What does the poem "The Enigmas" have to do with post/colonialism?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Given everything that is known about the late Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, and much is known of this esteemed individual due in no small part to his interviews with such literary outlets as Paris Review, there is little reason to believe that colonialism or post-colonialism played much of a role in his thinking as he penned The Enigmas. Borges simply did not dwell on such matters, at least not publicly. Many so-called intellectuals and literary analysts ascribe to Borges a role in post-colonial literature that may or not be warranted, but comments like that below from one writer serve to illustrate the deep-seeded need on the part of many in academia and in literary circles to ascribe to him a motivation that may not always have contributed to his writings:

"I have long taught Borges in my classes, and I understand how deeply indebted I am as a writer to Borges’s tricky, duplicitous mind." 

That quote, from author and professor Gina Apostol, is classic academia in its arrogance. Borges denies any ties to any political establishment, his fealty only to the individual, but his protestations against political affiliations are viewed by those in academia as proof of his duplicitous nature. 

The purpose in writing the above is to hold open the possibility that The Enigmas does not address the issue of post-colonialism, although, as Apostol suggests, Borges' nationality and life experiences (having lived through the world wars, the beginnings of decolonization, the violent and turbulent politics of his native country) may certainly allow for the possibility that Borges' poem was influenced at least in part by his experiences and views of colonialism. The Enigmas, however, more powerfully expresses Borges' experiences with respect to Argentina's history of autocratic dictatorships, the worst abuses of which grew out of the nation's colonial heritage (i.e., the Spanish versus indigenous native conflict) as well as from Cold War-era struggles between communism and capitalism. This particular poem, if anything, captures the complexity inherent in Argentine history, as when the author notes that "Each man's tale Shifts like the watery forms of Proteus." "Proteus,"of course, is a figure from Greek mythology who assumes any number of forms according to the dictates of the moment. In other words, it refers to the need to be adaptable to the exigencies of the moment, and anybody who has survived numerous dictatorships, as Borges did, can attest to the need to be malleable in character. 

When Borges suggests in his poem that "I who am singing these lines today
Will be tomorrow the enigmatic corpse," he is emphasizing precisely this need to be adaptable to changing circumstances. This, as stated, is more applicable to those who have successfully navigated the rocky shoals of unpredictable autocracy, but that could apply to life under Stalinism as well as to life under Peronism. Those in academia who ascribe to Borges motivations that may or may not be accurate could certainly interpret The Enigmas through the prism of post-colonialism. It simply, however, is not necessary.

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