Like most literary geeks, I’ve read a lot of Jorge Luis Borges. If you haven’t, look into the influences of your favorite writers, and you may find the Argentine short-story craftsman appearing with Beatles-like frequency. Indeed, Borges’ body of work radiates inspiration far beyond the realm of the short story, and even beyond literature as commonly practiced. Creators from David Foster Wallace to Alex Cox to W.G. Sebald to the Firesign Theater have all, from their various places on the cultural landscape, freely admitted their Borgesian leanings. That Borges’ stories — or, in the more-encompassing term adherents prefer to use, his “fictions” — continue to provide so much fuel to so many imaginations outside his time and tradition speaks to their simultaneous intellectual richness and basic, precognitive impact. Perhaps “The Garden of Forking Paths” or “The Aleph” haven’t had that impact on you, but they’ve surely had it on an artist you enjoy.
Now, thanks to YouTube (see video above), you can not only read Borges, but hear him as well. They offer MP3s of Borges’ complete Norton Lectures, which the writer gave at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1968. A transcript of the lectures can be bought in book format. The names of the six lectures are listed below.
1. The Riddle of Poetry
2. The Metaphor
3. The Telling of the Tale
4. Word-Music, and Translation
5. Thought and Poetry
6. A Poet’s Creed
Nearing both 70 years of age and total blindness, Borges nonetheless gives a virtuosically wide-ranging series of talks, freely reaching across forms, countries, eras, and languages without the aid of notes. Entitled “This Craft of Verse,” these lectures ostensibly deal with poetry. Alas, like many literary geeks, I know too little of poetry, but if Borges can’t motivate you to learn more, who can? And if you’ve read any of his fictions, you’ll know that he treats all subjects as nexuses of subjects. To hear Borges speak on poetry is, in this case, to hear him speak on storytelling, cliché, the epic, human communication, the shortcomings of the novel, translation, and the falseness of happy endings — and, because nobody could digest it all the first time, to want to hear it again.