Moreover, in a Borgesian landscape where subjectivity reigns, and everyone is prisoner to his own perspective, Israel remains present: “You’re in the book that is the mirror/ of each face approaching it.” These sentiments lead to a triumphant conclusion most uncharacteristic of Borges: “Long live Israel, who keeps God’s wall/ In your passionate battle.” In contrast to his typically ironic voice and his use of an unreliable narrator, these final verses emerge as a personal credo in which appreciation of Jewish accomplishment in the Diaspora past spills over into exhilarated admiration for the Jewish present and post-Diaspora future.Underscoring the point is an autobiographical essay published in the Early in 1969, invited by the Israeli government, I spent ten very exciting days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Moreover, in a Borgesian landscape where subjectivity reigns, and everyone is prisoner to his own perspective, Israel remains present: “You’re in the book that is the mirror/ of each face approaching it.” These sentiments lead to a triumphant conclusion most uncharacteristic of Borges: “Long live Israel, who keeps God’s wall/ In your passionate battle.” In contrast to his typically ironic voice and his use of an unreliable narrator, these final verses emerge as a personal credo in which appreciation of Jewish accomplishment in the Diaspora past spills over into exhilarated admiration for the Jewish present and post-Diaspora future.Underscoring the point is an autobiographical essay published in the Early in 1969, invited by the Israeli government, I spent ten very exciting days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.Tags: A Thesis Submitted For The DegreeDescriptive Essays With Thesis StatementsHow To Write Up A Research ProposalExample Of A Literary Analysis EssayThesis In Research PaperAustralian Experience EssayPhd Thesis Proposal TimelineEasy Science Research Paper Topics
Indeed, the 1969 trip to Israel affected Borges profoundly, prompting him to write a trio of poems in praise of the young state and the Jewish people more broadly.
“Long live Israel,” he declares in one poem, published in that same year; in another he marvels at how “a man condemned to be Shylock” has “returned to battle/ to the violent light of victory/ beautiful like a lion at noon.” Written shortly after the Six-Day War—just when much of the literary world was beginning to turn against the Jewish state—these poems celebrating the Jews’ return to martial glory also stand in stark contrast to their cosmopolitan author’s own general suspicion of nationalism.
of the three 1969 poems, “To Israel.” It utilizes one of Borges’s favorite symbols: the labyrinth, which customarily appears in his work as a site of infinite confusion or malevolent design.
(Here and elsewhere I have used the translations of Ilan Stavans.) For the poem’s speaker, identity, and perhaps the world itself, constitute an inscrutable labyrinth, yet Israel appears as a guidepost of sorts.
A half-century since the poems were written—and on the eve of Jerusalem Day, which this year falls on Sunday—its well worth revisiting the story behind them and the place of the Jews in Borges’s worldview. The list of factors includes his Jewish friends in childhood; his Anglo-American grandmother who instilled in him a love for both the Bible and the people of the Bible; his admiration for Franz Kafka; and his fascination with Jewish mysticism, especially through the work of its great interpreter, Gershom Scholem.
No doubt, all of these speculations are valid to some extent, but a closer look at Borges’s work shows something stronger at play.In particular, Borges was fond of certain symbolic motifs, like libraries and labyrinths: mazes in which one can lose oneself in a dizzying multiplicity of ideas and historical periods.As the postmodern novelist David Foster Wallace noted in an oft-cited 2004 essay, Borges “knows that there’s finally no difference—that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same.” These cosmopolitan literary sensibilities spilled over into Borges’s politics. Our patrimony is the universe.” He was horrified by the more fascistic expressions of nationalism that he saw growing around him with the election of Juan Perón to the presidency of Argentina in 1946.But writers have their soft spots, and in 1971 Borges freely stipulated as much in responding to the question of a Columbia University student about the role of politics in writing: I think a writer’s duty is to be a writer, and if he can be a good writer, he is doing his duty.Besides, I think of my own opinions as being superficial. Even when Borges is at his most universalistic, there is that constant something pointing not just toward Israel but toward Judaism.For example, I am a conservative; I hate the Communists; I hate the Nazis; I hate the anti-Semites, and so on. In “The Aleph,” one of his best-known stories, a melancholy narrator stumbles upon the mythical single point at which everything in the world can be viewed and appreciated at once: “the only place on earth where all places are seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.” The promise of the Aleph, even as it ultimately proves illusory, is that a single person can somehow gain access to, and connect with, the infinite complexity of mankind and the universe.But I don’t allow these opinions to find their way into my writings—except, of course, when I was greatly elated about the Six-Day War. In “The Aleph,” Borges draws on several Jewish and specifically kabbalistic symbols: Ezekiel’s description of the divine chariot (one of the biblical touchstones of classical kabbalah); the kabbalistic term “,” the Limitless One, which refers to God’s unknowable and undefinable ultimate essence; and of course the use of the Hebrew alphabet itself, which he terms “the sacred language.” True, he intersperses these references with others to Persian mysticism, esoteric mathematical theories, , and numerous other texts and traditions.The deepest parts of his being are intertwined with the nation of Israel, and can’t ever be extricated. I know you’re in the Sacred Book that comprehends Time, rescued in history By the red Adam, as well as by the memory And agony of the crucified One.You’re in the book that is the mirror Of each face approaching it, As well as God’s face, which, in its complex And hard crystal, is appreciated in terror.In his 1951 lecture “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” he decried efforts to emphasize nationalism through literature: “What is our Argentine tradition? By the same token, he publicly condemned Nazism and the Holocaust far earlier than most of his contemporaries, and took the Argentine intelligentsia to task for its pro-German and anti-Semitic leanings.” he asked, “Our tradition is all of Western culture. Yet one episode suggests that Borges’s political stance flowed not only from a hostility to chauvinism in general but also from a more specific philo-Semitism.