Jorge Luis Borges quotes

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Jorge Luis Borges

Birthdate: 24. August 1899
Date of death: 14. June 1986

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language literature. His best-known books, Ficciones and El Aleph , published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, philosophy, and religion.

Borges' works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre. Critic Ángel Flores, the first to use the term magical realism to define a genre that reacted against the dominant realism and naturalism of the 19th century, considers the beginning of the movement to be the release of Borges' A Universal History of Infamy . However, some critics consider Borges to be a predecessor and not actually a magical realist. His late poems dialogue with such cultural figures as Spinoza, Camões, and Virgil.

In 1914, Borges' family moved to Switzerland, where he studied at the Collège de Genève. The family travelled widely in Europe, including Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. In 1955, he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. He became completely blind by the age of 55; as he never learned braille, he became unable to read. Scholars have suggested that his progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination.

In 1961, he came to international attention when he received the first Formentor prize , which he shared with Samuel Beckett. In 1971, he won the Jerusalem Prize. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and Europe. Borges himself was fluent in several languages. He dedicated his final work, The Conspirators, to the city of Geneva, Switzerland.

His international reputation was consolidated in the 1960s, aided by his works being available in English, by the Latin American Boom and by the success of García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Writer and essayist J. M. Coetzee said of him: "He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists."

Works

Other Inquisitions
Jorge Luis Borges
Ficciones
Ficciones
Jorge Luis Borges
Dreamtigers
Dreamtigers
Jorge Luis Borges
The Library of Babel
Jorge Luis Borges
The Theologians
Jorge Luis Borges
The Immortal
Jorge Luis Borges
On Exactitude in Science
Jorge Luis Borges
Seven Nights
Seven Nights
Jorge Luis Borges
The Other
Jorge Luis Borges
The Man on the Threshold
Jorge Luis Borges
Luna De Enfrente
Jorge Luis Borges
Labyrinths
Labyrinths
Jorge Luis Borges
Deutsches Requiem
Jorge Luis Borges
Brodie's Report
Brodie's Report
Jorge Luis Borges

„I think we Argentines can emulate Mohammed, can believe in the possibility of being Argentine without abounding in local color.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"The Argentine Writer and Tradition", Fervor of Buenos Aires (1923)
Context: Some days past I have found a curious confirmation of the fact that what is truly native can and often does dispense with local color; I found this confirmation in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels; I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were especially Arabian; for him they were part of reality, he had no reason to emphasize them; on the other hand, the first thing a falsifier, a tourist, an Arab nationalist would do is have a surfeit of camels, caravans of camels, on every page; but Mohammed, as an Arab, was unconcerned: he knew he could be an Arab without camels. I think we Argentines can emulate Mohammed, can believe in the possibility of being Argentine without abounding in local color.

„I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

No estoy seguro de que yo exista, en realidad. Soy todos los autores que he leído, toda la gente que he conocido, todas las mujeres que he amado. Todas las ciudades que he visitado, todos mis antepasados...
Source: El Pais, 1981 http://elpais.com/diario/1981/09/26/ultima/370303206_850215.html; translation: The Guardian, 2008 http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jun/10/jorgeluisborges

„Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"The Threatened", The Book of Sand [El Libro de arena] (1975)

„To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Other Inquisitions

"The Meeting in a Dream"
Other Inquisitions (1952)

„It is universally held that the unicorn is a supernatural being and of auspicious omen; so say the odes, the annals, the biographies of worthies, and other texts whose authority is unimpeachable.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

Book of Imaginary Beings (1957), as translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni
Context: It is universally held that the unicorn is a supernatural being and of auspicious omen; so say the odes, the annals, the biographies of worthies, and other texts whose authority is unimpeachable. Even village women and children know that the unicorn is a lucky sign. But this animal does not figure among the barnyard animals, it is not always easy to come across, it does not lend itself to zoological classification. Nor is it like the horse or bull, the wolf or deer. In such circumstances we may be face to face with a unicorn and not know for sure that we are. We know that a certain animal with a mane is a horse and that a certain animal with horns is a bull. We do not know what the unicorn looks like.

„Truly fine poetry must be read aloud.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"The Divine Comedy" (1977)
Context: Truly fine poetry must be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.

„The mightiest love was granted him
Love that does not expect to be loved.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"Baruch Spinoza", as translated in Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason (1989) by Yirmiyahu Yovel
Context: Time carries him as the river carries
A leaf in the downstream water.
No matter. The enchanted one insists
And shapes God with delicate geometry.
Since his illness, since his birth,
He goes on constructing God with the word.
The mightiest love was granted him
Love that does not expect to be loved.

