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Voices of the River Plate
Interviews with Writers of Argentina and Uruguay
By Clark M. Zlotchew, Paul David Seldis
iUniverseCopyright © 2011 Clark M. Zlotchew
All rights reserved.
JORGE LUIS BORGES
Conrad and Kipling have demonstrated that a short story — not too short, what we would call, using the English term, a "long short story" — is able to contain everything a novel contains, with less strain on the reader.
— Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges, acknowledged to be the most eminent writer in the Spanish language of this century, was born August 24, 1899, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of Jorge Guillermo Borges (a lawyer, teacher, and writer) and Leonor Acevedo Suárez (a translator). He was bilingual in Spanish and English from an early age through the influence of his paternal grandmother, an Englishwoman from Noithumberland. His Spanish and Portuguese ancestors were settled in Argentina and Uruguay in the early days of the colony; many of his forebears were heroes of the Argentine wars of Independence and civil wars. From the age of fifteen to nineteen, Borges and his family lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where young Borges received his education at Collège Calvin, learned French, Latin and German, and became imbued with European culture. He and his family spent several years in Spain before returning to Argentina in 1921 where Borges rediscovered his native city. He was married first to Elsa Astete Millàn on September 21, 1967, a marriage which ended in divorce in 1970.
In anticipation of his death, Borges married his constant companion and former student, María Kodama, on April 26, 1986. He died June 14, 1986 of liver cancer in his beloved Geneva, and is buried there in Plainpalais, Switzerland.
Borges's work has been in three genres: poetry, the philosophical and literary essay and the short story. He never attempted the novel; it is the short story which has combined the lyrical with the intellectual vein in Borges, and which has brought him world fame.
The Nobel Prize eluded him, for reasons which were probably extra-literary, but he has been the recipient of numerous literary prizes awarded by many governments and of honorary doctorates given by prestigious universities in various countries. This Argentine writer has been the most widely-translated Latin-American writer of the century. The greatest of the younger generation of Latin American writers — García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Cabrera Infante and others — have publicly acknowledged their indebtedness to Borges. Fuentes went so far as to declare that the Spanish language is no longer the same since Borges.
While superficially his style is often realistic, his themes always involve philosophical and metaphysical speculation. His writings are marked by the almost obsessive vision of the universe as a labyrinth too complex for mortals to comprehend, the divergence between appearance and truth, between objective and subjective reality, history as a cycle, the problems of matter, chaos, human identity and individual personality (all men are one man; one man contains all men), time and the infinite. As he points out in the following interview, Borges creates literature out of literature, but starting with a "mild revelation," in which he receives the beginning and the end of a story.
Many of Borges's techniques — internal duplication; contrast between clock time and human time; poitrayal of human beings as the pawns of a higher power — are designed to destroy the bonds between the real world of the reader and the fictional world created by Borges. As John Updike said (The New Yorker, 1030-65), Borges's fictions "answer to a deep need in contemporary literary ait — the need to confess the fact of aitifice."
The interview following the chronology is the interviewer's English translation of a conversation held at Borges's apaitment in Buenos Aires on July 16, 1984.
A JORGE LUIS BORGES CHRONOLOGY
1899 Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges is born on August 24th to Jorge Guillermo Borges Haslam and Leonor Acevedo Suárez, in a house located at 840 Tucumán, in downtown Buenos Aires.
1906 Borges, called "Geòrgie" by his family as a child, writes "La visera fatal" ("The Fatal Visor"), a story ispired by a passage from Don Quixote, plus a composition on Greek mythology.
1908 Borges's translation into Spanish of Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince is published.
1912 "El rey de la selva" ("King of the Jungle") is published; this is the author's first published short story.
1914 Just prior to the outbreak of World War I, the family moves to Europe. After a brief stay in Paris, they travel through Northern Italy and settle in Switzerland, where they remain trapped until the war's end. Borges attends the school in Geneva that was founded by Calvin. Already fluent in English and Spanish, the languages of his home, he becomes fluent in French, the language of instruction of his Swiss school, and studies Latin. He studies German on his own initiative by reading Heine with the aid of a dictionary. He studies the poetry of Mallarmé, Rimbaud and other symbolists, as well as Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Daudet's Tartarin de Tarscon.
1917 Borges reads the works of Walt Whitman as well as Argentine authors, such as Ascásubi, José Hernández, and Eduardo Gutiérrez.
1918 Borges reads Carlyle, Chesterton, Schopenhauer, and Gustav Meyrinck's novel, based on a Jewish legend, Der Golem, the theme of which will appear in Borges' poem "El Gólem" years later.
1919 The Borges family moves to Spain. Borges continues his study of Latin while attempting to leam Arabic. In Madrid, he comes under the influence of the Ultraist poets, and contributes to several literary magaizines. He becomes acquainted with Spanish writers, including Ramón Gómez de la Sema, Gerardo Diego, and Rafael Cansinos-Assens. He publishes his first poem, "Himno al mar" ("Hmyn to the Sea") in the magazine Grecia.
