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A Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges This interviewwhich has never appeared before in Englishwas conducted in 1984 by Professor

of Philosophy Toms braham! associate professors le"andro #$ssovich and Enri%ue &ar'! and their students in the Psychology (epartment of the )niversity of *uenos ires+ RSSOVICH: We begin. What can we say about? BORGES: In the beginning b!"eshit ba"a e#ohi$ no? RSSOVICH: B!"eshit ba"a e#ohi$ et hasha$ayin %e et ha!a"et& in the beginning Go' c"eate' the hea%ens an' the ea"th. (o the Go's c"eate'. RSSOVICH: )h *Go's+, e#ohi$ is -#u"a#. Bo"ges .nows $o"e. /#aughte"0 )BR)H)1: 2o'ay -hi#oso-hy in%ites -oet"y to a 'iscussion. We ha%e a -oet Su--ose'#y. )BR)H)1: ) su--ose' -oet then o3 who$ we can as. what "e#ationshi-s e4ist between -hi#oso-hy an' -oet"y. So$eti$e ago I sai' that -hi#oso-hy is a 3antastic b"anch o3 stu'y. But I 'i'n!t $ean anything against -hi#oso-hy on the cont"a"y, it cou#' be sai' 3o" e4a$-#e that it was e4act#y the sa$e /as -oet"y0 $aintaining that the synta4 is 3"o$ two 'istinct -#aces /an'0 that -hi#oso-hy 'ese"%es a -#ace in the o"'e" o3 aesthetics. I3 you #oo. at theo#ogy o" -hi#oso-hy as 3antastic #ite"atu"e you!## see that they a"e $uch $o"e a$bitious than the -oets. 5o" e4a$-#e what wo".s o3 -oet"y a"e co$-a"ab#e with so$ething as astonishing as S-ino&a!s go': an in3inite substance en'owe' with in3inite att"ibutes? E%e"y -hi#oso-hy c"eates a wo"#' with its own s-ecia# #aws an' these $o'e#s $ay o" $ay not be 3antastic but it 'oesn!t $atte". I!%e ente"e' into -oet"y an' a#so 3ab#es that is I!$ not a no%e#ist. I!%e "ea' %e"y 3ew no%e#s in $y #i3e, 3o" $e the 3o"e$ost no%e#ist is 6ose-h Con"a'. I!%e ne%e" atte$-te' a no%e# but I!%e t"ie' to w"ite 3ab#es. I!%e 'e'icate' $y #i3e to "ea'ing $o"e than anything an' I!%e 3oun' that "ea'ing -hi#oso-hica# te4ts is no #ess -#easant than "ea'ing #ite"a"y te4ts an' -e"ha-s the"e is no essentia# 'i33e"ence between the$. 1y 3athe" showe' $e his #ib"a"y which see$e' to $e in3inite an' he to#' $e to "ea' whate%e" I wante' but that i3 so$ething bo"e' $e I shou#' -ut it 'own i$$e'iate#y that is the o--osite o3 ob#igato"y "ea'ing. Rea'ing has to be a ha--iness an' -hi#oso-hy gi%es us ha--iness an' that is the conte$-#ation o3 a -"ob#e$. 7uincy sai' that 'isco%e"ing the -"ob#e$ is no #ess i$-o"tant than 'isco%e"ing a so#ution an' I 'on!t .now i3 any so#utions ha%e been 'isco%e"e' but $any -"ob#e$s ha%e been 'isco%e"e'. 2he wo"#' continues to be $o"e enig$atic $o"e inte"esting $o"e enchanting.

