Jorge Luis Borges Borges, Jorge Luis (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Jorge Luis Borges 1899–-1986

(Also wrote under the pseudonym F. Bustos; with Adolfo Bioy Casares wrote under the joint pseudonyms. Bustos Domecq, B. Lynch Davis, and B. Suarez Lynch) Argentinian short story writer, poet, essayist, critic, translator, biographer, and screenwriter. See also Jorge Luis Borges Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 13, 32, 83.

During his lifetime, Borges was highly regarded as the author of baroque and labyrinthine short fictions, often written in the form of metaphysical detective stories. Characteristically, they blur the distinction between reality and the perception of reality, between the possible and the fantastic, between matter and spirit, between past, present, and future, and between the self and the other. They usually are situated in the nebulous confines of allegorical locations, whether identified as bizarre dimensions of the universe, Arabian cities, English gardens, the Argentine pampas, amazing libraries, or the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Since his death, Borges has attained the status of one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century, a master poet and essayist, as well as an architect of the short story. His work not only has influenced the way Latin American and non-Latin American writers write, but also the way readers read.

Biographical Information

Borges was born into an old, Argentinian family of soldiers, patriots, and scholars in Buenos Aires, where he spent most of his childhood. His father was an intellectual, a university professor of psychology and modern languages, a lawyer, and a writer, who possessed an extensive library, which was the boy's delight. Borges, whose paternal grandmother was English, was raised bilingual and read English before Spanish. For example, his first encounter with Cervantes was in English, and when he was seven, his Spanish translation of Oscar Wilde's “The Happy Prince” appeared in a Uruguayan newspaper. A visit to Switzerland in 1914 became an extended stay when the outbreak of the First World War made it impossible for the family to return to Argentina. Borges enrolled in the College de Geneve, where he studied Latin, French, German, and the European philosophers, especially Schopenhauer and Bishop Berkley, whose dark pessimistic and antimaterialist influences can be perceived in the worldview of his literary work. After receiving his degree in 1918, and with the termination of the war, Borges traveled to Spain. There he joined with the avant-garde Ultraistas, who combined elements of Dadaism, Imagism, and German Expressionism, and published reviews, essays, and poetry. Borges returned to Buenos Aires in 1921, and, with the publication of his first books of poetry, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), Luna de enfrente (1925), and Cuaderno San Martin (1929) was recognized as a leading literary figure in Argentina. During these years, Borges helped establish several literary journals, and published essays on metaphysics and language, which were collected in Inquisiciones (1925) and El tamano de mi esperanza (1927). In 1938, the same year his father died, Borges developed a form of blood poisoning after a wound he received was poorly tended. Fearful that his ability to write might have been impaired by his illness, Borges took up short fiction rather than poetry, intending to attribute possible failure to inexperience in the genre rather than diminished literary skill. The result was “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote,” a story highly acclaimed both as a fiction and as a precursor to deconstructionist textual analysis. There followed a period of composition in which the stories regarded as masterpieces were written. Though he spoke of his disdain for politics, Borges was always politically outspoken. He opposed European fascism and anti-Semitism, and the dictatorship of Juan Perón in Argentina. In 1946, Perón removed Borges from his post as an assistant at the National Library of Argentina, due to his opposition to the regime. In 1955, however, following the overthrow of Perón, Borges, now almost totally blind from an inherited condition, was made director of the National Library. In 1957 he was appointed professor of English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961, he was a co-recipient, along with Samuel Beckett, of the Prix Formentor, the prestigious International Publishers Prize, which gave him international fame. Borges did not oppose the Argentinian military coup or the terrorism of the Videla junta in the seventies until 1980, when, apologizing, he signed a plea for those whom the regime had caused to “disappear.” Similarly he supported the Ugarle Pinochet coup and dictatorship in Chile, calling the general a “gentleman,” and commending his imposition of “order” in the face of communism. It was for these failings, rather than for any failure as an artist, many believe, that Borges never was awarded the Nobel Prize. The catalog of his awards and honors, nevertheless, is long and distinguished. He spent his last years a literary celebrity, traveling and lecturing. Totally blind, he continued to write by dictation—to his mother, who died in 1975 at the age of ninety-nine—and to his student and companion, María Kodama, whom he married shortly before his death. His enduring love of languages was marked by his late study of Icelandic. Borges died of cancer of the liver in 1986 and was buried in Geneva.