1920 Borges reads the works of the Spanish authors, Quevedo, Gracián, and Unamuno. He becomes friendly with Valle Indán, Ortega y Gasset, and Juan Ramón Jiménez.
1921 The Borges return to Buenos Aires.
1922 Borges's Ultraist proclamation is published in the Madrid magazine Ultra. Borges, González Lanuza, Nora Lange, Macedonia Fernández, and others found the magazine Proa. The Borges family travels to London, Paris, Mallorca, Seville, and Madrid.
1924 Borges returns to Buenos Aires and re-founds the magazine Proa (the original Proa had stopped production) with Ricardo Guiraldes, Pablo Rojas Paz, and Alfredo Brandan Caraffa.
1925 Borges publishes the poetry collection, Luna de enfrente (Moon Across the Way). His collection of philosophical essays, Inquisiciones (Inquisitions or Inquiries) is published by Editorial Proa. (Later disliking this book, Borges gathers and destroys all copies of it possible. It is never translated and is not included in his Obras completas [Complete Works]. For all practical purposes, it is non-existent. However, this is the reason his collection of essays of 1952 is called Otras inquisiciones [Other Inquisitions]).
1925 Borges's second book of essays. El tamaño de mi esperanza (The Extent of My Hope), is published.
1928 Borges's collection of essays, El idioma de los argentinos (The Language of Argentina), is published.
1929 Borges is awarded Second Municipal Prize for Literature, in the prose category, for his essays, El idioma de los argentinos. Borges's poetry collection, Cuadro San Martín (San Martin Notebook), is published.
1930 Borges's book-length essay, Evaristo Carriego, is published. Borges wins Second Municipal Prize for Poetry. He is introduced to Adolfo Bioy Casares, with whom he will later collaborate.
1932 Borges's collection of essays, Discusión (Discussion), is published.
1936 The collection of essays. Historia de la eternidad (History of Eternity), is published.
1937 Antología clásica de la literatura argentina (Classical Anthology of Argentine Literature), by Borges and Pedro Henriquez Urefla, is published by the Kapelusz publishing house. Borges translates Virginia Woolf's Orlando.
1938 Borges's translation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, and Other Stories, is published by the Losada publishing house. Borges's eyesight becomes worse; this condition leads to the accident in which he develops septicemia.
1939 During his convalescence, Borges writes the short story, "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" ("Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote").
1940 Borges, Silvina Ocampo, and Bioy Casares publish the Antología de la literatura fantástica (Anthology of Fantastic Literature).
1941 Borges, Silvina Ocampo, and Bioy Casares publish the Antología de poética argentina (Argentine Poetry Anthology). Borges publishes El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) with the Sur publishing house.
1942 Under the pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq, Borges, and Bioy Casares publish the detective stories, Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi) with the Sur publishing house.
1943 The first series of the anthology, Los mejores cuentos policiales (The Best Police Stories), compiled by Borges and Bioy Casares, is published by Emecé.
1944 Borges publishes the short story collection, Ficciones (Fictions), which combines the stories of El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941) with the new collection, Artificios (Artifices), with the Sur publishing house.
1945 Emecé publishes the anthology, El compadrito; su destino, sus barrios, su música, compiled by Borges and Silvina Bullrich.
1946 Because of having signed political declarations against the government of Juan Domingo Perón, Borges is threatened with the transfer from his post at the Miguel Cañé library to that of Inspector of Poultry. Before this happens, Borges resigns. He begins to give classes and lectures at the Argentine Association of English Culture, and at the Free School of Higher Studies. Borges and Bioy Casares write two new books: Un modelo para la muerte (A Model for Death), under the pseudonym B. Suarez Lynch, and Dos fantasías memorables (Two Memorable Fantasies), under the pseudonym of H. Bustos Domecq. Borges's short story, La muerte y la brújula (Death and the Compass), is published by Centro Editor de América Latina.
1947 Borges' Nueva refutación del tiempo (New Refutation of Time) is published.
1949 Borges' El Aleph (The Aleph) is published with Losada.
1950 Borges is named President of the Argentine Writers' Society.
1952 Borges publishes Otras inquisiciones (Other Inquisitions), his most widely-read collection of essays.
1953 The Emecé publishing house begins publication of Borges' Obras completas. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson and Borges write the script for the film Días de odio (Days of Hatred), based on Borges' short story, "Emma Zunz."
1955 Borges is appointed Director of the National Library by the new government which has just overthrown Perón. Borges will hold this position until he retires in 1973.
1957 Borges is awarded the National Prize for Literature.
1961 Borges' Antología personal (Personal Anthology) is published. Borges shares with Samuel Beckett the Prize of the International Publishers' Conference at Formentor, Majorca. Borges is invited to the United States by the University of Texas and the Tinker foundation. He travels around the country and gives courses at the University of Texas.
