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25th August, 1983

A story by Jorge Luis Borges
Translation with notes by Ghivarghese Kuzhikandam Phalanx Spacer

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Complete Story: 25th August 1983 pdf
 

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Jorge Luis Borges
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This is apparently the first translation into English of 25th August, 1983, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, which was first published in the last years of the writer's life. Borges was an essayist and a writer of short fiction - generally regarded as fantastic and frequently mistaken for 'magical realism' - but he has attributes shared with few other fiction writers of the 20th Century. Distinguishing Borges from other great writers of fiction is that he represents the phenomenon of the writer as reader. He seems to suggest that we cannot describe the world as though for the first time, and that we come to terms with it only through the mediation of literature. If this makes the notion of 'originality' suspect, it also reduces claims to 'authorship' to no more than vanity - what has been written belongs to language and tradition and to no individual writer. He goes on to say in one of his early parables ('Borges and I') that he recognizes 'himself' more in other people's writing than in the writing of 'Borges'. His later work is also increasingly conscious of writing being on the periphery of human activity, of literature as unlikely to affect mankind's destiny.

25th August, 1983 is perhaps one of his last reflections on the preoccupations of a writer and is deeply melancholic for this reason. In the story he uses the device of the double to unusual effect. It is about the 71 year old Borges meeting the 83 year old writer just before his death by suicide. At 80 the older Borges had published a tome under an assumed name in Madrid, as if, desperately, to bring together everything he has ever known within one monumental work. The effort, however, was dismissed by critics as a futile imitation of Borges. Every writer eventually becomes his own least intelligent disciple, admits the younger writer ruefully when he hears this.

Borges is often less than captivated by the most ambitious works of literature - like Joyce's Ulysses - but he is nonetheless an exceedingly modest writer. His modesty has, however, little to do with his self-worth as a writer and entirely with his attitude towards authorship. When writers attain renown, they tend to become brands of some sort that defy evaluation. An astute reading of a celebrity-writer like Gabriel Garcia Marquez reveals how much the novelist is, in his later life, merely producing cheap imitations of his best writing. Writers inscribe themselves in their writing as if it were their 'selves' that gave it value in the first place. Borges, on the other hand, seems to have spent his career erasing 'himself' from his writing. Reading 25th August, 1983, one is even aware that Borges as the 'person' hardly exists any longer, and it is as if the writer is constituted entirely by recollected texts.

This translation is perhaps done in a more 'baroque' way than the later Borges might have approved of, but the translator offers his excuses in the accompanying notes.


Editor
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