This article was translated by John R. Bopp

Jorge Luis Borges is a writer we’ve always found attractive, probably because his works, especially his stories, have always fascinated us.  In our naïveté, and despite knowing that an author’s work are (usually) independent of the writer himself and do not reflect the soul that thought it up, we were surprised to discover that the ideas and principles? that rattled around the mind of Borges seemed to belong more to a manure handler than a knowledgeable, well-read person; this proves, once again, that having knowledge and ability doesn’t make a person better or even more human.  

We discovered all this thanks to an article, “Uncomfortable Borges”, written by Blas Brítez and published in the Paraguayan daily Última Hora.  The author, inspired by the thirtieth anniversary of the Argentine author’s death, collected parts of some interviews Rodolfo Braceli, a journalist also from Argentina, gave and collected in his book Barefoot Writers.

In the text from the Paraguayan paper’s article, we found fragments of these interviews which show Borges to be racist, ignorant about what he speaks, and deeply elitist, very similar to what one might expect from a(n upper-class) member of the KKK in the 1950s or ‘60s, or the elitist and racist mentality of Antonio Cánovas del Castillo.  The quotes we’re referring to are the following:

  • Of course the blacks are unbearable…I don’t retract what I’ve stated so many times: the Americans made a grave mistake in educating them; as slaves, they were like children, they were happier and less annoying.”
    (“Por supuesto que resultan insoportables los negros…no me desdigo de lo que tantas veces afirmé: los norteamericanos cometieron un grave error al educarlos; como esclavos eran como chicos, eran más felices y menos molestos.”)
  • “The Argentine gauchos were brutes…they didn’t know how to read or write, and even less who they were fighting for.  If we still remember them, it’s because educated people, who were nothing like them, wrote about them.”
    (“Los gauchos argentinos fueron unos brutos…no sabía ni leer ni escribir, y menos para quién luchaban.  Si todavía los recordamos es porque los escribieron gentes cultas, que nada tenían de gauchos.”)
  • “Basque?  I don’t understand how anyone could feel proud of being Basque…The Basques are even more useless than the blacks, and notice that the only good the blacks have ever served for is to be slaves.”
    (“¿Vasco?  Yo no entiendo cómo alguien puede sentirse orgulloso de ser vasco…Los vascos me parecen más inservibles que los negros y fíjese que los negros no han servido para otra cosa que para ser esclavos.”)
  • “…rich people suffer a lot and are very unhappy.  The poor suffer much less than the rich.”
    (“…la gente rica sufre mucho y es muy desdichada.  Los pobres sufren mucho menos que los ricos.

We have to admit that these statements really made us uneasy, because they seem incompatible with the works he wrote.  This is yet another example of our naïveté, because it’s not the first time we’ve come across this incoherence between and author and his work.  It would seem logical that people with a creative capacity like this would be battering rams for creating societies that were more free, fair, and democratic.  Well, no.  Not at all.

So, we dug a little deeper, and we came across “Five Reasons to Abhor Borges”, a magnificent article by Carmen Jiménez in her blog, El mono Lector.  She gives us more clues about this man’s way of thinking and being, and fills out his psychological profile a little more fully:

  • Defender of political assassination
  • Coward
  • Pinochet admirer

We really think Borges’ “ideological pack” ought to be sealed away before it contaminates anyone.

But, as you might expect, we’re especially interested in the writer’s opinions about Basques, and we were lucky enough to find an entry in the Librería Katakrak blog, in Pamplona, which gathered some of this “thoughts” about the Basques, thoughts which only go to show the extreme mix of ignorance and elitism that made up Borges’ complex and twisted soul.

Here, we’ve collected, from the Librería Katakrak site, the complete text of the interview Rodolfo Braceli (RB) had with Borges about the Basques.  You can’t miss this:

