Jorge Luis Borges was an influential Spanish short story writer. He often wrote stories with heavy philosophical underpinnings. In this lesson, we'll look at his short story, 'Borges and I,' including a summary and analysis of the text.
Background on Borges
Writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1899. He was a highly influential figure in Spanish language literature, and his works contributed greatly to the fields of philosophical and fantasy literature. He was also active in literary criticism and translation, further enhancing his influence on the world of literature. Borges died at the age of 86, in 1986 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The short story 'Borges and I' was first published in book form in 1960, as part of a collection of short stories called The Maker, later called Dreamtigers. The short story raises philosophical questions about the difference between self and persona, which is who we truly are and who we pretend to be.
Summary of 'Borges and I'
As 'Borges and I' begins, an unnamed narrator tells us that ''The other one, the one called Borges'' is the one who experiences life, and he is along for the ride. The narrator knows of Borges from his mail and a list of professors somewhere. The narrator laments that Borges shares his intellectual and social activities, but in a vain and meaningless way. He goes on to say that his relationship with Borges is a rancorous one, even a hostile one.
The narrator says he goes on living so Borges can pretend to be a great writer and write a few decent pages every once in a while. But he knows that he must eventually cease to exist, and leave only a semblance of himself, only a seeming appearance, in Borges. The narrator tells us that he once tried to extricate himself from Borges, but Borges slowly took over all the things the narrator tried to be, and he must now try to come up with other ideas.
He then ends by saying he is not sure whether he or Borges wrote this story.
Analysis of 'Borges and I'
Borges's short story 'Borges And I' is a philosophical autobiography, a calm, rational look at one's life, in which he explores the conflict between the private self - the deeper, more complicated self we likely keep to ourselves - and the persona, the outward appearance we adopt for the world to see.
In the story, those parts are played by the unnamed narrator as Borges's true self, which is inseparable from Borges and by Borges, who plays the part of his outward appearance, that which he puts on for the world. This interconnection causes the narrator, the private self, some sadness. He is not too impressed by how Borges demeans his true personality, his likes and habits, by putting on pretentious airs and showing off a mere shadow of those qualities.
The narrator sees Borges as an empty shell, the front window of a shop which has not been set up to be representative of what the shop really sells. But worse yet, the narrator feels cheated by the fact that there is not a thing he can do about it, and Borges not only has most of the control, he's also slowly but inevitably taking over completely.
The narrator acknowledges that Borges can be as talented as he is, but alas, Borges' quality pieces of writings do not belong to either of them, but to the world of literature, so neither he nor Borges can benefit from his bursts of talent.
In the end, the narrator is resigned to his ultimate fate, that he will soon cease to exist and the shallow and pretentious Borges will completely take over. As matter of fact, the narrator cannot be sure whether he or Borges wrote this story.
All in all, Borges has written a short story about one of humanity's greatest preoccupations, vanity. We all worry about how others see us, how they judge us as we pass in the streets, or drink coffee with a friend. And all in all, we hide who we really are inside, even in the most intimate of circumstances. However, we can't be sure if Borges is telling us how to behave. He simply acknowledges our inner conflict, one of many, and the fact that when it's all said and done, the two selves merge, and our 'Borges' wins out over our 'narrator.'
Reading Jorge Luis Borges's brief but intriguing philosophical autobiography (or a calm, rational look at one's life) 'Borges And I', we see how our true self is often in conflict with our persona, which is who we seem to be to others. This is shown with a split between the Borges everyone sees (or his outer self) and the narrator, who represents Borges' inner self. This split has resulted in the narrator feeling disappointed, and even saddened, by the connection he has with Borges forcing him to reconcile that he can't split off altogether from the outer self, but that he must merge with him. While this is not one of the more weighty of philosophical ideas about self, it still warrants our attention, even if we're just reading it to impress the person looking over at us in the coffee shop.