Honestly, I keep wanting to find reasons to dislike Borges, to find evidence that he’s overrated. But from a literary perspective, the more I read, particularly the obscure works, the more I realize that he really was one of the truly great writers.

In the last two postings I mentioned that both The Circular Ruins and Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius are largely based on metaphysical idealism. Borges examined this topic in several of his essays. Now, I know this sounds like dry, boring stuff and, actually, that’s not far from the truth but the essays are essential to understanding Borges. Even Borges once described himself as “an Argentine adrift on a sea of metaphysics.” But, undoubtedly, some of his best writings are in his essays.

In The New Refutation of Time, written in the mid-1940s, Borges quotes the philosophers Berkeley, Hume, and Schopenhauer, as well as Bernard Shaw and a fifth-century Buddhist text. Fortunately, Borges rewards the reader with this observation:

Our destiny…is not terrifying because it is unreal; it is terrifying because it is irreversible and iron-bound. Time is the substance of which I am made. Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.

Borges follows the observation and closes the essay with a revealing quote from the 17th-century German mystic Angelus Silesius :

Friend, this is enough. Should you wish to read more,
Go and yourself become the writing, yourself the essence.