Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Buenos Aires doesn't live only on Tango. Borges' presence is a constant in the city.

When Jorge Luis Borges died, a distinguished Buenos Aires art collector, Jorge Helft, began a scholarly project, the assembling of little-known or unknown Borges material. That was in 1986, and so far he's gathered more than 15,000 items --private letters, unpublished manuscripts, long-forgotten pamphlets, obscure literary magazines carrying Borges poems that probably even Borges had forgotten. In recent years, scholars from around the world have quarried this mountain of words to produce 10 books.

No doubt many more will appear. The Borges reputation seems to grow even faster now than when he was alive. Helft's loving attention to every detail of the work typifies the attitude of intellectuals in Buenos Aires. As Helft says, "He has influenced every part of our culture."

In Argentina he's as much an emblem of national excellence as an author. Even those who haven't read his work find uses for him. Three years ago the maid who served his family for decades (without reading his books or any other books) put her name on a ghosted memoir, El Senor Borges. Among other revelations, she reported that (contrary to what he told the world at the time) Borges gravely regretted that he was never chosen as the Nobel laureate. She says that every year the announcement of someone else's triumph inaugurated a period of sadness for him, not at all lightened by journalists calling to ask for his comments. He joked about it, but the jokes were painful for him.

Today in Buenos Aires he's inescapable. Since the city now raises money by giving donors the right to put their logos on street signs, it's possible to turn a corner and find yourself looking up at "Telecom Jorge Luis Borges," a clever advertiser having simultaneously identified the corporation with both the street and the author for whom the street has been renamed.
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