Authors: Jorge Luis Borges

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Argentine poet, essayist, short-story writer, and translator

August 24, 1899

Buenos Aires, Argentina

June 14, 1986

Geneva, Switzerland

Biography

Jorge Luis Borges, South America’s most famous writer of short fiction, was born in 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of Jorge Guillermo Borges, a lawyer and psychology teacher, and Leonor Acevedo de Borges, a descendant of old Argentine and Uruguayan families. An extremely intelligent child who spent much of his childhood indoors, Borges named his father’s library as the most important influence on his career. Based on his reading in that library, he began writing at the early age of six, imitating classical Spanish authors such as Miguel de Cervantes and others.

Borges attended school in Switzerland during World War I. While there, he became strongly influenced by his reading of the French Symbolist poets as well as such English prose writers as G. K. Chesterton and Thomas Carlyle. After the war, he spent two years in Spain, where he became the disciple of Rafael Casinos-Asséns, leader of the so-called Ultraist movement in poetry. It was at this time that he began writing poetry himself.

Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges

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By Sara Facio (Archivo de la Nación Argentina) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Borges published his first book of stories, A Universal History of Infamy, in 1935; however, his most important stories did not appear until 1941, when they were published under the title El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (the garden of the forking paths). When his third collection of stories, Ficciones, was published in 1944, he was awarded a literary prize by the Argentine Society of Writers. Because of increasing blindness, he was forced to stop reading and writing in the late 1950’s; however, his mother became his secretary, and he continued to work by dictating to her.

In 1961, Borges was awarded a major European literary prize in conjunction with Samuel Beckett. As a result of this recognition, his international reputation began to grow rapidly; he was invited to the United States to give several lectures. Soon after, translations of his books began to appear, and he received a number of honorary doctorates and literary prizes from universities and professional societies. Borges died in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 14, 1986.

Jorge Luis Borges might well be called a writer’s writer, for the subject of his stories is more often the nature of writing itself than actual events in the world. By the same token, Borges should be seen as a metaphysical writer, for his stories most often focus on the fantastic metaphysical paradoxes that ensnare those who think. Because of his overriding interest in aesthetic and metaphysical reality, his stories often resemble fables or essays.

One of his best-known stories, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” deals with a French writer who decides to write Don Quixote in spite of the fact that it has already been written by Cervantes. Borges then compares the two versions and finds them identical; however, he argues that the second version is richer, more ambitious, and in many ways more subtle than Cervantes’s original. In another well-known story, “Funes the Memorious,” Borges presents a character who is unable to forget details of his experience, no matter how small.

If the situations of these two men seem alien to ordinary human experience, it is because Borges was interested in the extraordinary nature of metaphysical rather than physical reality. The fact that Pierre Menard can rewrite Don Quixote from the original yet create a more complex and subtle work can be attributed to the notion that one reads a present work with all previous works inscribed within it. The fact that Funes is condemned to remember every single detail of his experience means that he can never tell stories because he is unable to abstract from his experience.

Borges maintained that human reality is the result of language and game, as well as the result of the projection of the mind itself. “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” explores the intellectual productions of an imaginary planet. “The Library of Babel” deals with a library that is infinite in its circular and cyclical structure. “The Lottery in Babylon” deals with a lottery that transforms all reality itself into chance.

Borges’s most common technique was to take previously established genres—such as the science-fiction story, the detective story, or the philosophical essay—and parody those forms by pushing them to absurd extremes. Thus, most of Borges’s fictions are puzzling, frustrating, sometimes shocking, and often humorous, but they are always profoundly thought provoking.

