I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
Yesterday was Jorge Luis Borges’ 112th birthday. In case you haven’t heard of him, he is one of the most beloved Latin American writers of the 20th century. Google even celebrated the Argentine writer’s birthday with this Doodle.
The Christian Science Monitor writes: “The Google Doodle shows a complex scene of an aging man overlooking great architecture from behind glass. Study the illustration and you will find a library on the right and images from “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a short story of his in which Borges describes the future in multiple ways.”
He is best known for magical realism, a style of fiction that incorporates ever-shifting magical elements with the real world. His is a universe of forests, mirrors, labyrinths, beasts, fairies, brownies (small brown-colored men), identical fish, antelopes with six legs, and many other imaginary beings.
Born in Argentina, but raised in Switzerland and Spain, Borges came from a very distinguished Argentine family whose line can be traced to Spanish conquistadores.
Some of his most prominent works include “Ficciones,” “The Aleph” and “Labyrinths,” all collections of interconnected short stories.
By the late 1950s, he had become completely blind (his blindness was hereditary) but still continued on with his short stories, poetry and essays. He wrote:
Nadie rebaje a lágrima o reproche
esta declaración de la maestría
de Dios, que con magnífica ironía
me dio a la vez los libros y la noche.
No one should read self-pity or reproach
Into this statement of the majesty
Of God; who with such splendid irony,
Granted me books and blindness at one touch
Borges was also a notable translator. He translated works of literature in English, French, German, Old English, and Old Norse into Spanish. His literary themes are on reality, identity, time and language.
He never received a Nobel Prize for his work and he once joked that, “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me.”
He died in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 1986.
Here’s a must-read interview with Jorge Luis Borges, conducted by The Paris Review.
And below is my favorite Borges poem, Instants:
If I could live again my life,
In the next – I’ll try,
– to make more mistakes,
I won’t try to be so perfect,
I’ll be more relaxed,
I’ll be more full – than I am now,
In fact, I’ll take fewer things seriously,
I’ll be less hygienic,
I’ll take more risks,
I’ll take more trips,
I’ll watch more sunsets,
I’ll climb more mountains,
I’ll swim more rivers,
I’ll go to more places – I’ve never been,
I’ll eat more ice creams and less (lima) beans,
I’ll have more real problems – and less imaginary
I was one of those people who live
prudent and prolific lives –
each minute of his life,
Off course that I had moments of joy – but,
if I could go back I’ll try to have only good moments,
If you don’t know – that’s what life is made of,
Don’t lose the now!
I was one of those who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
without a hot-water bottle,
and without an umbrella and without a parachute,
If I could live again – I will travel light,
If I could live again – I’ll try to work bare feet
at the beginning of spring till
the end of autumn,
I’ll ride more carts,
I’ll watch more sunrises and play with more children,
If I have the life to live – but now I am 85,
– and I know that I am dying …
ps : Borges (1899-1986) died two years later at the age of 87.
Not enough? Listen to one of his Harvard lectures on “The Riddle of Poetry” over a cup of tea.