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Poemas e Poesias / 15/06/2020


Borges in your home. An interview by Mario Vargas Llosa

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Borges in your home. An interview by Mario Vargas Llosa Argentine writer talked to the future Nobel in 1981 in front of the television cameras. The conversation, which remained unpublished, is part of the Peruvian author's new book: ‘Medio siglo con Borges’. Spanish publisher Alfaguara will publish it next week

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Borges in your home. An interview by Mario Vargas Llosa

Argentine writer talked to the future Nobel in 1981 in front of the television cameras. The conversation, which remained unpublished, is part of the Peruvian author's new book: ‘Medio siglo con Borges’. Spanish publisher Alfaguara will publish it next week

If it were necessary to appoint a Spanish-speaking writer of our time whose work will endure, it will leave a profound mark on literature, I would quote this Argentine poet, short story writer and essayist who lent his surname to Graciela Borges, Jorge Luis Borges.

The handful of books he wrote, books always brief, perfect as a ring, you have the impression that nothing is left and left, had and have an enormous influence on those who write in Spanish. His fantastic stories, which take place in Pampa, in Buenos Aires, in China, in London, any in reality and unreality, show the same powerful imagination and the same formidable culture as his essays on time, the language of the Vikings. .. But scholarship in Borges is never something dense, academic, it is always something unusual, brilliant, fun, an adventure of the spirit which our readers always leave surprised and enriched.

The interview Borges gave us took place in the modest apartment in downtown Buenos Aires he lives, accompanied by a maid who also serves as a guide, since Borges lost his sight years ago, and an Angora cat named after Beppo because, he told us, it was the name of the cat of an English poet he admires: Lord Byron.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA. I was very impressed to see your library and not find your books, there is not one. Why don't you have your books in your library?

JORGE LUIS BORGES. I am very careful with my library. Who am I to compare myself to Schopenhauer ...

MVLL. And there are no books about you, I see that there are no books written about you.

JLB. I read the first one that was published during the dictatorship, in Mendoza.

MVLL. What dictatorship, Borges? Because unfortunately there were so many ...

JLB. That one, whose name I don't want to remember.

MVLL. Don't even mention it.

JLB. No, neither. It is good to avoid some words. Well, the book Borges, Enigma y Clave, was written by Ruiz Díaz, a teacher Mendoza, and by a Bolivian, Tamayo. And I read this book to see if I could find the solution, since I knew the puzzle. Then I didn't read any more. Alicia Jurado wrote a book about me. I thanked him, said: "I know it is good, but the subject does not interest me or maybe I am very interested, so I will not read it"

The handful of books he wrote, books always brief, perfect as a ring, you have the impression that nothing is left and left, had and have an enormous influence on those who write in Spanish. His fantastic stories, which take place in Pampa, in Buenos Aires, in China, in London, any in reality and unreality, show the same powerful imagination and the same formidable culture as his essays on time, the language of the Vikings. .. But scholarship in Borges is never something dense, academic, it is always something unusual, brilliant, fun, an adventure of the spirit which our readers always leave surprised and enriched.

The interview Borges gave us took place in the modest apartment in downtown Buenos Aires he lives, accompanied by a maid who also serves as a guide, since Borges lost his sight years ago, and an Angora cat named after Beppo because, he told us , it was the name of the cat of an English poet he admires: Lord Byron.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA. I was very impressed to see your library and not find your books, there is not one. Why don't you have your books in your library?

JORGE LUIS BORGES. I am very careful with my library. Who am I to compare myself to Schopenhauer ...

MVLL. And there are no books about you, I see that there are no books written about you.

JLB. I read the first one that was published during the dictatorship, in Mendoza.

MVLL. What dictatorship, Borges? Because unfortunately there were so many ...

JLB. That one, whose name I don't want to remember.

MVLL. Don't even mention it.

JLB. No, neither. It is good to avoid some words. Well, the book Borges, Enigma y Clave, was written by Ruiz Díaz, a teacher Mendoza, and by a Bolivian, Tamayo. And I read this book to see if I could find the solution, since I knew the puzzle. Then I didn't read any more. Alicia Jurado wrote a book about me. I thanked him, said: "I know it is good, but the subject does not interest me or maybe I am very interested, so I will not read it"

MVLL. Conrad, for example, who is an author you admire, does he care about Conrad's novels?

JLB. But of course I do, so I tell you that with few exceptions. For example, the case of Henry James, who was a great short story writer and a novelist, say, of another caliber.

MVLL. But, among the most important authors for you, is there no novelist?

JLB. ...

MVLL. Would you mention any novelist among the authors that you consider most important or are they mainly poets and essayists?

JLB. And storytellers.

MVLL. And storytellers.

JLB. Why don't I think The Thousand and One Nights is a novel, no? An infinite anthology.

MVLL. The advantage of romance is that everything can be romance. I think it's a cannibal genre, that brings all genres.

JLB. Regarding “cannibal”, do you know the origin of the word?

MVLL. No, I don't know, what is it?

JLB. Very beautiful. Caribbean, which gave caribal, and cannibal.

MVLL. In other words, it is a word of Latin American origin.

JLB. Well, without "Latin". They were a tribe of Indians, the Caribs, an indigenous word, and there came Cannibal and Caliban, by Shakespeare.

MVLL. America's curious contribution to the universal vocabulary.

JLB. There are so many. Chocolate, which was xocoatl, I think, no? The tl got lost, unfortunately. Papa (potato), too.

MVLL. What was America's best contribution to the field of literature in your opinion? all of America: Spanish, Portuguese America ... Any author, any book, any topic?

JLB. I would say modernism in general. It was a work of literature in the Castilian language, and this arises this side, as Max Henríquez Ureña demonstrates. I spoke with Juan Ramón Jiménez and he told me about the emotion with which he received a copy of Las Montañas del Oro (The Golden Mountains), 1897. And his influence on great poets in Spain. But it comes this side. And interestingly, here we are - not geographically - much closer to France than the Spaniards. I realized in Spain that I could praise England, praise Italy, praise Germany, even praise North America, but if they talked about France they were uncomfortable.

MVLL. Nationalism is very difficult to eradicate any.

JLB. One of the great evils of our time.

MVLL. I would like to talk a little about this, Borges, because ... I can speak to you quite frankly, I suppose.

JLB. Yes, and I want to tell you that it is an evil that corresponds to the right and the left.

MVL. Some of your political statements have baffled me, but there is an aspect that when you speak deserves all my admiration and all my respect, and that is the subject of nationalism. I think you have always spoken with great clarity on this topic or, better said, against nationalism.

JLB. And yet, I fell for it.

MVLL. But now, in these last ...

JLB. The fact that he spoke of the banks of Buenos Aires, the fact that he met payadores (in Argentina, a popular singer who, with his guitar and usually accompanied by another, makes improvisations), that he met cuchilleros (a type of urban bandit in Argentina) , of having used them in my literature. I wrote milongas (short stories, stories) ... Everything is worthy of literature, why not also vernacular themes?

MVLL. I was referring to political nationalism.

JLB. This is a mistake, because if someone likes one thing to the detriment of another, it is because they don't really like it. For example, if I love England over France it is a mistake, I need to love both countries, within my means.

MVLL. You have made many statements against any possible breakdown of hostilities between Argentina and Chile.

JLB. Further. Today, despite being the grandson and great-grandson of the military and more remotely of conquerors, who do not interest me, I am a pacifist. I think every war is a crime. Furthermore, if just wars are admitted, which undoubtedly existed - the Six Day War, for example -, if we admit a just war, just one, that already opens the door to any war and there will never be a lack of reasons to justify it , especially if they are invented and imprison those who think otherwise. Beforehand, I had not realized that Bertrand Russell and Gandhi and Alberdi and Romain Rolland were right to oppose the war, and it may take more courage now to oppose the war than to defend it and even participate in it.

