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

„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.

„I have suspected that history, real history, is more modest and that its essential dates may be, for a long time, secret. A Chinese prose writer has observed that the unicorn, because of its own anomaly, will pass unnoticed. Our eyes see what they are accustomed to seeing.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Other Inquisitions

Other Inquisitions (1952), The Modesty of History
Context: I have suspected that history, real history, is more modest and that its essential dates may be, for a long time, secret. A Chinese prose writer has observed that the unicorn, because of its own anomaly, will pass unnoticed. Our eyes see what they are accustomed to seeing. Tacitus did not perceive the Crucifixion, although his book recorded it.

„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.

„The poverty of yesterday was less squalid than the poverty we purchase with our industry today.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"The Elderly Lady", in Brodie's Report (1970); tr. Andrew Hurley, Collected Fictions (1998)
Context: The poverty of yesterday was less squalid than the poverty we purchase with our industry today. Fortunes were smaller then as well.

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„One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time; it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory.“

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

Variants: One of the schools in Tlön has reached the point of denying time. It reasons that the present is undefined, that the future has no other reality than as present hope, that past is no more than present memory . . . Another maintains that the universe is comparable to those code systems in which not all the symbols have meaning, and in which only that which happens every three hundredth night is true...
The history of the universe... is the handwriting produced by a minor god in order to communicate with a demon.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940)
Context: One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time; it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory. Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified an mutilated memory or reflection of an irrecoverable process. Another, that the history of the universe — and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives — is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon. Another, that the universe is comparable to those cryptographs in which not all the symbols are valid and that only what happens every three hundred nights is true. Another, that while we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and that in this way every man is two men.

„Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

The Garden of Forking Paths (1942), The Garden of Forking Paths
Context: Ts'ui Pe must have said once: I am withdrawing to write a book. And another time: I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth. Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.

„Whoever hears me assert that the grey cat playing just now in the yard is the same one that did jumps and tricks there five hundred years ago will think whatever he likes of me, but it is a stranger form of madness to imagine that the present-day cat is fundamentally an entirely different one.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"A History of Eternity" in Selected Non-Fictions Vol. 1, (1999), edited by Eliot Weinberger
Context: I turn to the most promising example: the bird. The habit of flocking; smallness; similarity of traits; their ancient connection with the two twilights, the beginnings of days, and the endings; the fact of being more often heard than seen — all of this moves us to acknowledge the primacy of the species and the almost perfect nullity of individuals. Keats, entirely a stranger to error, could believe that the nightingale enchanting him was the same one Ruth heard amid the alien corn of Bethlehem in Judah; Stevenson posits a single bird that consumes the centuries: "the nightingale that devours time." Schopenhauer — impassioned, lucid Schopenhauer — provides a reason: the pure corporeal immediacy in which animals live, oblivious to death and memory. He then adds, not without a smile: Whoever hears me assert that the grey cat playing just now in the yard is the same one that did jumps and tricks there five hundred years ago will think whatever he likes of me, but it is a stranger form of madness to imagine that the present-day cat is fundamentally an entirely different one.

„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.“

—  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.

„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.

„His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Other Inquisitions

"Kafka and His Precursors" ["Kafka y sus precursores"], as translated in Labyrinths (1964)
Variant translation: The fact is that all writers create their precursors. Their work modifies our conception of the past, just as it is bound to modify the future.
Other Inquisitions (1952)
Context: In the critic's vocabulary, the word "precursor" is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

„It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

Discussion (1932)
Context: It is venturesome to think that a coordination of words (philosophies are nothing more than that) can resemble the universe very much. It is also venturesome to think that of all these illustrious coordinations, one of them — at least in an infinitesimal way — does not resemble the universe a bit more than the others.

„In the critic's vocabulary, the word "precursor" is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book Other Inquisitions

"Kafka and His Precursors" ["Kafka y sus precursores"], as translated in Labyrinths (1964)
Variant translation: The fact is that all writers create their precursors. Their work modifies our conception of the past, just as it is bound to modify the future.
Other Inquisitions (1952)
Context: In the critic's vocabulary, the word "precursor" is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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