Borges as cynic

Noé Jitrik

Jitrik, Noé. “Complex Feelings about Borges,” in The Noé Jitrik Reader: Selected Essays on Latin American Literature, by Noé Jitrik, edited by Daniel Balderston, translated by Susan Benner (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005), pp. 1-26.

‘‘Complex Feelings about Borges’’ was first published in French in Les Temps Modernes in a special issue on Argentina under military dictatorship in 1981. It was also published in ‘‘Sabado,’’ the Saturday edition of Unomásuno, May 23, 1981 (Mexico) and was included in La vibración del preente (Mexico City, 1987). Jitrik published several other essays on Borges, but this is the best known. [p. xii]

Some noteworthy points in this essay: the author’s personal interaction with Borges, Borges’ evasion and mockery of political questioning, backtracking on his assertions, Borges as patrician liberal, his peculiar relationship to the military dictatorship, Borges’ domination of the Argentine literary scene, his treatment of Macedonio Fernández, Borges’ limited set of themes, nine ways that critics evaluate Borges. Key is the notion of Borges as cynic.

*     *     *     *     *

There is no doubt that I was fascinated by Borges’s intelligence and his economy, as well as his unity. And from that emerged an unformulated intuition about ‘‘what Borges saw’’ when he began to write poetry. He saw two things, I believe: first, how what we call ‘‘writing’’ emerges, that is, the functioning of an autonomous process, and second, certain ideological core beliefs that penetrate all of his subsequent work and refer to such concepts as origin (one’s own), the nation, and society. On the one hand, we find a fertile productive system (of writing) set in motion; on the other, an obsessive, idealized restoration of substances that must have led him, obsessively, to a diffuse metaphysics that, as a side effect in his case, could have given rise to a conservative attitude, a fixed world, in which things (values) cannot be moved. [p. 4]

*     *     *     *     *

Of course there is a difference between one camp and the other: while, as I am attempting to propose, a writing can be fertile despite being closed because the struggle between drives and closedness or limits turns out to be illuminating, in political discourse, on the other hand, the repression of drives, or if this is too much, of desire or of the imaginary, exalts what is repressed, which, metonymically, defines the whole field and sanctions a blocking. What we experience as a contradiction in Borges, then, would take form in the opposition we are familiar with between the effects of his writing and the effects of his conservative thought. [p. 5]

*     *     *     *     *

I am beginning to think that if there is a truth about Borges, it is the truth of the cynic—and not even that of cynicism, which would have a more general, systematic scope. Rather, his truth, in the final instance, has the subjugating attention of his intuitive character, capable of scorning all fundamental principles. But that is not all: like all cynics, he has the ability to fragment or break the apparent totalization presented by an obstacle, and from that, to present a model of the world that has precisely that attraction. [p. 9]

*     *     *     *     *

Is the word ‘‘cynic’’ derogatory? It is, above all, useful, even if we do not display all the elements of the paradigm. I use the term paradigmatically, and there is a history of cynics that, as we know, has moments of great radicalism. Borges would be central to all this. Certainly there are things that he believes in: the rigor of a phrase, the desire to show the fragmentation of the real, family memories, and the history of the nation—the same as liberal convictions. All of which makes him an attenuated cynic, and for that reason, all the more triumphant; it is questionable to call him an ideologue, since in doing so we are only dealing with personal beliefs with which he may easily disagree. He utilizes cynicism as an instrument, and therein lies the key to his effectiveness, precisely because he imposes nothing personal at the same time that he destroys the personal beliefs of the other. From the history of cynics he has extracted one element that explains his triumph: have the last word, which implies having previously created the conditions such that you are asked for a word, and having astutely taken enough time that your word appears to be the final one. This device, as in the case of almost all cynics, reveals a brilliance and explains why, in general, except for Diogenes (and only up to a point), the cynics come out the winners. [pp. 9-10]

See also: Rose, Arthur. Literary Cynics: Borges, Beckett, Coetzee. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Study Materials on the Web

Cynical Reason Today: A Selected Bibliography

Irony, Humor, & Cynicism Study Guide

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 1 October 2023

Site © 1999-2023 Ralph Dumain