Jorge Borges: Short Stories

Political opinions


In an interview with Richard Burgin during the late 1960s, Borges described himself as an adherent of classical liberalism. He further recalled that his opposition to Marxism and communism was absorbed in his childhood. "Well, I have been brought up to think that the individual should be strong and the State should be weak. I couldn't be enthusiastic about theories where the State is more important than the individual."[41] After the overthrow via coup d'etat of President Juan Domingo Perón in 1955, Borges supported efforts to purge Argentina's Government of Peronists and dismantle the former President's welfare state. He was enraged that the Communist Party of Argentina opposed these measures and sharply criticized them in lectures and in print. Borges's opposition to the Party in this matter ultimately led to a permanent rift with his longtime lover, Argentine Communist Estela Canto.[42]

In a 1956 interview given to El Hogar, "[Communists] are in favor of totalitarian regimes and systematically combat freedom of thought, oblivious of the fact that the principal victims of dictatorships are, precisely, intelligence and culture."[43]

He elaborated, "Many people are in favor of dictatorships because they allow them to avoid thinking for themselves. Everything is presented to them ready-made. There are even agencies of the State that supply them with opinions, passwords, slogans, and even idols to exalt or cast down according to the prevailing wind or in keeping with the directives of the thinking heads of the single party."[44]

In later years, Borges frequently expressed contempt for Marxists and Communists within the Latin American intelligentsia. In an interview with Burgin, Borges referred to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as "a very fine poet" but a "very mean man" for unconditionally supporting the Soviet Union and demonizing the United States.[45]


In 1934, Argentine ultra-nationalists, sympathetic to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, asserted Borges was secretly Jewish, and by implication, not a "true" Argentine. Borges responded with the essay "Yo, Judío" ("I, a Jew"), a reference to the old "Yo, Argentino" ("I, an Argentine"), a defensive phrase used during pogroms of Argentine Jews to make it clear to attackers that an intended victim was not Jewish.[46] In the essay he says that he would be proud to be a Jew, with a backhanded reminder that any "pure" Castilian might be likely to have Jewish ancestry from a millennium ago.[46]

Both before and during the Second World War, Borges regularly published essays attacking the Nazi police state and its racist ideology. His outrage was fueled by his deep love for German literature. In an essay published in 1937, Borges attacked the Nazi Party's use of children's books in order to inflame antisemitism. He wrote, "I don't know if the world can do without German civilization, but I do know that its corruption by the teachings of hatred is a crime."[47]

In a 1938 essay, Borges reviewed an anthology which rewrote German authors of the past to fit the Nazi party line. He was disgusted by what he described as Germany's "chaotic descent into darkness" and the attendant rewriting of history. He argues that such books sacrifice culture, history and honesty in the name of defending German honour. Such practices, he writes, "perfect the criminal arts of barbarians."[48] In a 1944 essay, Borges postulated,

Nazism suffers from unreality, like Erigena's hell. It is uninhabitable; men can only die for it, lie for it, wound and kill for it. No one, in the intimate depths of his being, can wish it to triumph. I shall risk this conjecture: Hitler wants to be defeated. Hitler is blindly collaborating with the inevitable armies that will annihilate him, as the metal vultures and the dragon (which must have known that they were monsters) collaborated, mysteriously, with Hercules."[49]

In 1946, Borges published the short story "Deutsches Requiem", which masquerades as the last testament of Otto Dietrich zur Linde, a condemned Nazi war criminal. In a 1967 interview with Burgin, Borges recalled how his interactions with Argentina's Nazi sympathisers led him to create the story.

And then I realized that those people that were on the side of Germany, that they never thought of German victories or the German glory. What they really liked was the idea of the Blitzkrieg, of London being on fire, of the country being destroyed. As to the German fighters, they took no stock in them. Then I thought, well now Germany has lost, now America has saved us from this nightmare, but since nobody can doubt on which side I stood, I'll see what can be done from a literary point of view in favor of the Nazis. And then I created the ideal Nazi.[50]


In 1946, Argentine President Juan Perón began transforming Argentina into a single party state with the assistance of his wife Evita. Almost immediately, the spoils system was the rule of the day, as ideological critics of the ruling Partido Justicialista were fired from government jobs. During this period, Borges was informed that he was being "promoted" from his position at the Miguel Cané Library to a post as inspector of poultry and rabbits at the Buenos Aires municipal market. Upon demanding to know the reason, Borges was told, "Well, you were on the side of the Allies, what do you expect?"[51] In response, Borges resigned from Government service the following day.

Perón's treatment of Borges became a cause célèbre for the Argentine intelligentsia. The Argentine Society of Writers (SADE) held a formal dinner in his honour. At the dinner, a speech was read which Borges had written for the occasion. It said,

Dictatorships breed oppression, dictatorships breed servility, dictatorships breed cruelty; more loathsome still is the fact that they breed idiocy. Bellboys babbling orders, portraits of caudillos, prearranged cheers or insults, walls covered with names, unanimous ceremonies, mere discipline usurping the place of clear thinking... Fighting these sad monotonies is one of the duties of a writer. Need I remind readers of Martín Fierro or Don Segundo that individualism is an old Argentine virtue."[52]

