Literature and the complication of Argentine identity
Jorge Luis Borges is an internationally known author and poet… an icon and ambassador for Argentina, and above all for Buenos Aires. In a place where literature was the art form that allowed for a people to shine and be recognized by their former colonizer crown, Borges is a name on the top of the list. Above is a picture of a street sign in my neighborhood, the barrio
of Palermo, where Borges was known to have lived. Literacy as a whole skyrocketed in Argentina in the first half of the 20th century. There are bookstores, librerías
, all over every city. This generalization really came into perspective recently, since I just returned from my spring break in Chile, where the amount of book stores in Santiago seem minimal to nonexistent in comparison to Buenos Aires. This is not to say they are any less literate, or do not have their respective artists that represent their country (Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Mistral to name a few Chileans), it’s more that Argentina paved the way for all Latin American writers to become read worldwide and known worldwide for where they’re from.
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings
is a collection of Borges’ works, translated and organized into categories: Fictions, Essays and Parables. His short stories (Fictions) dip in, develop, and end with a complete drawing of a character and that person’s story. And in what I have read, twists, secrets, murder, religion, dreams, history, truth and identity are frequented themes, the last holding particular importance. Cultural heritage and actual legal identity like that of “The Shape of the Sword,” or family identity in “Emma Zunz,” and even existence
of identity in “Everything and Nothing” seems so Argentine to me. Defining a culture can be so difficult, especially when that culture is made up of so many others, like in Argentina and many other countries in Latin America. Writing helped define Argentina and allowed Buenos Aires to shine to the point where even Spain could not ignore the city.
But what does it mean to be Argentine, and thus an Argentine writer? Who is Borges, really? What does he tell us about his nation, his self? Does not one’s writing always let this trickle between the words? Borges himself addresses such questions in his essay, “The Argentine Writer and Tradition.” He notes that much of it, as others have claimed, begins with the “gauchesque,” or the writings and poetry of the gauchos
, or those of the countryside that could be considered the ‘cowboys’ of Latin America. Yet, he then turns around and states that his belief is that writers do not necessarily need to define themselves in terms of themes or national traits. “The idea that Argentine [writing] should abound in differential Argentine traits and Argentine local color seems to me a mistake” (180). And thus this further complicates what makes an Argentine writer truly Argentine.
What he eventually gets at, however, is that an Argentine is truly a mutt, and adopts different ideas culturally, just as Shakespeare and other examples of great writers and poets. A text is “no less Argentine for having accepted such influences” (182). I find that the city of Buenos Aires is no less Argentine for having Italian influences mixed with Latin American vibes. And the presence of Italian and other European influences are felt strongly, because history here in Buenos Aires is felt “profoundly” (183). Borges said it, and in my experiences thus far, I only know it to be true. And because the history is profound and abundant in different cultures, the country of Argentina, “our patrimony,” should thus truly be “the universe” (185), and this I feel, too.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths
. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1964. Print.