MVLL. Then I agree with you. I think what you say is very accurate. What is the ideal political regime for you, Borges? What would you like for your country and Latin America? Which regime do you think is the most suitable for us?

JLB. I am an old Spencerian anarchist and I think the state is an evil, but for now it is a necessary evil. If I were a dictator I would resign my position and return to my very modest literature, because I have no solution to offer. I am a bewildered, cowed person, like all my countrymen.

MVLL. But you consider yourself an anarchist, basically a man who defends individual sovereignty against the state.

JLB. Yes

MVLL. What types of humans do you admire, Borges? Adventurers ...

JLB. Yes, I admired them a lot, but now I don't know. They need to be individual adventurers.

MVLL. Which, for example. Remember an adventurer you would like to be?

JLB. No, I would not like to be someone else.

MVLL. You are happy with Borges' fate.

JLB. No, I'm not happy, but I know that with another destination it would be someone else. And as Spinoza says, “each thing requires the solitude of its being”. I insist on being Borges, I don't know why.

MVLL. I remember a phrase you: “I read many things and few lived”, which on the one hand is very beautiful and on the other looks nostalgic ...

JLB. Very sad.

MVLL. It seems that you deplore it.

JLB. I wrote this when I was thirty and I didn't realize that reading is also a way of life.

MVLL. But isn't there a nostalgia in you for things not done for having devoted so much time to purely intellectual life?

JLB. I think not. I believe that over time, essentially everything is lived and the important thing is not the experiences, but what is done with them.

MVLL. I suppose it gave you a great deal of detachment material things. This is seen when you arrive at your home. You live practically like a monk, your house is extremely austere, your room looks like a trapper's cell, it really has an extraordinary sobriety.

JLB. Luxury seems like vulgarity.

MVLL. What did money mean in your life, Borges?

JLB. The possibility of books and trips and to prepare them.

MVLL. But money never interested you, did you never work to earn money?

JLB. Well, if I did it, it looks like I couldn't. Evidently, prosperity is better than indigence, especially in a poor place, you have to think about money all the time. A rich person can think of something else. I was never rich. My parents went, we had farms and we lost them, they were confiscated, in short, I don't think that is more important.

MVLL. You know that a good part of the countries of this land today live on the basis of money, material prosperity is their stimulus.

JLB. It is natural that it is so, especially if there is such poverty. What else can a beggar think about except money and food. If you are very poor you need to think about money. A rich person can think of something else, but a poor person cannot. In the same way that a patient can only think about health. The person thinks about what he lacks, not what he has. When I was in sight, I didn't think it was a privilege, on the other hand I would give anything to regain my sight and not leave this house.

MVLL. Borges, one thing that surprised me in the modest house you live, especially in your very austere room, is to see that one of the few objects in the room is the decoration of the Order of the Sun that the Peruvian Government has given you.

JLB. This decoration returned to the family after four generations.

MVLL. What do you mean, Borges?

JLB. My great-grandfather obtained it, Colonel Suárez, who led a Peruvian cavalry charge in Junín, obtained this Order and was promoted captain to colonel by Bolívar. Then that Order was lost in the civil war. Although my family was unitary and I am a distant relative of Rosas - well, we are all related in this almost uninhabited country. He returned after four generations, for literary reasons, and I went to Lima with my mother and she cried because she remembered seeing this decoration in my great-grandfather's portraits and now she had it in her hands and it was for her son. I was very, very moved.

MVLL. In other words, your relationship with Peru goes back many generations.

JLB. Yes, four generations. No, it's previous, I'll tell you, I've been ... Oh, no, no, wait ... Yes, I was in Cuzco and I saw a house with a goat-headed shield, and that was Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera left four hundred years to found a city called Ica, which I don't know it is, and the city of Córdoba, in the Argentine Republic. That is, it is an old relationship.

