Daniel Pritchard has written an interesting review at the Quarterly Conversation of Borges’ Lectures from the Argentine Master: Seven Nights. I’d been curious if the book was worth reading. Although it has his similar themes, they sound perceptive and erudite in a way that I find his late fiction isn’t. His latter stories, while continuing with his themes of the other and mirrors, often seem repetitive and don’t have the fictive sparkle of Ficiones, as if he just wanted to write philosophy. By the time 1977 rolls around, I think lectures might have been the best vehicle for him.
The assertion of Jorge Luis Borges’s literary genius is today assumed and completely unremarkable, and since many superior critics have elaborated it, I will refrain from boring you with redundancy. However, it is occasionally overlooked that Borges is also a philosophical genius—philosophical, that is, in that he is completely in love with knowledge, with the pleasure that knowledge for its own sake provides him—and although he is a lover of knowledge, he never declines into reverential pedagogy. Knowledge, to Borges, is not for the knowing, nor for the asserting over and condemnation of others, nor for proving others wrong, but for the pleasure of discovery.
In these lectures, Borges uses his genius to provide that gift of discovery, an experience akin to poetry, “something as evident, as immediate, as indefinable as love, the taste of fruit, of water.” Of the truths themselves, he is always humble. One believes or else one does not; the mind is a malleable thing so that, as he says in the lecture on nightmares, “we may draw two conclusions, at least tonight; later we may change our minds.” And besides, most of what is believed is only an illusion, “our ignorance of the complex machinery of causality.” Like Socrates, Borges is most sure only of the fact that we are mostly ignorant, that there are obscure mechanisms imperceptibly at work in our lives. Whether we decide to call these machinations magic, or God, or fate, each explanation is yet another expression of the consequences of unknown acts.