Monday, October 31, 2011


Jose Saramago

JOSE SARAMAGO: September 18 - George W. Bush,
or the Age of Lies

I wonder why it is that the United States, a country so great in all things, has so often had such small presidents. George W. Bush is perhaps the smallest of them all. This man, with his mediocre intelligence, abysmal ignorance, confused communication skills, and constant succumbing to the irresistible temptation of pure nonsense, has presented himself to humanity in the grotesque pose of a cowboy, who has inherited the world and mistaken it for a herd of cattle. We don't know what he really thinks, we don't even know if he does think (in the noble sense of the word), we don't know whether he might not be just a badly programmed robot that constantly confuses and switches around the messages it carries around inside it. But to give the man some credit for once in his life, there is one program in the robot George Bush, president of the United States, that works to perfection: lying. He knows he's lying, he knows we know he's lying, but being a compulsive liar, he will keep on lying even when he has the most naked truth right there before his eyes — he will keep on lying even after the truth has exploded in his face. He lied to justify waging war in Iraq just as he lied about his stormy and questionable past, and with just the same shamelessness. With Bush, the lies come from very deep down; they are in his blood. A liar emeritus, he is the high priest of all the other liars who have surrounded him, applauded him, and served him over the past few years.

George Bush expelled truth from the world, establishing the age of lies that now flourishes in its place. Human society today is contaminated by lies, the worst sort of moral contamination, and he is among those chiefly responsible. The lie circulates everywhere with impunity, and has already turned into a kind of other truth. When a few years ago a Portuguese prime minister — whose name for charity's sake I will not mention here — stated that "politics is the art of not telling the truth," he could never have imagined that some time later George W. Bush would transform this shocking statement into a naive trick of fringe politics, with no real awareness of the value or the significance of words. For Bush, politics is simply one of the levers of business, and perhaps the best one of all — the lie as a weapon, the lie as the advance guard of tanks and cannons, the lie told over the ruins, over the corpses, over humanity's wretched and perpetually frustrated hopes. We cannot be sure that today's world is more secure, but we can have no doubt that it would be much cleaner without the imperial and colonial politics of the president of the United States, George Walker Bush, and of the many — quite aware of the fraud they were perpetrating — who allowed him into the White House. History will hold them to account.

JOSE SARAMAGO: February 4 - Bankers

What can be done about the bankers? They tell us that the founders of the banking system, back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at least in Central Europe, were in general Calvinists, folk with an exigent moral code who, at least for a while, had the laudable scruple to labor honestly at their profession. That period must have been short, given the infinite power of money to corrupt. Gradually, the banks changed a great deal, and always for the worse. Now, in the midst of an economic crisis affecting financial systems around the world, we are beginning to experience the uncomfortable sensation that those who are going to come off best from the financial storms are precisely our Senhores Bankers. Everywhere governments, following the logic of the absurd, rushed to rescue the banks from losses for which, for the most part,those self-same bankers were responsible. Millions of millions left state coffers (or the accounts of the bankers' clients) in order to keep hundreds of major banks afloat and to allow them to resume one of their principal functions, that of providing credit. It would seem there are serious signs that bankers had their wits about them, abusively assuming that the money was theirs simply because it happened to be in their grasp and, as if all this weren't already more than enough, reacting coldheartedly to pressure from their governments to put the cash rapidly into circulation, the one way to save thousands of businesses from failure and millions of workers from unemployment. It is now clear that the bankers are not men to be trusted, the proof being the disdain with which they bite the hand that feeds them. (2009)

young Saramago

Born in Portugal to landless peasants 16 November 1922, and passing away in Spain 18 June 2010 at age 87, Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The above is taken from The Notebook, a year (2008-2009) in the life of a terrific blogger, published by Verso in 2010.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The Supreme Court as Nascar Drivers

For all those with queries about Occupy Wall Street and befuddled why anyone would be questioning authority ~ perhaps this Sunday New York Times article by Thomas Friedman will shed some light:



Just came in, after two-hours hand-shoveling the driveway of a near two feet of snow (the Berkshire towns Windsor and Savoy, my neighbors as a boy, had over two-feet) to homemade apple pie, scrambled eggs, hash browns, turkey bacon, mugs of orange juice and hot tea and letting all the clothes and boots dry by the woodfire before we head out in the afternoon for another round of shoveling.

