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It’s another Borges birthday

Time to pause and read a bit of Borges on the 110th anniversary of his birth in Buenos Aires: August 24, 1899.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my top 10 stories by Borges, part of a series of posts I wrote back in 2006: 30 Days with Borges.

Bringing Borges back from the dead

A proposal before the Argentine congress aims to bring the remains of Jorge Luis Borges from his burial place in Geneva to Argentina where the writer would be interred in the family vault in Recoleta Cemetery. It sounds crazy to me, but the proposal is backed by the head of the Argentine Society of Writers.

An irony behind the proposed law to repatriate the body of Borges is that the legislation is presented by a Peronist lawmaker. Borges was intensely anti-Peronist. And the proposal seems to defy the wishes of Borges.

It’s well documented that Borges chose to die in Geneva, a city that held significance to him from his stay there during his childhood. While as a young man Borges did write a famously romanticized poem about Recoleta Cemetery and is the quintessential Argentine writer, as a dying man in his old age he did not want his burial to be part of the circus that is Buenos Aires media.

If Borges is brought back to Argentina, then it will be the biggest reburial here since Juan Perón’s coffin traipsed through the streets of Buenos Aires in 2006 during a reburial that ended in a fiasco.

The newspaper Perfil which reported on the story (in Spanish) simply indicated that Maria Kodama, the widow of Borges, could not be located for comment.

Repatriating the remains of iconic figures in Argentine history is not uncommon, and it’s also not that uncommon in Argentina for bodies to be reburied and shifted about from one grave to another. I guess one could argue that Borges had his 20 years in Geneva, now it’s time for him to come home.

Yet, I’m also wondering if these Peronist lawmakers who presented this idea don’t have better things to do in congress, like trying to address the problems facing this country?

And here’s a photo of the family mausoleum where Borges would rest in Recoleta Cemetery. He would be not too far from the tomb of Evita Perón….a woman with the most amazing story of the traveling dead.

Borges & Macedonio Fernández

Macedonio Fernández was an enigmatic figure shadowing over the literary scene in Buenos Aires during the early 20th century.

Macedonio Fernandez

In a new essay published in The Quarterly Conversation, Marcelo Ballvé writes about the influence of Macedonio on Argentina’s most famous writer – The Man Who Invented Borges.

Both men were enamored of speculative philosophy, and arguably it was Macedonio who was responsible for making a metaphysician out of Borges. Both writers were incessant explorers of a handful of themes: the inexistence of the individual personality, the elastic nature of time, the permeability of waking life to dreams and vice-versa; one might say: the instability of reality in general. In both writers’ work the supposedly bedrock concepts by which we live are revealed to be unstable isotopes, slippery and layered, none being in essence what they appear to be and all of course eminently moldable, especially within the pages of a story, poem, or essay.

Borges on the Planet of the Blind

I’ve started reading the blog Planet of the Blind by author Stephen Kuusisto, who has been “legally blind” since birth.

In a post titled “Spoons in the Snow“, Kuusisto describes attending the keynote address by Jorge Luis Borges at a conference on Nabokov in the late 1970s. Amusingly, it turns out that in the Q&A following Borges’ talk that Borges gave the impression that he had never heard of Nabokov. (It’s likely that Borges was simply toying with the Nabokov scholars.)

Writing is not another form of journalism

But the gem of Kuusisto’s post is not that anecdote but the lesson learned from Borges, or “How would I be able to write about the world if I couldn’t see it?”

“I thought some more about Borges.

A friend told me how his mother used to walk everyday in Buenos Aires with the poet. She would describe the things she was seeing in the central market and in turn Borges would narrate his version of their walk.

This emancipation from the photographic image is what allowed me to become a writer.

What a relief it is to write about the things I do not see!”

Borges in Ireland

Irish writer Keith Ridgway has a post on his blog about Borges in Ireland and how a 5 year-old Ridgway met the Argentine writer in 1971.

