Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires on August 24, 1899, in a Buenos Aires house from the late 19th century with a patio and a cistern, two elements that were often repeated in his poems. His birthplace was at 840 Tucumán Street in the San Nicolás neighborhood. But his childhood was spent in a house on 2135 Serrano Street, in the Palermo neighborhood.


His father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, who belonged to a family of Portuguese origin, was an Argentine lawyer, born in Entre Ríos, who dedicated himself to teaching psychology. He was an avid reader and had literary aspirations that he materialized in a novel “El caudillo” and some poems; He also translated Omar Jayyam from the English version of Edward FitzGerald. In 1970, Jorge Luis remembered his father with these words: "He revealed to me the power of poetry: the fact that words are not only a means of communication, but also magical symbols and music."


Her mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, was from Buenos Aires, although some sources consider her Uruguayan because she was the daughter of oriental parents. She learned English from her husband and translated several works into Spanish. In his house both Spanish and English were spoken, therefore, Jorge Luis grew up bilingual. Borges also had a sister, Norah, born on March 4, 1901.


His relationship with literature began at a very early age: at four years old he already knew how to read and write. In 1905 he began taking his first lessons with a British governess. The following year he wrote his first story, “The Fatal Visor,” following pages from Don Quixote. Additionally, he outlined in English a short essay on Greek mythology. At the age of eleven he translated “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde from English, a text that was published in the newspaper “El País” signed as Jorge Borges (h).


In the Palermo neighborhood, which at that time was a marginal neighborhood of immigrants and cutlers, he learned about the adventures of the compadritos who later populated his fiction. Borges entered school directly in the fourth grade. The beginning of his formal education at the age of nine and in a public school was a traumatic experience for him. His classmates made fun of this “know-it-all” who wore glasses, dressed like a rich kid, was not interested in sports and talked stuttering


In 1914, Borges's father was forced to leave his profession, retiring as a teacher due to the same progressive and hereditary blindness that decades later would also affect his son. Together with the family, he traveled to Europe to undergo ophthalmological treatment. special. To take refuge from the First World War, the family settled in Geneva (Switzerland), where the young Borges and his sister Norah would attend school. Borges studied French and attended high school at the Jean Calvin Lyceum. The atmosphere in that establishment, of Protestant inspiration, was completely different from that of his previous school in Palermo, his classmates, many of them foreigners like him, now appreciated his knowledge and intelligence and did not make fun of his stuttering. . During that time he read especially the prose writers of French Realism and the Expressionist and Symbolist poets, especially Rimbaud. At the same time, he discovered Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Mauthner, Carlyle and Chesterton. And with the sole help of a dictionary he taught himself German and wrote his first verses in French.


At the end of the war, in 1919, the Borges family went to Spain. They initially settled in Barcelona and then moved to Palma de Mallorca. In this last city Borges wrote two books that he did not publish: “The Red Rhythms, Poems in Praise of the Russian Revolution” and “Los Naipes del Tahúr,” a book of stories. In Madrid and Seville he participated in the ultraist literary movement, which he would later lead in Argentina and which would influence his first lyrical work.


On March 4, 1921, along with his paternal grandmother, Frances Haslam (who had joined them in Geneva in 1916), his parents, and his sister, Borges embarked back to Buenos Aires. Contact again with his hometown led the poet to an exalted relationship of "discovery." Thus he began to shape the mythification of suburban neighborhoods, where he would establish part of his constant idealization of reality.


Already in Buenos Aires he published in the Spanish magazine Cosmópolis, founded the magazine “Prisma” (of which only two issues were published) and also published in “Nosotros”, directed by Alfredo Bianchi. In 1922 he visited Leopoldo Lugones with Eduardo González Lanuza to give him the last issue of Prisma. In August 1924 he founded the ultraist magazine “Proa” together with Ricardo Güiraldes, although he would gradually abandon that aesthetic.

In 1923, on the eve of a second trip to Europe, Borges published his first book of poetry “Fervor de Buenos Aires”, which prefigures, in Borges' own words, all of his later work. For the cover his sister Norah made an engraving. About three hundred copies were published; The few that remain are considered treasures by bibliophiles and in some of them handwritten corrections made by Borges himself can be seen. In this book he confessed that, finally, "the streets of Buenos Aires / are already my core." There are thirty-three heterogeneous poems that allude to a card game (the trick), Juan Manuel de Rosas, or the exotic Benares; without saving the space to relax in an anonymous patio in Buenos Aires, "in the dark friendship / of a hallway, a vine and a cistern."

In the following thirty years Borges would become one of the most brilliant and most controversial writers in America. Tired of the ultraism that he himself had brought from Spain, he attempted to found a new type of regionalism, rooted in a metaphysical perspective of reality. He wrote stories and poems about the Buenos Aires suburbs, about tango, about fatal knife fights, such as “Man from the Pink Corner” and “The Dagger.” He soon also tired of this "ism" and began to contemplate in writing about fantastic or magical narrative, to the point of producing for two decades - from 1930 to 1950 - some of the most extraordinary fictions of the 20th century: "Universal History of “infamy”, “Fictions”, “El Aleph”, among others.