The power was also restored at dawn after disappearing into the wilds of overnight. A remarkable recovery since it looked like it might be out for days.

The heavy snow arrived exactly two months to the day since Hurricane Irene. So this is what she is saying: I hope you got onto the point after the hurricane and repaired your roads and bridges and house stoops and landscape, and in the meantime got your firewood in for winter, and chopped your cabbage out of the garden, and covered what needed to be covered, because there is a new snow date in my mind since I was a boy with a snow shovel in the Berkshire Hills circa 1950s. . .then, it was November 15th have-everything-ready-for-snow. Now it's Halloween.

No foolin'.

photo © bob arnold

Saturday, October 29, 2011


University of Wisconsin Press

"My concern for and with LN will be as long as my life. Her style was neat, unaggressive without being timid or diffident. She knew what she felt and what she wanted, but she would not impose either feeling or desire on others.

Her poems are often "literary"; that is, related to her reading — but they never are merely intellectual or abstract. You can feel her delight in the experience of others and especially the language in which experience have been couched and realized. She has an exquisite ear for detail. Every word is lived. You can feel her in them. She culls them. This is provender.

She had ample cause to be selfpitying and bitter, but her letters to me show no trace of either qualification. Her complaints, when they occur, and only rarely do they occur, are clearly hard wrung and never in excess of provocation. She is unusually well-balanced in her judgements and perspicacious and particular. She is both unpredictable and characteristic. She has learned from others, but projects her own music and her own realizations. There is no sense of complacency.

She is utterly without moralizing. She is never petty. Her warmth of relation to living and dead is pervasive. It is impossible not to love her. I never saw her handwriting — with its immaculate clear modest script — without at once feeling a twinge of pleasure — at whatever she has to say. I always anticipated some shared delight, or pain — which is never unalloyed. She didn't oversimplify, but she never merely decorated. Her haiku-like brief poems are as fine as any short poems of our or any time. . . .

She is never mystical and yet one feels a certain awe at times, a profound giveness to the mysteries. Most often she reverts to some natural relation, to water or work or plants or animals or acquaintances, books and news, the sense of locality.

It aches me yet — her absence. . . .Poetry was her life and her life remains for us as poetry — thanks to her magnanimous gift."

~ from a letter, Cid Corman to Gail Roub

Lorine at the door

Once one becomes one with the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, there are no comparisons — no Emily Dickinson, no Marianne Moore, no H.D. Poets don't like to be compared. And it's becoming rather silly having to tolerate Lorine gaining an audience by forever comparing her to Emily Dickinson. In fact, the power of both was their greater unknown during their lifetimes and just watching a public come to their doors and be overwhelmed.

Poetry is all about being overwhelmed. When you are, go with it. Trust it.

Margot Peters' moving biography of Lorine Niedecker is a tremendous boost to the glory of Lorine Niedecker. There will be quibbles about the portrait from some, and that's okay and in some cases justified — Niedecker research is still a widely exploratory search into the background and earth of this poet. A poet who unlike most poets didn't grow out of an academic background and following, or even out of strictly being a poet. Like Thoreau, and here the comparison I believe is ideal, it was "to live at home like a traveler" as HDT professed and which they both did, about a century apart in time. Like Thoreau and unlike most poets, Lorine Niedecker grew out of the earth of her own private reading and the earth itself — that river swum shoreline of Blackhawk Island in Wisconsin, and except for a cereal bowl of poets as her close readers (and what poets! : Williams, Zukofsky, Bunting, Rakosi, Finlay, Creeley, Corman, J. Williams) she was almost forever alone and unknown.

The Peters' biography doesn't even begin to scratch the rural hardship and life of where Lorine Niedecker was raised, and this will be crucial one day for someone to delve into and come up good and sweet smelly; instead the portrait glides along as a proper introduction through the various stages of the poet's life and writing. And on the sticky subject and background of one Louis Zukofsky, Peters does quite well. The obstacles for privacy in the Zukofsky family tree can be daunting.