I sai' a $o$ent ago that I!%e 'e'icate' $y #i3e to "ea'ing an' w"iting. 5o" $e they a"e two e8ua##y -#easu"ab#e acti%ities. When w"ite"s ta#. about the to"tu"e o3 w"iting I 'on!t un'e"stan' it, 3o" $e w"iting is a necessity. I3 I we"e Robinson C"usoe I wou#' w"ite on $y 'ese"t is#an'. When I was young I thought about what I consi'e"e' the he"oic #i3e o3 $y $i#ita"y e#'e"s a #i3e that ha' been "ich an' $ine 2he #i3e o3 a "ea'e" so$eti$es "ash#y see$e' to $e a -oo" #i3e. (ow I 'on!t be#ie%e that, the #i3e o3 a "ea'e" can be as "ich as any othe" #i3e. Su--ose )#onso 7ui9ano ha' ne%e" #e3t his #ib"a"y o" boo.sto"e as Ce"%antes ca##e' it I be#ie%e that his #i3e "ea'ing wou#' ha%e been as "ich as when he concei%e' the -"o9ect o3 tu"ning hi$se#3 into 7ui4ote. 5o" hi$ the #atte" #i3e was $o"e "ea# 3o" $e "ea'ing about hi$ has been one o3 the $ost %i%i' e4-e"iences o3 $y #i3e. )n' now that I ha%e co$$itte' the in'ecency o3 tu"ning eighty:3i%e I con3i"$ without $e#ancho#y that $y $e$o"y is 3u## o3 %e"ses an' 3u## o3 boo.s an' I can!t see -ast the yea" ;<==>I #ost $y "ea'e"!s %ision>but i3 I thin. about $y -ast #i3e I thin. o3 cou"se about 3"ien's #o%es a#so but I thin. $ost o3 a## about boo.s. 1y $e$o"y is 3u## o3 8uotes in $any #anguages an' I thin. that "etu"ning to -hi#oso-hy that we a"e not en"iche' by its so#utions as these so#utions a"e 'oubt3u# they a"e a"bit"a"y an' -hi#oso-hy 'oes en"ich us by 'e$onst"ating that the wo"#' is $o"e $yste"ious than we thought. 2hat is what -hi#oso-hy o33e"s us isn!t a syste$. It!s not #i.e so$eone state' a conc"ete an' t"ans-a"ent -iece o3 .now#e'ge it!s a se"ies o3 'oubts an' the stu'y o3 these 'oubts is a -#easu"e. 2he stu'y o3 -hi#oso-hy can be %e"y -#easant So "esu$ing $y -"e#i$ina"y 'ig"essions I wou#' say that I 'on!t be#ie%e the"e is an essentia# 'i33e"ence between -hi#oso-hy an' -oet"y. (ow othe" 8uestions an' I ho-e I can answe" the$ with 3ewe" 'ig"essions $o"e conc"ete#y but c#ea"#y I!$ a #itt#e ne"%ous I!$ %e"y ti$i' I!$ a %ete"an o3 ti$i'ity. I was ti$i' when I was young i$agine now that I!$ eighty:3i%e I!$ se"ious#y te""i3ie'. /#aughte"0 1)R?: 1". Bo"ges you $entione' so$ething %e"y inte"esting about -hi#oso-hy an' that is its enig$atic cha"acte". )$ong the i$-o"tant -hi#oso-hica# enig$as in s-ite o3 the 3act that the"e a"e $any the"e is one I wou#' say the"e!s nothing e#se 1)R2?: )$ong these i$-o"tant enig$as one is the enig$a o3 t"uth the othe" is the enig$a o3 'eath. 5o" $e 'eath is a ho-e the i""ationa# ce"titu'e o3 being abo#ishe' e"ase' an' 3o"gotten. When I!$ sa' I thin. what 'oes it $atte" what ha--ens to a twentieth:centu"y South )$e"ican w"ite", what 'o I ha%e to 'o with a## o3 this? @ou thin. it $atte"s what ha--ens to $e now i3 to$o""ow I wi## ha%e 'isa--ea"e'? I ho-e to be tota##y 3o"gotten I be#ie%e that this is 'eath. But -e"ha-s I!$ w"ong an' what 3o##ows is anothe" #i3e on anothe" -#ane with 'istinct con'itions no #ess inte"esting than this one an' I wi## acce-t that #i3e too 9ust as I ha%e acce-te' this one. But I wou#' -"e3e" not to "e$e$be" this one in the othe" being younge". /#aughte"0 S2ABE(2: @ou say that you acce-t an' "esign you"se#3 to what #i3e gi%es you but a"e you not const"ucting this #i3e th"ough you" actions? I 'on!t be#ie%e in 3"ee wi##. In this case I!$ not const"ucting.

