March 4, 2016

Borges at 80: Conversations
Edited by Willis Barnstone

The Master – This is one of the most profound books I’ve read. I relished every word in this series of interviews with the great writer Jorge Luis Borges. I dog-eared just about every page to remind me of something important: an insight about life, a tip on writing, a witticism that made me laugh, a reference to another book I am eager to read. The full meaning of this book is impossible for me to summarize, for it is a book I shall return to repeatedly. It is a book full of sobering (some would say depressing) reflections and, at the same time, utter joy and optimism. Here is part of an exchange from a 1976 interview between Willis Barnstone and Borges when the great, blind Argentine poet was about 77 years old:

Barnstone: In Cincinnati when an admirer said, “May you live one thousand years,” you answered, “I look forward happily to my death.” What did you mean by that?

Borges: I mean that when I’m unhappy – and that happens quite often to all of us – I find real consolation in the thought that in a few years, or maybe in a few days, I’ll be dead and then all this won’t matter. I look forward to being blotted out. But if I thought that my death was a mere illusion, that after death I would go on, then I would feel very, very unhappy. For, really, I’m sick and tired of myself. Now, of course if I go on and I have no personal memory of ever having been Borges, then in that case it won’t matter to me because I may have been hundreds of odd people before I was born, but those things won’t worry me, since I will have forgotten them. When I think of mortality, of death, I think of those things in a hopeful way, in an expectant way. I should say I am greedy for death, that I want to stop waking up every morning, finding: Well, here I am, I have to go back to Borges.

There’s a word in Spanish, I suppose you know. I wonder if it’s any longer in use. Instead of saying “to wake up,” you say recordarse, that is, to record yourself, to remember yourself. My mother used to say Que me recuerde a los ocho “I want to be recorded to myself at eight.” Every morning I get that feeling because I am more or less nonexistent. Then when I wake up, I always feel I’m being let down. Because, well, here I am. Here’s the same old stupid game going on. I have to be somebody. I have to be exactly that somebody. I have certain commitments. One of the commitments is to live through the whole day. Then I see all that routine before me, and all things naturally make me tired. Of course when you’re young, you don’t feel that way. You feel, well, I am so glad I’m back in this marvelous world. But I don’t think I ever felt that way. Even when I was young. Especially when I was young. Now I have resignation. Now I wake up and I say: I have to face another day. I let it go at that. I suppose that people feel in different ways because many people think of immortality as a kind of happiness, perhaps because they don’t realize it.

Barnstone: They don’t realize what?

Borges: The fact that going on and on would be, let’s say, awful.


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