Although when you read Cid Corman's words above — and no one knew Lorine Niedecker as so alive as poet and person than Corman (he was the only one with the moxie to get her to record her poems onto a homemade tape) — I was stunned when I read Cid's letter (above) on page 257-258 of the biography, only to be followed by Peters' personal announcement on page 258: "Appreciators though they were, Corman, Bunting, and Jonathan Williams tended to underestimate her poems as subtle, frail blossoms. Zukofsky and William Carlos Williams knew better." Better? Corman and Jonathan Williams staked decades of their personal lives (probably not a penny earned) broadcasting Niedecker's poems to the four winds with the utmost care. They personally Johnny Appleseeded this poet's life, work and legacy while she was alive and long after she was gone (1970); and on top of that, they nurtured a whole next generation of poets and readers into her arms. And she was ready for them. You can make up your own minds just how much of a saint Mr. Zukofsky was to Lorine Niedecker. She loved him, and I prefer Lorine Niedecker to speak for herself.

I can imagine a poet someday coming to Lorine Niedecker the same way Genevieve Taggard held Emily Dickinson when she wrote her singular biography. As if she had the ability to speak before, during, and after the life of the poet. A haunting and forgotten book.

By page 250 and 251 of Margot Peters' biography of Lorine Niedecker I had tears in my eyes. Not saccharine, just the truth. Partly due to the aviation skills of the biographer bringing this bird depth flight of a poet down for a landing, and of course the bird herself.


If I could float my tentacles / through the deep . . . / pulsate an invisible glow


Friday, October 28, 2011



When newly awaked from lively dreams, we are so near them, still in their sphere; — give us one syllable, one feature, one hint, and we should re-possess the whole; hours of this strange entertainment and conversation would come trooping back to us; but we cannot get our hand on the first link or fibre, and the whole is forever lost. There is a strange wilfulness in the speed with which it disperses, and baffles your grasp.

Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make that man another you. One's enough.

Hitch your wagon to a star. Do the like in your choice of tasks. Let us not fag in paltry selfish tasks which aim at private benefit alone. No god will help. We shall find all the teams going the other way. Charles's Wain, the Great Bear, Orion, Leo, Hercules. Every god will leave us. Let us work rather for those interests which the gods honour and promote: justice, love, utility, freedom, knowledge.

Thoreau. Perhaps his fancy for Walt Whitman grew out of his taste for wild nature, for an otter, a woodchuck, or a loon. He loved sufficiency, hated a sum that would not prove; loved Walk and hated Alcott.

The old school of Boston citizens whom I remember in my childhood had great vigour, great noisy bodies; I think a certain sternutatory vigour the like whereof I have not heard again. When Major B. or old Mr. T.H. took out their pocket handkerchiefs at church, it was plain they meant business; they would snort and roar through their noses, like the lowing of an ox, and make all ring again.

Sam Staples yesterday had been to see Henry Thoreau. "Never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace." Thinks that very few men in Concord know Mr. Thoreau; finds him serene and happy.

The first care of a man settling in the country should be to open the face of the earth to himself by a little knowledge of Nature, or a great deal of knowledge, if he can, of birds, plants and astronomy; in short, the art of taking a walk.

Henry Thoreau (died May 6, 1862) remains erect, calm, self-subsistent, before me, and I read him not only truly in his Journal, but he is not long out of mind when I walk, and, as to-day, row upon the pond. He chose wisely no doubt for himself to be the bachelor of thought and nature that he was, — how near to the old monks in their ascetic religion! He had no talent for wealth, and knew how to be poor without the least hint of squalor or inelegance. Perhaps he fell — all of us do — into his way of living, without forecasting it much, but approved and confirmed it with later wisdom.
If there is a little strut in the style of Henry, it is only from a vigour in excess of the size of his body.

A man's connections must be looked after. If he surpasses everybody in mother wit, yet is scholar like the rest, be sure he has got a mother or father or aunt or cousin who has the uncorrupted slang of the street, the pure mind, and which is inestimable to him as spice and alterative, and which delights you in his rhetoric, like the devil's tunes when put to slow time in church-music.

The art of the writer is to speak his fact and have done. Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing, because you have omitted every word that he can spare.
You are annoyed — are you? — that your fine friends do not read you. They are better friends than you knew, and have done you the rarest service. Now write so that they must.

As people rise in the social scale, they think more of each other's opinion than of their own. And it is hard to find one who does not measure his business and daily performance from the supposed estimate. And yet, his own is the only standard. Down in the pits of hunger and want life has a real dignity, from this doing the best, instead of the seemly. The sailor on the topmost in a storm, the hunter amidst the snowdrifts, the woodman in the depth of the forest, cannot stop to think how he looks, or what London or Paris would say, and therefore his garb and behaviour have a certain dignity, like the works of Nature around him; he would as soon ask what the crows and muskrats think of him.

