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Definition: Borges from The Macquarie Dictionary

1899--1986, Argentine poet, short-story writer, and critic; wrote the collection of stories Fictions (1944).

Summary Article: Borges, Jorge Luis (1899–1986)
from World Literature in Spanish: An Encyclopedia

Born in Buenos Aires, this giant of Argentine literature grew up under the tutelage of Fanny Haslam, his paternal grandmother. Due to his father's increasing blindness, the Borges family went to Europe, remaining there for four years. He learned Latin, French, and German and read the contemporary classics of European literature. When World War I ended, they left Geneva for Spain. There, Borges met several avant-garde writers and contributed to poetry publications. Back in Buenos Aires, he began participating in the city's intellectual life, publishing in the renowned literary review Martín Fierro. In 1923, Borges published his first book of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires (Fervor of Buenos Aires). Two years later, the poetry volume Luna de enfrente (1925; Moon across the Way), appeared, and in 1929, Cuaderno San Martín (San Martín Notebook) won him second prize in Buenos Aires's annual literary contest. These three collections established his reputation as a poet. During the 1920s, Borges also wrote several books of essays for which he never authorized re-publication.

In 1930, he completed the biography Evaristo Carriego, and in following years, published Discusión (1932; Discussion), Historia universal de la infamia (1935; A Universal History of Infamy), and Historia de la eternidad (1936; A History of Eternity, 1972). After a failed attempt to commit suicide, Borges underwent a series of transformative experiences in 1938, and then produced his first fantastic short story, “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote” (“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” 1962). In 1944, his short story collection Ficciones (Fictions; trans. under same title, 1962) appeared. This decade was crowned with publication of Borges's most celebrated book of fiction: El Aleph (1949; The Aleph, 1970).

In the 1950s, he published a new book of essays, Otras inquisiciones (1952; Other Inquisitions, 1964), and El hacedor (1960; Dreamtigers, 1964), a compilation of brief pieces in prose and verse. After the fall of Perón's government in 1955, Borges became director of the National Library, was named member of the Argentine Academy of Letters, and was appointed professor of English literature at the University of Buenos Aires. Concurrently, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cuyo and the National Prize for Literature. In 1986, Borges married María Kodama, his former secretary and assistant. They took up residence in Geneva, where Borges died of cancer in June of that year.

As an aesthetic form, Borges prefers the short story to the novel. Due to its length and its realistic tone, the novel necessarily evolves into the psychological realm and characters require a life—a development of details unnecessary to the plot itself. But the short story, either fantastic or detective, may deal with just one particular problem and its explanation. Borges's ideal story implies the display of a purely geometrical problem that does not ignore the fallibility of human beings. For instance, in “El Aleph” the narrator (named “Borges”) goes through a succession of photographs taken at different times in Beatriz Viterbo's life, a series of visits to her house after her death, an epic poem of Dante Argentino Daneri, and so on, to finally convince us with a personal testimony: he discovers that a certain spot in a particular house in Buenos Aires is a sort of compressed labyrinth from which one can observe the entire universe. In that way, the aleph is not only a story but an interpretation of it. Even more, it is also meaningful to the reader as a symbol of all Borges's writing.

See also Avant-Garde Poetry in Spanish America; Avant-Garde Prose in Spanish America; Buenos Aires in Literature; Detective and Mystery Fiction in Spanish America; Gaucho Literature; Journals in Spanish America; Short Fiction in Spanish America.

Work By:
  • Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. Viking New York, 1998.
  • Obras completas. 4 vols. Emecé Buenos Aires, 2005.
  • Selected Non-Fictions. Ed. Eliot Weinberger. Trans. Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger. Viking New York, 1999.
  • Selected Poems. Ed. Alexander Coleman. Viking New York, 1999.
  • Work About:
  • Balderston, Daniel. Out of Context: Historical Reference and the Representation of Reality in Borges. Duke University Press Durham, NC, 1993.
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Jorge Luis Borges. Chelsea New York, 1986.
  • Altamiranda, Daniel
    Copyright 2011 by Maureen Ihrie and Salvador A. Oropesa

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