FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Harsh Realities of Place

by CHARLES R. LARSON

The two short stories (“Man on Pink Corner” and “The South”) that bookend On Argentina, a collection of miscellaneous writings by Jorge Luis Borges, fictively and perhaps psychologically describe the harsh realities of the celebrated writer’s beloved country in ways that the essays and reviews, which make up the bulk of the collection, do not.

The opening story, “Man on Pink Corner,” describes the violent happenings one night in Villa Santa Rita, at a notorious whore house called Julia’s, filled—as the narrator says–with “musicians, good drinks, and girls that could dance all night if they was asked to.” The star attraction is La Lujanera, usually with Rosendo Juárez, a gaucho accustomed to rough and tumble living. The tango can be observed most nights, as well as “strumming guitars,” stray dogs, and plenty of hard drink. Though Rosendo’s manhood has never been in question, one night when Francisco Real–an even rougher guy–arrives, Rosendo cowers and lets La Lujanera run off with Real “turning tail [to] that stranger’s insufferable bullying.” One man, it appears, has been humiliated by another, which is no surprise given the seedy characters who frequent Julia’s house. But things suddenly change. Francisco Real returns with a knife wound in his chest and falls down dead. Speculations are that Rosendo must have knifed Real, but others believe it was La Lujanera, who has disappeared from the area. “Man on Pink Corner” is all action—lowlife types not much more advanced than the mangy dogs referred to in the story.

“The South” is as different from the earlier story as it could be, with one major exception. Juan Dahlmann, “secretary of a municipal library” in Buenos Aires, “considered himself profoundly Argentine,” in spite of his European ancestors. His goal is to visit the home of his ancestors one day—in the south of the country. Then one afternoon, while reading a book, he bumps his head on a metal casement window. The cut is significant enough that he goes to a sanatorium so a doctor can examine him. What happens to Dahlmann in the sanatorium is not immediately clear, but–for whatever reason—he undergoes a radical medical procedure (possibly a lobotomy) before his release. Then, shortly thereafter, he travels south, not only into the agrarian south but also into his past. There he encounters gauchos and other low-level types (like the characters in “Man on Pink Corner”) who foist a duel upon him, a duel that he knows will result in his death.

That’s the surface of the story, but Borges hints that Dahlmann never actually leaves the hospital but hallucinates all the subsequent events that he believes happen to him inside a bar, where several coarse customers thrown spitballs at him to provoke the final encounter. Such a reading shifts the story from action to the imaginary, from the physical to the intellect, which is the second characteristic of Borges’ work: the imagination. Dahlmann, like Borges, worked in a library much of his life; both were fascinated with arcane manuscripts. Moreover, the intentional confusion about what may or may not have happened (Did Dahlmann ever leave the sanatorium once he entered it? Did he ever go South into his past) is the mark of much of Borges’ magic realism, the split between the real and the surreal.

In between “Man on Pink Corner” and “The South,” Alfred Mac Adam, the astute editor of On Argentina, has included numerous early writings that Borges wrote of Argentine writers in the early part of the twentieth century. These essays and poems collectively establish a literary tradition for the country rooted in gauchesco poetry, in both European and Argentine writers, in the frontier-like atmosphere of the compadritos: “Foulmouthed men who whiled away their time behind a whistle or a cigarette and whose distinctive traits were a high-combed mane of hair, a silk handkerchief, high-heeled shoes, a bent-over gait, a challenging gaze…[in a] classic time of gangs, of Indians,” i.e., the characters in “The Man on Pink Corner” and the men Dahlmann encounters when he travels South.

On Argentina, thus, roots Jorge Luis Borges and his remarkable writings in the Argentine past. Thanks are due to Alfred Mac Adam, the editor and the translator of many of the works in this slim volume. Simultaneously, Penguin Classics has issued two other volumes of Borges’ work: On Writing, edited by Suzanne Jill Levine, and On Mysticism, edited by Maria Kodama.

On Argentina
By Jorge Luis Borges
Edited, introduced, and translated by Alfred Mac Adam
Penguin Books, 167 pp., $15

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail