Writing in the Shadow of Borges
Jorge Luis Borges has been widely acclaimed as one of the most influential writers of the Twentieth Century; in his home country of Argentina that influence is so pervasive it could be considered constricting.
The development of Argentine literature can be roughly bisected into two phases; before Borges and after Borges, such is the influence that Jorge Luis Borges holds over the Argentine writing which came after his accession to the pinnacle of the Latin American literary canon. As with Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Borges’ fame and popularity extends to Europe and the United States, where both Borges and Marquez are considered to be emblematic of Latin American literature as a whole, despite the differences between them.
Jorge Luis Borges’s influence stems from his invention of an idiosyncratic approach which rejected the staid realism of previous generations of Argentine writers and incorporated much of the avant-garde and modernist traditions which were belatedly trickling into South America. However he did so in what could be considered a specifically Argentine style; he therefore gave legitimacy to future generations of Argentine writers, who could claim a literary heritage which did not look toward Europe for inspiration. Works such as Fictions, Labyrinths and The Aleph collect Borges’ most influential short stories; tales which heralded both post modernity and the magic realist genre which would come to dominate Latin American literature.
Borges’s influence is so pervasive that it occludes many of his contemporaries, writers such as Julio Cortazar who could be said to have contributed much to the creation of an Argentine literary tradition. Contemporary writers meanwhile must struggle with the influence of Borges in their own way; whether by interrogating Borges’s postmodern style, as Osvaldo Lamborghini and César Aira do, or by rejecting that style in favour of the realism which Borges eschewed.
The history of Argentine literature is much like the history
of the country, and of the continent as a whole; a record of conflict and
compromise between indigenous traditions and European influences, with the
latter usually given prominence. Borges could be said to liberate Argentine
literature from the obligation to look toward Europe. In doing so, however, he
and his works replaced Europe, and became the cornerstone on which all
Argentine literature must touch.
Image courtesy: Mutter Erde / Wiki Commons