Jorge Borges: Short Stories


Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort argue that Borges "may have been the most important figure in Spanish-language literature since Cervantes. He was clearly of tremendous influence, writing intricate poems, short stories, and essays that instantiated concepts of dizzying power."[66]

In addition to short stories for which he is most noted, Borges also wrote poetry, essays, screenplays, literary criticism, and edited numerous anthologies. His longest work of fiction is a fourteen-page story, "The Congress", first published in 1971.[9] His late-onset blindness strongly influenced his later writing. Borges wrote: "When I think of what I've lost, I ask, 'Who know themselves better than the blind?' – for every thought becomes a tool."[67] Paramount among his intellectual interests are elements of mythology, mathematics, theology, integrating these through literature, sometimes playfully, sometimes with great seriousness.[68]

Borges composed poetry throughout his life. As his eyesight waned (it came and went, with a struggle between advancing age and advances in eye surgery), he increasingly focused on writing poetry, since he could memorize an entire work in progress.[69] His poems embrace the same wide range of interests as his fiction, along with issues that emerge in his critical works and translations, and from more personal musings. For example, his interest in idealism runs through his work, reflected in the fictional world of Tlön in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and in his essay "A New Refutation of Time".[70] It also appears as a theme in "On Exactitude in Science" and in his poems "Things" and "El Golem" ("The Golem") and his story "The Circular Ruins".

Borges was a notable translator. He translated works of literature in English, French, German, Old English, and Old Norse into Spanish. His first publication, for a Buenos Aires newspaper, was a translation of Oscar Wilde's story "The Happy Prince" into Spanish when he was nine.[71] At the end of his life he produced a Spanish-language version of a part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda. He also translated (while simultaneously subtly transforming) the works of, among others, William Faulkner, André Gide, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.[Notes 4] Borges wrote and lectured extensively on the art of translation, holding that a translation may improve upon the original, may even be unfaithful to it, and that alternative and potentially contradictory renderings of the same work can be equally valid.[72] Borges also employed the devices of literary forgery and the review of an imaginary work, both forms of modern pseudo-epigrapha.

Hoaxes and forgeries

Borges's best-known set of literary forgeries date from his early work as a translator and literary critic with a regular column in the Argentine magazine El Hogar. Along with publishing numerous legitimate translations, he also published original works, for example, in the style of Emanuel Swedenborg[Notes 5] or One Thousand and One Nights, originally claiming them to be translations of works he had chanced upon. In another case, he added three short, falsely attributed pieces into his otherwise legitimate and carefully researched anthology El matrero.[Notes 5] Several of these are gathered in the A Universal History of Infamy.

At times he wrote reviews of nonexistent writings by some other person. The key example of this is "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", which imagines a twentieth-century Frenchman who tries to write Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote verbatim, not by having memorized Cervantes's work but as an "original" narrative of his own invention. Initially the Frenchman tries to immerse himself in sixteenth-century Spain, but he dismisses the method as too easy, instead trying to reach Don Quixote through his own experiences. He finally manages to (re)create "the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters of the first part of Don Quixote and a fragment of chapter twenty-two." Borges's "review" of the work of the fictional Menard uses tongue-in-cheek comparisons to explore the resonances that Don Quixote has picked up over the centuries since it was written. He discusses how much "richer" Menard's work is than that of Cervantes's, even though the actual text is exactly the same.

While Borges was the great popularizer of the review of an imaginary work, he had developed the idea from Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, a book-length review of a non-existent German transcendentalist work, and the biography of its equally non-existent author. In This Craft of Verse, Borges says that in 1916 in Geneva "[I] discovered, and was overwhelmed by, Thomas Carlyle. I read Sartor Resartus, and I can recall many of its pages; I know them by heart."[73] In the introduction to his first published volume of fiction, The Garden of Forking Paths, Borges remarks, "It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books, setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them." He then cites both Sartor Resartus and Samuel Butler's The Fair Haven, remarking, however, that "those works suffer under the imperfection that they themselves are books, and not a whit less tautological than the others. A more reasonable, more inept, and more lazy man, I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books."[74]

On the other hand, Borges was wrongly attributed some works, like the poem "Instantes".[75][76]

Criticism of Borges' work

Borges's change in style from regionalist criollismo to a more cosmopolitan style brought him much criticism from journals such as Contorno, a left-of-centre, Sartre-influenced Argentine publication founded by David Viñas and his brother, along with other intellectuals such as Noé Jitrik and Adolfo Prieto. In the post-Peronist Argentina of the early 1960s, Contorno met with wide approval from the youth who challenged the authenticity of older writers such as Borges and questioned their legacy of experimentation. Magic realism and exploration of universal truths, they argued, had come at the cost of responsibility and seriousness in the face of society's problems.[77] The Contorno writers acknowledged Borges and Eduardo Mallea for being "doctors of technique" but argued that their work lacked substance due to their lack of interaction with the reality that they inhabited, an existentialist critique of their refusal to embrace existence and reality in their artwork.[77]


Borges allegedly never had coitus throughout his life. The story "The Sect of the Phoenix" is famously interpreted to allude to the ubiquity of sexual intercourse among humans [78] - a concept whose essential qualities the narrator of the story is not able to relate to. With a few notable exceptions, women are almost entirely absent from the majority of Borges's fictional output.[79] However, there are some instances in Borges's later writings of romantic love, for example the story "Ulrikke" from The Book of Sand. The protagonist of the story "El muerto" also lusts after the "splendid, contemptuous, red-haired woman" of Azevedo Bandeira[80] and later "sleeps with the woman with shining hair".[81] Although they do not appear in the stories, women are significantly discussed as objects of unrequited love in his short stories "The Zahir" and "The Aleph".[82] The plot of La Intrusa was based on a true story of two friends. Borges turned their fictional counterparts into brothers, excluding the possibility of a homosexual relationship.[83]

Nobel Prize omission

Borges was never awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, something which continually distressed the writer.[9] He was one of several distinguished authors who never received the honour.[84] Borges commented, "Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me."[85] Some observers speculated that Borges did not receive the award in his later life because of his conservative political views, or more specifically, because he had accepted an honour from Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.[86][87]

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