(ow i3 you be#ie%e in 3"ee wi## 3"ee wi## is a necessa"y i##usion. But "ega"'ing $y -ast I can acce-t that e%e"ything that I ha%e 'one has been con'itiona# u-on wo"#' histo"y u-on the enti"e cos$ic -"ocess that ca$e be3o"e. But i3 I!$ to#' in this $o$ent that I!$ not 3"ee I gi%e $yse#3 away. He"e a"e $y two han's an' I say I can choose which I!$ going to '"o- onto the tab#e an' in this $o$ent I!$ su"e but now that I!%e #et 3a## the #e3t han' how can I acce-t that this was 'ete"$ine' an' #etting the "ight 3a## wou#' ha%e been i$-ossib#e? But in what we "e3e" to as the -ast on the cont"a"y you can thin. i3 I acte' ba'#y I ha%e no "eason to "e-ent as it was a#"ea'y 'ete"$ine' an' the i'eas o3 -unish$ent an' "ewa"' both wou#' be 3a#se since e%e"ything has been -"e'ete"$ine', that 3"ee wi## 'oesn!t e4ist that e%e"ything has been con'itiona#. But this 'e-en's on the te$-e"a$ent o3 the in'i%i'ua#. Ce"ha-s those o3 you who a"e young 3ee# 3"ee wi## $o"e easi#y. )s 3o" $e it ha--ens that it!s %e"y 'i33icu#t to be#ie%e in it. S2ABE(2: @ou w"ote that the the$e o3 ti$e is one o3 the $ost i$-o"tant. Cou#' you te## $e why you be#ie%e this? I ha%e 3oun' it essentia#. 5o" e4a$-#e you can concei%e o3 the uni%e"se without s-ace since s-ace is a c"eation that owes itse#3 to touch an' sight. But we a"e going to e#i$inate touch an' sight an' we!"e going to su--ose si$-#y a conscience. 2his conscience o" these consciences>they cou#' be in3inite>$ust co$$unicate th"ough wo"'s o3 ou" own soun' o" th"ough $usic that wou#' be $o"e beauti3u# sti##. So we wou#' ha%e a -u"e#y te$-o"a# uni%e"se without s-ace. But a uni%e"se without ti$e is 3o" $e inconcei%ab#e. S2ABE(2: I3 you we"e a c"itic o3 you" wo". how wou#' you e4-#ain ce"tain sy$bo#s such as #aby"inths $i""o"s? 2he answe" is easy in the case o3 the #aby"inth: it!s the $ost e%i'ent sy$bo# o3 -e"-#e4ity. I 3ee# co$-#ete#y #ost an' the #aby"inth is an ob%ious sy$bo# o3 being #ost. (ow the $i""o" is not so easy. It!s the i'ea o3 *I + 3o" e4a$-#e what one has been an' #ate" one wi## be a thi"' -e"son it!s an as-ect o3 the $i""o". I ha%en!t chosen these the$es the the$es chose $e. I 'on!t be#ie%e that any w"ite" shou#' sea"ch 3o" the$es o" choose the$ it!s con%enient that the the$es #oo. 3o" hi$ an' 3in' hi$ In the case o3 a sto"y the beginning an' the en' a#ways "e%ea# the$se#%es to $e but not what ha--ens between the sta"ting -oint an' the 3inish #ine. 2he"e a"e w"ite"s who say that they 'on!t wo". this way that 3o" the$ the beginning is su33icient #ate" they #oo. 3o" the best en'ing the best so#ution. I .now the beginning an' the en' an' I ha%e to 3igu"e out what ha--ens between the$ 3o" the sto"y itse#3 an' I can be w"ong. So I ha%e to sta"t again when I "ea#i&e this. One has to see what t"uth the"e is in this who#e -"ocess, i3 not it wou#' be %e"y te'ious. )t $y age one 'oesn!t ha%e conte$-o"a"ies. 2hey ha%e 'ie'. I -ass a goo' -a"t o3 $y ti$e a#one but I 'on!t co$-#ain about this. I a$ -o-u#ating the ti$e with -#ans 3o" the

3utu"e a 3utu"e that can conc#u'e at any $o$ent o3 cou"se. I ha%e $any young 3"ien's but they can!t gi%e $e thei" ti$e it!s natu"a#. S2ABE(2: Ca"#os 5uentes sai' o3 Buenos )i"es that it wou#' be #o%e#y to -ut it into wo"'s an' he sai' that Bo"ges ha' 'one it. Bo you consi'e" you"se#3 a Buenos )i"es w"ite"? 