Borges on Totalitarian Thought

7 08 2008

Ten years ago any form of symmetry with the appearance of order – dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism – was enough to charm all men. Why not then submit to Tlön, to the thorough and vast evidence of a completely ordered planet? Needless to say that reality itself is ordered. Perhaps it is, but according to divine laws – read: inhuman laws – that we will never in the end perceive. Tlön will be a labyrinth, but it is a man-made one, a labyrinth meant to be solved by men… Enchanted by its rigor, humanity forgets and forgets again that it is a rigor of chess players, not of angels.

-Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires by Jorge Luis Borges

24 06 2008

English Translation (by Alastair Reid):

And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?
The little painted boats must have suffered the steep surf
among the root-clumps of the horse-brown current.

Pondering well, let us suppose that the river
was blue then like an extension of the sky,
with a small red star inset to mark the spot
where Juan Diaz fasted and the Indians dined.

But for sure a thousand men and other thousands
arrived across a sea that was five moons wide,
still infested with mermaids and sea serpents
and magnetic boulders that sent the compass wild.

On the coast they put up a few ramshackle huts
and slept uneasily. This, they claim, in the Riachuelo,
but that is a story dreamed up in Boca.
It was really a city block in my district – Palermo.

A whole square block, but set down in open country,
attended by dawns and rains and hard southeasters,
identical to that block which still stands in my neighbourhood:
Guatemala – Serrano – Paraguay – Gurruchaga.

A general store pink as the back of a playing card
shone bright; in the back there was poker talk.
The corner bar flowered into life as a local bully,
already cock of his walk, resentful, tough.

The first barrel organ teetered over the horizon
with its clumsy progress, its habaneras, its wop.
The cart-shed wall was unanimous for Yrigoyen.
Some piano was banging out tangos by Saborido.

A cigar store perfumed the desert like a rose.
The afternoon had established its yesterdays,
and men took on together an illusory past.
Only one thing was missing – the street had no other side.

Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning.
I feel it to be as eternal as air and water.

translation found on this page