Borges Explains The Task of Art

As he neared the end of his life, Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986) offered his thoughts on the “task of art,” essentially distilling 80+ years of wisdom into a few pithy lines. He says:

The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something which can last in man’s memory. That is our duty. If we don’t fulfill it, we feel unhappy. A writer or any artist has the sometimes joyful duty to transform all that into symbols. These symbols could be colors, forms or sounds. For a poet, the symbols are sounds and also words, fables, stories, poetry. The work of a poet never ends. It has nothing to do with working hours. Your are continuously receiving things from the external world. These must be transformed, and eventually will be transformed. This revelation can appear anytime. A poet never rests. He’s always working, even when he dreams. Besides, the life of a writer, is a lonely one. You think you are alone, and as the years go by, if the stars are on your side, you may discover that you are at the center of a vast circle of invisible friends whom you will never get to know but who love you. And that is an immense reward.

Thanks to Matthew for sending this clip along. Also, on a related note, let me remind you of the documentary we highlighted earlier this year. Jorge Luis Borges: The Mirror Man, a film that’s “part biography, part literary criticism, part hero-worship, part book reading, and part psychology.”

You can find this video, and others like it, in our video/audio collection of Cultural Icons.

via Maud Newton



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  • http://dustbowlpoetry.wordpress.com Shelley

    I am reverent before this quote. These words made me want to pause and give thanks for the “vast circle of invisible friends” who support my work.

    Yes, that is the compensation for the necessary aloneness.

  • http://fieldnotesandfootnotes.wordpress.com/ Bree

    This is so beautiful. Thank you. B.

  • Thorn daCosta

    Brautiful. No more no less

  • Thorn daCosta

    Beautiful, no more no less. (but better spelt than last time).

  • Garee peters

    Come again Brautigan, brautiful…beautiful whose counting?

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