5i"st I 'on!t .now i3 it!s 9ust but I than. hi$. O3 cou"se I a$ 3"o$ Buenos )i"es. I was bo"n in the cente" it!s so$ething I .now %e"y we## but it was a 'i33e"ent -#ace then. I was bo"n in 1ai-D between Es$e"a#'a an' Sui-acha. 2he who#e b#oc. was #ow houses with a 'oo" to the st"eet with a .noc.e">the"e we"e no 'oo"be##s>the ha##way the inne" 'oo" -atio we## %e"y ta## cei#ings. Buenos )i"es was %e"y 'istinct. )ctua##y the"e a"e $any -a"ts that I 'on!t .now. 5o" e4a$-#e a yea" ago I went 3o" the 3i"st ti$e in $y #i3e to the 2eat"o Co#En, I ha%e ne%e" been in Vi##a 'e# Ca"8ue in Fa Boca 'e# Riachue#o they a"e -#aces I 'on!t .now, a-a"t 3"o$ Ba""acas e# Su" e# Cent"o Ca#e"$o I 'on!t .now but the Ca#e"$o that I i$agine is so$ething that has 'isa--ea"e' that o3 E%a"isto Ca""iego. S2ABE(2: Each autho" has a $aste"-iece. What is you"s? I thin. that this is an e""o" that so$e wo". is the $aste"-iece, any wo". cou#' be. I be#ie%e that it 'e-en's on the $anne" in which an autho" is "ea'. I3 you "ea' so$ething in a 'ia"y you "ea' it with an eye towa"' obscu"ity i3 you "ea' it in a boo. you "ea' it with an eye towa"' "e$e$be"ing it. I3 the autho" is 3a$ous you go a#ong with $o"e "es-ect but the te4t cou#' be the sa$e it cou#' be e8ua##y %a#i' o" e8ua##y 3a##ib#e. I 'on!t be#ie%e that 'e3initi%e boo.s e4ist. 5u"the"$o"e -e"ha-s you ha%e to see that each gene"ation "ew"ites the g"eat o#' boo.s with its own 'ia#ect an' 3oot-"int. We!"e going to su--ose that the"e a"e ten o" twe#%e -#ots 3o" a sto"y each one has to te## itse#3 in its own way with s#ight %a"iations that a"e o3 cou"se -"ecious. Su--osing that e%e"ything has a#"ea'y been sai' is an e""o". 1o"eo%e" these boo.s ha%e been en"iche' by gene"ations o3 "ea'e"s. Without a 'oubt )#onso 7ui9ano is $o"e co$-#e4 now than when Ce"%antes i$agine' hi$ because )#onso 7ui9ano has been en"iche' we say by /1igue# 'e0 Ana$uno. Without a 'oubt Ha$#et is $o"e co$-#e4 now than when Sha.es-ea"e o"iginate' hi$, /Ha$#et0 has been en"iche' by Co#e"i'ge by B"a'#ey by Goethe by so $any -eo-#e. 2hat is the boo.s #i%e on -osthu$ous#y. Each ti$e that anyone "ea's the$ the te4t changes e%en i3 s#ight#y an' the 3act o3 being "ea' with "es-ect $a.es us see the "iches in the$ igno"e' by the autho". Ce"ha-s a goo' boo. ne%e" co""es-on's with e%e"ything the autho" set out to 'o. Ce"%antes wante' to $a.e 3un o3 boo.s on chi%a#"y an' actua##y i3 anyone "e$e$be"s Ca#$a"Gn 'e Ing#ate""a )$a'Gs 'e Gau#a 2i"ante B#anco it!s because Ce"%antes #aughe' at the$. He"nHn'e& w"ote 1a"tGn 5ie""o to -"otest the #e%y to o--ose the con8uest o3 the 'ese"t an' actua##y these the$es 3a## by the waysi'e an' he"e is 1a"tGn 5ie""o as a $an that #i%es that su33e"s that continues #i%ing an' su33e"ing 3a" beyon' what He"nHn'e& thought about hi$. I a#$ost ha%e the con%iction that e%e"y goo' boo. has been $o'i3ie' has been en"iche' by the histo"y o3 cu#tu"es

I can!t ta#. about $y boo.s. I ha%e w"itten the$ an' t"ie' to 3o"get the$. I ha%e w"itten once an' "ea'e"s ha%e "ea' $e $any ti$es no? I t"y to thin. o3 what I w"ote it!s %e"y unhea#thy to thin. about the -ast the case o3 e#egies is %e"y sa' as $uch as the case o3 co$-#aints. S2ABE(2: @ou sai' that in you" #i3e that you!%e been than.3u# 3o" ha--iness 9ust as you!%e been than.3u# 3o" -ain an' you 9usti3ie' the inc#usion o3 b#in'ness. Why a"e you than.3u# 3o" -ain an' b#in'ness? Because 3o" an a"tist an' I t"y to be one e%e"ything that ha--ens is $ate"ia# 3o" you" wo"., so$eti$es it!s %e"y 'i33icu#t. Ha--iness 'oesn!t "e8ui"e anything $o"e, it!s an en' in itse#3. Anha--iness has to be t"ans3o"$e' into so$ething e#se, it has to be e#e%ate' to beauty. 5o" an a"tist e%e"ything that ha--ens to hi$ has to be c#ay 3o" his $o#' an' he $ust t"y to 3ee# things this way e%en i3 these gi3ts $ight be at"ocities.