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Kosmopolis 2002


Cosmopolis. Borges and Buenos Aires

Few writers get to know their city as well as Borges. Buenos Aires was for him the place he was born, inspirational muse and cosmic obsession.

As a child, he was fascinated by the labyrinth of contrasts and characters he intuited from behind the metal gate of his garden. At that time, encouraged by his family's intellectual thirst, he drank from the inexhaustible source of his father's library, in English and Spanish. By the age of six, his absorption of endless books had revealed to him his future as a writer. Later, when the Borges family returned from Europe after a few years' absence, Jorge Luis set out to crystallise his memories of his beloved city and in this attempt to recognise it, he rediscovered it in outlying districts and reinvented it in his imaginary.

His reading and his new understanding are reflected in a stylistic and aesthetic evolution of his discourse and also of his Buenos Aires, which gradually abandoned the strong local flavour of the early texts and acquired a universalist, fantastic tone. It is this evolution that leads us through the exhibition 'Cosmopolis. Borges and Buenos Aires'. By means of the books he read and the books he wrote, manuscripts, photographs and various interviews, we discover the figure of Borges and his fervour for the minotaur, Buenos Aires.

Curators: Juan Insua

This activity is part of Kosmopolis 2002, Kosmopolis


1899: 24 August, birth of Jorge Luis Borges Acevedo, son of Jorge Guillermo Borges, a lawyer and psychology teacher, and Leonor Rita Acevedo. He was bilingual from childhood and learned to read English before Spanish due to the influence of his paternal grandmother, Fanny Haslam, who taught English first to her son and then to her grandson Georgie, as he was called at home.

1901: On 4 March, Norah was born, the sister with whom Georgie was to learn and read English, draw tigers and imagine the games that foreshadow his later Borgesian universe.

1905: He confessed his literary vocation to his father. In the following years, he wrote his first texts: in English, a summarised Greek mythology, and in Spanish, the story 'La visera fatal' (The fateful visor), inspired by a passage from Quijote; a tragedy to be performed with his sister, Bernardo del Carpio, and a translation of The Happy Prince, the publication of which was first attributed to the father by his acquaintances.

1909: He started attending a state primary school in the fourth year; up until then, he had been educated by his grandmother Fanny and the English governess Miss Tink. Georgie continued his tireless reading in his father's library.

1914: On 3 February 1914, the Borges set out, together with the maternal grandmother (Leonor Suárez de Acevedo), for Europe. After arriving in Lisbon and passing through Paris, they settled in Geneva. Georgie studied Latin, French and German. His reading matter included Voltaire, Hugo, Zola, Flaubert, Maupassant, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Carlyle, Chesterton and Lugones.

1915: In the month of April he wrote the prologue for a book of poems with drawings by his sister Norah, entitled Notas lejanas.

1918: Borges' oldest known poems to date were written in this year: 'Aterrizaje' and 'A una cajita roja'.

1919: Early in the year, the Borges family passed briefly through Geneva, from where they set out for Barcelona. In late May, the Borges left Barcelona for Palma de Mallorca, where they remained until September. In the October they travelled in the south of Spain (Murcia, Granada) before settling in Seville in early November. Borges came into contact with the young 'ultraist' poets brought together around the magazine Grecia.

1920: The Borges arrived in Madrid in February 1920, where they remained until 3 May. There they continued their contacts with avant-garde poets and writers who gathered around the figures of Rafael Cansinos Asséns and Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

1921: On 4 March they left for Buenos Aires on the steamship Reina Victoria Eugenia. Borges was to stay in Argentina, rediscovering the city of his birth, particularly the suburbs of the south, and starting to write poems about this discovery. With a group of young people, under the guidance of Macedonio Fernández, a fellow student of his father's and a still unpublished writer, he set up several magazines. November saw the first issue of Prisma, a magazine that was plastered on the city's walls, with woodcuts by Norah.

1922: Borges fell in love with Concepción Guerrero, a relationship that lasted until late 1924. Due to the opposition of his girlfriend's parents, he met her at the house of Norah Lange. In August, together with friends, he published the first issue of the magazine Proa.

1923: July saw the appearance of his first book of poetry, Fervor de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires fervour). On 21 July, the Borges set out once again for Europe. In Madrid he resumed contact with Cansinos Asséns and Gómez de la Serna, to whom he dedicated articles in his first book of essays, Inquisiciones (Inquisitions, 1925).