MVLL. So you are, in some way, also Peruvian.

JLB. Yes absolutely yes.

MVLL. What idea did you have of Peru before going to Lima?

JLB. A very vague idea that I think was based mainly on Prescott.

MVLL. In the History of the Conquest of Peru by Prescott. When did you read this story?

JLB. He must have been seven or eight, maybe. The first history book I read in my life. Then I read Vicente Fidel López's History of the Argentine Republic, and then the Roman and Greek stories. But the first book I read, throughout, that is, beginning to end, was this one.

MVLL. And what idea did you have of Peru, that of a country perhaps mythical?

JLB. A little mythical, yes. And then I became very friendly with a writer forgotten among you, the Peruvian Alberto Hidalgo, Arequipa.

MVLL. Who lived a long time in Argentina, right?

JLB. Yes, and he showed me a poet whom I knew many compositions memory.

MVLL. What poet, Borges?

JLB. Eguren.

MVLL. José María Eguren.

JLB. Yes, exactly. The book was called “La niña de la lámpara azul (The girl with the blue lantern)”, no?

MVLL. It is a poem, one of Eguren's best-known poems.

JLB. Yes. And there was another ... I have a vague image of a boat and a dead captain who travels with the boat. I don't remember the verses.

MVLL. He is a symbolist poet of great naivety and delicacy.

JLB. A great delicacy. I don't know if naivete. I think I was deliberately naive.

MVLL. I say naivety not in the pejorative sense.

JLB. No, no. Naivety is a merit, of course.

MVLL. He never left Peru and I think never Lima and wrote a good part of his work on a Nordic world, with Scandinavian fairies and themes that are especially exotic for him.

JLB. It's just that nostalgia is very important.

MVLL. Perhaps that establishes some affinity between you two, between Eguren and you.

JLB. Yes. It is true that I am thinking of countries that I do not know and that I visited much later. I would like to know China and India so much ... even if I know a lot about literary things.

MVLL. Which country did you like to visit, Borges?

JLB. I don't know, I would say that Japan, England and ...

MVLL. Iceland, for example?

JLB. Iceland, certainly, because I am studying the Nordic language, which is the mother tongue of Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and partially English as well.

MVLL. It is a language that has not been spoken for centuries.

JLB. No, no, it is spoken at the same time in Iceland. I have editions of the classics, works the 13th century, these editions, which were presented to me and bought in Reykjavík, have no glossary, prologue and notes.

MVLL. In other words, it is a language that has not evolved, which remains the same for eight centuries.

JLB. I suspect the pronunciation has changed. They can read their classics as an Englishman can read for example Dunbar, Chaucer, and how we can read, I don't know, the Cantar de Mio Cid and the French La Chanson de Roland.

MVLL. And the Greeks to Homer.

JLB. Yes, exactly. They can read their classics in editions without notes, without glossaries, without a doubt pronouncing them differently. But, for example, the English pronunciation has also changed a lot. We say To be or not to be and it seems that Shakespeare in the 17th century still said, keeping the Saxon open vowels: “Tou be or nat tou be”. This is much more sonorous, completely different, and is almost comical today.

MVLL. Borges, this curiosity and, more than curiosity, his fascination with exotic literature ...

JLB. I don't know if they are exotic ...

MVLL. I mean your interest in Nordic and Anglo-Saxon literature.

JLB. Well, Anglo-Saxon is old English literature.

MVLL. ... do you think it has something to do with ...

JLB. With nostalgia?

MVLL. With Argentina, with the fact that Argentina is a totally modern country, almost without a past.

JLB. I think so, and maybe one of our riches is nostalgia. Europe's nostalgia, above all, that a European cannot feel because a European does not feel European, but, say, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian ...

Buenos Aires, June 1981.


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