Friday, December 13, 2013

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986) was an Argentine writer – famously known as ‘the best writer never to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature’.  Maybe that was because he never wrote a novel – he wrote short stories, essays and commentary.

His short stories are amazing – they are mostly really short, very dense, very profound, totally fascinating. They are at the same time philosophical, magic-realist and fantastical.  His best known collections of stories are found in English under the titles of either “Fictions” or “Labyrinths”.

Borges spoke both English and Spanish fluently, as both were spoken at home.  His grandmother was English.  He had an immense love of books and literature, and was for a period in charge of the National Public Library of Buenos Aires.  He was educated in part in Geneva, where he learn French and German, and throughout his life travelled extensively, partly because the political situation meant that at times he was persona non grata in Argentina. He did not want to risk being thrown into prison and may be even become one of the 'disappeared'. He became blind around 1950.  He died in Geneva at age 86.

I love some of his quotations regarding time:

“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire”.

“This web of time -- the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries -- embrace every possibility”. (The Garden of Forking Paths)

... and about the Library:

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”.

“The Universe (that some call the Library) is composed of an undefined, maybe infinite number of hexagonal galleries.” (The Library of Babel)

... and his way of describing himself:

"I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors."

I saw him once in Buenos Aires, during one of my rare visits to the city, in a literary café, guided by his companion, later his wife, when he was quite old.  It was quite an experience!

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