Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts

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Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge

Borges Portrait

In the course of a few decades, Borges presented Argentina with a new and different way of relating to literature. He completely reorganized the system, placing at one end of it the residual gauchesque tradition and at the other end the fictionalization of the theory of the intertext, years before it was disseminated by books of literary criticism. Borges is a 'commonplace' for Argentine readers and writers, and his influence can be seen in a sort of lingua franca, a literary koine, in which the twists of his stories are mixed up with anecdotes that he himself mischievously invented for the mass media and repeated in hundreds of interviews from the 1960s onwards. It is easier today in Argentina to show that the question of Argentine literature is central to his work, now that the forces of narrow cultural nationalism, which denounced Borges in the 1940s and 1950s, have become weakened, perhaps terminally.

In short, there is no writer in Argentine literature more Argentine than Borges. In his work this national cultural tone is not expressed in the representation of things, but rather in his exploration of how great literature can be written in a culturally marginal nation. Borges's work always deals with this issue, one of the most important questions for a relatively young nation, without strong cultural traditions, located in the extreme south of the former Spanish dominions of Latin America; the extreme south, too, of the most culturally impoverished Viceroyalty of Spain-one which had no great Precolumbian indigenous cultures of its own. (pp. 2-3)

© 1993, Verso


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