Two Drawings by Jorge Luis Borges Illustrate the Author’s Obsessions


Jorge Luis Borges had many fascinations—detective nov­els, gau­chos, libraries, and labyrinths. Two promi­nent fig­ures that occu­pied his mind, the tan­go and myth­i­cal mon­sters, appear in draw­ings Borges made in his man­u­scripts. Of the tan­go, Borges did much to spread the idea that the sen­su­al Argen­tine dance orig­i­nat­ed in broth­els. In his draw­ing above of a tan­go-ing cou­ple, he writes at the top (in Span­ish): “The tan­go is a broth­el dance. Of this I have no doubt.”

Borges would repeat this claim on many occa­sions. In his 1930 biog­ra­phy of Evaris­to Car­reiego, he writes, “my infor­mants con­cur on one essen­tial fact: the tan­go orig­i­nat­ed in the broth­els.”

Why this his­to­ry so intrigued Borges I do not know, but I do know that he once col­lab­o­rat­ed with Argen­tine com­pos­er Astor Piaz­zo­la on an album of tan­gos in 1965. The draw­ing comes from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame’s spe­cial col­lec­tions (you can read a Span­ish tran­scrip­tion of the rest of the text at their site).


Above, see anoth­er of Borges’ sketch­es, this one from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s exten­sive Borges col­lec­tion. The draw­ing appears in a man­u­script titled “The Old Argen­tine Habit,” penned in 1946 and pub­lished (as “Our Poor Indi­vid­u­al­ism”) in Borges’ 1952 essay col­lec­tion Oth­er Inqui­si­tions. Accord­ing to C. Jared Lowen­stein, the draw­ing is titled in Ger­man, “Die Hydra der Dik­ta­tor” (“The Hydra of the Dic­ta­tors”) and depicts Rosas, Per­on, Mus­soli­ni, Hitler, and Marx and is signed “Jorge Luis Borges 46.” Lowen­stein writes:

The theme of the art­work is a stun­ning polit­i­cal state­ment by a writer who has often been deemed apo­lit­i­cal. It is also a remark­ably detailed draw­ing, espe­cial­ly for some­one who was los­ing his eye­sight as Borges was at this time. This mar­velous depic­tion sup­ple­ments Borges’s dec­la­ra­tion in his text that Argen­tineans see them­selves as indi­vid­u­als, not as cit­i­zens of a spe­cif­ic nation.

It is indeed a remark­ably detailed work. I only wish Borges had sup­plied illus­tra­tions for his Book of Imag­i­nary Beings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

James Joyce, With His Eye­sight Fail­ing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

Two Child­hood Draw­ings from Poet E.E. Cum­mings Show the Young Artist’s Play­ful Seri­ous­ness

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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