Dear professor Edwin Williamson,

 

It was with great pleasure that I read your book Borges: a Life (Brazilian edition, Cia. das Letras, launched in Brazil in 2011).[1] In addition to the extremely intelligent and insightful biography and literary review, this reading interested me profoundly because it confirmed many of the thoughts and opinions I had while reading the Complete Works by Jorge Luis Borges (editor EMECE, Barcelona, 1996).

 

Above all, I was greatly interested by your point that Borges sustained during a long period of his life the desire to write an autobiographic work that would justify all his literature and all his life. As asserted in your Borges biography, there are innumerable times when Borges mentioned the desire or the project to write “a single page, a single poem, a single book – an authentic masterpiece – that would be enough to justify the life of a writer”[2].

 

In your book you assert that The Congress was the text that Borges developed with this intent or, at least, nourished for almost four decades the intent to do so. Thus, I would like to ask you:

 

Do you not believe that, for a writer of Borges’ stature, developing a project over four decades of a complete work that would justify all his previous pages and all his life, would result in something more scathing than simply the short story The Congress? Not wanting to debunk the merit of this short story, do you not think that a secret novel, encompassing from the first to the last page his Complete Works, would be a more exact and eloquent endeavor for an author such as Jorge Luis Borges? I am posing this question because, upon reading the Complete Works by Jorge Luis Borges, I became convinced that Borges wrote in the Complete Works – volumes 1 to 3 – an enigmatic book, written in an encrypted manner, that would have to be deciphered by future readers and represents the book that Borges dreamt of for so long that would justify his life.

 

Does it not seem plausible to you that Borges would have written “an organic and continuous book, beginning with images of mornings, the rose and the nightingale, and ending with images of the night and the grave?”[3]. A book constructed from a platonic and pantheistic intuition of reality that abolished from its protagonists the irreducible and unassimilable notion of individuals – and constructed them as Keats´ nightingale and Schopenhauer´s cat – where their reality is not in the individuals, but in their infinite repetitions, the genres, the classes and the abstractions.

 

Herein I formulate the hypothesis that the Complete Works of Borges are that autobiographic work that you described in your biography about Borges, a work that would justify Borges´ life and would represent a platonic universe, an ordered cosmos, whose author is a pantheistic God that dreams up the universe (the work), and whose secret order can only be seen per speculum in aenigmate.

 

 

I consider that some observations made in your biography about Borges corroborate my hypothesis. The first is that Borges re-wrote many of his texts, re-adapted them and excluded vast sections of his previous production to, in my view, fit them into his design for his masterpiece, the Complete Works.

 

As you ably describe in the introduction to Borges: A Life, “Borges’ career presented itself full of hiatuses, discontinuities and unknowns”, and you cunningly asks “Why did he try to conceal or disguise the writings from youth?”[4]

 

Another observation of yours that meets this hypothesis is that Borges commented many times during his existence on his intention to write a book “where all my previous books would be involved, a new book, but that would summarize and be, beyond this, the conciliation of all I have written up to now….”[5]

 

As you yourself assert, “in my view, around 1940, he had the idea of a new Beatriz that would give him what Norah promised but never fulfilled: a love that would inspire him to write the autobiographic masterpiece to justify his life as man and writer.”[6] As we all know, this new Beatriz never appeared in Borges’ life, but that did not seem to deter his intention to write this great work, about which he wrote vast fragments throughout his literary production, of which I highlight some below:

 

 

“So complex is reality, and so fragmentary and simplified is history, that an omniscient observer could write an indefinite, almost infinite, number of biographies of a man, each emphasizing different facts; we would have to read many of them before we realized that the protagonist was the same man”; “As long as an author merely relates events or traces the slight deviations of a conscience, we can confuse him with the universe or with God”; “Work that endures is always capable of an infinite and plastic ambiguity; it is all things for all men, like the Apostle; it is a mirror that reflects the reader’s own features and it is also a map of the world. Moreover, all this must come about in an evanescent and modest way, almost in spite of the author, who must appear to be ignorant of any and all symbolism” (p. 110); “Furthermore, (…) the disorder, the incoherence and the variety are not inaccessible, but it is indispensable that they are governed by a secret order that is discovered gradually.” (p. 161) (Outras Inquisições, Cia das Letras).[7]

 

 

Ts´ui Pên diria una vez: Me retiro a escribir un libro. Y otra: Me retiro a construir un laberinto. Todos imaginaron dos obras; nadie pensó que libro y laberinto eran un solo objeto…Se enclaustró durante trece años en el Pabellón de la Límpida Soledad. A su muerte, los herederos no encontraron sino manuscritos caóticos.” (El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan)[8]

 

 

