and 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.

Borges's 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. His non-fiction also explores many of the themes that are 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 Argentinian 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 and obscurely 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's interest in fantasy was shared by Bioy Casares, with whom Borges coauthored several collections of tales between 1942 and 1967.

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), Borges increasingly focused on writing poetry, because 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, Orbus Tertius", in his essay "New Refutation of Time", and in his poem "Things." Similarly, a common thread runs through his story "The Circular Ruins" and his poem "The Golem."

As well as his own original work, Borges was notable as a translator into Spanish. At the age of ten, he translated a story by Oscar Wilde into Spanish. At the end of his life he produced a Spanish-language version of the Prose Edda. Borges also translated (whilst 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 of translation. Borges held the view that a translation may improve upon an original, and that alternative and potentially contradictory renderings of the same work can be equally valid, and further that an original or literal translation can be unfaithful to the original work.

Borges also wrote in two very unusual literary forms: the literary forgery and the review of an imaginary work; the latter, which may be his own invention, was later further developed by Stanislaw Lem in his Wielkosc Urojona (Warsaw, 1973, translated into English 1984 by Marc E. Heine under the title Imaginary Magnitude). Borges's 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 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, Borges chose, instead of following through the idea in the obvious way by writing a piece that fulfilled the concept, to write a review of a nonexistent work, writing as though this work 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 so immerses himself in the world of sixteenth-century Spain that he can sit down and create a large portion of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote — verbatim — not by having memorized Cervantes's work, but as an "original" work of his own mind. Borges's "review" of the work of the fictional Menard effectively discusses the resonances that Don Quixote has picked up over the centuries since it was written, by way of overtly discussing how much richer Menard's work is than Cervantes' (verbatim identical) work.

Borges as Argentine

Maintaining a universal perspective, Borges belittled the notion of race and derided nationalism, yet his writing often reflected the sensibilities of the particular multicultural environment from which he emerged. Argentina, despite its origin as a Spanish colony, is a very multi-ethnic country, and Buenos Aires, the capital, a very cosmopolitan city. This was even truer during the generally prosperous era of Borges's childhood and youth than in the early 21st Century, when the Argentine economy has suffered through several recent cycles of boom and bust.

At the time of Argentine independence in 1816, the Argentine population was predominantly criollo, which in Argentine usage generally means people of Spanish ancestry, although it can allow for a small admixture of other ancestry. The Argentine national identity formed over a period of decades after formal independence, and during that period there was substantial immigration from countries and regions as diverse as Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Syria, 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. This was quite a melting pot, but with the indigenous Amerind population all but squeezed out. A multicultural Buenos Aires populates Borges' fiction, and ultimately inspires Borges' synthesis of diverse Asian, European, and Middle Eastern sources.

Borges himself 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 (e.g. "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's maternal great-grandfather was another military hero, whom Borges immortalized in the poem "A Page to Commemorate Colonel Suarez, Victor at Junín."

Borges's first book, the poetry collection Fervor de Buenos Aires (Passion for Buenos Aires), appeared in 1923. Borges contributed to a few avant garde publications in the early 1920s, including one called Martín Fierro, named after the major work of nineteenth-century Argentine literature, Martín Fierro, a gauchesque poem by José Hernández, published in two parts, in 1872 and 1880.

Main article: Borges on Martín Fierro

The poem'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 Argentinian equivalent of a North American western outlaw. 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, but as Borges matured, he criticized nationalism in politics and literature and came to see the poem in a much more complex light. His 1953 book of essays on the poem, El "Martín Fierro, separates his great admiration for the aesthetic virtues 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 is utterly disdainful in his criticism of those such as Eleuterio Tiscornia who fail to understand its specifically Argentinian character.

Borges as World Citizen

Besides his Argentine roots, Borges's writing is steeped not only in European influences, but informed by scholarship and mysticism from Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish sources (albeit largely lacking in indigenous Amerind sources, owing to the near-destruction of that population and culture in the Southern Cone). Maintaining a universal perspective, Borges belittled the notion of race and derided nationalism.

Works

Quotations

Original Book-length Publications

This list follows the chronology of original (typically Spanish-language) publication in books, based in part on the rather comprehensive (but incomplete) bibliography online at
http://www.hum.au.dk/romansk/borges. The following list focuses on book-length publication of original work (including collaborative work): it does not include individual short stories, poems, and translations published in magazines, nor does it include books (such as anthologies of fantasy and of Argentine literature) that Borges edited or co-edited. It also excludes several chapbooks, privately printed editions, etc. of under 50 pages each and does not attempt to identify first publication dates of individual stories, poems, etc. ISBNs refer to recent editions, not original publications. (Many English-language titles and ISBNs still missing. Some of the volumes might be better classified in terms of genre; in particular, some of the later works lack classifications.)

There are also 1953, 1974, 1984, and 1989 Obras completas (complete works) with varying degrees of completeness and a 1981 Obras completas en coloboración (complete collaborative works).

Several bibliographies also choose to include a collection of previously published essays, published in 1971 under the name Narraciones.

Some web-based lists misattribute El Caudillo, (1921 novel), to Borges. It was actually written by his father, also a Jorge Borges.

Book-length interviews in English

Screenplays

Other works of note

English-language publication

Borges's work was first published in book form in English in
1962, with the translation and publication of Ficciones (1944) and the collection known as Labyrinths.

In 1967, Borges began a five-year period of collaboration with the American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, thanks to which became better known in the English-speaking world. Di Giovanni would continue to be his primary English-language translator from that time forward.

Collections originally in English

This is a listing of book-length English-language volumes that are not simply translations of entire Spanish-language books; those are listed above.

Short Stories

Quasi-Fiction

Essays

External links and references