Major Works

Borges produced major works in three genres—poetry, essays, and short fiction. He also translated works by (among others) Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, and Thomas Carlyle. His first major books of poetry, Fervor de Buenos Aires and Luna de enfrente, are avant-garde collections influenced by the Ultraist movement. The young Borges wrote a baroque verse free of rhyme, surrealistic, even brutal, in imagery and metaphor, dedicated to the incorporation of Argentinian locations, locutions and themes, and establishing the poet as the soul of his subject. By the end of the thirties, however, Borges repudiated his early verse, revised it and worked, until his death, with traditional devices: rhyme, meter, elucidation, and time-honored metaphors. He utilized traditional forms such as the sonnet and haiku, aiming at simplicity of expression through the use of common language and colloquial word order. His work projects a tone of tranquil irony, and a wisdom concerned with, but tempered by an indifference to, time, desire, and mortality. Borges's works of fiction and nonfiction, critics have noted, are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Many of the short stories are written in essay form; the essays often treat subject matter that might be dealt with in fiction. The very short pieces, the “parables,” share the qualities of poetry, essay, and short story. Borges's essay collections—including Inquisiciones, Discusión (1932), andOtras Inquisiciones, 1937-1952 [1952; Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952] address a wide variety of issues, and represent a diversity of styles. Discusión, for example, contains film reviews, essays on metaphysical and aesthetic topics, and includes “Narrative Art and Magic,” in which Borges asserts the capacity of fantasy literature to address realistic concerns. As well as his philosophical suppleness, his essays also reveal the depth of his scholarship, as in a monograph on ancient Germanic and Anglo-Saxon literatures he wrote in 1951 in collaboration with Delia Ingenieros. His first collection of short stories, Historia Universal de la infamia, [1935; A Universal History of Infamy] purports to be an encyclopedia of world criminals, containing brief, seemingly factual accounts of real and mythical figures. The stories themselves are exercises in local color and the lowdown argot of gangsters. Written with the erudition of an intellectual posing as a roughneck, they show posturing toughs engaged in macho assertion through gratuitous and egotistical violence. In his collection, Ficciones, 1935–1944, published in 1944, Borges invented a form for the short story which combines elements of detective fiction, metaphysical fantasy, philosophical discourse, and the scholarly monograph complete with footnotes, references, and commentary. Thematically the stories are about the conflict between the integrity of the “I” and the overwhelming power of the other, whether the other is a person, a force, a book, a dream, or a labyrinth. In the late 1950s, partially because he felt he had exhausted the genre and partially because his failing eyesight made written composition difficult and dictation necessary, Borges began to write simplified short stories, parables, and fables less baroque in structure and diction than the masterpieces of his middle period. They are, nonetheless, paradoxical, philosophically complex, mythic narratives. New translations of Borges’s works — Selected Non-Fiction, Selected Poems, and Collected Fictions — were published in 1999 on the occasion of the centenary of his birth.

