[lit-ideas] Re: Borgesiana

  • From: Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 23 Nov 2015 10:31:52 -0800

Speranza wrote, "Borges saw himself mainly as a poet, and since, like Homer, and Milton, he was blind, he found poetry (the sonnet form) just his cup of tea (metaphorically!) He also thought that the poem is more important than the poet, and that the best lines are perhaps those by what lit. crit. has as 'anonymous'."

Borges is quoted by Farrari as saying [in the "conversation" "The Eternal Traveller"], "I think that if I really were a poet -- obviously I'm not one -- I would feel every instant of life as poetic. It's a mistake to suppose that there are, for example, poetic themes or poetic moments. Any theme can be poetic. Walt Whitman already proved, as did Gomez de la Serna in his own way, that everyday life can be poetic. . ."


On 11/23/2015 9:26 AM, (Redacted sender Jlsperanza for DMARC) wrote:

In a message dated 11/23/2015 10:22:27 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes: In reading Jorge Luis Borges Conversations
[with] Osvaldo Ferrari I ran across the following exchange: Ferrari. I think
that while your memory and imagination transcend Argentina and soar to
different latitudes – the history and mythology of other countries and races –
the style in which you narrate your stories is a particularly sober one,

peculiar to the Argentinian spirit."
If the translation had been made by an Anglo-Argentine he would have had

"Argentine spirit" as in Geary's "Down Argentine Way".
Helm keeps on quoting:
"Borges: Yes, I’d say that the difference, or one of the differences,
between the Spanish of Spain and the Spanish of Buenos Aires or Montevideo is
that Spaniards tend to use interjections, exclamations. We speak, say
things, explain, but we do not agree or disagree like the Spaniards. Spanish
conversation is full of interjections. Ours is not – ours is a conversation
in a more lowered voice. Borges description struck me as fitting Speranza."
Only I learned so many interjections from Geary: he actually uses his hands
(both of them) to interject!
(And *he* learned it from Sraffa*).
Helm goes on:
"[...] Speranza and I were being attacked. ... [H]e was being attacked for
writing too many notes and I was being attacked for writing notes that were
too long. We got together off line and discussed the matter. My
inclination [...] was to “kill them all” -- metaphorically of course. His was
not, and I hadn’t been able to put a name to what his inclination was until I
read the Borges’ “conversation in a more lowered voice."
Only I would qualify 'low' to apply to ''volume'? -- "lower-volume voice"?
-- I dunno. I wonder what Borges actually said in the vernacular. Recall
that Helm is dealing with an English translation. But in any case, Ferrari
was being intrusive, getting this interview with Borges in Borges's modest
apartment (as the other link Helm was working with called it). And while

Borges loved conversation (as Grice did!) we can see that the distinction is
not really between the use of interjection and the low-volume. I suppose

Borges is thinking of things like,
"Well, there!"
"You know"
"You know what I mean".
These may all count as interjections. As a contrast, his point is rather

that the Argentines _tend to_ say things, "say" things, "explain" things.

Note, too, that Borges sort of equates 'interjection' with 'exclamation'.
And while "Hi!", "Wow!", "Hullo!", "Now, there!" all use the exclamation
mark, I'm never sure what the implicature of "!" is.
R. M. Hare, in "The Language of Morals" use "!" to mean:
i. The door is closed, yes.
ii. The door is closed, please.
iii. Close the door!
Hare says that "!" is the sign of the imperative. Kant disagreed, because
HIS conversation was in the lowEST volume!
Borges seems to be contrasting the Spaniard and the Argentine when it comes
to agree or disagree. Thus, in his rather brusque generalisation ("All
generalisations are odious, including this one: i.e. the one to the effect
that all generalisations are odious") is that the Spaniard agrees (or
disagrees) with an interjection and/or an exclamation, whereas an Argentine
rather _explain_ why he agrees or disagrees.
Helm goes on:

"I’ll have to give that some more thought, but I can’t recall Speranza
ever arguing with anyone."
Well, I seem to have argued with McEvoy about conceptual analysis! But he
thinks the _onus probandi_ is on me!
"In my case I learned not to have my notes rejected by the software program
by using Rich Text rather than HTML. Those who objected to their length
have perhaps all died. I remember one particularly (verbally) violent
person who thought I cut and pasted my long notes, offending me by severely
underestimating my typing ability. Besides, the books I quoted from weren’t
digitized so cutting and pasting wasn’t even an option. And in me, I
suppose, we have an example of someone who is much closer to the Spanish than
Well, I suppose there is a Spaniard and there is a Spaniard (or as Geary

prefers: "There are Spaniards and there are Spaniards"). I never know which
one is one!
Spain was once a colony of Rome, and I love the story of the Gibraltar
gate, as made by Hercules in one of his days! The way to the pillars was a
favourite sport for Romans (who of course, as the etymology goes, loved to
But after the Romans left, the Goths came, and oddly, they were not able to
leave ONE word of Goth origin in the lingo! (except, as I recall, 'gain',
and perhaps 'guerre'). In this respect, it may do to compare the Germanic
influence left by the Franks (who spoke Low Franconian) on French and the
Germanic influence left by the Goths in Iberia.
I would think there is, linguististically, a continuum between the Roman of
Rome and the Gibraltarian of Gibraltar -- and the funny thing is that this
continuum crosses three or four lingos in between: Italian, French,
Provençal, and Catalonian, before you get to Spanish! (And don't dare call a
Catalonian a Spaniard!) --. So Borges is probably overgeneralising.
In his youth, he would spend years in Spain, and visited some of the
Islands -- eventually he settled in Switzerland (where he attended high school)
but back in Buenos Aires, he never attended college. On his return to Buenos
Aires, Borges saw himself mainly as a poet, and there is a rather good
book on AUDEN, BRETON, and BORGES -- (besides another one good book that just
sticks with Borges's poetry).
The book is by Strong.
******************************* INTERLUDE ******************
A literary and cultural study of three diverse manifestations in artistic
exploration in the 1920s and 1930s - the groups surrounding Jorge Luis
Borges, W.H. Auden, and Andre Breton. These groups were composed of poets and
writers who made use of the avant-garde's characteristic modes of
self-expression: the publication of small journals; unorthodox
tactics; and interaction with the mainstream press. However, their differing
aesthetic, social and political agendas illustrate the broad range of
avant-gardism in the interwar era. The book examines the choices these three
made when their radical goals collided with the forces of social and
political change in the 1920s and 1930s, highlighting the disparity between
their rhetoric and their actual achievements. It focuses on the avant-garde's
struggle to reconcile contradictory imperatives: a desire to be radically
new while at the same time finding an audience that would allow it to survive.
************************************* above: description of Strong's book
on Auden, Breton, and Borges.
The other book, just on Borges is by Cheselka.
************************** INTERLUDE *********************
This study traces Borges' career as a poet from his earliest poetic
endeavors before the 1923 publication of Fervor de Buenos Aires through the
middle of the 1960's. Paul Cheselka considers Borges' better-known poetry
collections, such as Fervor de Buenos Aires, Luna de enfrente, and Cuaderno San
Martín; and he shows the often-neglected 1930-1960 period to be an important
phase in the evolution of Borges' poetry. The
poems are studied chronologically with particular emphasis on the relation
of their themes to the poet's life and ideas. Cheselka's contribution is

that of providing a clearer delineation of borgesian poetics; the poems
themselves are shown to be the evidence and very substance of the poets's
Contents: Borges' life and ideas as they relate to his career as a poet -
Discussion of borgesian poetic theory - Analyses of the poems.
Borges saw himself mainly as a poet, and since, like Homer, and Milton, he
was blind, he found poetry (the sonnet form) just his cup of tea
He also thought that the poem is more important than the poet, and that the
best lines are perhaps those by what lit. crit. has as 'anonymous'.
His remarks on the 'language of the Argentines' must be taken,
metaphorically, with a pinch of salt. He groups the Uruguayans (cfr. Homer
quip on finding Uruguay on the map, "Fancy living in a country named, "Are
you gay?"") with the Argentines because he would know that back in the day,
the whole of the River Plate was part of the same Vice-Royalty and that the
Uruguayans should always have remained Argentine! (He said that to call
"Uruguayans" Uruguayans was low-class and that his mother always referred to
them as "The Orientals", living as they lived on the eastern side of the

River!). "Borges" himself is of Portuguese origin, and Jewish at that, they
say! But _he_ was always proud not perhaps so much on his mother's blood line
(the Acevedos) but the Yorkshire (and thus Viking) DNA of the Haslams.
When his grandmother came to the pampas, it was so wild that she was
scared. She recalls she saw an Englishwoman having been kidnapped by the

"Indians" and having lost all traces of civilisation -- Fanny Haslam witnessed
this Englishwoman would drink blood direct from the corpse of a cow!
If Borges had an affinity with English literature, it was because his
father (Fanny Haslam's son) would only read in English! (When he found out that
Borges Junior's first book was on a local Argentine criminal from the
suburbs) he almost desinherits him!
Helm was referring to the New York Review of Books. Borges wrote an
"Autobiographical Essay" for it -- full of jokes and funny anecdotes, some of
them invented on the spot ("The first novel I ever read was "Huckleberry Finn""
-- He would later said he came up with this, because he HAD to come up
with something!).
When he was appointed Professor "of English and American literature" -- the
book whose review Helm was referring to in the other post -- I think he
was mainly joking most of the time. He said he never failed ONE student! --
but then since he was blind he could hardly see if the student was cheating
in the writing examination, too!).
He did display a low-volume voice, and there were many films made of his

life. The most relevant, it seems -- seeing that Helm was referring to this
idea by Borges of 'multiple personalities' -- was a documentary made by the
Borges found most of what he loved in his father's English library -- and
he recalls how he secretly glimpsed at the illustrations of Burton's edition
of "The Thousand Nights and One Nights".

He also enjoyed long walks in Buenos Aires, which was his 'town' address,
since the Borges also had a villa in the 'country': in Adrogué.
* Sraffa said that Witters should learn one interjection or two!

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