domingo, 1 de noviembre de 2009

"Tribute to Borges" exhibition, NYU, 1999

Borges, one hundred years later

By Patricio Lóizaga


The centennial anniversary of the birth of Borges, to be celebrated in 1999, will encounter his image at the maximun level of prestige to which a twentieth century writer can aspire. This recognition is inserted within a complex process that has made of Borges, a cult figure by very diverse publics. No other writer in this century is known to have been studied or been the subject of so many biographies, and included in entries in dictionaries and books with interviews.
When databases of North American or European universities are explored, you can notice more papers and works on Borges than on any other contemporary writer. Thus, he has been defined as the most influential writer of the century. At least ten biographies of Borges written by different authors have already been published, and there are several more being prepared. In the Argentine arena, the fact that Beatriz Sarlo, one of the most outstanding personalities of present thinking, has included him as the centreline of one of her books, reveals to which extent his figure prevails. Sarlo is an intellectual who, in eight of her nine books has given priority to the interpretation of cultural processes, socio-cultural behaviour and the study of aesthetic trends and periods. Likewise, Sylvia Molloy, one of the most prestigious Argentine scholars abroad is, in turn, one of the experts in Borges. Both these paradigmatic cases indicate how Argentina has reconciled with Borges, if we take into consideration that some decades ago, opinion on his work was divided and Borges was questioned by personalities such as Adolfo Prieto, Juan José Sebreli and Blas Matamoro.
The fact is that Borges, far from being exhausted, has started a hermeneutics which seems to be endless. For example, we currently find new studies on the relationship of his work with mathematics and quantum physics. Research centres have been and named after him in different European universities. Large amounts are paid for his manuscripts and first editions. He is the only Spanish speaking writer whose caricature appears in T-shirts that students in New York purchase at Rizzoli bookstore in SoHo.
Héctor Bianciotti –the novelist- has noticed that there are few, very few writers that have achieved their last name being turned into adjectives. Thus, we say proustian, kafkian and borgean (or borgesian, as certain scholars prefer) to describe a style, a situations, a world. Figures who, through their work give sense and determine an aesthetic (and, moreover philosophical) leadership which is imposed through the years. Néstor García Canclini says that “Borges, more than a book you read was a biography you disclose”. He also says that, his controversial expressions, his blindness, his marriage to María Kodama and his decision to die in Geneva, exposed to the point of paroxysm a tendency of massive culture to digest cultural art and to substitute the work of an artist with his anecdotes. The writer himself contributed, with irony and provocation, to create many of the prejudices that nourish his mediatic image. Borges carries the double image of an intellectual distant from political reality, installed in the typical model of the writer in the ivory tower, and the idea of a reactionary and conservatice thinking. Seldom it is mentioned that his first book of poems, Los salmos rojos, was inspired by and dedicated to the Bolshevik revolution. Therefore, there is a previous Borges then, socialist and literary. Even though it is not frequently mentioned, it has been ascertained that he then joined Yrigoyen’s radicalism as Horacio Salas points out in his biography.
But what is worth of study in a more critical and less reductional fashion is what can be considered Borges’ democratic spirit. A spirit that permanently shows up in his condemnation of fascism, Nazism, Stalinist communism and finally of populisms, as deformations of democracy. A spirit which is ratified in his permanent vindication of the Swiss democratic model and the obsession in exploring the limits of representative democracy in a text such as “El congreso” (El libro de arena, 1975).
The idea of the intellectual, distant from political reality and not interested in exploring what we call today the institutional networks of culture, is in contrast with someone who leaded his trade union by opposing the party in government. Borges presided the Sociedad Argentina de Escritores during the first peronist period and it is said that he became very friendly with the detective that intelligence services had appointed to follow him. It should also be mentioned that during the ‘30s, he co-directed the magazine of the popular newspaper Crónica and there made good friends among reporters covering police news, friends who surely must have provided a lot of ideas for his following fictions. Nearer in time is his oppositions to the war in Malvinas (1982), his criticism to holding the World Football Cup in Argentina (1978) during times of dictatorship, his correction of declarations in favour of military governments, his support to the defense of human rights and the times of the regaining of democracy led by Raúl Alfonsín after 1983.
Very few notice that even though he did not finish high school, as has just been demonstrated by Alejandro Vaccaro in his biography, he became a paradigm of erudition. As we can see, “prejudgement” (often encouraged by himself) worked in his favour, but also against him.


Another surprise is waiting for us in the set of portraits that we have selected of this character so full of singularities. Borges, posing with subtle complacency, free of masks, with his face naked in the photographer’s studios (Avedon, Rivas, Heinrich, Ortega) or in natural surroundings (the colour photos of Freund and Méndez Ezcurra) or the black and whites by Arbus at Central Park), Borges caught in everyday attitudes of underlying eloquence, kneeling, looking for a book (Facio), walking amongst books of leafing through them (D’Amico), in a squander of gestures of uncontainable expressivity (in Comesaña’s zoom). Here we have Borges in Paris, photographed by Pepe Fernández, present and absent, levelling out dignities, immersed in his own universe in a bar where, some morning at daybreak a woman left her trace amidst disorderly piled up chairs and cups.
There is an almost ontological indifference in that restraint and affective dignity with which cats are reproached when compared with dogs. Therefore it is not strange to see him recurrently photographed with cats (Agosti, Méndez Ezcurra, Ortega).
Facundo de Zuviría has created a borgean amulet when he photographed the trace of his signature.
Finally, here is Borges by a shelf with the different issues of his works, displayed in his homage by Alberto Casares the bookseller, stoic, with the eagerness of farewell, on November 27, 1985, six months before his death, pictures by Julio Giustozzi on his last day in Buenos Aires.


The labyrinths are not here, nor the mirrors, the tigers or the brawlers.
Here are the books, the libraries, the desks, the walking stick, the cats, the trace of his writing.
These photos show us a universe, simple but at the same time complex: barren and austere but, paradoxically full of symbology.
Somehow, I would like to imagine that Borges posed for us all.

From the Tributo to Borges' exhibition catalogue, NYU, 1999

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