La noción panteísta de un Dios que también es el universo, de un Dios que es cada una de sus criaturas y el destino de esas criaturas, es quizá una herejía y un error si la aplicamos a la realidad, pero es indiscutible en su aplicación al poeta y a su obra. El poeta es cada uno de los hombres de su mundo ficticio, es cada soplo y cada pormenor. Una de sus tareas, no la más fácil, es ocultar o disimular esa omnipresencia.” (Nueve ensayos dantescos).[9]

Escribirás el libro con el que hemos soñado tanto tiempo. Hacia 1979 comprenderás que tu supuesta obra no es otra cosa que una serie de borradores, de borradores misceláneos, y cederás a la vana y supersticiosa tentación de escribir tu gran libro. La superstición que nos ha infligido el Fausto de Goethe, Salammbô, el Ulysses. Llené, increíblemente, muchas páginas.

– Y al final comprendiste que habías fracasado.

– Algo peor: Comprendí que era una obra maestra en el sentido más abrumador de la palabra. (…)

Publicaste ese libro?

– Jugué, sin convicción, con el melodramático propósito de destruirlo, acaso por el fuego. Acabé por publicarlo en Madrid, bajo un seudónimo. Se habló de un torpe imitador de Borges, que tenía el defecto de no ser Borges y de haber repetido lo exterior del modelo.”

(Veinticinco de agosto, 1983)[10]

 

 

The idea that the works by Jorge Luis Borges was just one work had already been developed, moreover, by various authors. “Intentar una antología de Jorge Luis Borges como ésta es admitir ser derrotado desde el comienzo. Pocas obras son tan íntimamente una como las de este escritor argentino”, was already asserted by Emir Rodríguez Monegal in his introduction to the anthology of texts about Jorge Luis Borges that he organized[11]. And Octavio Paz considered him “the creator of a unique work, founded on the vertiginous theme of the absence of work”.[12]

 

We need to slightly modify some terms in Paz´s proposition to make it more exact: Jorge Luis Borges was the creator of a unique work, founded on the vertiginous theme of the work itself, apparently nonexistent and never named, hidden at the center of its labyrinth. “Omitir siempre una palabra, recurrir a metáforas ineptas y a perífrasis evidentes, es quizá el modo más enfático de indicarla”.[13]

 

As Davi Arriguci Jr. asserts, “it became commonplace among critics to see him as an author of a hallucinated vision of the universe, an artist of language centered on himself and always isolated from the real, placed beyond immediate circumstances, hovering over an abstract universalism, rather phantasmal (…) In Borges, on the contrary, the difficulty lies in critically comprehending the particular ballast of ostensible universalism. (…) A fictional universe whose concrete moorings exist, but are hidden or stripped in imaginary situations and specific positions in the work, diagrammatic and abstract.”[14]

 

If we consider his Complete Works as one masterpiece, this particular ballast whose absence every Jorge Luis Borges reader resents becomes evident, especially by the underlying autobiographical content. This autobiographical underlying content having well being pointed out by you in your biography of the author in various moments.

 

Based on the foregoing, I send you a brief narration that I wrote on the subject. This essay is exclusively the fruit of my interest as a reader and a person that appreciates and loves literature, but is not a specialist on the subject. I would very much appreciate the opinion of a Borges´expert on it. Furthermore, I am entirely at your disposal for further clarifications as needed.

 


[1]Williamson, Edwin. Borges: uma vida. Companhia das Letras, 2011.

[2]Free translation from the Portuguese edition of Williamson, Edwin. Borges: uma vida, pg. 183.

[3] Free translation from the Portuguese edition of Borges, J. L. Otras Inquisiciones: ‘O enigma de Edward Fitzgerald’, Outras Inquisições, Companhia das Letras, 2006.

[4] Free translation from the Portuguese edition of Williamson, Edwin. Borges, a Life, pg. 13.

[5] Noticias graficas, 6 de setembro de 1955, pg. 5. Included in Textos recobrados, 1931-1955, pg. 371 ´19 July 19th, 1955.

[6] Free translation from the Portuguese edition of  Williamson, Edwin. Borges: A Life. Companhia das Letras, 2011, pg. 287

[7] Free translations from the Portuguese edition of Borges, J. L. Otras Inquisiciones, Cia. Das Letras.

[8] Borges, J. L. Obras Completas, pg. 476, v. I, Emecé Editores. Barcelona, 1996

[9] Borges, J. L. Obras Completas, pg. 344, v. III, Emecé Editores. Barcelona, 1996

 

[10] Borges, J. L. Obras Completas, pg. 377, v. III. Emecé Editores. Barcelona, 1996

[11]Monegal, Emir Rodríguez. ‘Introducción’. In Edward Fitzgerald, Jorge Luis. Ficcionario. Tierra Firme – Fondo de Cultura Econômica: México, 1985.

[12] Paz, Octavio. Corriente Alterna. Siglo Veintiuno Editores: México, 1970.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: