Babylonian Borges

Jorge Luis Borges & Jorge Schwartz / Image by Madalena Schwartz


Presentation by the dictionary organizer about Jorge Luis Borges

"Of the different literary genres, the catalog and the encyclopedia are the ones that most resonate with me. He certainly didn't grow up out of vanity. They are anonymous like the stone cathedrals and the generous gardens”. (Jorge Luis Borges, apud Antonio Fernández Ferrer, Borges A/Z, P. 160).

I could begin this brief introduction by making considerations about the excess that it means to publish yet another dictionary on Jorge Luis Borges; He could also reflect on the role of the library or encyclopedia in his life and literature. I believe that I have little to add to the specific entries regarding these topics included here. In any case, none of the dictionaries available to me were designed as teamwork or included such an extensive and varied number of collaborators. Initially planned for the Brazilian reader, this work, with its more than a thousand entries, could be useful to a much wider audience, and not just those dedicated exclusively to literature.

The history of Babylonian Borges (title borrowed from a reference that Julio Cortázar makes to the master in Letters to the Jonquières) began many years ago, as a mere reading exercise — an exercise that Jorge Luis Borges always prioritized over writing, particularly when it came to reading encyclopedias.

At the end of the 1990s, Editora Globo in São Paulo published the Complete works by Jorge Luis Borges in four volumes (Jabuti Translation Award), which I prepared with Maria Carolina de Araujo, my collaborator and editorial assistant. Based on the research and countless consultations carried out for this edition, we conjectured that, with the extensive materials at our disposal, we could create a glossary or what we initially called “Borges Reading Guide for Brazil”, or simply “Borges Guide” .

I said reading “exercise” because the project was initially designed to be carried out by students in the Spanish and American History undergraduate areas at the University of São Paulo: the students should compose the entries, with the support of Scientific Initiation scholarships. of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPQ).

During the first two years, the seminars with students were dedicated to defining a corpus: proper names, terms and expressions extracted from the four volumes of Complete works whose detailed repertoire could arouse the interest of the Brazilian reader. An exorbitant list was reached that exceeded seven thousand entries. It was when we realized more clearly what we already suspected: the infinite character of Jorge Luis Borges's erudition and the impossible undertaking of building a probable encyclopedia from an encyclopedic mind par excellence. A metaencyclopedia.

The selection process of corpus of terms was, without a doubt, subjective and arbitrary. What would be important to clarify for the reader of Borges in Brazil that would also arouse the interest of a reader who was not Brazilian? Areas of knowledge then began to emerge that prevented the project from being limited to a group of undergraduate students: Argentine, English, French, Italian, Oriental, Jewish, Finnish, North American, German or Anglo-Saxon literature; diverse themes such as poetry, translation, mathematics and philosophy; also the world of Argentine history and culture, especially that of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

We defined, from the beginning, that we would not interpret texts. Furthermore, we avoided repeating information that was easily accessible through IT (Google, Wikipedia) and adopted the rule that all entries would make specific reference to the work of Jorge Luis Borges.

In organizing this volume, the rich fabric of relationships between the different entries had to be subordinated to the tyranny of alphabetical criteria; Every time it became necessary, we resorted to referencing one entry to another.

Realizing that some subjects deserved a more extensive approach, we opened the “thematic entries” category. Among the experts invited to prepare these short essays are names such as Alberto Manguel, Alfredo Alonso Estenoz, Ana Cecilia Olmos, Annick Louis, Beatriz Sarlo, Claudia Fernández, Daniel Balderston, Davi Arrigucci Jr., David Oubiña, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Enrique Mandelbaum, Enrique Sacerio-Garí, Inés Azar, Ivan Almeida, Júlio Pimentel Pinto, Julio Schvartzman, Magdalena Cámpora, María de los Ángeles González Briz, Martín Greco, Michel Lafon, Pablo Rocca, Patricia Artundo, Rafael Olea Franco, Ricardo Piglia, Saúl Sosnowski, Walter Carlos Costa.

In addition to the immense number of consultations we carried out, mainly with the authors of the entries themselves, two experts dedicated themselves to a critical reading of the final versions: Alfredo Alonso Estenoz, from Luther College in Iowa, and Júlio Pimentel Pinto, from the University of São Paulo. To supervise the entries on Eastern culture and literature, we also counted on the collaboration of Christina Civantos, from the University of Miami. Gênese Andrade was responsible for the delicate task of translating original Spanish texts into Portuguese. Among our group of local collaborators, Paulo Ferraz de Camargo Oliveira deserves to be highlighted, who accompanied us over the years preparing and reviewing entries.

There were cases, considered exceptional, in which we incorporated entries already published, such as several of those that came to light in the notebook mais!, supplement to Folha de S. Paul (1o August 1999), under the title “abc de Borges”, with excellent collaborations. Others, for example, were generously provided by Marcela Croce and Gastón Sebastián M. Gallo, authors of Borges Encyclopedia, and by Edgardo Cozarinsky and Eduardo Berti, authors of Galaxia Borges.

One of the most curious exceptions, perhaps the most curious of all, is the entry on Jorge Luis Borges, prepared by the writer himself as an “Epilogue” to the classic volume of Complete works, from 1974, which was published by Editora Emecé in Buenos Aires. In the final pages of this volume, the entry presents itself as a text written for a hypothetical “Enciclopedia Sudamericana”, which would be published in Santiago de Chile one hundred years later, therefore in 2074. The entry is about “Borges, José Francisco Isidoro Luis” , with the deliberate replacement of “Jorge” by “José”.

Some instruments were indispensable in our research: the classic edition of complete works, from Bibliothèque de la Pleiade, in two volumes, annotated by Jean Pierre Bernès, and the most recent critical edition of Complete works by Borges, in three volumes, annotated by Rolando Costa Picazo and, in the case of the first volume, also by Irma Zangara. Some dictionaries were also very useful, such as: Borges: An encyclopedia, by Daniel Balderston, Gastón Gallo and Nicolás Helft; Borges, books and readings, by Laura Rosato and Germán Álvarez, published in Buenos Aires by the National Library in 2010; furthermore, by Daniel Balderston, The Literary Universe of Jorge Luis Borges; by Evelyn Fishburn and Psyche Hughes, A dictionary by Borges; Reasoned Thematic Dictionary of the Prose of Jorge Luis Borges, by Ion T. Agheana; Borges fictions, by Antonio Fernández Ferrer, and Borges A/Z, organized by this same author (for the prestigious collection La Biblioteca de Babel, by Franco Maria Ricci).

The list of thanks is huge, starting with the 66 collaborators, who never stopped answering our persistent questions. I deeply regret having to record two irreparable losses here: Michel Lafon, one of the most sophisticated critics of Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote the entry “Pierre Menard” especially for our book, without a doubt the most famous character of the second half of the XNUMXth century for literary theory. And Ricardo Piglia, who did so much to promote Borges' literature, and who could not be absent from our project. Neither of them will have the joy of seeing the Babylonian Borges published.

The biggest thank you, however, goes to my indefatigable partner, editorial coordinator Maria Carolina de Araujo, who, over the years, did not shy away from dealing with all the difficulties inherent in preparing a book very similar to a dictionary and with such diverse collaborators. Last but not least, without the contribution of CNPQ the students would not have entered this fascinating universe, which kept them busy for several years.

I saw and heard Borges for the first time on the occasion of the Jerusalem Prize, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1971). Then, in the memorable visit that the writer made to São Paulo, accompanied by María Kodama, in 1984, and which the various biographies about him ignore.

I started teaching it in undergraduate Spanish classes at the University of São Paulo. But, in fact, I only learned to read it alongside Emir Rodríguez Monegal, during my stay at Yale (1977-8). To Emir, in memoriam, I dedicate this work.

To finish, I would like to appropriate Jorge Luis Borges' words in the prologue to Book of imaginary beings, itself a kind of dictionary: “A book of this nature is necessarily incomplete; each new edition is the nucleus of future editions, which can multiply to infinity. […] Like all miscellanies, like the inexhaustible volumes of Robert Burton, Fraser or Pliny, the Book of imaginary beings It was not written for consecutive reading. We would like curious people to visit it, like someone playing with the mutant shapes that a kaleidoscope reveals.”

* George Schwartz He is a full professor of Hispanic-American Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of fervor of the vanguards (Literature Company). []


Jorge Schwartz (org.). Babylonian Borges: an encyclopedia. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2017, 572 pages. []

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