“My undertaking is not difficult, essentially… I should only have to be immortal to carry it out.”

Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899 – June 14, 1986) was an Argentine writer who is considered one of the foremost literary figures of the Twentieth Century. He is famous for his short stories and fictive essays, Borges was also a poet, critic, translator, and man of letters.

I became acquainted with Mr. Borges from a LinkedIn posting of one of his quotes.

Of all man’s instruments, the most wondrous, no doubt, is the book. The other instruments are extensions of his body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of his sight; the telephone is the extension of his voice; then we have the plow and the sword, extensions of the arm. But the book is something else altogether: the book is an extension of memory and imagination.

(Source: Jorge Luis Borges, Wikiquote, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges, Retrieved April 10, 2023)

I have selected several of Mr. Borges quotes to contemplate and inspire my fellow authors.

On Writing

It is worth remembering that every writer begins with a naively [sic naïve] physical notion of what art is. A book for him or her is not an expression or a series of expressions, but literally a volume, a prism with six rectangular sides made of thin sheets of papers which should include a cover, an inside cover, an epigraph in italics, a preface, nine or ten parts with some verses at the beginning, a table of contents, an ex libris with an hourglass and a Latin phrase, a brief list of errata, some blank pages, a colophon and a publication notice: objects that are known to constitute the art of writing.

Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.

A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

The central problem of novel-writing is causality.

Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in [sic into] five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary.

Reading … is an activity subsequent to writing: more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.

Every novel is an ideal plane inserted into the realm of reality.

Imprecision is tolerable and verisimilar in literature, because we always tend towards it in life.

Ts’ui Pe must have said once: I am withdrawing to write a book. And another time: I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth. Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing.

Like every writer, he measured the virtues of other writers by their performance, and asked that they measure him by what he conjectured or planned.

(Source: Jorge Luis Borges, Wikiquote, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges, Retrieved April 10, 2023)

On History

That history should have imitated history was already sufficiently marvellous; that history should imitate literature is inconceivable….

Perhaps universal history is the history of the diverse intonation of some metaphors.

It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.

One literature differs from another, either before or after it, not so much because of the text as for the manner in which it is read.

(Source: Jorge Luis Borges, Wikiquote, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges, Retrieved April 10, 2023)

On Books

A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.

A book is not an autonomous entity: it is a relation, an axis of innumerable relations. One literature differs from another, be it earlier or later, not because of the texts but because of the way they are read: if I could read any page from the present time — this one, for instance — as it will be read in the year 2000, I would know what the literature of the year 2000 would be like.

In the beginning of literature there is myth, as there is also in the end of it.

(Source: Jorge Luis Borges, Wikiquote, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges, Retrieved April 10, 2023)

About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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