When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, bobolinks, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.

from The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library)

Henry David Thoreau

Each time I find another edition of Emerson's Journals, feeling right in the hand, I take it up and read from it again. Bring it home. I may have some version of the Journals in every room of our house. Not unusual, there's a lamp in every room of the house.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


(for a moment)

Lynda Barry


"Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. oil company, reported that its net income rose to $10.33 billion in the three months through September, from $7.35 billion a year earlier, helped by an increase in oil prices of about 48 percent from a year ago. "

read more:
ny times


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


We remember the white building with the mossy cedar shingles on the roof to be a bank at one time. When I wasn't looking it became an insurance company. This small building under the maple trees. Before they built the shopping center behind it, which once was a farmer's pasture. Everyone in town has their own memory of the location. What had once been there. The shopping center came in with a grocer and a Home Depot that folded up its tent in less than a year. We're in a builders region, but we all like our local hardware store. Shoo.

So when we bought our week of groceries and figured we may as well have supper off the grocer's salad bar, the only spot that looked halfway quiet in a loco area was over under the maple trees near the old white building. We'd stay in our pickup truck and have a picnic in the cab, all easy to do with the company you love. We drove over 100 feet from where we had parked and we were there. Our backs to the parking lot, facing the white building, some of the tree shade and still some of the late summer sunshine.

Except just as we were arranging our spread, a car pulled up on our driver side. Funny, who would park here? The business is all over-there. It couldn't possibly be another picnic bunch, could it?

For a moment we stopped our picnic to see what would happen. Maybe it was all a fluke and the couple was disoriented.

But no, a woman got out on the passenger side while a silhouette-figure of a man sat at the wheel. The woman hesitated a moment and then proceeded over the unmowed lawn, seemingly oblivious to the sallow look of the building, the dark windows, the poor roof. She came to the front door and found it bolted. As soon as she touched and felt the lock she shot a glance straight back to her companion who remained where he sat. In her plain and gray skirt and top, the woman returned the same way. She hesitated a moment at the car door and took another look at the building, then through the window to her companion, before opening the door and getting back inside. They didn't wait long. The car started back up and moved out toward the shopping center parking lot. But we noticed it didn't move like a car as much as it flew like a bird, as if floating on its wheels. It was so softly unusual that I had to look away, as if I wasn't sure what it was I was looking at. Hours later I would know.

For ten minutes we joyfully ate and talked and tried not to mess ourselves or the truck. Fresh fruit is always a wise choice when altering the taste of the salad bar. Neat slices of pineapple and melon.

Suddenly, right before our eyes out the windshield, a solo figure appeared at the back car port of the white building. Where cars used to drive through making their money transactions. Where the furry moss cedar shingles on the roof looked the worst. This was a young man, t-shirted, well suntanned, built and scruffy trousered, like he knew physical work and he moved about with an easy agility. His first plan of action was to peer into one of the building's windows. Nothing of course. Then he tried the window and turned away all with a split second instinct of giving a try and knowing it wasn't working. The brains and touch of hand movement. He moseyed unnoticed, except by us, across the small lawn and out from under the trees and into the parking lot where as soon as he was there, he seemed to vanish.

We were becoming full of food, lazy now with our perceptions. It wasn't dawning on us at that time we were seeing ghosts.

It was only hours later in the night asleep I woke up with a start. Yes, the first couple had perished in a house fire and they were returning to the insurance company, long after it had gone out of business. To the dead there is no end to the story. As to the solo young man — a motorcycle fatality. He had borrowed money years earlier from the bank and had business to finish up.

Try to go back to sleep.

photo & story © bob arnold
from a possible eden (longhouse)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011



George Carlin

Monday, October 24, 2011


Peter Seeger now!

The following has been sent to me now by countless friends and supporters from various sources, and I've added a few two-cents to the short piece to best flesh out the marvel of what it means to be an activist from sea to shining sea ~

Pete Seeger has spent decades protesting against war, racial inequality and unfair labor practices, and on Friday night, he lent his support -- and voice -- to the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.

