Borges on Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, translated from the Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

Kipling’s last stories were no less tormented and mazelike than those of Kafka or Henry James, which they doubtless surpass; but in 1885, in Lahore, the young Kipling began a series of brief tales, written in a straightforward manner, that he was to collect in 1890. Several of them—“In the House of Suddhoo,” “Beyond the Pale,” “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows”—are laconic masterpieces. It occurred to me that what was conceived and carried out by a young man of genius might modestly be attempted by a man on the borders of old age who knows his craft. Out of that idea came my new book, Doctor Brodie’s Report.

I have done my best—I don’t know with what success—to write straightforward stories. I do not dare state that they are simple; there isn’t anywhere on earth a single page or single word that is, since each thing implies the universe, whose most obvious trait is complexity. I want to make it quite clear that I am not, nor have I ever been, what used to be called a preacher of parables or a fabulist and is now known as a committed writer. I do not aspire to be Aesop. My stories, like those of the Thousand and One Nights, try to be entertaining or moving but not persuasive.

Such an intention does not mean that I have shut myself up, according to Solomon’s image, in an ivory tower. My political convictions are quite well known; I am a member of the Conservative Party—this in itself is a form of skepticism—and no one has ever branded me a communist, a nationalist, an anti-Semite, a follower of Billy the Kid or of the dictator Rosas. I believe that some day we will deserve not to have governments. I have never kept my opinions hidden, not even in trying times, but neither have I ever allowed them to find their way into my literary work, except once when I was buoyed up in exultation over the Six-Day War. The art of writing is mysterious; the opinions we hold are ephemeral, and I prefer the Platonic idea of the Muse to that of Poe, who reasoned, or feigned to reason, that the writing of a poem is an act of the intelligence. It never fails to amaze me that the classics hold a romantic theory of poetry, and a romantic poet a classical theory.

A part from the text that gives my new book its title and that obviously derives from Lemuel Gulliver’s last voyage, my stories are—to use the term in vogue today—realistic. They follow, I believe, all the conventions of that school, which is as conventional as any other and of which we shall soon grow tired if we have not already done so. They are rich in the required invention of circumstances. Splendid examples of this device are to be found in the tenth-century Old English ballad …

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