Jorge Luis Borges Chats with William F. Buckley on Firing Line (1977)

Despite his respect­ed facil­i­ty with the Eng­lish lan­guage, Argen­tine mas­ter crafts­man of short fic­tion Jorge Luis Borges did his best work in his native Span­ish. Though we remem­ber pro­lif­ic inter­view­er and even more pro­lif­ic writer William F. Buck­ley for his for­mi­da­ble com­mand of Eng­lish above all else, he did­n’t even learn it as his first lan­guage, start­ing in on his Eng­lish edu­ca­tion at age sev­en, hav­ing already learned Span­ish (not to men­tion French).

This must have placed him well to appre­ci­ate Borges’ writ­ing, and indeed, in his intro­duc­tion to their Fir­ing Line con­ver­sa­tion above, Buck­ley cites Borges’ rep­u­ta­tion as the great­est, most influ­en­tial writer then alive. “We met in Buenos Aires, in 1977, dur­ing the mil­i­tary jun­ta days,” Buck­ley recalls of the tap­ing in a Paris Review inter­view. “He seemed aston­ish­ing­ly frail, but he spoke with­out a pause.”

Buck­ley goes on to pro­vide many choice quotes from Borges’ answers to ques­tions about his sight (“When you are blind, time flows in a dif­fer­ent way. It flows, let’s say, on an easy slope”), his love of Amer­i­can writ­ers like Emer­son and Melville, his lan­guages (“Of course, my Latin is very rusty. But still, as I once wrote, to have for­got­ten Latin is already, in itself, a gift”), and where he finds beau­ty and art (“A man may say a very fine thing, not being aware of it. I am hear­ing fine sen­tences all the time from the man in the street, for exam­ple. From any­body”), and how he taught (“I tried to teach my stu­dents not literature—that can’t be taught—but the love of lit­er­a­ture”). For more on that last, see also “The Dag­gers of Jorge Luis Borges,” a piece on the new book Pro­fes­sor Borges: A Course on Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture, by Michael Green­berg in the New York Review of Books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 33 Vol­umes of Jorge Luis Borges’ Favorite Short Sto­ries (Read 7 Free Online)

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)

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

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

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  • Gladis Clavel Jameson Moreno says:

    I felt priv­i­leged to be able to see this extra­or­di­nary inter­view! I love and admire argen­tine writer Jorge Luis Borges, an epic trea­sure to my beloved Argenti­na.
    Also, I enjoyed to lis­ten the rich­ness of knowl­edge, wis­dom and cre­ativ­i­ty of Borges and the poise, inter­view style and excel­lent deliv­ery of William Buck­ley as well👏

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