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

?

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail