sábado, 22 de octubre de 2011

Borges oral

Borges oral (Biblioteca Borges, 2008)
por Jorge Luis Borges
Argentina, 1979

En mayo y junio de 1978, Jorge Luis Borges fue invitado dar una serie de cinco clases a la Universidad de Belgrano en Buenos Aires.  Cada viernes el escritor elegiría un tema particularmente importante para él --"El libro", "La inmortalidad", "Emanuel Swedenborg", "El cuento policial", "El tiempo"-- y, como resultado de la publicación de las conferencias en Borges oral, los lectores de hoy en día pueden entender cómo sería asistir a un curso dado por el profesor Borges.  Pues, ¿cómo sería tener Borges como profe?  La clase sobre "El libro" nos da un buen ejemplo de un acercamiento aparentemente sencillo pero que hace reflexionar.  Después de decir que le gustaría escribir una historia del libro sobre "las diversas valoraciones que el libro ha recibido" al estilo de la Decadencia de Occidente de Spengler, Borges empieza por explicar que los antiguos "veían en el libro un sucedáneo de la palabra oral" (10).  Avanzando al asunto de cómo el Oriente introdujo el concepto de libros sagrados a los griegos y romanos, Borges entonces lleva su historia del libro hasta la modernidad al describir cómo muchos bibliófilos reales tienen interés en el libro como objeto físico y no sólo por su contenido.  Dado que esta forma particular del culto de libro no interesa a Borges para nada, él llama la atención a las ironías de cosas como la idea de que los países han elegido obras nacionales paradigmáticas "que no se parecen demasiado a ellos": "Cervantes es un hombre contemporáneo de la Inquisición, pero es tolerante, es un hombre que no tiene ni las virtudes ni los vicios españoles", dice de Don Quijote y España; "Nosotros hubiéramos podido elegir el Facundo de Sarmiento...pero no...hemos elegido como libro la crónica de un desertor, hemos elegido el Martín Fierro, que si bien merece ser elegido como libro, ¿cómo pensar que nuestra historia está representada por un desertor de la conquista del desierto?", pregunta de la épica gaucha y Argentina (17-18).  En otra parte, Borges cita a pensadores como Montaigne y Emerson en apoyo de su creencia que la lectura debe ser una forma de felicidad sobre todo.  Algunas de sus conclusiones son sorprendentes: "Por eso considero que un escritor como Joyce ha fracasdo esencialmente, porque su obra requiere un esfuerzo" (19).  Otras no son sorprendentes: "Les debemos tanto a las letras.  Yo he tratado más de releer que de leer, creo que releer es más importante que leer, salvo que para releer se necsita haber leído.  Yo tengo ese culto de libro" (21).  Qué lástima que sea la hora de acostarme porque hubiera querido hablar un poco más acerca de las otras conferencias en esta tapa de 99 páginas. (www.alianzaeditorial.es)
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In May and June of 1978, Jorge Luis Borges was invited to give a series of five lectures at the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires.  Each Friday the writer would choose a topic particularly dear to him for one reason or another--"The Book," "Immortality," "Emanuel Swedenborg," "The Detective Story," "Time"--and as a result of the publication of the lectures in the unfortunately titled Borges oral, today's readers can now know what it'd be like to attend a course given by Professor Borges.  So what was it like to have Borges as a prof?  Borges' plainspoken but thought-provoking lecture on "The Book" gives us a pretty good idea.  After stating that he's long wanted to write a history on the reception of the book modeled on Spengler's book talk in The Decline of the West, Borges begins by explaining how the ancients regarded the book as a poor substitute for the spoken word.  Moving on to the matter of how the East introduced the concept of sacred books to the Greeks and the Romans, Borges then brings his history of the book up to modern times by noting how the bibliophiles of today often place as much importance on the book as a physical object as on the content of the book itself.  Since this particular cult of the book doesn't interest Borges at all, he draws attention instead to ironies like how frequently the paradigmatic works of national literatures are in conflict with the values of the nations that they're said to represent: : "Cervantes is a man contemporaneous with the Inquisition, but he's tolerant, a man who has neither Spanish virtues nor vices" ["Cervantes es un hombre contemporáneo de la Inquisición, pero es tolerante, es un hombre que no tiene ni las virtudes ni los vicios españoles"]) he says of Don Quixote and Spain; "We would have been able to choose Sarmiento's Facundo" as our national book, "but no...[instead] we chose the account of a deserter, we've chosen Martín Fierro, which even though it certainly deserves selection on its merits as a book, what are we to think of our history being represented by a deserter of the conquest of the desert?" ["Nosotros hubiéramos podido elegir el Facundo de Sarmiento...pero no...hemos elegido el Martín Fierro, que si bien merece ser elegido como libro, ¿cómo pensar que nuestra historia está representada por un desertor de la conquista del desierto?"] he asks about the gaucho epic and Argentina (18).  Elsewhere, Borges quotes thinkers like Montaigne and Emerson in support of his belief that reading should deliver a state of "happiness" above all else.  Some of his conclusions may surprise you: "Because of that, I think that a writer like Joyce has essentially failed because his work requires a real effort" ["Por eso considero que un escritor como Joyce ha fracasdo esencialmente, porque su obra requiere un esfuerzo"] (19).  Others may not: "We owe so much to literature.  I've tried to reread more than to read, I believe that rereading is more important than reading, except that in order to reread one needs to have read.  That's my cult of the book" ("Les debemos tanto a las letras.  Yo he tratado más de releer que de leer, creo que releer es más importante que leer, salvo que para releer se necesita haber leído.  Yo tengo ese culto del libro"] (21).  Too bad it's time to go to bed because I would have liked to talk a little more about a couple of the other lectures in this 99-page appetizer. (www.alianzaeditorial.es)

Borges

12 comentarios:

  1. I believe that rereading is more important than reading, except that in order to reread one needs to have read.

    So. Reading turned out to be more important than rereading, because the latter relies on the former.

