Interview with Borges Translator Suzanne Jill Levine

3 Quarks Daily has the transcript of an interview with Suzanne Jill Levine about Jorge Luis Borges. It is a lengthy interview and worth a look. It goes beyond his stories and talks about his non fiction works, something that he is not necessarily well known for in the US. You can also listen to the interview here.

In the nonfiction in these collections, are these a different Borges than you see in the fictions, or is it all of a piece, to your mind?

Both are true. In some ways, in order to understand, truly, his fictions, you have to look at his nonfiction work as well as his poetry to see where this language is coming from, where these ideas are coming from. What we wanted to do was bring forth to the reader not only the Borges they already know, but also expand their concept of who Borges is. For example, On Argentina is an aspect completely missing from the Selected Nonfictions, which is a wonderful volume. It’s just that that volume wanted to capture, let’s say, a more universal, international, and maybe more Anglo-oriented Borges.

But On Argentina shows you how Argentine Borges was. This really is a revelation. You understand how committed he was, politically, socially, culturally, to his particular country. That’s a part that many people aren’t aware of. It gives them insights they wouldn’t otherwise have about his fictions.

It is kind of, I don’t know if “fraught relationship” is the right term, he has with Argentina. It’s one that develops. You can flip through this book and see change: he’s come more to terms with Argentina. What was the process of his point of view on his country? He didn’t seem to like it very much early on, and at the end he’s still saying, “Here are the things we can’t do in Argentina,” but he’s matured.

It’s a very complex relationship. For me to sum up the history of Argentina and Borges’ ideas on it would be very ambitious, and probably wouldn’t work as well as the reader just picking up this lovely volume and reading the brilliant introduction by Alfred MacAdam, which does tell the story very well, as well as the essays themselves. He loved this culture, but was very pained by limitations, by a sense of a a lack of civic-mindedness, of a lack of, let’s say, political development. In other words, he saw it as a culture that was very rich, but, unfortunately, a country that was in the hands of, as he said, “gangsters.”

Naturally, at the time he was writing, regionalism was a very big movement. It really was a continuation of good old-fashioned European naturalism and realism. He wanted Argentina to find its own voice. He didn’t want writers to feel they had to write about certain subjects in a certain way. The fact of being Argentine was, whatever they wrote, it would be Argentine. This concept of identity was shocking, refreshing, and makes total sense.