1924: On 30 June, the Borges left for Buenos Aires. Jorge Luis Borges threw himself into editorial activities: he joined the group that set up the Proa publishing house, and started to work, at the suggestion of Brandán Caraffa, on the preparation of a new magazine, Proa (second period); shortly afterwards he joined a group of young avant-garde writers on the magazine Martín Fierro. He met Ricardo Güiraldes and, shortly afterwards, Victoria Ocampo, the future founder of Sur.

1925: He published his second book of poetry, Luna de enfrente (The moon opposite), and his first of essays, Inquisiciones, which aroused interest for its insight and erudition.

1926: In February Borges started working for the literary supplement of the influential newspaper La Razón (Buenos Aires). He produced a second compilation of essays, El tamaño de mi esperanza (The extent of my hope).

1928: Borges contributed regularly to La Prensa, Martín Fierro and Inicial, and began to contribute to Síntesis and Humanidades. He underwent the first of eight eye operations he was to have in the course of his life.

1929: He published Cuaderno San Martín.

1930: Evaristo Cariego, biography of the local poet whom Borges used as a pretext to evoke his childhood district and city. He met Adolfo Bioy Casares.

1931: January saw the appearance of Sur, founded by Victoria Ocampo, which was to become the most influential literary magazine in Latin America. Borges was a member of the editorial board and a frequent contributor. To begin with, he published above all book and film reviews.

1932: Discusión, essays.

1933: He began to contribute to the supplement of the popular newspaper Crítica. He published book reviews, translations and a series of short stories, supposedly biographical, his first exercises in narrative.

1935: Historia universal de la infamia (Universal history of iniquity), stories that had, for the most part, already been published in Crítica.

1936: Historia de la eternidad (A history of eternity) essays. He began to contribute regularly to the women's weekly El Hogar with articles about literature and a bimonthly section, 'Reading guide: foreign books and authors'.

1937: Classical anthology of Argentinian literature, in collaboration with the Dominican critic Pedro Henríquez Ureña. He translated Virginia Woolf's Orlando for Sur. He got a job as First Assistant in the Miguel Cané Municipal Library.

1938: On 24 February, his father died as a result of hemiplegia. On Christmas Eve, he himself had an accident that produced septicaemia and left him hovering between life and death for a month. From this moment on, he began to write fantasies. He became increasingly dependent on his mother's help, as he was gradually losing his eyesight, as his father had before him. Mother gradually became a vital companion for son.

1941: El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan (The garden of forking paths), narrative fantasies.

1942: Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi (Six problems for Don Isidro Parodi), detective stories, under the pseudonym of Honorio Bustos Domecq, written together with Bioy Casares.

1943: Poemas (1922-1943), a collection of the poetry he had written, with changes and many expurgations. In collaboration with Bioy, Los mejores cuentos policiales (The best detective stories).

1944: Ficciones (Fictions), which included the short stories from El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan (The garden of forking paths) and other short fantasies.

1945: The SADE (Sociedad Argentina de Escritores, or Argentine Writers' Society) created the Gran Premio de Honor, which it awarded to Borges for Ficciones.

1946: Perón came to power. Borges was removed from his post at the Municipal Library for having signed anti-Peronist statements, and was 'promoted' to inspector of poultry and rabbits in the public markets. He resigned before occupying the new post. He set up the magazine Anales de Buenos Aires, of which he was appointed editor.

1949: El Aleph (Aleph), fantasies.

1950: Borges was elected president of the SADE, a post he was to hold until he gave it up in 1953. He occupied the English literature chair of the Asociación Argentina de Cultura Inglesa and at the Colegio Libre de Estudios Superiores.

1951: Publication in Paris of the first translation to be published on a large-scale of one of his works, Ficciones.

1952: Otras inquisiciones (Other inquisitions), essays.

1953: Emecé published his complete works, beginning with Historia de la eternidad (A history of eternity).

1954: Two new titles in the Complete Works: Historia universal de la infamia (Universal history of iniquity) and Poemas (1923-1953).

1955: The fall of Perón. The new government appointed Borges Director of the National Library. He was named member of the Academia Argentina de Letras.

1956: Appointed lecturer of English literature in the Arts and Philosophy Faculty of the University of Buenos Aires. He was awarded the National Prize for Literature. His ophthalmologists forbade him to read and write. He was to depend totally on his mother and other generous amanuenses. Slowly, he learned to compose texts in his memory and then dictate them.

