August 25, 2016
Happy belated, Borges!
by Melville House
Happy birthday to legendary literary hero (and Last Interview Series participant) Jorge Luis Borges! Well, actually, his birthday was yesterday, but he’s 117 now—and passed away many years ago—so we’d like to think he’ll manage any disappointment with infinitely recursive maturity.
To celebrate, why not watch a couple videos of Borges saying amazing stuff? Here, for example, is a clip of the author speaking with William F. Buckley on his show, Firing Line. Borges, in excellent, heavily-accented English, speaks movingly of the mystery of Argentine politics: “I wish I understood my country; I can only love it.” He also addresses being “old, blind, and lonely,” his attitude toward his own fame, and Buckley’s assertions about the literary obligation of “saying no to the barbarians”:
Also worth watching is this wonderful clip from the documentary Images of the Absence, by Argentine director German Kral. In it, Kral revisits Buenos Aires, the city of his childhood, after seven years living in Europe, and remembers a youthful meeting with Borges, who was sixty-nine years his senior. There are some photos of their conversation, and shots of the city in the late nineties, followed by archival footage of Borges delivering a beautifully impassioned speech about the nature of art, and of writing in particular:
The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something which can last in man’s memory. That is our duty…. A poet never rests. He’s always working, even when he dreams. Besides, the life of a writer, is a lonely one. You think you are alone, and as the years go by, if the stars are on your side, you may discover that you are at the center of a vast circle of invisible friends whom you will never get to know but who love you. And that is an immense reward.
Here’s the full segment, including Borges’s complete speech (sans ellipsis):
Jorge Luis Borges (1899—1986) was an Argentine short-story writer, poet, essayist and translator. He was one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century, inspiring generations of writers in the US and UK as well as his native Latin America. He is most famous for the short-story collections Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949).
After his death, the New York Times wrote, “Borges’s ultimate gift is his unwavering belief in the world of dreams and ideas, the sense that life is ‘made of poetry. Poetry is not alien — poetry is, as we shall see, lurking round the corner. It may spring on us at any moment.’”