Critical Reception

Borges stands as one of the major writers of the twentieth century, acclaimed for his fiction, his poetry, and his essays. His works have been translated into numerous languages. Among the first contemporary LatinAmerican authors to achieve international recognition, Borges is landeel for his stylistic and philosophical innovations, which have redefined the boundaries of fiction and of the essay. Citing his imaginative infusion of fantasy into South America's essentially realistic literary tradition, critics see Borges's influence in the work of Julio Cortázar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Mempo Giardinelli, among others, but his influence extends beyond Latin America, from Donald Barthelme to Umberto Eco to the Morrocan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun. He has contributed not only to the way literature is written, but also to the way it is read, especially because of his story “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” which introduces the idea that the mind-set of the reader the significance of the text. Even the sternest critics who reproach his works for being intellectual games do not quibble at their quality, and most critics see Borges's works as employing aesthetic and intellectual devices to create authentic illuminations of a dark and dubious reality as it is discerned by a befuddled humanity.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Fervor de Buenos Aires [Passion for Buenos Aires] (poetry) 1923

Inquisiciones [Inquisitions] (essays) 1925

Luna de Enfrente [Moon across the Way] (poetry) 1925

El tamano de mi esperanza [The Measure of My Hope] (essays) 1927

El idioma de los argentinos [The Language of the Argentines] (essays) 1928

Cuaderno San Martin [San Martin Copybook] (poetry) 1929

Evaristo Carriego [Evaristo Carriego: A Book About Old-Time Buenos Aires] (biography) 1930

Discusión (essays) 1932; revised edition 1976

Historia universal de la...

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Willis Barnstone (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges, Poet of Ecstasy,” in Borges the Poet, edited by Carlos Cortinez, The University of Arkansas Press, 1986, pp. 134-41.

[In the following essay, Barnstone examines how Borges transformed himself into a seer.]

The author of a very famous Spanish novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha, was born in Buenos Aires in the year 1899. His name appears to be Jorge Luis Borges, although this is questionable since he has largely dropped his Christian names and is, in his own words, merely and “unfortunately … Borges.” But here too the Argentine author of the Quijote eludes us and even puts in doubt the American authorship of the Spanish masterpiece...

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Ramona Lagos (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Return of the Repressed: Objects in Borges' Literature,” in Borges the Poet, edited by Carlos Cortinez, The University of Arkansas Press, 1986, pp. 142-47.

[In the following essay, Lagos discusses the shift in Borges's experience of himself and of the world which is indicated by a shift in his poetic subjects and images during the 1930's.]

Contrary to the physical and spiritual plenitude of his poems written during the decade of the twenties, Borges' work after the thirties begins to exhibit a deep change that exalts the disjunction, restlessness, frustration, and breaking up of the harmony that impregnates his first three books. The pleasant strolls...

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Graciela Paulau de Nemes (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Modernismo and Borges,” in Borges the Poet, edited by Carlos Cortinez, The University of Arkansas Press, 1986, pp. 161-69.

[In the following essay, Paulau de Nemes examines the “modernist” aspects of Borges's early poetry.]

“One of the cardinal functions of poetry”—wrote Octavio Paz—“is to show the other side, the wonders of everyday life: not poetic irreality, but the prodigious reality of the world.”1 Borges' poetry performs this function. It may seem paradoxical to say this of a writer who has won worldwide acclaim by the imaginative character of his prose work, but the works of Borges the poet seem well anchored in the world...

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Nicholas Shumway (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Eliot, Borges, and Tradition,” in Borges the Poet, edited by Carlos Cortinez, The University of Arkansas Press, 1986, pp. 260-67.

[In the following essay, Shumway considers the similarities between Borges and T. S. Eliot regarding their ideas about tradition and individual talent.]

Except for an Eliot poem Borges translated and a footnote in “Kafka y sus precursores,” one finds little reason to link Eliot and Borges. Eliot is frequently defined and dismissed by his oft-quoted statement that he was an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a royalist in politics and a classicist in literature. Borges, on the other hand, flees such neat, all-encompassing...

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Jaimie Alazraki (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges and the Kabbalah,” in Borges and the Kabbalah: And Other Essays on His Fiction and Poetry, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 14-37.

[In the following essay, Alazraki traces the significance of the Jewish mystical doctrine of the Kabbalah in Borges's work.]

When asked several years ago about his interest in the Kabbalah, Borges replied, “I read a book called Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Scholem and another book by Trachtenberg on Jewish superstitions.1 Then I have read all the books on the Kabbalah I have found and all the articles in the encyclopedias and so on. But I have no Hebrew whatever.”2 These...