1960: Borges compiled miscellaneous materials in prose and verse with the title El hacedor (The maker, later retitled Dreamtigers), thereby producing one of his most personal books. He became a member of the Conservative Party.

1961: The International Publishers' Congress awarded him the Formentor Prize, jointly with Samuel Beckett. This was the start of his international popularity and numerous translations into many languages. He published his favourite texts with the title Antología personal (Personal anthology).

1962: He was named Knight Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government of De Gaulle on the recommendation of André Malraux.

1963: He travelled with his mother to Europe, which he had not visited since 1924. In Madrid, he resumed contact with Rafael Cansinos Asséns.

1964: He compiled all of his poetry in a single volume, Obra Poética (1923-1964).

1965: He wrote Para las seis cuerdas (For six strings), the words to milongas, the music for which was written by Astor Piazzola.

1967: Crónicas de Bustos Domecq (Chronicles of Bustos Domecq), in collaboration with Bioy Casares. On 21 September, he married Elsa Astete Millán, whom he had known in his youth.

1968: Nueva antología personal (New personal anthology), a selection to complete the 1961 publication.

1969: Elogio de la sombra (In praise of darkness), texts in prose and verse.

1970: In October, he divorced Elsa Astete Millán.

1971: He travelled to Europe in the company of Norman Thomas di Giovanni and María Kodama. In a special bibliophile edition, he published the long story 'El Congreso' (The congress), which he had been planning since 1945 and which was later included in El libro de Arena (The book of sand, 1975). This was his longest narrative, in which he returned to the theme of the secret society he had previously explored in 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius'.

1972: El oro de los tigres (The gold of tigers), poems and prose.

1973: The city of Buenos Aires name him a distinguished citizen. Upon the return to power of Perón, he resigned his position as director of the National Library.

1975: On 8 July, his mother died at the age of ninety-nine. El libro de arena (The book of sand), fantasies. La rosa profunda (The deep rose), poems. Prólogos, an incomplete collection of his prologues.

1976: After the downfall of the government of Isabel Perón, Borges initially supported the military junta, a stance that earned him the reprobation of the international media. He visited General Videla in the company of Ernesto Sábato to ask after disappeared writers. In Chile, he was awarded an honoris causa doctorate from the University of Santiago and the Bernardo O'Higgins Order of the Chilean Government, a decoration which was to exclude him definitively from the lists for the Nobel Prize. La moneda de hierro (The iron coin), poems. Libro de sueños (The book of dreams), an anthology of short stories of his own and by other writers.

1977: Historia de la noche (A history of night), poems. Dedicated to María Kodama. Adrogué, poems and prose dedicated to the village where he spent his holidays during childhood and adolescence. The book, published privately, contains illustrations by Norah Borges. Nuevas crónicas de Bustos Domecq (New chronicles of Bustos Domecq) with Bioy Casares.

1978: Breve antología anglosajona (A short English anthology), with María Kodama.

1979: Borges oral, collection of lectures. Obras completas en colaboración, a similar volume to the 1974 edition, which only included books written with Bioy, Betina Edelberg, Margarita Guerrero, Alicia Jurado, María Kodama and María Esther Vázquez, thereby cancelling out other collaborations.

1980: In Buenos Aires, he condemned Argentinian political repression in interviews and by signing a manifesto, along with Ernesto Sábato, of 'Solicitude for the disappeared persons', published in the newspaper Clarín.

1981: Together with Adolfo Pérez and others, he signed a declaration asking the Argentinian military regime for 'the application of the rule of law and the full authority of the Constitution'.

1983: He celebrated the electoral victory of the radical leader Raúl Alfonsín and the end of military dictatorship in Argentina.

1984: Atlas, book of miscellanies and photographs, in collaboration with María Kodama.

1985: Last visits to Madrid and Barcelona for the presentation of his new, last book, Los conjurados (The conspirators). In the month of November, he became ill with cancer and, disappointed by the Argentinian radical government, he decided to leave Argentina and settle in Geneva, in the company of María Kodama.

1986: In January he was admitted to a Geneva hospital. A few months before his death, he moved to an apartment in the company of María Kodama. On 24 April, he was married by proxy to María Kodama in Paraguay. On 14 June, he died in Geneva of pulmonary emphysema and liver cancer. He was buried in the cemetery of Pleinpalais, in accordance with his wishes. Beneath the epitaph that he and his wife has chosen, lines of ancient Norwegian, is written: 'From Ulrica to Javier Otálora'.

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