Jorge Luis Borges is a famous Spanish author, known best for his short stories. In this paper, I will discuss several short stories written by Mr. Borges, what influenced him in his writings, and a brief history of his place of origin, Argentina.
Borges’ The Book of Sand is the story of a man who is visited by a stranger trying to sell a “holy book” called the Book of Sand. The narrator looks at the book and is unable to see the first or last pages of it because, as the stranger explains, the number of pages is infinite. The narrator is fascinated by the book and buys it, only to become obsessed with it, until the point that it is all he thinks about. He eventually gets rid of it by mixing it up in a pile of many other books in his basement.
As will be discussed in this paper, Borges wrote philosophy in a lot of his works. In The Book of Sand, infinity is depicted in the form of a mysterious book. It symbolizes man’s constant search for the world’s existence. Borges is saying that it is an endless search and therefore pointless.
The Other is the story of Borges sitting on a bench, as he feels as though he had lived that moment already. He begins to speak to the man seated besides him, and finds out the stranger has the same name, and the same address as he does. When Borges asks the man what year it is, the man answers 1918, even though it is 1969. It is then that the narrator figures out he is talking to the person whom he was fifty-one years earlier. He then tells “the other” him of the future, after which they part, knowing they will never meet like this again.
This story deals with time. The author is very nostalgic and lives for his memories. It also is a philosophical story where Borges expresses his doubt that we all may “just be an image of a greater being”.
The Mirror and the Mask is the story of an Irish king who tells a poet to write a poem describing his power. The poet wrote a praise of his fighting success, and in reward for the excellent poem, the king gives the poet a beautiful mirror and tells him to write another poem. In reward for his next work, the king gives the poet a mask. The king then asks for a third poem and receives a one line poem of perfection and in return gives him an elaborate dagger. The poet feels it to be a sin to hear such perfection and so he stabs himself with the dagger. The king also feels he has done wrong and becomes a beggar in his own kingdom never to repeat the poem again.
What Borges is saying in this story is that should not try to understand G-d because he is unable to comprehend Him. He claims that “man’s quest for truth is an utterly vain task”.
Jorge Luis Borges was born August 24, 1899 to a financially comfortable family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father was a writer, a professor of psychology, and modern languages. He learned at home with a tutor until he was nine and began to learn English at home from his father, who always encouraged him to write. He came from a very literate family, and shared much cherished time with his father’s books. Borges once said “for years I believed I had been brought up in a suburb of Buenos Aires, a suburb of dangerous streets and conspicuous sunsets. What is certain is that I was brought up in a garden, behind lanceolate iron railings, in a library of unlimited English books.”(Here, he was referring to his father’s library) He was also greatly influenced by published poets and writers who were friends of the family and often visited.
In 1914, before World War I, Borges’ family went to Europe where they traveled until the war was over. During these years of traveling, Borges, in his teenage years, depended a lot on the company of his readings (mainly German philosophy and poetry).
When his family returned to Buenos Aires, they were greeted by a more economically flourishing and modernized (due to European immigrants) home. Researchers note that many of Borges’ poems centered on the older sections of the city, as if he is trying to recapture the “essence of a world that was disappearing before him”.
By the early 1920’s, Borges had joined a group of young writers and he undertook the publication of a literary review. He wrote in “Prisma” , a magazine of art and poetry. He also associated alot with and was greatly influenced by Macedonio Fernandez, an “eccentric humorist-philosopher”. He was influenced by Fernandez’s view of the world and of intellectuals.
In 1924, he wrote for the “Martin Fierro” review, that believed in “art for the sake of art”. This is where he first becomes famous, and in fact, it was for prose and not poetry.
He also wrote with a group called “ultraistas” who attempted to establish “correspondence between sound and color”. Borges learned there to “reduce lyricism to metaphor, combine several images into one, and rid of wordy, ‘poetic’ style”.
He studied and wrote alot on mysteries of the world, it’s existence, and how it came to be. A theme of time exists through many of Borges’ writings (as you can see in the stories discussed earlier). Some say the traumatic return to Buenos Aires and his shy personality may be reasons for his interest in eternity and his desire for control of time. He admits in his poems that time moves on, the world changes, that he will grow old, and that the past is gone forever. He says that one can only rely on their memories (as he expresses in The Other).
In his fifties, Borges becomes blind, but continues to lecture in colleges and conferences around the world. During his lifetime, Borges was nominated several times for the Noble Prize in Literature. He wrote alot of short stories, literary reviews (based on books that never existed), poems and more. Although he passed away on June 14, 1986, his writings live on to be shared with all generations.
When Borges was born, Hipolito Yrigoyen headed the Radical Civic Union. General Roca was president at that time and he defended the middle class (which was what Borges was). Argentina had alot of trade with Britain and helped the economy to flourish. The people became more educated.
As you can see, Borges’ greatest influences were his childhood, familial background, and people he met while starting to write. Borges writings are enjoyable and thought provoking. I definitely recommend it to people interested in philosophy.
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Borges, Jorge Luis.(Translated by: Thomas di Giovanni, Norman). The Book of Sand. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977.
Stabb, Martin S. Borges Revisited. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1991
Mc Murray, George R. Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Fredrick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980.
Alifano, Roberto. Twenty-four Conversations with Borges. MA: Lascaux Publishers, 1984.