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.
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.