    *snickers*

    Bolaño said something like, reading is more important than writing.

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  2. I beleive reading is very important and the books you reread are usually most important ,all the best stu

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  3. Wonderful point about the cult of the book. And I don't agree with him about Joyce; sometimes there is a greater reward to be had from making a greater effort (yes, yes, although you wouldn't know I would feel that way from my reading choices...)

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  4. Thanks so much for this one. Three points of contact for me: my love of rereading, an interest in the ancient transition from oral to written communication (from biblical studies), and Ficciones. I'll definitely have to read it.

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  5. *Rise: You'll have to take up that argument with Professor Borges after class. I'm just a humble scribe here. Borges does say something about reading being one form of happiness and "poetic creation" being another minor form of happiness, "poetic creation" being defined as "a blend of memory and forgetfulness about what we've read" if you'll pardon my inelegant translation. Which is kind of what Bolaño was getting at too, I guess.

    *Stu: Ha, you and Borges would get along just fine then!

    *Jill: This will probably pain us both, but I have to agree with you and not Borges on the reading should never be demanding thing! That's probably the most surprising opinion I came across in the entire book, and I'll now have to stay alert when reading other pieces from Borges to see if he expands on that or contradicts it. Didn't expect that "message" from such a cerebral writer!

    *Julia: You're very welcome! "Listening" to Borges is almost always a treat for me, but in addition to your points of contact here, one of the things these lectures all have in common is that they're a great resource for other authors/traditions that Borges talks about. Wonderful bibliographic aids, in fact. Cheers!

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  6. Borges is right about Joyce if you accept the position that 'readability' is a criteria for the effectiveness of a novel. I think it is a risible idea. The Booker judges and the reaction of so many people during this year's Booker debate suggest the idea has popular acceptance.

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  7. Anthony, what does "readable" mean? I associate an unreadable book with an author's inability to communicate, not with the laziness of readers. Funny, considering what Borges said about the physical book, that Julian Barnes talked about the book as a beautiful object in his Booker acceptance speech.

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  8. Fascinating post, making me feel sad that I, unlike Stu!, have not been able to get along with Borges. (Gave up on the book of short stories I attempted. Maybe another book, another time, will fare better.)

    The comment about re-reading reminds me of observations made by Umberto Eco abut the empirical reader and the model reader. To date I have preferred Eco's essays to his fiction, so maybe this is a pointer to how I might better approach Borges.

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  9. *Anthony: I have to say that while I wasn't surprised to hear that Borges didn't like Joyce, I was surprised to hear him crack on Joyce for that particular reason. I mostly agree that the question of readability is a risible idea, but taking Fay's (Readramble's) point into consideration, perhaps it would be better for readers to question why a writer chose to write a work in a particular way rather than giving blanket praise or dismissals to a book or author based on whether the style is "readable" or not.

    *Fay: Thanks so much for your comment! While I was all set to agree with Anthony in full on principle (in general, I think there's a lot to be said for wrestling with "difficult" works and writers), your point about whether a work is unreadable or not is actually the author's fault or the reader's is certainly well taken. We all run into books like that from time to time, so that's really the million dollar question, isn't it? Why is the book not readable? Is it the author or me? In any event, I'm really glad you chimed in here because your comment probably gets at what Borges was trying to get across--and I couldn't believe he'd taken such an apparently simplistic stance on the matter. My bad, I guess!

    *Sarah: As with Woolf to a certain extent, I appreciate Borges more than I connect with him at times. Love many of his short stories while others just sort of leave me cold. As a thinker, though, he's quite inspiring to me and great for making me reassess certain ways I think about literature. He's quite passionate about books, and so a dip into his nonfiction (the way you've done with Eco) might be just the ice-breaker for you. In any event, thanks for the comment and the kind words. Cheers!

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  10. Tomo nota de este libro para hacerme la ilusión de tener a Borges como profe de alguna manera.
    Dicen por ahí que siempre volvemos a los mismos libros (tanto por leer y preferimos releer...)
    ¡Saludos!

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  11. I've still not read any Borges (despite owning Ficciones), but I enjoyed reading about his thoughts here. I was especially struck by his comments on rereading. It's such a difficult balance to strike between how much to read and how much to reread--how much of either do we choose to do?

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  12. *Andrómeda: Je je, lo del "tanto de leer y preferimos releer" me preocupa un poco; sin obstante, hay libros que nos gustan tanto que tenemos que releerlos cada tanto. Es un dilema, ¿no? De todos modos, gracias por la visita y espero que tú vayas a encontrar la oportunidad de "estudiar" con el profe dentro de poco. ¡Saludos!

    *Amanda: Yes, how much to read and how much to reread: the million dollar question! Borges frames the question a little differently in "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote," but I suggest you take a look at that short story from Ficciones if you want a dose of Borges that's simultaneously entertaining and provocative but in a fictional format. Great stuff. Cheers!

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