“Borges and I” & the philosophy of self and language

John Perry, a professor in the philosophy department at Stanford, recently gave a lecture at Amherst College titled ” ”˜Borges and I’ and ”˜I’ ”. (via Perlocutionary).

Since the lecture is by a philosopher and it’s about Borges, you can be certain that it talks about the philosophy of language and “self”. If you’re not into epistemological discussions then you might think that it will be rather tedious listening, but it’s aimed towards an undergraduate audience and Perry wades into the topic rather slowly. Much of the talk is on the simple ways that we use language everyday, such as how we introduce ourselves at a party or how we ask for salt at the dinner table, the usage that we give to proper names and pronouns.

If you’ve not read “Borges and I” then it’s worth a reading or even a re-reading. It’s a short piece, less than 1 page. While “Borges and I” is usually included in The Collected Fictions, it’s really more of an essay, a contemplation about the public persona of Borges the writer.

The Borges work and Perry’s lecture made me think of the nature of celebrity and the impressions, beliefs we form about people in the news. But even on a more ordinary level, what we think we know about others, the people we know, even our friends, our family, our lovers. We probably know less about their motivations than we think we know, yet we often, usually, perhaps always, make assumptions about their behavior based on what we think we know about them.

In his lecture, John Perry said,

I think selves are basically just people, seen as playing the role of being the same person as the subject of some verb, the agent of some activity, the thinker of some thought, the possessor of some emotion, and so forth. My neighbor is just a person, thought of as playing the role of one who lives next to, relative to me. My father is just the person who plays the role of being the male parent of, relative to me. “Neighbor” and “father” are role-words, and so is “self.” On this conception of selves, there is only one self per person, the person himself or herself.

Still, we often use phrases like “the true self” or “the authentic self.”

Perry goes on to describe how “cognitive structures, though no longer my true beliefs, or even really beliefs at all, live a shadowy half-life in the darker regions” of our psyches.

The last line of “Borges and I” famously ends with the sentence, “I do not know which of us has written this page.”

It hadn’t occurred to me before but by the time that Borges composed that line he had already gone blind. So, in the physical sense of writing, he actually did not write that line. It was written by someone else, the person listening to him.

Jorge Luis Borges: The Mirror Man

The Mirror Man is an excellent documentary about Jorge Luis Borges. I recently learned (via flameape) that the documentary is available online at UBUWEB, a site that describes itself as the YouTube of the Avant-Garde.

Note that the documentary is 47 minutes but the video on UBUWEB seems to stop abruptly about 35 minutes into the film, sigh. So, if you want to see the whole thing you may need to find a copy via BitTorrent. Regardless, even if you see only the partial video on UBUWEB then you will come away with a rich experience.

Mirrors & themes

The script of the documentary was written by Alberto Manguel, a person who knows a lot about Borges. Manguel writes that the central theme of Borges works was the “curious paradox of being human in a mysterious and incomprehensible world.”

Even if you’re not so interested in Borges the documentary features archival video footage of Buenos Aires during the early 20th century. Also, there are interviews with Borges’ mother Leonor Acevedo, Maria Kodama, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Edgardo Cozarinski, as well as Borges himself.

The title The Mirror Man comes from Borges’ childhood fascination with mirrors and mirror-like surfaces. “More than anything the boy feared another self reflected in the polished furniture and dark mirrors of the house.”

The documentary gives a very good overview of the life of Borges and the influence of living in Europe during his youth. Living abroad enabled him to discover Argentina. Borges said, “Absence made it possible for me to see things i would not have seen if i had stayed at home.”

Upon the return of Borges in the 1920s Manguel writes that Borges “wandered through Buenos Aires with the passion of explorer.

A Borges Inspired Codex

While browsing around the Web today I came across this posting about the Codex Seraphianus, a possibly Borges inspired encyclopedia of a foreign world described in an unknown language by an Italian architect of the name Luigi Serafini while living in a small apartment in Rome.

