Borges, Buenos Aires and the Fantastic

Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges once lived on this street

“With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he, too, was all appearance, that someone else was dreaming him.”                                           -Jorge Luis Borges, THE CIRCULAR RUINS

The apartment where I spent the month of February is located on Calle Guatemala, in Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires.  Half a block away, Guatemala is intersected by Calle Jorge Luis Borges, named for this barrio’s most famous luminary.  Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, the internationally acclaimed Argentinian writer, essayist and poet is considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.  V.S. Pritchett has written that Borges has “the art of enhancing the effects of the unbearable, the sinister, and the ineluctable.”

In the photo above is El Preferido café, which started out as an almacén in 1952, founded by Arturo Fernández from Asturias, Spain.  Borges lived across the street between 1901 and 1914.  His family lived in a large house with an English library of over one thousand books. “If I were asked to name the chief event in my life,” Borges would later remark, “I should say my father’s library”.

I was a student in college when I discovered Borges.  His writings delved into the dark corners of the human psyche, exploring the fantastic within the seemingly mundane, inventing bestiaries and arcane libraries and fables involving the nature of time, infinity, labyrinths, illusion, mirrors and identity.  New York Times’ reporter Noam Cohen described Borges this way: “A fusty sort who from the 1930s through the 1950s spent much of his time as a chief librarian, Borges (1899-1986) valued printed books as artifacts and not just for the words they contained. He frequently set his stories in a pretechnological past and was easily enthralled by the authority of ancient texts.”  His works have had a significant impact on fantasy literature and, according to Wikipedia,”scholars have noted that Borges’s progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination since ‘poets, like the blind, can see in the dark’.”

Borges died in 1986 at the age of 86 in Geneva, Switzerland.

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