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Marcelo Abadi (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Spinoza in Borges' Looking-Glass,” translated by Leila Yael, Borges Studies On Line. J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. January 13, 2000, pp.1–13

[In the following essay, originally published in 1989, Abadi compares Borges's two sonnets about the philosopher Benedict de Spinoza.]

In the same tongue in which Spinoza refuted the Jewish authorities who brought about his expulsion from the Amsterdam Synagogue, three centuries later an Argentinean writer, long since blind, dictated a sonnet entitled “Baruch Spinoza”. Some years earlier he had dictated another sonnet, called, simply, “Spinoza”. The poet—Jorge Luis Borges, of course—is...

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Melvin S. Arrington, Jr. (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Narrative Authority in Fiction and Film: The Case of Borges's ‘El Muerto,’” in Romance Notes, Vol. XXXI, No. 2, Winter, 1990, pp. 133-39.

[In the following essay, Arrington describes the translation of Borges's “El Muerto” from short story to film.]

Originally published in Sur in November 1946 and later included in one of Borges's most important collections, El Aleph (1949), “El muerto”1 tells the story of Benjamín Otálora, an impetuous young compadrito from Buenos Aires, who flees Argentina after killing a man in a knife fight. The protagonist crosses the Río de la Plata carrying with him a letter of...

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Julia A. Kushigian (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Laughter and the Radical Utopia: The Orient of Borges,” in Orientalism in the Hispanic Literary Tradition, The University of New Mexico Press, 1991, pp. 19-42.

[In the following essay, Kushigian explores the significance of “Orientalism” in Borges's fiction.]

The Orient, presented ironically, with familiarity, and at times inverted and parodied, is a metaphor in Borges's works for infinite time, fantasy, and utopia. This practice in itself does not differ drastically from other representations of Hispanic Orientalism. What distinguishes Borges in his creativity is the polyglot nature of his representations through which the language of utopia (the...

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Floyd Merrell (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Metaphysics of Deceit,” in Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics, and the New Physics, Purdue University Press, 1991, pp. 2-15.

[In the following excerpt, Merrell discusses the place of Nominalism and Idealism in Borges's work.]

The deeper you try to go into the character of these universal relations which have always been the subject of philosophy, the less you feel inclined to make any pronouncement about them whatever; because you become ever more aware how unclear, inappropriate, inaccurate and onesided every pronouncement must be.

—Erwin Schrödinger


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Cynthia Stephens (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges, De Quincey and the Interpretation of Words,” in Romance Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4, November, 1992, pp. 481-87.

[In the following essay, Stephens examines Borges's debt to De Quincey.]

In his piece on De Quincey in his Introducción a la literatura inglesa, Borges compares De Quincey to Sir Thomas Browne,1 and in the epigraph to his collection “Evaristo Carriego,” he quotes from De Quincey “… a mode of truth, not of truth coherent and central, but angular and splintered.”2 These words could apply equally well to Browne or Borges. Both use an “angular and splintered” mode of truth with which to express...

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Marie Fayad (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges in Tahar Ben Jelloun's L'Enfant de sable: Beyond Intertextuality,” in The French Review, Vol. LXVII, No. 2, December, 1993, pp. 291-99.

[In the following essay, Fayad examines Borges's influence on Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun's novel L'Enfant de sable, in which Borges appears as a character.]

Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun's L'Enfant de sable is, if not a fantastic tale, at least a highly enigmatic novel.1 In it we are confronted with the confused and confusing identities of the hero/heroine, those of the storytellers, and the subsequent variety and ambiguity in endings given by those multiple storytellers....

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Malcolm K. Read (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “To Have and Have Not: Modernist Literature as Fetishism,” in Jorge Luis Borges and His Predecessors or Notes Towards a Materalist History of Linguistic Idealism, The University of North Carolina Press, 1993, pp. 122-41.