Later he collaborated, among other publications, in “Martín Fierro”, one of the key magazines in the history of Argentine literature in the first half of the 20th century. That magazine argued about its own writers, who in the context of meeting in coffee shops in the downtown area such as the so-called “Richmond” became known as “Grupo Florida”, versus the writers who published in Editorial Claridad and met in the “ Café El Japonés” identified as “Grupo Boedo”, leaving said rivalry in the history of Argentine literature, despite the fact that Borges would later reduce its significance. Despite his Europeanist training, he claimed his Argentine roots and particularly those of Buenos Aires, in collections of poems such as “Fervor de Buenos Aires” (1923), “Luna de Frente” (1925) and “Cuaderno San Martín” (1929).

The late 1930s were fateful for Borges: first came the death of his grandmother Fanny, and then that of his father. Borges had to support and raise his family. With the help of the poet Francisco Luis Bernárdez, in 1938 he got a job at the Miguel Cané Municipal Library, located at 4319 Carlos Calvo Street in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Boedo. There he was able to continue doing what he used to, spending his days among books, reading and writing. Later, Borges himself suffered a serious accident, hitting his head on a window, which brought him to the brink of death from septicemia and which, dreamlike, will be reflected in his story “The South.” Those convalescent dreams helped him write splendid pages; fanciful but plotted by his unmistakably lucid and penetrating mind. Borges emerged from the trance strengthened by the idea that he had been examining for some time: that empirical reality is as illusory as the world of fictions, but inferior to it, and that only inventions can provide us with reliable cognitive tools.

In 1940 he published “Anthology of Fantastic Literature”, in collaboration with Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, who married that same year, with Borges being the witness of their wedding. He also prefaced Bioy Casares's book “The Invention of Morel.”

In 1941 he published “Antología Poética Argentina” and edited the volume of stories “El jardin de paths que se forked”, a work with which he won the National Prize for Literature. The following year, “Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi” appeared, a book of stories that he wrote in collaboration with Bioy Casares.

Under the title “Poems” (1923-1943) he brought together in 1943 the poetic work of his three books plus the poems published in the newspaper La Nación and in the magazine Sur. He presented, together with Bioy Casares, the anthology “The best police stories.” By this time, Borges had already achieved a space in the small circle of the Argentine literary avant-garde. His work “Ficciones” received the Grand Prize of Honor from the Argentine Society of Writers (SADE).

The beginning of the 1950s marked the beginning of Borges' recognition inside and outside Argentina. The Argentine Society of Writers, located at 1371 Uruguay Street in Barrio Norte, named him president in 1950, a position from which he would resign three years later. He gave lectures at the University of the Republic of Uruguay, where his essay “Aspects of gauchesca literature” appeared. Also in that same year, the first French translation of his narrative (Fictions) was published in Paris and the series of stories “Death and the Compass” was published in Buenos Aires.

In 1952 the essays of “Other Inquisitions” appeared and an essay on Buenos Aires linguistics titled “The Language of the Argentines” was republished, along with “The Language of Buenos Aires” by José Edmundo Clemente. The second edition of “El Aleph” also appeared, with new stories. That year Borges also published “El Martín Fierro,” an essay that had a second edition within the year. Under the care of José Edmundo Clemente, the Emecé publishing house began to publish his Complete Works.

In 1955, Borges was appointed Director of the National Library (located at 2502 Agüero Street in Barrio Norte), a position he would hold for 18 years. In December of that same year he was incorporated into the Argentine Academy of Letters. He published “The Orilleros”, “The Believers' Paradise”, “Short and Extraordinary Stories”, “Gauchesca Poetry”, “Sister Eloísa” and “Leopoldo Lugones”. He was also confirmed in the chair of German Literature and, later, as Director of the Institute of German Literature at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires.

Borges gradually became blind as a result of the congenital disease that had already affected his father. This did not prevent him from continuing with his career as a writer, essayist and lecturer, nor did it mean for him the abandonment of reading, as he had them read aloud to him, or of learning new languages. Having been named director of the National Library and, in the same year, understanding the deepening of his blindness was perceived by Borges as a contradiction of destiny: “Little by little I began to understand the strange irony of the events. I had always imagined Paradise in the form of a library…” Then he wrote the "Poem of the Gifts":

No one demeans with tears or reproaches

this statement of mastery

of God, who with magnificent irony

He gave me both books and the night.

In 1973 he was declared an Illustrious Citizen of the City of Buenos Aires and, at the same time, he requested his retirement as director of the National Library.

In 1975 his mother died, at the age of ninety-nine. From that moment on, Borges would make his trips with a former student, then a secretary and, finally, in Borges' old age, his second wife, María Kodama.

In 1986, when he found out he was sick with cancer and fearing that his agony would be a national spectacle, he took up residence in Geneva, a city to which he was united by a deep love and which Borges had designated as one of the homelands of he. On April 26 he married María Kodama, in Paraguay. He died on June 14, 1986 at the age of 86, a victim of liver cancer and pulmonary emphysema.

In February 2009, a project was presented to transfer his remains to the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. But his widow objected and, finally, the project was scrapped.

Borges never wrote a novel. To those who reproached him for this lack, Borges responded that his preferences were with the short story, which is an essential genre, and not with the novel that requires filler. In the prologue to Ficciones he stated that it was a “laborious and impoverishing madness to compose vast books; that of expounding in five hundred pages an idea whose perfect oral presentation fits in a few minutes»


Pascual, A.M. 2000. Jorge Luis Borges. Editorial Océano, S.L., Barcelona. ISBN 84-494-1810-0