Codex Seraphianus

Is the codex the product of a consuming passion or does it hold some other secret? Well, while so many are talking about Oprah and studying The Secret, I for one, think that the real secret may rest within these pages, a world which can be explored through Flickr.

In addition to Borges there is another connection to this city and the codex: Buenos Aires native Alberto Manguel who was present at the discovery of the codex.

Art Galleries in San Telmo

Every time I look around there seems to be more and more art galleries in San Telmo, which simply adds to the overall number of art galleries in Buenos Aires. The other day I went into an art gallery on Defensa that is worth visiting: galería de arte mercedes giachetti. It’s at Defensa 718 and is located in a very nice older building.

It’s a nice art gallery to visit and, if you go, be sure to take the staircase up to the first floor where the works by the art gallery owner Mercedes Giachetti are on display. Even if you don’t like contemporary art, visiting the upper floor of the art gallery is a nice chance to see inside one of the older buildings on Defensa.

Currently, there is a very good exhibition by Elvira Cosentino that runs till June 3, whose works I found rather appealing.

I also noticed on Sunday that Defensa is now closed as far south as Garay. There’s a bit more activity on Sundays now taking place on the block of Defensa between Cochabamba and Garay with several shops having opened recently and there’s even a tapas bar, plus one or two more restaurants. And, on the same block, is another cool gallery whose name, unfortunately I don’t remember. (I’ll have to go back and take note of it). Gee, in another year, Defensa probably will be closed all the way past Parque Lezama.

Oh, and I was mentioning art….if you’re interested in art in Argentina and Latin America then you certainly should be reading Arte al Dia.

Okay, here ends this public service announcement and free advertising …. but, hey, I know a lot of visitors to my blog are looking for that kind of thing … art galleries in San Telmo… so there you go.

Maria Kodama, the widow of Borges

kodama.jpgMarí­a Kodama is a well-known figure among porteños but those not familiar with the life of Jorge Luis Borges, who died in 1986 at the age of 86, may be surprised to know that his widow is still very much alive.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking down calle Florida and just about to enter Galerí­as Pacifico when a woman passed me on the way out. I immediately recognized her as being María Kodama, or so I thought, since she has a very distinctive appearance. I hardly ever recognize anyone famous, always thinking that it’s someone else. I did wonder if there were other older porteña women who have adopted the distinctive Kodama hairstyle and if this was just a “look-alike”.

But, later as I was browsing in Galerías Pacifico, I saw her again. I guess she had decided to come back inside for more shopping. Actually, she appeared to be just window shopping, slowly moving among the stores. Not that I was stalking her or anything. I just kept on wondering if it was her or not. Guess I could have just approached her and asked, but I didn’t. However, after seeing the photos of her on the net, I’m positive that it was María Kodama.

María and Borges

Okay, now for those of you who have fallen behind on your biographical reading of Borges:

The daughter of a Japanese father, Marí­a Kodama is forty-five years younger than Borges. She was a student of his at the University of Buenos Aires during the 1960s and then joined a weekly class on Anglo-Saxon literature that Borges gave at the Biblioteca Nacional. Borges was blind by this point in his life and never saw Kodama with his own eyes. Yet, he became infatuated with her.

Borges, who lived most of his life as a bachelor and shared an apartment with his mother, became easily infatuated with women.

When his mother realized that her own health was failing, she arranged a marriage for her sixty-seven year old blind son, which turned out to be a disaster.

During this time, Borges was finally achieving the international fame that he had long sought. His friendship with the young María Kodama grew stronger and she eventually became his literary secretary and traveling companion on his many speaking trips abroad during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1985, a year before his death, Borges and Kodama finally were married with a Paraguayan marriage license, which was the common way to get around the lack of divorce in Argentine law. Borges had already named Kodama as the sole heir to his estate. Obviously one can imagine the controversy at the time about an elderly, blind, famous man marrying a woman 45 years younger. But, it seems that the estate has been well managed over the years.

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