The Two Worlds of Jorge Luis Borges
The Argentinian author, one of the most important narrators of all times always lived between several frontiers.
Every writer lives between two worlds: the real world, concrete and practical (sometimes hostile) of daily notions, and the other, the fantastic, chilling, luminous and potentially infinite world opened by imagination. Every great writer inhabits at least one frontier (reality-fiction, sleep-vigil, life-death), but there are writers so absolute they can inhabit several border at once. Such is the case of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.
Born in Argentina 1899, the English ethnic inheritance of his father, as well as a library nourished by English books, had a powerful impact on the formation of the young writer. In his house both Spanish and English were spoken freely, so that by the age of four, when most children are just learning to write in their mother-tongue, young Borges could speak, read and write fluidly both in Spanish and English.
Throughout his work references to writers such as Chesterton, Kipling, Verne or Stevenson (writers usually associated with the juvenile or adventure genre by literary criticism, a drawer of “baser literature”,) allow the reader to discover in him a natural or anomalous tendency towards astonishment and metaphysical exploration through the world of the quotidian, and not by being quotidian does it stop being astonishing.
But his tales do not explore (exclusively) the adventures of heroes, Greek and Nordic mythology, or law enforcement atmospheres in intricate passages: Borges was also a great reader of philosophy, he encountered from a very early age the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche for example, from whom he extracted a certain vital anguish he then put into his poems and stories —a lucid anguish, that is, the type that only the few who dare live in a godless worlds know and understand, but who the gods occasionally wink at.
Shy and extremely reserved, Borges kept out of the public eye for most of his life. It was until the very dusk of his life that the editions, re-editions and awards turned him into an icon of Hispano-American literature around the world, supporting the so-called “boom” of Latin-American literature that popularized in the Old Continent, the works by other narrators such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar and in a lesser way marginal authors such as Juan Rulfo, Juan Carlos Onetti and Macedonio Fernández. For the latter, Borges professed throughout his life an unbreakable admiration.
As a translator, he excelled as well by pouring into Spanish fundamental books for the Western tradition of the Twentieth century, as the essay A Room of One’s Own and the novel Orlando, by the British writer Virginia Woolf, or the short but acclaimed novel Metamorphosis by the Czech writer Franz Kafka.
In collaboration with his lifetime friend Adolfo Bioy Casares and his future wife, Silvina Ocampo, they published in 1940 the Book of Fantasy, an indispensable book of the fantastical tales of the Spanish language —a true chamber of wonders. The international acclaim began after Borges won the National Literature Prize in 1942 for The Garden of Forking Paths, one of the most notable books in the Spanish language.
He spent his last years studying Scandinavian mythologies, producing (by dictation) some translations and essays where he manifested his admiration for literary and imaginary forms that the boreal people adopted, with whom he felt a very strong connection due to his relationship with his father. His passionate love for the world “scarlet” for example, is among the purest emotions for words ever expressed in literature.
Borges, the man, died in 1989 in Geneva, where he lies buried. The other Borges, the writer, will live perpetually in the books he read and transformed and in the books he wrote, that have transformed us.