A Poet Reflects

Borges and I

The other one, Borges, is the one to whom things happen. I wander through Buenos Aires, and pause, perhaps mechanically nowadays, to gaze at an entrance archway and its metal gate; I hear about Borges via the mail, and read his name on a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I enjoy hourglasses, maps, eighteenth century typography, etymology, the savour of coffee and Stevenson’s prose: the other shares my preferences but in a vain way that transforms them to an actor’s props. It would be an exaggeration to say that our relationship is hostile; I live, I keep on living, so that Borges can weave his literature, and that literature justifies me. It’s no pain to confess that certain of his pages are valid, but those pages can’t save me, perhaps because good writing belongs to no one, not even the other, but only to language and tradition. For the rest, I am destined to vanish, definitively, and only some aspect of me can survive in the other. Little by little, I will yield all to him, even though his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating is clear to me.

Spinoza understood that all things want to go on being themselves; the stone eternally wishes to be stone, and the tiger a tiger. I am forced to survive as Borges, not myself (if I am a self), yet I recognise myself less in his books than in many others, less too than in the studious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him, and passed from suburban mythologies to games of time and infinity, but now those are Borges’ games and I will have to think of something new. Thus my life is a flight and I will lose all and all will belong to oblivion, or to that other.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

—Jorge Luis Borges, from Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (New Directions, 1964)

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    Borges and I The other one, Borges, is the one to whom things happen. I wander through Buenos Aires, and pause, perhaps...
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