Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges edited by Richard Burgin
(Avon Books, 1970, 157 pages)
This book consists of a series of conversations between Richard Burgin and the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Their exchanges took place in Cambridge, MA during the 1967-68 academic year while Borges was a visiting professor at Harvard. Though Borges’ stories are complex, intricate, and allusive, he states in the Prologue that “Rereading these pages, I think I have expressed myself, in fact confessed myself, better than in those I have written in solitude with excess care and vigilance” (vii-viii).
While these conversations are casually conducted and wide ranging, Burgin steers them expertly. Much space is taken up with discussing the themes and styles of Borges’ stories and poems. From these particulars, the conversations branch off into exchanges on the nature of philosophy, English literature, film, fascism, Borges’ relationships with other writers, and much more. Burgin does an excellent job of provoking Borges to extensive reflection on his life and work, while also pressing him to define and clarify important ideas.
By the time of these interviews, Borges had gone entirely blind. His insight into how this handicap affected the process and shape of his work is one of the more fascinating parts of the book. For an author with such a deep love and knowledge of books, the loss of sight was undoubtedly tragic. Yet, Borges recognizes that his limitation forced him to write the short, concise pieces of fiction for which he is famous. These conversations will be revelatory for anyone who has enjoyed Borges’ writing.