— No, I’m Argentine, and although my surname makes it look like I come from Italians, I come from Spaniards.  My father was born in Valencia, in Alicante.  On my mother’s side, I come from Basques, my mother’s surname is Zarategui.
— Basque?  I can’t understand how someone could feel proud to be Basque… The Basques seem to me to be even more useless than the blacks, and notice that the blacks have only ever been good for being slaves… They talk about Basque will, Basque stubbornness…and what good has it done them?  Nothing more than to be Spanish or French.  They’ve produced some execrable painters and one unbearable writer such as Unamuno.  The only other good thing they’ve ever produced are pelotaris…Look, I also have Basque blood, several of my surnames give that origin away.  However, I don’t think the Basques have ever done anything; nothing; they’re only notable for being one of the most sterile countries in the world.
— 
RB: What can I say, Borges, I like to say I come from Basques
— 
Really, I can’t explain why people feel so proud of being Basque.  Like I said, I too have the blood of the Basques…Now, Valencia is something else…Look, I remember something I wrote down in one of my stories: the Basques have done nothing else in history than milk cows, they’ve spent centuries milking.
— 
RB: How long has it been since you’ve read, or been read, a Basque writer?
— 
The last one was that unbearable Unamuno; that man absurdly aspired to continue living; he was chasing immortality.
RB: So, I don’t know, forgive me, but it seems like you’re speaking with very little grounds
Wow, again you wish to fight..Are you sure that in addition to journalist, you aren’t also a lawyer?

(—No, soy argentino, y aunque por mi apellido parezca descendiente de italianos desciendo de españoles. Mi padre nació en Valencia, en Alicante. Por rama materna vengo de vascos, mi madre se apellida Zarategui.
—¿Vasco? Yo no entiendo cómo alguien puede sentirse orgulloso de ser vasco… Los vascos me parecen más inservibles que los negros, y fíjese que los negros no han servido para otra cosa que para ser esclavos… Se habla de la voluntad vasca, de la terquedad vasca… ¿y para qué les ha servido? Nada más que para ser españoles o franceses. Han producido unos pintores execrables y un escritor insoportable como Unamuno. Lo demás que han producido son buenos pelotaris… Mire, yo tengo sangre vasca también; varios apellidos me delatan ese origen. Sin embargo, pienso que los vascos no han hecho nada, nada; son sólo notables por ser uno de los países más estériles del mundo.
—(R.B) Qué voy a hacerle, Borges, me gusta decir que vengo de vascos.
—Realmente, no me explico por qué la gente siente tanto orgullo por ser vasco… Ya le dije, yo también tengo esa sangre, pero cuando enumero mis orígenes soy muy cuidadoso en olvidarme de los vascos… Ahora, Valencia es otra cosa… Mire, recuerdo algo que anoté en uno de mis cuentos: los vascos no han hecho otra cosa en la historia que ordeñar vacas, se han pasado los siglos ordeñando.
—(R.B) ¿Cuánto hace que no lee, o no le leen, a un escritor vasco?
—El último fue el insoportable Unamuno; ese hombre absurdamente aspiraba a seguir viviendo, perseguía la inmortalidad.
—(R.B) Entonces, no sé, discúlpeme, pero me parece que está hablando sin muchos fundamentos.
—Caramba, otra vez usted me quiere pelear… ¿Seguro que aparte de periodista no es abogado?)

After reading all this, we might end up thinking Borges has proven the Infinite Monkey theorem proposed by Émile Borel in 1913 in his book “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité”, which stated that “a monkey pressing random keys on a keyboard in an infinite amount of time could finally end up writing any book found in the French National Library”.

Obviously, Borges wasn’t a monkey, but with him we can once again conclude that the greatness of the works does not have to come with the greatness of those works’ creator; indeed, that creator may have a small mind and a mean mentality.

Última Hora – 20/6/2016 – Paraguay

El Borges incómodo

Una de mis pasiones argentinas predilectas son las entrevistas de Rodolfo Braceli. Al contrario de la tendencia actual —que se regodea en el reportaje subjetivo y adjetivado—, Braceli acostumbra a preguntar y escuchar la respuesta. A transcribirla de esa misma manera, la que cronistas contemporáneos con ínfulas demasiado narrativas y literarias desprecian. Me recuerda un poco al tempranamente consciente del drama de la incomunicación, Henry David Thoreau, quien hacia 1854 afirmó que uno de los mayores elogios que le hicieron en su vida sin principio fue que alguien le preguntara su opinión y se tomara el tiempo de escuchar su respuesta. Tal vez por ello fue que Adolfo Bioy Casares dijo alguna vez: “Braceli me hizo el mejor reportaje de mi vida”.

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El mono lector – 24/4/2012 – España

Cinco razones para aborrecer a Borges

El periodista y escritor Rodolfo Braceli entrevistó en varias ocasiones a Jorge Luis Borges. En Escritores descalzos, incluye extractos de esas entrevistas y recoge algunas de las opiniones por las que, incluso aquellos que rendimos pleitesía literaria al Borges escritor, aborrecemos al Borges persona.

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