After performing at New York City's Symphony Space, the legendary folk singer, using two canes, fell in with a group of roughly 1,000 protestors and marched more than 40 blocks down Broadway. Upon reaching Columbus Circle, he sang a version of 'We Shall Overcome,' one of the many up-with-the-people anthems he's helped to popularize over the years.

Joining the 92-year-old music legend were fellow folk artist Arlo Guthrie, musician grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger, bluesman Guy Davis, composer David Amram and singer-storyteller Tom Chapin. May I also include veteran activist folksinger Tom Paxton, as well. And I'm sure a few other wonders were tucked in there and kept quietly modest to it all. Many of the very best have often worked this way.
Sing out!


Geraldine Page

For starters, F. Murray Abraham when presenting Geraldine Page with her Oscar for best actress in The Trip to Bountiful said to the world, "I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language." This was finally said to her in public the year before she died at age 62 in 1987 of a heart attack.

For a sample of what Abraham means, just take a look at three films by this supreme method actress: Hondo (1953), Summer and Smoke (1961) and The Trip to Bountiful (1985). No one played Tennessee Williams finer, and we haven't even reached into her more legendary place on the stage. She passed away while hard at work on Broadway with Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit.

Geraldine Sue Page was born in Missouri on November 22, 1924 and was gone June 13, 1987. Her husband, the father of her three children and right with her to the end, is the actor Rip Torn. They delighted in the fact they called their country estate Torn Page.

the academy awards

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Charles Bukowski being shunned and his response:
thanks, gerard

Saturday, October 22, 2011



Another eastener kid (Baltimore) who came west and drew out remarkable music and songs to the lay of the land. In Robbie's hands it was all ragas.

Orphaned as an infant, Daniel Robinson, Jr. changed his name in the late 50s to Basho in honor of Matsuo Basho, the Japanese poet. He picked up his first guitar at the same time and moved quickly through various styles and techniques from the American blues and folk to a deep interest and study in eastern thought and music, taking his beloved 12-string guitar drone and tone closer to a sarod than most anyone. India and the North American Indian was much in his heart.

His first album appeared on John Fahey's Takoma label in 1965 and I highly recommend all the albums.

I'm concentrating here mainly off his ravishing Visions of the Country, from Windham Hill, where he also released a stunning album of classical 12-string compositions from the label.

Some say he was never long with this world, and may have even died a virgin. Thirty years ago he would write to me handwritten letters on his pad of yellow, lined stationary, often including his poems influenced by the American Indian. Money was always a problem, his health wasn't right, he never had a driver's license. Somehow he got east a few years before he passed away, way too young, and played a date one summer night in the small town of Buckland, Massachusetts. If you were there, you haven't forgotten.

Robbie Basho was born August 31, 1940 and died Feb 28, 1986 after a freak accident in the hands of his chiropractor. Apparently blood vessels in his neck were ruptured during a procedure which led to a fatal stroke.

Friday, October 21, 2011


The way
takes down
their leader
Che Guevara
was murdered
and shown

There are
no lessons

The bad
get worse
no matter
which side
of the

It seems
one is
or killed

Or dutifully


Friend, activist and filmmaker Laki Vazakas just sent this fresh off his fingertips.


I shot this on Monday afternoon in Zuccotti Park. If you look closely, one of your books is visible.

All Best,


film © laki vazakas

Thanks, Laki!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

(for pennies)

what my grandmas
and neighborhood
elder wise women
always told me
as a boy



A man signs a huge banner during "Occupy DC" anti-corporations protest at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. Oct. 10, 2011.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Mario Vargas Llosa

from The Fictions of Borges

When I was a student, I had a passion for Sartre, and I firmly believed in his notion that the writer's commitment was to his own times and to society in which he lived, that "words were actions," and that through writing a man or woman could influence history. Today, such ideas seem naive and even tedious — we live in an age of smug skepticism about the power of literature as well as history — but in the 1950s the notion that the world could be changed for the better, and that literature should contribute to this, struck many of us as both persuasive and exciting.

By then, Borges' influence was beginning to be felt beyond the small circle of admirers who read his work in the Argentine literary magazine Sur. In a number of Latin American cities, ardent followers fought over the rare editions of his books as if they were treasure and learned by heart those visionary random lists, or catalogues, that inhabit Borges' pages — the particularly beautiful one from "The Aleph," for instance — and tried to incorporate in their work not only his labyrinths, tigers, mirrors, masks, and knives but also his strikingly original use of adjectives and adverbs.