[In the following excerpt, Read subjects Borges's fiction to a Marxist-psychoanalytic critique.]

Critics have been accustomed to emphasize the subjective integrity of Borges in the early part of his career: “En ese período, la psique y la mente, la intuición de la lógica, la pasión y la razón aún no se habían disociado en Borges y se daban en perfecta hipóstasis, por lo que acentuaba y producía unilateralmente, sin doblez ni...

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Beatriz Sarlo (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges and Argentine Literature,” in Borges Studies on Line. J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. January 13, 1993, pp. 1–15.

[In the following essay, Sarlo examines the influence of Argentine literature on Borges's writing.]

Borges's work offers one of the paradigms—perhaps the paradigm—of Argentine literature. This is a literature constructed, like the nation itself, in a marginal country, out of different influences: European culture, the criollo tradition and the Spanish language spoken with a River Plate accent. The place which Borges inhabits, which he invented in his first three books of poetry published in the...

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Mark Mosher (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Atemporal Labyrinths in Time: J. L. Borges and the New Physicists,” in Symposium, Vol. XLVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 51-61.

[In the following essay, Mosher argues that Borges's formulation of the nature of time and space is the same as the one advanced in modern physics.]

Modern physics has made it plainly evident that the constituents of microphysical systems operate in a manner that contradicts the accepted patterns and relationships of space and time that originated from Newton's classical mechanics. The following familiar words from Borges's “Avatars of the Tortoise” convey this very point; it indicates the inability of the old scientific...

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Kenton V. Stone (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mempo Giardinelli and the Anxiety of Borges's Influence,” in Chasqui, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, May, 1994, pp. 83-90.

[In the following essay, Stone discsses Borge's influence on Mempo Giardinellis short story “La entrevista”.]

Almost twenty years ago, Harold Bloom began his landmark study of the concept of intergenerational influence among authors with the opening comment: “Borges remarks that poets create their precursors.” (Anxiety 19) Obviously, Bloom found Borges' remark and its implications to be so far-reaching as to serve as a framing device for an entire book on that subject alone. He goes on to pepper The Anxiety of Influence with...

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Daniel Balderston (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Fecal Dialectic’: Homosexual Panic and the Origin of Writing in Borges,” in Borges Studies on Line. J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. January 13, 1995, pp. 1–20

[In the following essay, Balderston suggests defense against repressed homosexuality as a motive for and motif in Borges's fiction.]

Near the end of a 1931 essay on the defects of the Argentine character, “Nuestras imposibilidades” [“Our Impossibilities”] in which he discusses the Argentine penchant for taking pride in putting one over on someone else (“la viveza criolla”), Borges writes:

Añadiré otro ejemplo curioso:...

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Dominique Jullien (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Biography of an Immortal,” in Comparative Literature, Vol. 47, No. 2, Spring, 1995, pp. 136-59.

[In the following essay contrasting Borges with several literary predecessors, Jullien explores the process by which Borges moves his characters from “existence to essence,” and what the meaning of “immortality” is for him.]

“El hacedor,” Jorge Luis Borges's two-page story about Homer, is a biography paradoxically devoid of biographical data. Names and dates—the elements that make up an individual's specificity—are missing. The Maker could be, and for that matter is, anyone. The reader identifies the character as Homer only when the Iliad...

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Jon Stewart (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges on Language and Translation,” in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 19, No. 2, October, 1995, pp. 320-29.

[In the following essay, using Borges's tale “Averroes' Search,” Stewart considers the cultural determination of language and understanding.]

Although Jorge Luis Borges had years of philosophical training and expressed a number of philosophical theories in his literary works, he never published a philosophy treatise. The result is that his oeuvre has often been viewed as purely literary and been largely neglected by trained philosophers. However, by ignoring the philosophical aspects of Borges's thought, criticism has neglected a vast...

