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

„The possibilities of the art of combination are not infinite, but they tend to be frightful.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges

"On Dubbing" ["Sobre el doblaje"]
Discussion (1932)
Context: The possibilities of the art of combination are not infinite, but they tend to be frightful. The Greeks engendered the chimera, a monster with heads of the lion, the dragon and the goat; the theologians of the second century, the Trinity, in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are inextricably tied; the Chinese zoologists, the ti-yiang, a vermilion supernatural bird, endowed with six feet and four wings, but without a face or eyes; the geometers of the nineteenth century, the hypercube, a figure with four dimensions, which encloses an infinite number of cubes and has as its faces eight cubes and twenty-four squares. Hollywood has just enriched this vain museum of horrors: by means of an artistic malignity called dubbing, it proposes monsters that combine the illustrious features of Greta Garbo with the voice of Aldonza Lorenzo.

„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.

„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.

„I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature.“

—  Jorge Luis Borges, book A Universal History of Infamy

A Universal History of Iniquity, preface to the 1954 edition; tr. Andrew Hurley, Collected Fictions (1998)
Context: I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature. [... ] The baroque is the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders its resources.

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„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.

„Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.“

—  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 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.

„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.“

—  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 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?

„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.

„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.

„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.

„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.

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

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