Jorge Luis Borges

Literature can be defined by the sense of the imminence of a revelation which does not in fact occur.

To fall in love is to create a religion with a fallible god.


The Lottery in Babylon

The drunkard who improvises an absurd order, the dreamer who awakens suddenly and strangles the woman who sleeps at his side, do they not execute, perhaps, a secret decision of the Company?

Library of Babel

In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years. It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe; I pray to the unknown gods that a man--just one, even though it were thousands of years ago!--may have examined and read it. If honor and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let your enormous Library be justified.

I cannot combine some characters dhcmrlchtj which the divine Library has not foreseen and which in one of its secret tongues do not contain a terrible meaning. No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god.

Funes the Memorious

The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.

...Funes could continuously discern the tranquil advances of corruption, of decay, of fatigue. He could note the progress of death, of dampness. He was the solitary and lucid spectator of a multiform, instantaneous and almost intolerably precise world.

The Shape of the Sword

Whatever one man does, it is as if all men did it. For that reason it is not unfair that one disobedience in a garden should contaminate all humanity; for that reason it is not unjust that the crucifixion of a single Jew should be sufficient to save it.

Three Versions of Judas

God made himself totally a man but a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of reprobation and the abyss. To save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which make up the complex web of history. He could have been Alexander or Pythagoras or Rurik or Jesus; He chose the vilest destiny of all: He was Judas.

The Immortal

To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is immortal.

Death (or its illusion) makes men precious and pathetic. They are moving because of their phantom condition; every act they execute may be their last, there is not a face that is not on the verge of dissolving like a face in a dream. Everything among the mortals has the value of the irretrievable and the perilous.

The Wall and the Books

Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.

The Fearful Sphere of Pascal

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

Kafka and His Precursors

The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

Avatars of the Tortoise

William James denies that fourteen minutes can pass, because first it is necessary for seven to pass, and before the seven, three and a half, and before the three and a half, a minute and three quarters, and so on until the end, the invisible end, through tenuous labyrinths of time.

Let us admit what all idealists admit: the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: seek unrealities which confirm that nature. We (the undivided divinity operating within us) have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us it is false.

Valéry as Symbol

Paul Valéry leaves us at his death the symbol of a man infinitely sensitive to every phenomenon and for whom every phenomenon is a stimulus capable of provoking an infinite series of thought. Of a man who transcends the differential traits of the self and of whom we can say, as William Hazlitt did of Shakespeare, "he is nothing in himself." Of a man whose admirable texts do not exhaust, do not even define, their all embracing possibilities. Of a man who, in an age that worships the chaotic idols of blood, earth, and passion, preferred always the lucid pleasures of thought and the secret adventures of order.

Even the articulate or brutal sounds of the globe must be all so many languages and ciphers that somewhere have their corresponding keys—have their own grammar and syntax; and thus the least things in the universe must be secret mirrors to the greatest.

The Mirror of the Enigmas

A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships. One literature differs from another, prior or posterior, less because of the text than because of the way in which it is read: if I were granted the possibility of reading any present-day page--this one, for example--as it will be read in the year two thousand, I would know what the literature of two thousand will be like. The conception of literature as a formalistic game leads, in the best of cases, to the fine chiseling of a period or a stanza, to an artful decorum (Johnson, Renan, Flaubert), and in the worst to the discomforts of a work made of surprises dictated by vanity and chance (Gracian, Herrera y Reksig).

A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw

Man's character and its variations are the essential theme of the novel of our time; lyric poetry is the complacent magnification of amorous fortunes or misfortunes; the philosophies of Heidegger and Jaspers make each of us the interesting interlocutor in a secret and continuous dialogue with nothingness or the divinity; these disciplines, which in the formal sense can be admirable, ferment that illusion of the ego which the Vedanta censures as a capital error. They usually make a game of desperation and anguish, but at bottom they flatter our vanity; they are, in this sense, immoral. The work of Shaw, however, leaves one with a flavor of liberation. The flavor of the stoic doctrines and the flavor of the sagas.

A New Refutation of Time

Besides, our language is so saturated and animated by time that it is quite possible that there is not one statement in these pages which in some way does not demand or invoke the idea of time.

A world of evanescent impressions, a world without matter or spirit, neither objective nor subjective; a world without the ideal architecture of space; a world made of time, of the absolute uniform time of the Principia, a tireless labyrinth, a chaos, a dream.

What you can suffer is the maximum that can be suffered on earth. If you die of starvation, you will suffer all the starvation there has been or will be. If ten thousand people die with you, their participation in your lot will not make you be ten thousand times more hungry nor multiply the time of your agony ten thousand times. Do not let yourself be overcome by the horrible sum of human sufferings, such a sum does not exist. Neither poverty nor pain are cumulative.

And yet, and yet... Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny (as contrasted with the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not frightful by being unread; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.

Deutsches Requiem

I have come to understand many years before that there is nothing on earth that does not contain the seed of a possible Hell; a face, a word, a compass, a cigarette advertisement, are capable of driving a person mad if he is unable to forget them. Would not a man who continually imagined the map of Hungary be mad?

In the first volume of Parerga und Paralipomena, I read once more that all things that can occur to a man, from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death, have been predetermined by him. Thus, all inadvertence is deliberate, every casual encounter is an engagement made beforehand, every humiliation is an act of penitence, every failure a mysterious victory, every death a suicide. There is no more cunning consolation than the thought that we have chosen our own misfortunes; that individual theology reveals a secret order, and in a marvelous way confuses ourselves with the deity. What unknown purpose (I thought) had made me seek out that evening, those bullets, this mutilation? Not the fear of war—I knew that; something deeper. At last I believed I understood. To die for a religion is simpler than living the religion fully; battling savage beasts in Ephesus is less difficult (thousands of obscure martyrs did it) than being Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ; a single act is quicker than all the hours of a man. The battle and the glory are easy; Raskolnikov's undertaking was more difficult than Napoleon's.

The Garden of Forking Paths

Centuries of centuries, and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me....