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center of Latin America back then, he led the life of a young literary iconoclast about town; with like-minded pals, he founded flimsily printed literary magazines and broke ranks with what was seen by them as the thoroughly sleepy older generation of Argentine writers. But much of his own earliest published workin the poetry collections Fervor of Buenos Aires Moon Across the Way tional and marked by a sweet regard for his homeland. It’s lovely verse, actually, where a scene as simple as a pink corner grocery store, let’s say, encountered at sunrise in a dusty Buenos Aires suburb after walking alone all night, can emerge as a revealing tableau, inviting quiet contemplation. A bachelor for the better part of his life, he was prone to falling hopelessly in love with a number of Buenos Aires beauties, sometimes upper-class types. They often saw him as a good literary companion but not necessarily marriage material. He was hurrying to a date with a young woman in 1938 when he stumbled on apartment stairs, the gash in his skull becoming badly infected and resulting in blood poisoning. There was an operation followed by weeks of hospitalization; he suffered dangerous hallucinatory fevers and temporary speech failure, with the fear of mental impairment. Afterwards, to test if he still had his full faculties and almost as a cerebral exercise, he thought he would try writing not poetry but something new for him, a short story that incorporated some of the sticky conundrums of metaphysics that he had already explored in essays \(his later essay “A New Refutation of Time” remains a tour-de-force attack on the The result was “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” In the story, a rather dabbling contemporary writer in Nimes, France sets out to not rewrite Cervantes’ masterpiece but to create it exactly word for word as the product of his own imagination; which he does, showing how any great book, with the powerful magic of language therein, maybe has a undeniable separate existence, independent of even the author. Borges said the story was a breakthrough for him, and in a subsequent burst of creativity that lasted a decade or so, he turned out a couple of dozen more stories in the same vein and equally as challenging. “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” deals with the history and customs of an imaginary world that is proved to be not imaginary because it is documented as real in a real encyclopedia. And “The Library of Babel” is about a limitless mythical library of many hexagonal galleries, where, among other peculiarities, one book only leads to another about that book, and that to another about it, and so on, for what some critics today see as a prophesying of the whole seemingly infinite universe of information that we currently call the Computer Age. This was fiction that in form and content ventured beyond not only traditional realism, which suddenly looked as pass as a backfiring Model T, but also the writing of daringly innovative practitioners like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, both of whom Borges admired and translated. With Borges, creative narrative progressed in one vertiginous flying leap from the still emotional tenor of modernism to the hauntingly intellectual one of postmodernism. The earlier of these stories were gathered together in the seminal volume Fictions in 1944, with the collection The Aleph following in 1949, though the work wasn’t to be recognized much beyond the Southern Cone for a while. During those years, Borges lived with his widowed mother in a modest Buenos Aires apartment. He supported himself as an assistant librarian at a branch library in a bleak end of the city. Often shy in public, he was nevertheless a vocal opponent of Colonel Juan Domingo Peron \(Borges’ mother and adult sister themselves were once arrested for demonstrating against the thuggish dictator and his locally besainted he resigned from the assistant librarian job when Peronist flunkiesfor a cruel joke, the way Borges saw itattempted to reassign him to another government position, as inspector of poultry and rabbits in the city’s Calle Cordoba public marketplace. However, in a fitting and dramatic reversal of fortune once Peron was at last bounced out in 1955, Borges was named director of Argentina’s National Library, the equivalent of our Library of Congress; he held the prestigious post for almost 20 years. Though his most significant writing was probably accomplished before he was 50, he kept producing stories, essays and poetry, dictating when older after he lost his sight. Eventually, his work was translated and loudly praised abroad. The first to do so, as is often the case, were the spookily insightful French, who, it should be remembered, also rescued both Poe and Faulkner from impending oblivion. Borges was the acknowledged spiritual godfather for the whole 1960s1970s generation of dazzling American experimenters in fiction, including John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Coover. In fact, he soon became sort of an icon for the new and culturally hip in general, and in the 1970 movie Performance, leading man Mick Jagger is TEXAS by Jorge Luis Borges Here too. Here as at the other edge Of the hemisphere, an endless plain Where a man’s cry dies a lonely death. Here too the Indian, the lasso, the wild horse. Here too the bird that never shows itself, That sings for the memory of one evening Over the rumblings of history; Here too the mystic alphabet of stars Leading my pen over the page to names Not swept aside in the continual Labyrinth of days: San Jacinto And that other Thermopylae, the Alamo. Here too the never understood, Anxious, and brief affair that is life. translated by Mark Strand from Selected Poems of Borges, Viking, 1999 1/7/05 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17