1962 Upon returning to Argentina, Borges is officially received by the Argentine Academy of Letters in a public ceremony.
1967 Losada publishes Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Chronicles of Bustos Domecq), written by Borges and Bioy Casares. Borges publishes Introducción a la literatura norteamericana (Introduction to North American Literature), written in collaboration with Esther Zemborain de Torres; the poetry collections. El otro, el mismo (The Other, the Same), and Para las seis cuerdas (For the Six Strings). At the age of sixty-eight, Borges marries his 57-year-old secretary, Elsa Astete Millan, the widow he has known since her adolescence. Borges and Elsa travel to the U.S. where Harvard University, with support from the Charles Elliot Norton foundation, designates him Professor of Poetry.
1968 Borges publishes the Libro de seres imaginarios (Book of Imaginary Beings). The Pigal publishing house publishes, in one volume, four popular songs — tangos and milongas — composed by Astor Piazzola, using verses by Borges.
1969 Borges is received by Ben Gurion in Israel. Richard Burgin's Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges is published in London by Souvenir Press. Several films are made in Argentina, Italy, and France, based on stories by Borges. Borges teaches at the University of Oklahoma and gives a lecture at Georgetown University. E. P. Dutton begins publication of Borges' complete works in English, in Norman Thomas Di Giovanni's translation.
1970 Emecé publishes Borges's short story collection, El informe de Brodie (Dr. Brodie's Report). Borges writes, in English, "An Autobiographical Essay," which accompanies the North American translation of the stories included in The Aleph and Other Stories.
1971 Borges is made honorary member of the Institute of Arts and Letters and the New York Academy. Columbia University presents Borges with the doctorate honoris causa. In Israel, Borges is awarded the Jerusalem Prize. The University Press of Oklahoma publishes a volume of articles and poetry on Borges, The Cardinal Points of Borges.
1973 Borges retires as Director of the National Library.
1974 Fernando Sorrentino's series of interviews with Borges, Siete conversaciones con Jorge Luis Borges, is printed. Its commercial distribution, however, is held up until the overthrow of Isabel Perón in 1976. Emecé publishes, in one volume of 1,164 pages, the Obras completas de Jorge Luis Borges.
1975 Borges's poetry collection, La rosa profunda (The Profound Rose), illustrated by Horacio Butler, is published. The short story collection, El libro de arena (The Book of Sand) is published. Borges' selection of thirty-eight prefaces that he had written for different books. Prólogos, con un prólogo de prólogos (Prologues, With a Prologue of Prologues), is published. The film. Los orilleros (On the Fringes of the City), based on a plot by Borges and Bioy Casares, is produced in Argentina. The motion picture, El muerto (The Dead Man), based on Borges's short story of the same name, is filmed in Uruguay, with Juan Carlos Onetti as advisor.
1976 Borges' poetry collection. La moneda de hierro (The Iron Coin), is published. The essay ¿Qué es el Budismo? (What is Buddhism?), by Borges and Alicia Jurado, is published. Lagos publishing house publishes an album of 102 pages, Borges cantado (Borges in Song), with twelve scores for voice and piano, composed by outstanding composers, to accompany poems by Borges. The book contains several color illustrations, and the text appears in Spanish and English. Emecé publishes the seven Diálogos (Dialogues) between Borges and Ernesto Sábato, taped and compiled by Orlando Barone. Fernando Sorrentino's Siete conversaciones con Jorge Luis Borges (Casa Pardo) published in 1972, is finally distributed commercially, after Isabel Perón is deposed.
1977 Emecé publishes a poetry collection, Historia de la noche (History of the Night). The publishing house. La Ciudad, published Nuevos cuentos de Bustos Domecq (New Stories by Bustos Domecq), by Borges and Bioy Casares.
1978 Dopesa publishing house of Barcelona publishes Conocer Borges y su obra (To Know Borges and His Work), by Marcos R. Barnatán. Corregidor publishes Borges para millones (Borges for Millions), consisting of a dialogue between Borges and an anonymous interviewer, with a prologue by Fernando Godoy. Borges and Maria Kodama compile the Breve antología anglosajona (Brief Anglo Saxon Anthology), which is published by La Ciudad.
1979 Emecé publishes the 989-page volume, Jorge Luis Borges: Obras completas en colaboración (Jorge Luis Borges: Complete Works in Collaboration), a collection of Borges' collaborations with other writers. Borges travels to Japan with Maria Kodama.
1980 Borges receives the Cervantes Prize, awarded by the writers of Spain, and is received by the King and Queen of Spain. Carlos Hugo Christensen directs the film La intrusa (The Intruder), based on Borges' short story of the same name.
Excerpted from Voices of the River Plate by Clark M. Zlotchew, Paul David Seldis. Copyright © 2011 Clark M. Zlotchew. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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