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Svend Ostergard (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Unconscious of Representation (‘Death and the Compass’),” in Variaciones Borges, J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. January, 1996, pp. 101-12.

[In the following essay, using Borges's story “Death and the Compass,” Ostergard formulates a definition of the unconscious as the difference between the reality of a situation and the representation of that situation.]


In the ordinary interaction between man and the world, in perception and communication for instance, the conceptual structure stabilizes the relation between objects and events and their representation in a linguistic or logical...

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Paolo Bartoloni (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Spatialised Time and Circular Time: A Note on Time in the Work of Gerald Murnane and Jorge-Luis Borges,” in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, October, 1997, pp. 185-90.

[In the following essay, Bartoloni compares the use of time and travel in the fictions of Borges and the Australian writer, Gerald Murane.]

The image of the journey in time characterises much of twentieth-century fiction—Joyce, Mann, Proust, Svevo and Woolf bear witness—and finds in Australian writing a fertile ground. In fact, the interplay between past and present appears to be one of the recurrent motifs among Australian poets and writers either by virtue of a...

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Paula Durbin (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “For the Love of Borges,” in Américas, Vol. 49, No. 2, March-April, 1997, pp. 18-25.

[In the following essay, Durbin recounts the history of Borges's relationship with María Kodama, whom he married shortly before his death.]

The year 1996 marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina's greatest writer, variously hailed as the father of Latin American magic realism, a master stylist of the Spanish language, and, some even claim, the world's last literary giant. Around the globe, commemorative events unfolded over several months, paying tribute to his genius and his achievements. But the prelude to all this, held during November...

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Anthony Fragola (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Nature of Postmodern Time in Jorge Luis Borges's ‘Theme of the Traitor and Hero’ and Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Man Who Lies,” in The New Novel Review, Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring, 1997, pp. 50-65.

[In the following essay, Fragola compares the concept of time in works by Borges and the French New Novelist, Alain Robbe-Grillet.]

Alain Robbe-Grillet acknowledges that Jorge Luis Borges's short story “Theme of the Traitor and Hero” influenced him in making the 1968 film, The Man Who Lies (Fragola and Smith, 62). The most obvious connection lies in the theme of the double in the hero/traitor dichotomy that functions as the basic structure of...

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Matthew Howard (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Stranger Than Ficción,” in Lingua Franca, Vol. 7, No. 5, June-July, 1997, pp. 41-9.

[In the following essay, Howard discusses the nature of Borges's collaboration with Norman Thomas di Giovanni, one of his English translators.]

“In the long run, perhaps,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges in 1971, “I shall stand or fall by my poems.” The intervening years have failed to vindicate that claim: The great Argentine writer's ficciones are required reading in short story courses, his essays and metaphysical games cited in countless monographs on every imaginable subject, his name—and its adjectival form, Borgesian—invoked by scores of journalists to...

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Beret E. Strong (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges and Sur,” in The Poetic Avant-Garde: The Groups of Borges, Auden, and Breton, Northwestern University Press, 1997, pp. 98-119.

[In the following essay, Strong outlines Borges's literary and political attitudes by tracing those of Sur, an Argentine journal with which he was closely associated, and in which “Pierre Menard” was first published.]

Borges, one of the 1920s' “last happy men,” entered the 1930s already established as one of Argentina's most important writers. For intellectuals, this “infamous decade” was devoted largely to a conservative retrenchment of the sort advocated in Benda's La trahison des clercs...

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Bruce Stiehm (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges: Cultural Iconoclast, Dissident Creator of Semantic Traps,” in West Virginia University Philological Papers, Vol. 44, 1998-99, pp. 104-11.

[In the following essay, Stiehm argues that Borges criticizes established cultural values through manipulation of the common meaning of words.]


Borges is less a case of history in literature than one of literature in history. It is true that Borges's family had a long story of involvement in some of the most stirring Latin American military events; and that Borges commemorated his family's military heroes in poetry. It is true also that Borges spoke publicly against...

