Reading Borges after Benjamin : allegory, afterlife, and the by Benjamin, Walter; Borges, Jorge Luis; Jenckes, Kate;

By Benjamin, Walter; Borges, Jorge Luis; Jenckes, Kate; Benjamin, Walter; Borges, Jorge Luis

Together with unique readings of a few of Benjamin's most interesting essays, this booklet examines a sequence of Borges's works as allegories of Argentine modernity.

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Yet rather than accepting or defending this structure, Borges reveals its limits, indicating a history that is not contained by the engraved names or the “fechas fatales,” and he begins his poems, rather than on the solid ground of his own origins, resolved to “listen to, read, or think” an anteriority that is not comprehended by this kind of sepulchral rhetoric. The theme of a sepulchral rhetoric reappears several times throughout the poems. In Fervor de Buenos Aires, three poems after “La Recoleta” name the theme in their titles: “Inscripción sepulcral” (“Sepulchral Inscription”), “Inscripción en cualquier sepulcro” (“Inscription on Any Sepulcher”), and “Remordimiento por cualquier muerte” (“Remorse for Any Death”).

At first glance, Sarlo’s description seems convincing. But if we examine the poems and essays where the orillas are mentioned, we see that they do not serve to represent a firm foundation of identity. Borges describes the orillas as an uncertain region where the city borders on the unknown. One poem describes them thus: “las orillas, palabra que en la tierra pone el azar del agua” (“the orillas, word which puts the randomness of water into the earth,” OP 82). In Evaristo Carriego, he writes, “El término las orillas cuadra con sobrenatural precisión a esas puntas ralas, en que la tierra asume lo indeterminado del mar y parece digna de comentar la insinuación de Shakespeare: ‘La tierra tiene burbujas, como las tiene el agua’” (“The term las orillas illustrates with supernatural precision those sparse points in which the earth assumes the indeterminacy of the sea and seems worthy of citing the insinuation made by Shakespeare: ‘The earth has bubbles, just like water,’” 25).

28 Reading Borges after Benjamin The Orillas One of the places where the ideal of containment meets its limit is at what Borges calls the orillas, literally “edges,” referring to the limits of the city but also of the present. As I mentioned earlier, Sarlo considers this figure to be a symbolic ground for Borges, as one of the sites where he founds his double origins as criollo and European. If at the city’s necropolitan center he finds his name and past firmly inscribed, at the edges of the city he creates a topos in which the past and the pampa enter to resist and ground the changing city.

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