Borges: Profile of a Writer Presents the Life and Writings of Argentina’s Favorite Son, Jorge Luis Borges

“Al otro, a Borges, es a quien le ocur­ren las cosas,” begins the very short sto­ry “Borges y yo”. That trans­lates to “It’s to the oth­er man, to Borges, that things hap­pen” in Eng­lish. The tale’s author, Jorge Luis Borges, lived his life between Eng­lish and his native Span­ish, just as he lived between his pub­lic and pri­vate per­sonas. No sur­prise, then, that his writ­ing gen­er­ates so much ener­gy from mat­ters of iden­ti­ty, lan­guage, and thought, and thus makes you want to learn more about the mind behind it. Here at Open Cul­ture, we par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy doing our learn­ing through Are­na, the BBC’s intel­lec­tu­al­ly omniv­o­rous and artis­ti­cal­ly lib­er­at­ed tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary series. The 1983 broad­cast above, takes as its sub­ject the imag­i­na­tive Argen­tine mas­ter of the short sto­ry. The show has always done well by what we might call cult writ­ers (see also its episode on the no less imag­i­na­tive Philip K. Dick), and the cult of Borges now seems broad­er and more enthu­si­as­tic than ever. If you count your­self as a mem­ber, this episode “Borges and I” makes for required view­ing.

Sit­ting down with Are­na, the elder­ly Borges speaks with­out hes­i­ta­tion on his rela­tion­ship to lan­guage, his dis­cov­ery of his own lim­i­ta­tions as a writer, the regimes that have ruled his home­land, his pro­fes­sion­al life spent at libraries (includ­ing his time as direc­tor of Argenti­na’s Bib­liote­ca Nacional), and his accel­er­at­ing blind­ness. We see scenes of life in Borges’ beloved Buenos Aires. We see the writer step­ping care­ful­ly through the city streets, cane in one hand, feel­ing the build­ings with the oth­er. We see, per­haps most fas­ci­nat­ing­ly of all, dra­ma­tized pas­sages of Borges’ most famous sto­ries: “Funes the Mem­o­ri­ous”, about a peas­ant con­demned to remem­ber every­thing per­fect­ly, los­ing his abil­i­ty to gen­er­al­ize, and thus to think; “The Cir­cu­lar Ruins”, about a man attempt­ing to dream anoth­er human being into exis­tence, detail by minute detail; “Death and the Com­pass”, about a detec­tive who either acci­den­tal­ly or delib­er­ate­ly walks straight into a vil­lain’s elab­o­rate, tetra­gram­ma­ton-based trap. Borges’ fans tend to think of his sto­ries as thor­ough­ly wrapped up in, and insep­a­ra­ble from, the text that con­sti­tute them, but some of these seg­ments con­vince me that, as movies, they would­n’t turn out half-bad.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Borges: The Task of Art

Jorge Luis Borges: The Mir­ror Man

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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