Friday, February 19, 2010
Borges´ Technique in his Own Words
Jorge Luis Borges. Image from http://claudiovergara.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/jorge-luis-borges.jpg
This is an excerpt from an interview by Stephen Cape and Daniel Bourne to Jorge Luis Borges, which the Artful Dodge encountered on April 25, 1980.
The paragraphs shown below are implicitly describing the way the great professor wrote his stories, poems and translations.
SC: His idea seems to be comparing placing words in a poem with building the inter-connected trail where each piece is dependent on the piece on either side. Do you agree with that type of approach towards the structure of poem, or is it just one of many?
Borges: Well, I think as Kipling said, "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,/ and-every-single-one-of-them-is-right."- and that may be one of the right ways. But mine is not at all like that. I get- it's some kind of relation, a rather dim one. I'm given an idea; well, that idea may become a tale or a poem. But I'm only given the starting point and the goal. And then I have to invent or concoct somehow what happens in between, and then I do my best. But generally, when I get that kind of inspiration, I do all I can to resist it, but if it keeps bothering me, then I have to somehow write it down. But I never look for subjects. They come to me in a cage, they may come when I'm trying to sleep,or when I wake up. They come to me on the streets of Buenes Aires, or anywhere at anytime. For example, a week ago I had a dream. When I awoke- it was a nightmare- I said, well, this nightmare isn't worth telling, but I think there's a story lurking here. I want to find it. Now when I think I found it, I write it within five or six months. I take my time over it. So I have, let's say, a different method. Every craftsman has his own method, of course and I should respect it.
SC: Snyder's trying to achieve a direct transfer of his state of mind to the reader with as little interference as possible from reasoning. He's going for the direct transfer of sensation. Does this seem a little extreme for you?
Borges: No, but he seems to be a very cautious poet. Where I'm really old and innocent. I just ramble on, try to find my way. People tell me, for example, what message I have. I"m afraid I haven't any. Well, here's fable, what's the moral? I'm afraid I don't know. I"m merely a dreamer, and then a writer, and my happiest moments are when I'm a reader.
SC: Do you think of words as having effects that are inherent in the word or in the images they carry?
Borges: Well yes, fro example, if you attempt a sonnet, then, at least in Spanish, you have to use certain words. There's only a few rhymes. And those of course may be used as metaphors, peculiar metaphors, since you have to stick to them. I would even venture to say- this of course is a sweeping statement- but perhaps the word moon in English stems from something different that the word luna in Latin or Spanish. The moon the word moon is a lingering sound. Moon is a beautiful word. The French word is also beautiful:lune. But in Old English the word was mona. The word isn't beautiful at all, two syllables. And then the Greek is worse. We have celena, three syllables. But the word moon is a beautiful word. That sound is not found, let's say in Spanish. The moon. I can linger in words. Words inspire you. Words have a life of their own.
SC: The word's life of its own, does that seem more important than the meaning that it gives in a particular context?
Borges: I think that the meanings are more or less irrelevant. What is important, or the two important facts I should say, are emotion, and then words arising from emotion. I don't think you can write in an emotionless way. If you attempt it, the result is artificial. I don't like that kind of writing. I think that if a poem is really great, you should think of it as having written itself despite the author. It should flow.
DB: Did you feel that in any of your translations that by doing them you'd help the understanding and appreciation of you own work, did they ever seem to justify what you yourself had done?
Borges: No, I never think of my own work...
DB: When you translate...
Borges: No, at home, come visit in Buenes Aires, I'll show you my library, you won't find a single book of mine of one me. I'm very sure of this- I choose my books. Who am I to find my way into the neighborhood of Sir Thomas Browne, or of Emerson. I'm nobody.
DB: So Borges that writer and Borges the translator are completely separate?
Borges: Yes, they are. When I translate, I try not to intrude. I try to do a fair translation of some kind, and to be a poet also.
To read the complete interview, please click below