Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.
Jorge Luis Borges
Perhaps it is Jorge Luis Borges’ most famous quote because it is the epitome of his grand theme that runs through much of the famous Argentine author’s work. Borges work captures dreams, labyrinths, libraries, animals, fictional writers, religion and God, dancing around this idea that all of the world can be deduced into one powerful thought, that everything around us is connected, juxtaposed and paradoxical.
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In his short story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which was published in 1941, years before the electromagnetic digital computer, Borges describes a “hypertext novel,” the concept that a novel can be read in multiple ways as if “forking paths through networks of time.” Today, Google celebrates Borges’ 112th birthday.
“Wishing Jorge Luis Borges a happy 112th birthday!” Google tweeted this morning, adding a well-known Borges quote: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
In case you’ve never heard of the man, allow me to distill a brief biography of his life for you: Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires on August 24th, 1899, but spent his formative years traveling with his family in Spain and studying in Switzerland. He returned to Argentina with his family in the 1920s, and began to write with a flair for surrealism. He published his first collection of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires in 1923.
By the mid-1930s, Borges worked in a style often called “irreality,” influenced by philosophers such as Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. Borges quickly gained notoriety writing for a literary journal named Sur and worked with several other famous intellectuals of this time including Adolfo Bioy Casares and Macedonio Fernández in Buenos Aires. In 1938, Borges’s father died, which shook the writer to his core. On Christmas Eve that year, he suffered a severe head injury and nearly died during treatment. While recovering from the accident, Borges began playing with a new style of writing, a dreamy, magical surrealism captured in his most famous short story collections: Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949).
In his early 30s, Borges began to loose his vision and was unable to support himself as a writer, so he began a new career as a public lecturer. By 1950, Borges was completely blind.
Nadie rebaje a lágrima o reproche
esta declaración de la maestría
de Dios, que con magnífica ironía
me dio a la vez los libros y la noche.
No one should read self-pity or reproach
Into this statement of the majesty
Of God; who with such splendid irony,
Granted me books and blindness at one touch.
Borges spent the later years of his life continuing to publish books, lecturing prolifically, holding various high ranking positions in academia, winning a plethora of awards, all under the care of his mother until she died at the age of 99. From 1975 until the time of his death, Borges traveled internationally with his personal assistant María Kodama, an Argentine woman of Japanese and German ancestry. They were married just a few months before his death, via an attorney in Paraguay.
Writer J. M. Coetzee described Borges as follows: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”
Borges died of liver cancer in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986 and was buried there in the Cimetière des Rois. But if he were still alive today, it’d be his 112th birthday. Thanks to Google and the Internet, we are graciously reminded of the great author’s life, almost as if he were returning through the hypertext space to come back and say ‘hola‘. If anything you’ve read above has piqued your interest, I highly suggest starting with Borges’ short stories (in Spanish if you’re able to), in a park laying in the sunshine in Buenos Aires, if it suits you.