In Lima, the first of these Borges enthusiasts I came across was a friend and contemporary with whom I shared my books and literary dreams. Borges was always an inexhaustible topic of discussion. In a clinically pure way, he stood for everything Sartre taught me to hate: the artist retreating from the world around him to take refuge in a world of intellect, erudition, and fantasy; the writer looking down on politics, history, and day-to-day reality, while shamelessly displaying his skepticism and wry disdain for everything that was not literature; the intellectual who not only allowed himself to treat ironically the dogmas and utopias of the left but who took his own iconoclasm to the extreme of joining the Conservative Party and breezily justifying this move by claiming that gentlemen prefer lost causes.

In our discussions, I tried to show with all the Sartrean malice I could command that an intellectual who wrote, spoke, and behaved the way Borges did somehow shared responsibility for all the world's social ills. That his stories and poems were little more than
bibelots d' inanite sonore, mere trinkets of high sounding emptiness, and that History with its terrible sense of justice — which progressives wield, as it suits them, like an executioner's ax or a gambler's marked card — would one day give him his just deserts. But once the arguments were over, in the solitude of my room or the library — like the fanatical puritan of Somerset Maugham's Rain, who gives in to temptation of the flesh he renounces — I found Borges' spell irresistible. I would read his stories, poems, and essays in utter amazement; and the adulterous feeling I had that I was betraying my mentor Sartre added a perverse pleasure.

I have been somewhat fickle in my literary passions; and nowadays when I reread many of the writers who were once my models, especially during adolescence, I find them boring — Sartre included. But the secret, sinful passion I harbored for Borges' work has never faded, and rereading him, which I have done from time to time like a believer performing a sacred ritual, has always been a happy experience. Only recently, I read all his work again, one piece after the other, and once more I marveled — exactly as I had done the first time — at his elegant and limpid prose, the refinement of his stories, the excellence of his craftsmanship. I am quite aware of how ephemeral literary assessments can be, but in Borges' case we can quite justifiably state that he is the most important thing to happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times, and one of the most memorable artists of our age.

I also believe that the debt we who write in Spanish owe to Borges is enormous. That includes even those of us, like myself, who have never written a story of pure fantasy or felt any particular affinity with ghosts and doubles, with infinite, or with the metaphysics of Schopenhauer. For Latin American writers, Borges heralded the end of a kind of inferiority complex that inhibited us, unwittingly of course, from broaching certain subjects and that kept us imprisoned in a provincial outlook. Before Borges, it seemed a piece of foolhardiness of self-delusion for one of us to feel at home in a larger world culture, in the way that a European or a North American might.

A handful of Latin American
modernista poets had previously done so, of course, but their attempts — even in the case of the most famous among them, Rubén Dario — smacked of pastiche or whimsicality, something akin to a superficial, slightly frivolous journey through a foreign land. Latin American writers had forgotten what our classical writers like Inca Garcilaso or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz never doubted — that through language and history they were part and parcel of Western culture, not mere amanuenses or colonials but a legitimate part of that tradition, ever since Spaniards and Portuguese, four and a half centuries earlier, extended the frontiers of Western culture to the southern hemisphere. With Borges, this engagement became possible once more. But at the same time, Borges' work was proof that being part of this broader cultural history took nothing away from a Latin American writer's sovereignty or originality.

Few European writers have assimilated the legacy of the West as completely and thoroughly as this poet and storyteller from the periphery. Who among Borges' contemporaries handled with such ease Scandinavian myths, Anglo-Saxon poetry, German philosophy, Spain's Golden Age literature, the English poets, Dante, Homer, and the myths and the legends of the Far and Middle East that Europeans translated and gave to the world? But this did not make Borges European. I remember the surprise of my students at Queen Mary College in the University of London during the 1960s — we were reading ficciones and El Aleph — when I told them that some Latin Americans accused Borges of being Europeanized, of being more than a little English writer. They could not see why. To them, this writer, and whose stories so many different countries, ages, themes, and cultural references are intertwined, seemed as exotic as the cha-cha-cha, which was all the rage at the time. They were not wrong. Borges was not a writer imprisoned within national tradition, as European writers are often, and this facilitated his journeys through cultural space, in which, thanks to the many languages he knew, he moved with consummate ease.

