Jorge Luis 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.”

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via Maud New­ton

Relat­ed Con­tent

Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Orig­i­nal Span­ish)

Hear the Enchant­i­ng Jorge Luis Borges Read “The Art of Poet­ry”

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967–8 Nor­ton Lec­tures On Poet­ry (And Every­thing Else Lit­er­ary)

Borges Explains The Task of Art

What Does Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel” Look Like? An Accu­rate Illus­tra­tion Cre­at­ed with 3D Mod­el­ing Soft­ware

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.