Author Works Short Fiction: Historia universal de la infamia, 1935 (A Universal History of Infamy, 1972) El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, 1941 Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi, 1942 (with Adolfo Bioy Casares, under joint pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq; Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi, 1981) Ficciones, 1935-1944, 1944 (English translation, 1962) Dos fantasías memorables, 1946 (with Bioy Casares, under joint pseudonym Domecq) El Aleph, 1949, 1952 (translated in The Aleph, and Other Stories, 1933-1969, 1970) La muerte y la brújula, 1951 La hermana de Eloísa, 1955 (with Luisa Mercedes Levinson) Cuentos, 1958 Crónicas de Bustos Domecq, 1967 (with Bioy Casares; Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, 1976) El informe de Brodie, 1970 (Doctor Brodie’s Report, 1972) El matrero, 1970 El congreso, 1971 (The Congress, 1974) El libro de arena, 1975 (The Book of Sand, 1977) Narraciones, 1980 Long Fiction: Un modelo para la muerte, 1946 (with Adolfo Bioy Casares, under joint pseudonym B. Suárez Lynch) Screenplays: “Los orilleros” y “El paraíso de los creyentes,” 1955 (with Adolfo Bioy Casares) Les Autres, 1974 (with Bioy Casares and Hugo Santiago) Poetry: Fervor de Buenos Aires, 1923, 1969 Luna de enfrente, 1925 Cuaderno San Martín, 1929 Poemas, 1923-1943, 1943 Poemas, 1923-1953, 1954 Obra poética, 1923-1958, 1958 Obra poética, 1923-1964, 1964 Seis poemas escandinavos, 1966 Siete poemas, 1967 El otro, el mismo, 1969 Elogio de la sombra, 1969 (In Praise of Darkness, 1974) El oro de los tigres, 1972 (translated in The Gold of Tigers: Selected Later Poems, 1977) La rosa profunda, 1975 (translated in The Gold of Tigers) La moneda de hierro, 1976 Historia de la noche, 1977 La cifra, 1981 Los conjurados, 1985 Selected Poems, 1999 Nonfiction: Inquisiciones, 1925 El tamaño de mi esperanza, 1926 El idioma de los argentinos, 1928 Evaristo Carriego, 1930 (English translation, 1984) Figari, 1930 Discusión, 1932 Las Kennigar, 1933 Historia de la eternidad, 1936 Nueva refutación del tiempo, 1947 Aspectos de la literatura gauchesca, 1950 Antiguas literaturas germánicas, 1951 (with Delia Ingenieros; revised as Literaturas germánicas medievales, 1966, with Maria Esther Vásquez) Otras Inquisiciones, 1952 (Other Inquisitions, 1964) El “Martin Fierro,” 1953 (with Margarita Guerrero) Leopoldo Lugones, 1955 (with Betina Edelberg) Manual de zoología fantástica, 1957 (with Guerrero; The Imaginary Zoo, 1969; revised as El libro de los seres imaginarios, 1967, The Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969) La poesía gauchesca, 1960 Introducción a la literatura norteamericana, 1967 (with Esther Zemborain de Torres; An Introduction to American Literature, 1971) Prólogos, 1975 ¡Qué es el budismo?, 1976 (with Alicia Jurado) Cosmogonías, 1976 Libro de sueños, 1976 Siete noches, 1980 (Seven Nights, 1984) Nueve ensayos dantescos, 1982 The Total Library: Non-fiction 1922-1986, 2001 (Eliot Weinberger, editor) Translations: Orlando, 1937 (of Virginia Woolf’s novel) La metamórfosis, 1938 (of Franz Kafka’s novel Die Verwandlung) Un bárbaro en Asia, 1941 (of Henri Michaux’s travel notes) Los mejores cuentos policiales, 1943 (with Adolfo Bioy Casares; of detective stories by various authors) Bartleby, el escribiente, 1943 (of Herman Melville’s novella Bartleby the Scrivener) Los mejores cuentos policiales, segunda serie, 1951 (with Bioy Casares of detective stories by various authors) Cuentos breves y extraordinarios, 1955, 1973 (with Bioy Casares of short stories by various authors; Extraordinary Tales, 1973) Las palmeras salvajes, 1956 (of William Faulkner’s novel The Wild Palms) Hojas de hierba, 1969 (of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) Edited Texts: Antología clásica de la literatura argentina, 1937 Antología de la literatura fantástica, 1940 (with Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvia Ocampo; The Book of Fantasy, 1988) Antología poética argentina, 1941 (with Bioy Casares and Ocampo) El compadrito: Su destino, sus barrios, su música, 1945, 1968 (with Silvina Bullrich) Poesía gauchesca, 1955 (2 volumes; with Bioy Casares) Libro del cielo y del infierno, 1960, 1975 (with Bioy Casares) Versos, 1972 (by Evaristo Carriego) Antología poética, 1982 (by Franciso de Quevedo) Antología poética, 1982 (by Leopoldo Lugones) El amigo de la muerte, 1984 (by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón) Miscellaneous: Obras completas, 1953-1967 (10 volumes) Antología personal, 1961 (A Personal Anthology, 1967) Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, 1962, 1964 Nueva antología personal, 1968 Selected Poems, 1923-1967, 1972 (also includes prose) Adrogue, 1977 Obras completas en colaboración, 1979 (with others) Borges: A Reader, 1981 Atlas, 1984 (with MaríaKodama English translation, 1985) Bibliography Aizenberg, Edna, ed. Borges and His Successors. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990. Collection of essays by various critics on Borges’s relationship to such writers as Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, his influence on such writers as Peter Carey and Salvador Elizondo, and his similarity to such thinkers as Michel Foucault, Paul de Man, and Jacques Derrida. Bell-Villada, Gene H. Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981. An excellent introduction to Borges and his works for North American readers. Provides detailed commentary concerning Borges’s background, his many stories, and his career, all the while downplaying the Argentine writer’s role as a philosopher and intellectual and emphasizing his role as a storyteller. A superb study. Christ, Ronald. The Narrow Art: Borges’ Art of Allusion. New York: New York University Press, 1969. An important study of how Borges relinquishes circumstantial reality to reach the primordial world of myth. For Borges, the fantastic is not characteristic of another world, but rather is the covert essence of this world. Shows how Borges’s fiction is intertextually related to the mythic, fantastic, literary tradition. Frisch, Mark F. You Might Be Able to Get There from Here: Reconsidering Borges and the Postmodern. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004. Careful study of the meaning of the term “postmodernism” in relation to Borges and his fiction, offering a variety of perspectives on the intersections of postmodernism with Borges and with other cultural elements. Bibliographic references and index. Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. “Jorge Luis Borges: Or, The Consolation by Philosophy.” In Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin American Writers. New York: Harper and Row, 1967. This piece combines and intertwines personal biography, literary biography, critical commentary, and interview to produce a multifaceted look at Borges’s life, his works, and his philosophical beliefs, and, most of all, how his philosophical beliefs are reflected in both his poetry and, more so here, his prose. A classic piece of the body of criticism written on Borges in spite of its publication date. Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Examines the significance of the analytical detective genre created by Poe and expanded upon by Borges. Kefala, Eleni. Peripheral (Post) Modernity: The Syncretist Aesthetics of Borges, Piglia, Kalokyris and Kyriakidis. New York: P. Lang, 2007. Argues that Borges engages in postmodern syncretism, that is, that he mixes aesthetic elements that are normally mutually exclusive in order to question the conventions of the genres—such as detective fiction—within which he chooses to work. Bibliographic references and index. McMurray, George R. Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Intended by the author as “an attempt to decipher the formal and thematic aspects of a synthetic universe that rivals reality in its almost overwhelming complexity,” namely Borges’s universe. A very good and well-organized study of Borges’s dominant themes and narrative devices, with many specific references to the Argentine author’s stories. Includes an informative introduction on Borges’s life and a conclusion that coherently brings together the diverse elements discussed in the book. Newman, Charles, and Mary Kinzie, eds. Prose for Borges: TriQuarterly 25. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1972. A collection of tributes, critical essays, biographical reminiscences, and interviews by such Borges friends and critics as Adolfo Bioy Casares, Anthony Kerrigan, Robert Alter, Carter Wheelock, and Ronald Christ. Essays discuss Borges’s relationship to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the fantastic, the Latin American novel, and American literature. Nunez-Faraco, Humberto. “In Search of The Aleph: Memory, Truth, and Falsehood in Borges’s Poetics.” The Modern Language Review 92 (July, 1997): 613-629. Discusses autobiographical allusions, literary references to Dante, and cultural reality in the story “El Aleph.” Argues that Borges’s story uses cunning and deception to bring about its psychological and intellectual effect. Rodríguez Monegal, Emir. Jorge Luis Borges: A Literary Biography. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978. The definitive biography of Borges by one of the Argentine writer’s (and contemporary Latin American literature’s) most prominent critics. Particularly interesting for its constant blending of facts about Borges’s life and literary text by him concerning or related to the events or personalities discussed. Detailed, lengthy, and highly informative. Very useful for anyone seeking a better understanding of Borges the writer. Sabajanes, Beatriz Sarlo. Jorge Luis Borges: A Writer on the Edge. New York: Verso, 1993. A good introduction to Borges. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Soud, Stephen E. “Borges the Golem-Maker: Intimations of ‘Presence’ in ‘The Circular Ruins.’” MLN 110 (September, 1995): 739-754. Argues that Borges uses the legend of the golem to establish authorial presence in the story. Argues that Borges did not seek to deconstruct literature but to re-sacralize it and to salvage the power of the logos, the Divine Word. Stabb, Martin S. Borges Revisited. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A follow-up to Stabb’s Jorge Luis Borges, published in 1970. Emphasis is on Borges’s post-1970 writings, how the “canonical” (to use Stabb’s term) Borges compares to the later Borges, and “a fresh assessment of the Argentine master’s position as a major Western literary presence.” An excellent study, particularly used in tandem with Stabb’s earlier book on Borges. Stabb, Martin S. Jorge Luis Borges. New York: Twayne, 1970. An excellent study of Borges intended by its author “to introduce the work of this fascinating and complex writer to North American readers.” Includes an opening chapter on Borges’s life and career, followed by chapters on the Argentine writer’s work in the genres of poetry, essay, and fiction, as well as a concluding chapter entitled “Borges and the Critics.” Wheelock, Carter. The Mythmaker: A Study of Motif and Symbol in the Short Stories of Jorge Luis Borges. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969. Argues that Borges has a superb conceptual grasp of mythic reality as described by anthropologists and philosophers Mircea Eliade, Ernst Cassirer, and Sir James Frazier. Discusses Borges’s stories as allegories of the construction of metaphor, the imaginative apprehension of reality, and the nature of thought. Williamson, Edwin. Borges: A Life. New York: Viking, 2004. Drawing on interviews and extensive research, the most comprehensive and well-reviewed Borges biography. Woodall, James. Borges: A Life. New York: Basic Books, 1996. Presents a comprehensive biography on Borges, drawing on previously unpublished sources and examining his early life in Argentina, the evolution of his political beliefs, and his relationships with friends and family members. Wreen, Michael J. “Don Quixote Rides Again.” Romanic Review 86 (January, 1995): 141–63. Argues that Pierre Menard is not the new Cervantes in Borges’s story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” but rather the new Quixote. Asserts that in the story Borges pokes fun at himself and that a proper interpretation of the story requires readers to understand that Menard’s Quixote is simply Cervantes’Quixote, although Menard thinks it is a new and important work. Yates, Donald A. Jorge Luis Borges: Life, Work, and Criticism. Fredericton, Canada: York Press, 1985. A brief sketch of, as the title indicates, Borges’s life, work, and criticism. Chapters include “A Biography of Jorge Luis Borges,” “A Chronological List of Borges’s Major Works,” “A Summary of Borges’s Principal Writings,” “An Evaluation of Borges’s Achievements,” and “Annotated Bibliography.” Far more complete and information-filled than its length would suggest. Zubizarreta, Armando F. “‘Borges and I,’ a Narrative Sleight of Hand.” Studies in 20th Century Literature 22 (Summer, 1998): 371-381. Argues that the two characters in the sketch are involved in the implementation of vengeance. Argues that the character Borges, driven by a compulsive pattern of stealing, unsuspectingly takes over the I character’s grievances against him through his own writing.

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