This cosmopolitanism, this eagerness to be a master of such a far-ranging cultural sphere, this desire to invent a past for oneself in dialogue with the outside, was a way of being profoundly Argentine — which is to say, Latin American. But in Borges' case, his intense involvement with European literature was also a way of shaping his own personal geography, a way of being Borges. Through his broad interests and his private demons he was weaving a fabric of great originality, made up of strange combinations in which the prose of Stevenson and The Arabian Nights, translated by Englishmen and Frenchmen, appear alongside Gauchos out of Martin Fierro and characters from Icelandic Sagas, and in which two old-time hoodlums, from a Buenos Aires more imagined than remembered, fight with knives in a quarrel which seems like the extension of a medieval dispute that results in death by fire of two Christian theologians. Against the unique Borgesian backdrop, the most heterogeneous creatures and events parade — just as they do, in "The Aleph," in Carlos Argentino Daneri's cellar. But in contrast to what takes place on that tiny passive screen, which can reveal the elements of the universe only at random, in Borges' work every element and every being is brought together. Filtered through a single point of view, and given individual character through verbal expression.

Here is another area in which Latin American writers owe much to the example of Borges. Not only did he prove to us that an Argentine could speak with authority on Shakespeare and create convincing stories set in Aberdeen, but he also revolutionized the tradition of his literary language. Note that I said "example" and not "influence." To the extent that Borges' prose has "influential," it has — because of its wild originality — wrecked havoc among countless admirers, in whose work the use of certain images or verbs or adjectives established by him turns into mere parody. This is the most readily detectable influence, for Borges was one of the writers who managed completely to put his own personal stamp on the Spanish language. "Word music" was his term for it, and it is as distinctive in him as it is in the most illustrious of our classical writers — namely, Quevedo, whom Borges admired, and Gongora, whom he did not. Borges' prose is so recognizable to the ear that often in someone else's work a single sentence or even a simple verb (conjeturar, for example, or fatigar use transitively) becomes a clear giveaway of Borges' influence.

Borges made a profound impression on Spanish literary prose, as before him Rubén Dario had on poetry. The difference between them is that Dario imported and introduced from France a number of mannerisms and themes that he adapted to his own world and to his own idiosyncratic style. To some extent, all this expressed the feelings (and at times the snobbery) of a particular period and a certain social milieu. Which is why his devices could be used by some many without his followers losing their individual voices. The Borges revolution was personal. It represented him alone, and only in a vague, roundabout way was it connected with the setting in which he was formed and which in turn he helped crucially to form — that of the magazine Sur. Which is why in anyone else's hands Borges' style comes across as caricature.

Mario Vargas Llosa
from Wellsprings
(Harvard University Press 2008)

Jorge Luis Borges and friend


Not by morning light, not when day has come, and not even at night do we really see the city. Morning is an overwhelming blue, a swift and massive surprise spanning the sky, a crystallizing, a lavish outpouring of sunlight that piles up in squares, smashes mirrors with fictitious stones, and lowers long insinuations of light down wells. The day is a playing field for our endeavors or for our idleness, and there is only room for them on their usual chessboard. The night is a truncated miracle: the crowning moment of wan streelights, when palpable objectivity becomes less insolent and less solid. The dawn is an infamous, dragged-out affair, because it conceals the great plot arranged to set right everything that fell apart ten hours before. It goes about straightening streets, decapitating lights, and repainting colors exactly where they were the previous afternoon. Finally, we — with the city already hanging on our necks and the abyssal day yoked to our shoulders — have to give in to the mad plenitude of its triumph and resign ourselves to having yet another day riveted to our souls.

Now for the afternoon: the dramatic altercation and conflict between the visible and the shadows. It's as if visible things begin twisting, going insane. After weakens us, eats away at us, abuses us, but because of its persistence the streets recover their human meaning, their tragic meaning of volition that manages to last in time, time whose very essence is change. The afternoon perturbs the day, and for that reason it agrees with us, because we too are perturbed. The late afternoon prepares the easy decline of our spiritual electricity. It's by force of afternoons that the city goes about entering us.

Jorge Luis Borges,
from Inquisitions (1925)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


thank you, Kim for sharing