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Teresa R. Stojkov (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Strategies of Self-Conscious Representation in the Early Essays of Jorge Luis Borges,” in The International Fiction Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-2, 1998, pp. 29-35.

[In the following essay, Stojkov discusses Borges's early essays and his “formalist” theory of literature.]

Jorge Luis Borges's international fame as a short story writer has always obscured recognition that he was one of the most productive poets and essayists of Spanish America. His career as an essayist began in 1925 with the publication of Inquisitions and spanned some thirty-five years without interruption until the publication of Dreamtigers in 1960. Borges continued to write...

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Eric Ormsby (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Jorge Luis Borge and the Plural I,” in The New Criterion, Vol. 18, No. 3, November, 1999, pp. 14-21.

[In the following essay, Ormsby praises some new editions of Borges's work.]

It was ironic of fate, though perhaps predictable, to allow Jorge Luis Borges to develop over a long life into his own Doppelgänger. In a 1922 essay entitled “The Nothingness of Personality,” Borges asserted that “the self does not exist.” Half-a-century later, an international personality laden with acclaim, he had to depend on wry, self-deprecating quips to safeguard his precious inner nullity. “Yo no soy yo” (“I am not I”), wrote Juan Ramón Jiménez;...

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Eliot Weinberger (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Missing From the Library: The Uncollected Borges,” in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 5029, August 20, 1999, pp. 12-13.

[In the following essay, Weinberger, editor of Borges's Selected Non-Fictions, discusses Borges's uncollected texts and deplores the absence of well-edited editions of the published works.]

Although there are many places where one might enjoy being a living writer, there seem to be only two countries where one would want to be a dead one: Germany and France. Theirs are the only societies where it is generally believed both that a great writer is worthy of a monument, and that the proper monument to a great writer is a reliable...

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James Woodall (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Letter from … Barcelona,” in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 5019, June 11, 1999, p. 15.

[In the following column, one of Borges's biographers sketches a portrait of the writer.]

This was the first Spanish city Jorge Luis Borges ever knew. He and his family, holed up in Switzerland during the First World War, made the best of the peace in 1918 by embracing the old country; before returning to Buenos Aires in 1921, they lived in Mallorca, Seville and Madrid. Barcelona was a mere port of call, before Mallorca. There was, wrote the teenage Jorge Luis to his Genevan friend Maurice Abramowicz, a strange absence of “loving couples in the streets”,...

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Alberto Manguel (essay date 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Endless Happiness,” in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 5055, February 18, 2000, pp. 12-3.

[In the following essay, Manguel argues that Borges's significance as a writer derives from his delight in language and his faith in literature.]

The visible work of Jorge Luis Borges may appear daunting (the citations, the obscure and illustrious names, so many of them apocryphal, the apparently abstruse subjects), but his legacy, I believe, is less in his erudite writing than in his companionable approach to literature. Borges was, as he often said, more of a reader than a writer, someone who not only told stories but transformed them through his...

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Beatriz Sarlo (essay date 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Borges: Tradition and the Avant-Garde,” in Borges Studies on Line. J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. January 13, 2000, pp. 1–15.

[In the following essay, Sarlo links the avant-garde movement in the Argentina of the 1920's, in which Borges participated, with the literary movement to define Argentine national tradition and local color.]


In 1924, the avant-gardist literary journal Martín Fierro appeared in Buenos Aires. Its name was a very obvious tribute to the gauchesque poem written by José Hernández in 1872, one of the key texts, together with Facundo by Sarmiento, to which...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Foster, David William. Jorge Luis Borges: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography. New York and London: Garland, 1984, 328 p.

Scholarly in its depth and comprehensive in its range.

Loewenstein, C. Jared. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Jorge Luis Borges Collection at the University of Virginia Library. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993, 254 p.

Catalogues a major collection dedicated to providing “reliable information about the origins and development of” Borges's texts.


Woodall, James. Borges: A...

(The entire section is 328 words.)