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:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail