February 9, 2008


A Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges: Translated by Jennifer Acker (Habitus)

This interview—which has never appeared before in English—was conducted in 1984 by Professor of Philosophy Tomás Abraham, associate professors Alejandro Rússovich and Enrique Marí, and their students in the Psychology Department of the University of Buenos Aires.

[BORGES:] Sometime ago I said that philosophy is a fantastic branch of study. But I didn’t mean anything against philosophy, on the contrary; it could be said, for example, that it was exactly the same [as poetry] maintaining that the syntax is from two distinct places, [and] that philosophy deserves a place in the order of aesthetics. If you look at theology or philosophy as fantastic literature, you’ll see that they are much more ambitious than the poets. For example, what works of poetry are comparable with something as astonishing as Spinoza’s god: an infinite substance endowed with infinite attributes?

Every philosophy creates a world with its own special laws, and these models may or may not be fantastic, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve entered into poetry, and also fables, that is, I’m not a novelist. I’ve read very few novels in my life; for me the foremost novelist is Joseph Conrad. I’ve never attempted a novel, but I’ve tried to write fables. I’ve dedicated my life to reading more than anything, and I’ve found that reading philosophical texts is no less pleasant than reading literary texts, and perhaps there is no essential difference between them.

My father showed me his library, which seemed to me infinite, and he told me to read whatever I wanted, but that if something bored me I should put it down immediately, that is, the opposite of obligatory reading. Reading has to be a happiness, and philosophy gives us happiness, and that is the contemplation of a problem. Quincy said that discovering the problem is no less important than discovering a solution, and I don’t know if any solutions have been discovered, but many problems have been discovered. The world continues to be more enigmatic, more interesting, more enchanting.

I said a moment ago that I’ve dedicated my life to reading and writing. For me they are two equally pleasurable activities. When writers talk about the torture of writing, I don’t understand it; for me writing is a necessity. If I were Robinson Crusoe I would write on my desert island. When I was young I thought about what I considered the heroic life of my military elders, a life that had been rich, and mine… The life of a reader, sometimes rashly, seemed to me a poor life. Now I don’t believe that; the life of a reader can be as rich as any other life. Suppose Alonso Quijano had never left his library, or bookstore, as Cervantes called it, I believe that his life reading would have been as rich as when he conceived the project of turning himself into Quixote. For him the latter life was more real, for me reading about him has been one of the most vivid experiences of my life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2008 5:49 PM
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