Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Jorge Luis Borges on Writing

Jorge Luis Borges' influence on modern writing is immeasurable. It is so ubiquitous that many authors don't even realise that what they are writing is Borgesian. (From Brain Pickings: 'Jorge Luis Borges was the most celebrated and influential Latin-American author of the twentieth century ... In 1972, when Borges was in his seventies and completely blind, a bright and earnest young Argentinian man of letters by the name of Fernando Sorrentino, only thirty at the time, sat down with the beloved author for seven afternoons ... Published in 1974 as Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (public library) ... (it) couldn’t be commercially distributed until the overthrow of Isabel Perón in 1976 ...')
Here are some extracts, but you should really read all of it. (I found some parts really funny.)

  • Writing as amusement: A writer’s work is the product of laziness, you see. A writer’s work essentially consists of taking his mind off things, of thinking about something else, of daydreaming, of not being in any hurry to go to sleep but to imagine something . . . And then comes the actual writing, and that’s his trade. That is, I don’t think the two things are incompatible. Besides, I think that when one is writing something that’s more or less good, one doesn’t feel it to be a chore; one feels it to be a form of amusement.
  • Literary schools; I no longer believe in literary schools now; I believe in the individual.
  • Psychological literature: I believe in psychological literature, and I think that all literature is fundamentally psychological.
  • Anecdotes and jokes: Each year a person hears four or five anecdotes that are very good, precisely because they’ve been worked on. Because it’s wrong to suppose that the fact that they’re anonymous means they haven’t been worked on. On the contrary, I think fairy tales, legends, even the off color jokes one hears, are usually good because having been passed from mouth to mouth, they’ve been stripped of everything that might be useless or bothersome. So we could say that a folk tale is a much more refined product than a poem by Donne or by Góngora or by Lugones, for example, since in the second case the piece has been refined by a single person, and in the first case by hundreds.
  • Shakespeare: I think of Shakespeare above all as a craftsman of words. For example, I see him closer to Joyce than to the great novelists, where character is the most important thing.
  • Publishing: Alfonso Reyes said that one published what he had written in order to avoid spending his life correcting it: one publishes a book in order to leave it behind, one publishes a book in order to forget it.
  • Ageing: To reach the point of writing in a more or less uncluttered manner, a more or less decorous manner, I’ve had to reach the age of seventy.
  • Judging a writer: A writer should always be judged by his or her best pages.
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