In the aftermath, Borges found himself much in demand as a lecturer and one of the intellectual leaders of the Argentine opposition. In 1951 he was asked by anti-Peronist friends to run for president of SADE. Borges, then suffering from depression caused by a failed romance, reluctantly accepted. He later recalled that he would awake every morning and remember that Perón was President and feel deeply depressed and ashamed.[53] Perón's government had seized control of the Argentine mass media and regarded SADE with indifference. Borges later recalled, however, "Many distinguished men of letters did not dare set foot inside its doors."[54] Meanwhile, SADE became an increasing refuge for critics of the regime. SADE official Luisa Mercedes Levinson noted, "We would gather every week to tell the latest jokes about the ruling couple and even dared to sing the songs of the French Resistance, as well as 'La Marseillaise'."[54]

After Evita's death on July 26, 1952, Borges received a visit from two policemen, who ordered him to put up two portraits of the ruling couple on the premises of SADE. Borges indignantly refused, calling it a ridiculous demand. The policemen icily retorted that he would soon face the consequences.[55] The Justicialist Party placed Borges under 24-hour surveillance and sent policemen to sit in on his lectures; in September they ordered SADE to be permanently closed down. Like much of the Argentine opposition to Perón, SADE had become marginalized due to persecution by the State, and very few active members remained.

According to Edwin Williamson,

Borges had agreed to stand for the presidency of the SADE in order [to] fight for intellectual freedom, but he also wanted to avenge the humiliation he believed he had suffered in 1946, when the Peronists had proposed to make him an inspector of chickens. In his letter of 1950 to Attilio Rossi, he claimed that his infamous promotion had been a clever way the Peronists had found of damaging him and diminishing his reputation. The closure of the SADE meant that the Peronists had damaged him a second time, as was borne out by the visit of the Spanish writer Julián Marías, who arrived in Buenos Aires shortly after the closure of the SADE. It was impossible for Borges, as president, to hold the usual reception for the distinguished visitor; instead, one of Borges' friends brought a lamb from his ranch, and they had it roasted at a tavern across the road from the SADE building on Calle Mexico. After dinner, a friendly janitor let them into the premises, and they showed Marías around by candlelight. That tiny group of writers leading a foreign guest through a dark building by the light of guttering candles was vivid proof of the extent to which the SADE had been diminished under the rule of Juan Perón.[56]

On September 16, 1955, General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu's Revolución Libertadora toppled the ruling party and forced Perón to flee into exile. Borges was overjoyed and joined demonstrators marching through the streets of Buenos Aires. According to Williamson, Borges shouted, "Viva la Patria," until his voice grew hoarse. Due to the influence of Borges' mother and his own role on the opposition to Peron, the provisional government appointed Borges as the Director of the National Library.[57]

In his essay L'Illusion Comique, Borges wrote that there were two histories of Peronism in Argentina. The first he described as "the criminal one", composed of the police state tactics used against both real and imagined anti-Peronists. The second history was, according to Borges, "the theatrical one" composed of "tales and fables made for consumption by dolts." He argued that, despite their claims to detest Capitalism, Juan and Eva Perón "copied its methods, dictating names and slogans to the people" in the same way that multi-national corporations "impose their razor blades, cigarettes, and washing machines."[58] Borges then listed the numerous conspiracy theories the ruling couple dictated to their followers and how those theories were accepted without question.[59]

Borges concluded:

It is useless to list the examples; one can only denounce the duplicity of the fictions of the former regime, which can't be believed and were believed. It will be said that the public's lack of sophistication is enough to explain the contradiction; I believe that the cause is more profound. Coleridge spoke of the "willing suspension of disbelief," that is, poetic faith; Samuel Johnson said, in defense of Shakespeare, that the spectators at a tragedy do not believe they are in Alexandria in the first act and Rome in the second but submit to the pleasure of a fiction. Similarly, the lies of a dictatorship are neither believed nor disbelieved; they pertain to an intermediate plane, and their purpose is to conceal or justify sordid or atrocious realities. They pertain to the pathetic or the clumsily sentimental. Happily, for the enlightenment and security of the Argentines, the current regime has understood that the function of government is not to inspire pathos.[60]

In a 1967 interview, Borges said, "Perón was a humbug, and he knew it, and everybody knew it. But Perón could be very cruel. I mean, he had people tortured, killed. And his wife was a common prostitute."[61]

When Perón returned from exile in 1973 and regained the Presidency, Borges was enraged. In a 1975 interview for National Geographic, he said "Damn, the snobs are back in the saddle. If their posters and slogans again defile the city, I'll be glad I've lost my sight. Well, they can't humiliate me as they did before my books sold well."[62] After being accused of being unforgiving, Borges quipped, "I resented Perón's making Argentina look ridiculous to the world... as in 1951, when he announced control over thermonuclear fusion, which still hasn't happened anywhere but in the sun and the stars. For a time, Argentinians hesitated to wear band aids for fear friends would ask, 'Did the atomic bomb go off in your hand?' A shame, because Argentina really has world-class scientists."[62]

After Borges' death in 1986, the Peronist Partido Justicialista declined to send a delegate to the writer's memorial service in Buenos Aires. A spokesman for the Party said that this was in reaction to "certain declarations he had made about the country."[63] Later, at the City Council of Buenos Aires, Peronist politicians refused to honor Borges as an Argentine, commenting that he "chose to die abroad". When infuriated politicians from the other parties demanded to know the real reason, the Peronists finally explained that Borges had made statements about Evita Perón which they called "unacceptable."[63]

Military junta

During the 1970s, Borges at first expressed support for Argentina's military junta, but was scandalized by the junta's actions during the Dirty War. In protest against their support of the regime, Borges ceased publishing in the newspaper La Nación.[64]

In 1985 he wrote a short poem about the Falklands War called Juan López y John Ward, about two fictional soldiers (one from each side), who died in the Falklands, in which he refers to "islands that were too famous". He also said about the war: "The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb."[65]

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