„Who are the inventors of Tlön? The plural is inevitable, because the hypothesis of a lone inventor — an infinite Leibniz laboring away darkly and modestly — has been unanimously discounted. It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… directed by an obscure man of genius. Individuals mastering these diverse disciplines are abundant, but not so those capable of inventiveness and less so those capable of subordinating that inventiveness to a rigorous and systematic plan.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)
Context: Who are the inventors of Tlön? The plural is inevitable, because the hypothesis of a lone inventor — an infinite Leibniz laboring away darkly and modestly — has been unanimously discounted. It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers... directed by an obscure man of genius. Individuals mastering these diverse disciplines are abundant, but not so those capable of inventiveness and less so those capable of subordinating that inventiveness to a rigorous and systematic plan. This plan is so vast that each writer's contribution is infinitesimal. At first it was believed that Tlön was a mere chaos, and irresponsible license of the imagination; now it is known that it is a cosmos and that the intimate laws which govern it have been formulated, at least provisionally. Let it suffice for me to recall that the apparent contradictions of the Eleventh Volume are the fundamental basis for the proof that the other volumes exist, so lucid and exact is the order observed in it.

„You will reply that reality hasn't the slightest need to be of interest. And I'll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Ficciones

"Death and the Compass"
Ficciones (1944)
Context: "It's possible, but not interesting," Lonnrot answered. "You will reply that reality hasn't the slightest need to be of interest. And I'll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not. In the hypothesis you have postulated, chance intervenes largely. Here lies a dead rabbi; I should prefer a purely rabbinical explanation; not the imaginary mischances of an imaginary robber."

„Not the day when the Saxon said the words, but the day when an enemy perpetuated them, was the historic date. A date that is a prophecy of something still in the future: the day when races and nations will be cast into oblivion, and the solidarity of all mankind will be established.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Other Inquisitions

Other Inquisitions (1952), The Modesty of History
Context: Only one thing is more admirable than the admirable reply of the Saxon king: that an Icelander, a man of the lineage of the vanquished, has perpetuated the reply. It is as if a Carthaginian had bequeathed to us the memory of the exploit of Regulus. Saxo Grammaticus wrote with justification in his Gesta Danorum: "The men of Thule [Iceland] are very fond of learning and of recording the history of all peoples and they are equally pleased to reveal the excellences of others or of themselves."
Not the day when the Saxon said the words, but the day when an enemy perpetuated them, was the historic date. A date that is a prophecy of something still in the future: the day when races and nations will be cast into oblivion, and the solidarity of all mankind will be established.

„Their language and the derivations of their language — religion, letters, metaphysics — all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)
Context: Hume noted for all time that Berkeley's arguments did not admit the slightest refutation nor did they cause the slightest conviction. This dictum is entirely correct in its application to the earth, but entirely false in Tlön. The nations of this planet are congenitally idealist. Their language and the derivations of their language — religion, letters, metaphysics — all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial.

„What one man does is something done, in some measure, by all men.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Ficciones

"The Form of the Sword"
Ficciones (1944)
Context: What one man does is something done, in some measure, by all men. For that reason a disobedience committed in a garden contaminates the human race; for that reason it is not unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew suffices to save it.

„The impossibility of penetrating the divine pattern of the universe cannot stop us from planning human patterns, even though we are conscious they are not definitive.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

As translated by Lilia Graciela Vázquez
Variant: The impossibility of penetrating the divine scheme of the universe does not, however, dissuade us from planning human schemes, even though we know they must be provisional. The Analytic Language of Wilkins is not the least admirable of these schemes.
As translated by Will Fitzgerald
Other Inquisitions (1952), The Analytical Language of John Wilkins
Context: The impossibility of penetrating the divine pattern of the universe cannot stop us from planning human patterns, even though we are conscious they are not definitive. The analytic language of Wilkins is not the least admirable of such patterns.

„If Dahlmann was without hope, he was also without fear.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Ficciones

"The South"
Ficciones (1944)
Context: If Dahlmann was without hope, he was also without fear. As he crossed the threshold, he felt that to die in a knife fight, under the open sky, and going forward to the attack, would have been a liberation, a joy, and a festive occasion, on the first night in the sanitarium, when they stuck him with the needle. He felt that if he had been able to choose, then, or to dream his death, this would have been the death he would have chosen or dreamt. Firmly clutching his knife, which he perhaps would not know how to wield, Dahlmann went out into the plain.

„The aesthetic event is something as evident, as immediate, as indefinable as love, the taste of fruit, of water.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"Poetry" (the fifth of Borges' seven conferences of 1977 in Teatro Coliseo, in Buenos Aires, later corrected and published in 1980 as a book, Siete noches/Seven Nights) (blog about Jorge Luis Borges (in Spanish) http://argentinaexchange.com/blog/?p=5296
Context: The aesthetic event is something as evident, as immediate, as indefinable as love, the taste of fruit, of water. We feel poetry as we feel the closeness of a woman, or as we feel a mountain or a bay. If we feel it immediately, why dilute it with other words, which no doubt will be weaker than our feelings?

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